Night witches, or baloi ba bosigo, are mainly elderly women who gather at night in small groups and then travel about the countryside bewitching the unfortunate. Instead of wearing clothes, they smear their bodies with white ashes or the blood of the dead. Admission is open to anyone, but the applicant must profess her zeal by causing the death of a close relative, usually a firstborn child. Initiates receive an ointment that allows them to wake instantly and join their colleagues when called. Some tribes say that a special medicine is injected into the witch's thumb, and when her thumb itches, she will awake and depart.
Among their alleged activities is the exhumation of newly buried corpses, which the night witches accomplish by using a special magic that makes the body float to the surface. The witches then take whatever body parts they need for their spells and medicines. Walls and locked doors cannot keep a witch from entering a victim's house; once inside, the witch cuts her victim and inserts small stones or fragments of flesh that will sicken him and eventually cause death unless treated.
Night witches choose owls as their familiars and ride on hyenas to cover great distances, with one foot on the hyena's back and one on the ground. Members of the BaKgatla tribe say that the witches make their own hyenas from porridge and then activate them with special medicines.
Although beliefs in night witches are widely held, many Africans take such stories lightly, acknowledging that no one has seen baloi ba bosigo at work. But the activities of day sorcerers are taken seriously, as many people have seen the results of go jesa ("to feed"), or the practice of putting poison in food or drink. In some accounts the poison changes into a miniature crocodile, gnawing away at the victim's insides until he dies in pain. But most accounts describe true poison, acting so slowly that suspicions are not aroused until the victim is seriously ill or dying, and making identification and indictment of the poisoner very difficult.
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