Archives For South Africa

[The Wild Hunt welcomes guest writer Christina Engela. She is a author, witch, human rights activist, blogger and chief researcher for the Alternative Religious Forum. Engela lives in South Africa and writes regularly for Penton Alternative Media.]

Most members of the South African (SA) Vampyre community (VC) who have done a little research know that this community’s recorded history began May 2010 with the foundation of House Valur. Most will know that the community only started growing and taking form with the founding of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) in June 2011. But little if anything is known about the community in the years before that time.

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Sometimes though, one finds little gems that shine a new light on what we already know. This being the case, we will examine the recollections of one of the community’s earliest builders. Also, we will examine the initial overlap of Vampyre culture with other subcultures and societies at the time – in this case, South African Pagan culture. We will look at the role played by vampyric Pagans in laying the groundwork for the growth and formation of the VC, independently of the Pagan community in South Africa.  Additionally, these events played an important role in the subsequent and continued relationship between the Pagan and Vampyre communities.

Background

In South Africa under the previous Nationalist government, there was no freedom of religion — that is, not unless you were Christian. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism were tolerated by the government, but Paganism, the worship of Pagan deities and any Pagan rituals, reading matter, gatherings or practices were criminalized and outlawed under laws pertaining to ‘Satanism.’ If you were vampyric, well – the less said about that, the better. Government-appointed witch-hunters like Kobus Jonker and his police unit enjoyed cult-fame status among naive evangelical Christians, spinning wild and unlikely tales of ‘Satanist’ conspiracies that could not be, and have never been, substantiated.

The adoption of South Africa’s new constitution changed all that – in theory at least. With the dawning of greater religious freedom in the early 1990s, there came a sudden scramble among those who identified as Pagan (including a lot of people who wanted to identify as Pagans) to establish an open and free, publicly visible Pagan body on the cultural landscape of the country. Several such organizations were formed, with one or two looking to speak for and on behalf of all South African Pagans.

At the start of that new age, however, it becomes clear that not everyone held the same understanding of the term “Pagan” and what it was. The Pagan community is, and always has been, diverse. As such, it is (and likely always will be) a breeding ground for a healthy respect for differences. Personally speaking, I have found the South African Pagan community to be generally a trouble-free zone, where people tend to be more easily accepted for who they are than elsewhere. It is also generally, on point of this article, a Vampyre-friendly place.

But it was not always so.

In 2011, when the fledgling South African Vampyre Community initially reached out to the Pagan community bodies in order to establish formal relations, the results were quite dramatic. The VC was completely unaware of any previous issues within Pagan culture.  As history bears out, the drama resulting from the vampophobic bias of some Pagans made things a little unpleasant for some time.

Pagan Vampyres became the ‘hot topic’ in Facebook groups and forums. The main Pagan spokespeople openly declared their understanding and acceptance of vampyric people who identified with Pagan beliefs (as long vampyrism didn’t become a part of Paganism), and they welcomed them.  Despite that support, it became all too clear that the SA Pagan community was in danger of splitting in two over the issue. Several Pagan writers stormed out of community forums when Octarine Valur accepted an invitation to write a column about vampyrism for a local online Pagan magazine.

Critics refused to accept Vampyres as fact, despite many in the Pagan community who had the ability to identify Vampyres among them by second sight alone. They rejected everything the Vampyres offered in defense of their identity. They were adamant that the purpose of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) was to ‘coerce’ Pagans to accept vampyrism as a Pagan path or religion.

“Some Pagan elders literally became hysterical,” said Octarine Valur, who is widely recognized as the founder of the SA Vampyre Community, and is regent of the SAVA. “Some of them misunderstood us. They thought we wanted to establish vampyrism as a unique path within Paganism as a religion. Even when we made very plain-language efforts to clarify the point, these seemed to be deliberately distorted by our critics. What our purpose was in contacting the Pagan community, was to clarify that there were Pagans in their covens and groups already who were also vampyric people – people who identify as Vampyres. As SAVA we were simply trying to look out for their interests because of the number of reports we received from vampyric Pagans who were either afraid to be known as Vampyres in Pagan circles, or who had been on the receiving end of prejudice in their Pagan group because they were known as Vampyres.”

Meanwhile, the SAVA had also conducted similar diplomatic outreach efforts, with less success, to other groups. Christianity was the next group which the SAVA reached out to, and later to the SA Goth Society (2013). Christianity is the second most-prevalent religious affiliation in the SA VC according to a contemporary poll. No matter how open-minded the Christian groups thought they were, they did not react as well to overtures of friendship from the Vampyre community as might have been expected. Some of the reactions were rather entertaining, but no further engagement took place in that sector. Some Goths did attend a Vampyre gathering in 2014, but – reportedly – they were simply curious and none of them were Vampyres.

