Modern “Witch Doctors”: 25 Photos Of The Widely Misunderstood Practice

Published August 17, 2016
Updated January 23, 2018

Whether we call them witch doctors, shamans, or healers, these mystical men and women understand forces the modern world can't comprehend.

Witch Doctors
Witch Doctors Drum
Holding Blade To Teeth
Witch Doctor In Animal Mask
Modern “Witch Doctors”: 25 Photos Of The Widely Misunderstood Practice
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"Witch doctors" are the victims of some truly unfortunate irony: While considered noble healers and guardians who would protect others from witches and general malady, many popularly understand these herbalists as witches themselves -- and witches whose medicinal knowledge simply cannot aid others in the slightest.

By virtue of the role's inherent traditionalism, most cultures' witch doctors are still doing the same things they were doing back when they were considered the "good" guys. But with the development of modern medical science -- and the colonialism-created allegorical figure widely viewed as a physical, spell-casting fact -- the shifting scales of history have dumped witch doctors on the "wrong" side of the fence.

Today, we -- especially those of us in the West -- implicitly believe witch doctors to be benighted at best and malevolent at worst. Same goes for shamans, healers, and all the other various practitioners of divination and traditional medicine still found in dozens of cultures around the world.

Some of these traditional practitioners still make an honest living, but most are trotted out at festivals (willingly, plenty of the time) only as human curios, living museum pieces emblematic of a comfortingly distant past.

This is how we end up with jarring intersections of the traditional and the modern on the world stage, as was the case just this summer when shamans of several South American tribes were asked to take part in the Olympic torch relay ceremonies.

But whether their roles are ceremonial or not, what part do shamans, witch doctors, and the like play in the world of today? The answers lie with the eye-popping photos above.

Next, read more about the African albinos that are killed so that their body parts can be sold to witch doctors. Then, for more from the world of weird medicine, take a look at some of the most bizarre historical cures for mental illness, and discover what exactly the most horrifying Nazi research actually contributed to medical science.

John Kuroski
John Kuroski is the editorial director of All That's Interesting. He graduated from New York University with a degree in history, earning a place in the Phi Alpha Theta honor society for history students. An editor at All That's Interesting since 2015, his areas of interest include modern history and true crime.
Savannah Cox
Savannah Cox holds a Master's in International Affairs from The New School as well as a PhD from the University of California, Berkeley, and now serves as an Assistant Professor at the University of Sheffield. Her work as a writer has also appeared on DNAinfo.
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Kuroski, John. "Modern “Witch Doctors”: 25 Photos Of The Widely Misunderstood Practice.", August 17, 2016, Accessed May 21, 2024.