Pagan Community Reacts to Passing of Nelson Mandela

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  December 7, 2013 — 9 Comments

“May the road rise up to meet you in blessing, Grand-Father of our nation.”Damon Leff, South African Pagan, Penton Independent Pagan Media.

On Thursday, news agencies reported that former South African President, and legendary anti-Apartheid activist, Nelson Mandela, had passed away at the age of 95 after a prolonged illness. Immediately tributes to, and reflections on, Mandela’s life and work emerged.

In his lifetime, Mandela had already passed into a place of history, though he spent his post-Apartheid years working towards peace, reconciliation, and human rights at home, and across the world. Few were left untouched by his work and legacy, including groups and individuals within the modern Pagan movement. Selena Fox of Circle Sanctuary, saw Mandela speak in 1999 at the Parliament of the World’s Religions in South Africa, and participated in a ritual for peace at the island where Mandela was imprisoned for 27 years. Fox says she has “powerful memories of an amazing person.”

“Remembering Nelson Rolihlahla Mandela, ‘Madiba.’  Thankful to have been among those at his inspiring talk at the 1999 Parliament of the Worlds Religions in Cape Town, South Africa which received a rousing standing ovation.  Celebrating him, his life, his work with peace and reconciliation, freedom and human rights, environmental preservation and interfaith cooperation.  May he continue to inspire humans everywhere now and in generations to come to continue these endeavors.” – Selena Fox, Circle Sanctuary

Members of the EarthSpirit Community, who were also at that peace ritual in South Africa, describe the experience.

Nelson Mandela

Nelson Mandela

Pagans processing in South Africa, 1999

Pagans in South Africa, 1999

“Many religious leaders had prepared blessings for the pole, but, due to time restraints, a bishop from Johannesburg gave the official blessing for all. He blessed the pole with incense and water and asked that everyone there go forward to the pole before they left, place their hand — or even better their two hands — on the pole and fill it with their light, to bring it to life, so that it would not be a dead piece of wood, but a living beacon of light, of hope and of peace for all who come to that place. It was a beautiful blessing and, even though he was strongly based in his own tradition, he was very inclusive in his language – not only blessing in the name of Jesus, but in the name of all of the “great ones” of every tradition.

He was followed by a traditional African priest who made an offering and blessed the pole in the name of his ancestors and in the name of all of those who suffered and died on the Island. The pole was then officially given to the Island by Africa Msimang, the South African director of the Parliament. At the end, before we returned to the boats, all of the pagans there went to the pole and made our own blessing together.”

Andras Corban-Arthen of EarthSpirit, on learning of Mandela’s death, said that he was feeling “sadness, gratitude and admiration toward this truly great man, whose life will continue to be a source of strength and inspiration for a very long time.” The Covenant of the Goddess, another organization represented at the 1999 Parliament where Mandela spoke, released this short statement on the news of his passing.

Covenant of the Goddess joins the world’s tribute to honor the life and work of Nelson Mandela (1918-2013). We are humbly thankful for Mandela’s humanitarian vision, his perseverance in the face of adversity and his personal sacrifice in the name of freedom for all.  Although his initial efforts were aimed at atrocities found in his own country, Mandela’s message knew no boundaries and inspired millions across the globe. May his spirit live forever in the memory of his life and the legacy that he has left.”

Crystal Blanton, a member of COG, left a more personal tribute at the Daughters of Eve blog.

Crystal Blanton

Crystal Blanton

“Today Nelson Mandela passed away and moved on to rest in the land of the ancestors, in the arms of the divine. And as I am sad today, it is hard to be sad when his life reminds me of the incredible sacrifices others have made for me to be able to be who I am today. It is on the shoulders of the ancestors that I stand, and I am so very honored to live in a world that cultivated the incredible spirits of people like Nelson Mandela, Fred Hampton, Huey Newton, Dr. Cornel West, Dr. Joy DeGruy, Michelle Alexander, Little Bobby Hutton, Bobby Seal, Angela Davis, Kathleen Cleaver, Malcolm, Martin, and so many more that are known to us and unknown; the slaves with no name, the activists, and the revolutionaries. What a beautiful thing to look back upon the faces of the brave, and know that I have been gifted this chance at life because of those who’ve been willing to lay their lives in front of the bullet for justice. A celebration of life is the gift that Mandela left, a gift he often was not able to enjoy for himself because he was too busy changing the world.”