As time went by, things settled down between Pagan and Vampyre communities. The critics’ worst fears did not realize. The Pagan community and Vampyre subculture remain distinctly separate from each other, but there is a lot of cooperation between Pagan bodies and VC bodies. The SAVA and the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) jointly chaired the Alternative Religions Forum in 2013 to combat ignorance, misinformation, and propaganda in the media.

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Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa 2009 [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Their efforts went on record as having successfully changed how the media portrays ‘occult-related crimes’ and ‘alternative religions’ in its coverage. Vampyre-Pagan covens have organized public celebrations in their locals areas for Pagan Freedom Day, and they have received praise from both the SAVA and Pagan bodies for those efforts. These days, it is not unusual for Pagan groups to openly acknowledge their vampyric members, and the general knowledge among Pagans about Vampyres and Vampyre nature has dramatically improved.

Again, it was not always so, and a lot had to happen for this to occur. The current state of affairs and the history of the Pagan-Vampyre Dispute of 2011 aside, the goodwill had to start somewhere. Before the SAVA began representing the local VC, before Octarine Valur began her search which led to the formation of House Valur – before all that – there were lone, solitary Vampyres who longed for a community of their own.

Darklady

It was 2003 that a young lady in Kriel, a small mining town in Mpumalanga, experienced her vampyric Awakening. She had started her Pagan path as a practicing Wiccan in 2000. Then, three years later, she was first awakened to her nature as a sanguine vampyre. Her first donor was her girlfriend at the time and, although the relationship lasted three years, the donor-vampyre relationship lasted for only two of those years.

Following the termination of that arrangement, after a period of extreme hunger and ill-health, she adapted to feed from storms, running water, wind and strong elements. Like most sanguines, she maintains that this is not as satisfying or lasting as a sanguine feed and frequently endures the effects of vampyric hunger in times of ‘good’ weather when a donor is not available.

Like many vamps, Darklady was drawn to Paganism, and perhaps hoped to find others like her in the process. Adopting the Pagan name of Darklady, she began to explore her nature and what Pagan culture she could interact with online and off. At that time, Pagan culture flatly ignored Vampyres and those who identified as vampyric. The subject of vampyric people was not openly discussed in Pagan groups and forums online, and generally seemed to be avoided altogether.

Also at that time, there was no known Vampyre community or subculture in Southern Africa of any kind. Vampyres who were Pagans would generally keep their vampyric interests to themselves, particularly in Wiccan groups. Like most Vampyres who awaken alone, Darklady looked online for information. What she knew about Vampyres she gleaned from reputable VC resources such as ‘Sanguinarius,’ but there was simply nothing in South Africa for her in that regard.

In 2005, Darklady started a forum group on WAP called ‘Vampyric.peperonity.com’ in order to try and attract local Vampyres. It was an attempt to reach out to a local community of real Vampyres. However, at that time, she never found any vamps via that channel, local or not. In May 2006, Darklady relocated to Hazyview, another small town in Mpumalanga.

The Magenta Dragon

In September 2006 Darklady joined a Pagan forum called Wica.co.za under the name ‘Magenta Dragon.’ Known simply as ‘Magenta’ after that, she interacted there for a while, quickly rising to become one of the site’s administrators. In 2007, an argument broke out between Magenta and a rather influential South African Pagan, which escalated quite rapidly. The issue was about freedom of association and elitism in the Pagan community. At that time, nearly a decade after the vaunted new South African democracy had become a fact of life, many of the then SA Pagan leadership expressed the opinion that only hereditary witches and coven-based witches could have a valid voice in Pagan affairs. Solitary practitioners and converts were portrayed as unworthy or lesser than these.

Magenta, a relative newcomer to the Pagan community and a solitary witch, found herself taking a fiery stand against this position, not even realizing that she was butting heads with the leader of the South African Pagan community at the time. Although she was a 19 year old cocky newcomer and virtually an unknown, she did not stand alone for long.

“I was young, and thought I knew all the answers,” Magenta said, smiling. “I’d also only just learned how to use the internet, and it was all new to me!”

Three other Pagans joined Magenta in this dispute, and their number of supporters grew dramatically in a short period. This group of four would lead what some saw as a necessary wave of change in the SA Pagan community at that time. Together they decided to split away from the main body of Pagans as headed by those seen as elitists, in order to form their own free community of Pagans. They would receive plenty of support from solitary witches and those who did not find the idea of ordered, structured and hierarchical ‘Christian-like’ Paganism appealing. To this end, the group expanded to six – and established Way of the Rede July 4, 2007.

The Way of the Rede

The Way of the Rede (WOTR) still exists today and operates the same forum offering free membership, interaction, and acceptance to all who identify with Paganism and other occult paths.