Another tribute came from author, teacher, and activist T. Thorn Coyle, who shared a memory of how Mandela’s imprisonment inspired her to stand up against collaboration with the apartheid South African government.

T. Thorn Coyle

T. Thorn Coyle

“One day, the floor was going crazy. Paper was flying. Men were shouting. Blood pressure was rising. One of my Market Makers called me over to his trading pit and shouted an order for me to buy Krugerrands – the South African currency minted from gold. I looked at him and said, “No.” He stared at me. I stared back. His face flushed red, then purple, color rising from his neck up to his forehead. His mouth pinched. He threw his trading cards down and stormed out the of pit to buy the gold himself. Word spread around the floor like wildfire. At the end of the day, after the last bell had rung, I was collecting reams of paper for recycling – this was in the days before recycling was commonplace, I and another woman gathered the paper and carted it away. The lone African American trader crossed the floor, held out his hand, and said, simply, “Thank you.” Today, I say to Nelson Mandela: you were a giant in our minds. You were an inspiration. Your life was a clarion call goading us toward freedom and justice. Mr. Mandela, today, I hold out my hand in thanks.”

Pagan activist and first responder Peter Dybing said of Mandela that he “stood as the ultimate example of the struggle for human dignity in the face of oppression, confinement and political intrigue.”

Peter Dybing at Occupy Fort Lauderdale

Peter Dybing

“For those of us in the U.S. his struggle represented an ideal.  In our deepest thoughts and desires we aspired to emulate this great man who was able to engage his oppressors with dignity, honor and true courage. Many of us believed by his example that a new world ethic of mutual respect, peace and cultural understanding was not only possible but also achievable. If Nelson could defeat the abomination that was Apartheid with love and compassion then all things were possible. For activists world wide, his example lead to a well spring of young idealists willing to engage in the great struggle for universal human dignity. It may be decades before the world realizes how profound his influence has been on international events. […] Today we can imagine him being welcomed to tea by Gandhi, seated next to Dr. King, and engaged in conversation with Mother Teresa. It is a portrait that needs to be painted,; a legacy that will not be diminished.”

Quaker and Witch Stasa Morgan-Appel, notes that Mandela’s life was a gift, and that his death does not diminish what he gave to the world through his work.

“How many of us are sad to learn of Nelson Mandela’s death is likely not countable. We all die. Death is part of life. Mandela died at the end of a long and amazing life. He gave South Africa and the rest of the world the gift of his life and his service, and we are tremendously enriched by that. His death in the fullness of time is sad, yes — but it is not tragic. His death cannot make us poorer, cannot take away all he has done for his people and many peoples, cannot take away what he has given us. His legacy goes on. Who is remembered, lives; may his memory be a blessing. And a goad to work for justice.”

 I have no doubt that across different faiths, cultures, and nations, Mandela’s legacy is being honored. He has shown that peace can emerge from chaos, that reconciliation can emerge from hate, and that no system of oppression is inevitable or unchangeable. His memory, his legacy, will continue to watch over those who he worked to free. Our deepest respects go out to him.

Jason Pitzl-Waters


  • Castus

    While his/his organisation’s terrorist actions pre-Fall of Apartheid are of course reprehensible, his interest in genuine reconciliation and skilfull, moderate leadership both ensured that Afrikaners weren’t immediately wiped from the earth and earned him a respected place in history. Requiescat in pace.

    • 6yearArmyguy


      I agree with you, and am glad you’ve taken the moderate path in remembering the man. We often idealize people when they have recently passed away, something I am always a little bothered by. When we look at the totality of a person’s life, often we understand them better. We see the actions they took which we agree with in context, and can see the reasons they chose to do what they did, when they did.

      The impressive thing with Mr. Mandela was that he chose to be moderate and conciliatory, in the face of what may have been understandable retribution when apartheid was dismantled. He worked hard to ensure that peace would be focused not on throwing out the old, but to try and integrate the old with the new. This hasn’t been an easy process in South Africa, and it wouldn’t be easy in any country affected by similar policies, but they have done better with the leadership of Mr. Mandela. May he be remembered as a whole person, and not as a symbol.

  • damonleff

    What Mandela brought to South Africans as a divided people, and as a united nation, was an opportunity for peace and reconciliation. He taught us to forgive, to respect, to work together for a greater good. Those of us who remember what it was like to live under a fascist apartheid regime give thanks for, and attempt to manifest that legacy in our own lives daily.

  • Lēoht Sceadusawol

    I have to confess, I don’t see the big deal. As far as I can tell, a politician died.

    Plenty of other people died that day, too.

    Locally (in the UK), the news was all about the death of Mandela, when it probably could have done with a bit more attention directed at the thousands of people being evacuated in our own country due to a serious storm surge on the east coast.

    • Charles Cosimano

      I never paid much attention to him while he was alive.

      • Lēoht Sceadusawol

        Likewise. He just was not that important, internationally.

  • When I heard a man with an accent heard in South Africa speaking on the radio, Thursday afternoon, I guessed it might have been about Madiba’s passing. A few moments later, I heard his name, and tears began to fall as my face crumpled.
    Madiba did not dirrectly affect me, but the tears still fell.
    He was out of pain, I told myself, but the tears still fell.
    A great man has passed on to peace, having done his best to leave freedom’s peace as his legacy. Perhaps I am crying for myself, and for those who will never feel the change he made in the world.

    In the early 70’s, we learned about apartheid in school–but never heard the name of Mandela. In the 80’s, was it, that the song with the chorus of “Free Nelson Mandela” was popular, and most in the US did not know his name, as I did not? We knew about apartheid, we knew about the sanctions and exclusions of South Africa, doing what we could to avoid contributing to its continuance, but we did not know his name or his place in the struggle.

    In later years, before his release, I did learn about him, and when Madiba was released from prison, and was democratically elected, the world rejoiced, and my voice was one of them. I was initially ignorant about why a Reconciliation was needed, but I learned Thursday night.

    On Thursday night, I learned twice as much as I had ever known about Madiba, and the sorrow was for myself and others who never met him, this man who eschewed bitterness at his long incarceration and its horrid conditions, the work of the government to erase awareness of him, and those responsible for such a hateful system. That he felt serving a single term as president of his beloved country was enough, and that it was time to let someone else lead, demonstrated the force of his character.

    I heard the words of my president Thursday afternoon, saying that Madiba was no longer ours, but belonged to the ages, and believed them to be the right words for this amazing man. They are some words said of an earlier man, Abraham Lincoln. Like Mandela, he had his less-wonderful deeds/policies.

    I could hardly describe a man as a “terrorist” were he responding to force, with force, and going no farther. It is my understanding that the ANC was non-violent until force was used against them. Of course, if one thinks someone who is fighting for something in which you do not believe, which will affect you directly, then I can see how someone might label such a person a “terrorist”, especially if you stand to lose privilege and standing, and fear being treated by a group in the way you-plural have treated them.

    There have been few people in my lifetime who lived so strongly what good they preached, and who touched so much of the world’s heart and its workings. May his memory serve as a light along the path towards a better world, and towards being better people.

  • Those who say Mandela was not important may be rather younger than I am (59) and most likely, not a Person of Color.

    • Crystal Blanton

      I would have to agree.