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“The point of it all then,” as Magenta explained, “was to have a safe space where people could interact without being judged, or being looked down on for their views – or for not being part of a coven, or being a hereditary witch. You didn’t even have to be a Pagan or a witch to join – you just had to be friendly.”

Through all of her public debates, arguments, and interactions as Magenta, she was open about her vampyric nature in the context of her Pagan beliefs. At the time, she was the only one to do so. However, she was not the only vampyric Pagan. It was on WOTR’s site that she first encountered other Vampyres in South Africa – the first being a WOTR staffer and, quite ironically, an agnostic Christian.

As a reminder, it has to be noted that not all Vampyres are Pagan. Just like a diabetic can hold any religious affiliation, so can vampyric people. That said, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that Magenta struggled to find Vampyres in South Africa. Others kept their vampyric nature low-key on WOTR, and in fact, Magenta had no inkling that they were kindred until they confided in her much later.

Meanwhile, on WOTR many ideas were openly discussed, including vampyrism. These essentially remained theoretical. People who commented on them generally wanted more information, but these still did not draw out any new local vamps.

“From the day I discovered I was a Vampyre I never hid it.” Magenta explained. “Through all my work in Pagan groups I was serious about building those groups, but I was also trying to find others like myself. I needed to find others like me, and I couldn’t find any.”

There is little doubt that Magenta and the Way of the Rede had a profound effect on Pagan culture in South Africa between 2007 and 2009.  That influence included, but was not limited to, challenging the status quo – even if this was just to state a viewpoint held by a majority of South African Pagans – and making those in authority aware that the way they wanted things done was unpopular.

Had the Way of the Rede not started, it is quite likely that the future, for the VC at least, might have been quite different. Magenta might never have encountered other vamps. The SAVA might never have found her, and she may have never found a community for herself – and all would be the poorer for it.

Facebook

In 2008, when Facebook began operating, Magenta saw an opportunity to reach out to find more like her. She started a group called ‘Real Sanguinarians,’ since she was looking for sanguine Vampyres in particular. Nothing came of it. The group was made up of herself and another member of WOTR. “But,” she reminisces, “Facebook was brand new and much, much smaller back then. The right people were just not there yet.”

In March 2009, Magenta moved from Mpumalanga to the Western Cape in the hope of finding better employment opportunities. While there, Magenta remained in general contact with other WOTR members – through real life gatherings and social media. And, she basically lost hope and stopped looking for other Vampyres in the country. She knew they existed, but they were just so hard to find.

That year was not a good one for Magenta. She felt isolated, as she had little in common with her social circle, and struggled to make ends meet. Her attention turned increasingly to matters of day-to-day survival.  In February 2010, Magenta moved back to Mpumalanga and began interacting less and less with Way of the Rede. This was partly due to an introspective re-evaluation of her beliefs, as she began to move away from Wicca and adopted a more eclectic and atheistic view.

Meanwhile a new Vampyre group called House of Havoc appeared on Facebook in December of that year. It was based out of Centurion, Pretoria in Gauteng. Over the next few months, Izak Havoc made various postings on Facebook looking for Vampyres in South Africa, and experienced as much lackluster a response as Magenta. And oddly enough, the two never apparently encountered each other online, until they met in the SAVA in 2011.

SAVA

In 2010, Octarine Valur, the woman who would later became Regent of the SAVA, joined Way of the Rede and fleetingly made contact before she founded the SAVA a year later. She had created an account with WOTR, but only made one post to introduce herself, and then never came back.

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SAVA’s Logo. Each of the symbols represents one of the nine provinces of South Africa.

“At that time I had joined as many forums and groups as I could just to try and find Vampyres in South Africa,” Octarine said. “It was so hard to keep track. The fact is, I sometimes simply lost links and URLs and never found them again.”

“Val had the right contacts to make the community work,” Magenta said of Octarine. “She’d already been part of the American VC for some time and had support from mentors there to draw on. Looking back, she succeeded where the rest of us failed. She was also more tenacious, I think.”

The first time that Magenta heard of any kind of actual Vampyre community existing in South Africa was around the time of SAVA’s first news interview in 2011. It featured Octarine and Nereo and made News24’s headlines. Shortly before that news break, SAVA had begun to search in earnest for vamps in South Africa. Psion Valur De Nocte, who had been a member of WOTR since 2007 under a different user name, approached Magenta. She too was vampyric, and a member of the newly formed group. She invited Magenta.

Magenta joined SAVA that June as Kay Valkir Noctem, and the rest as they say, is history. The persona of Magenta gradually faded away, while Kay Valkir Noctem’s activities increased within the young and growing South African Vampyre community. Between 2011 and 2013, Kay was a fierce recruiter who discovered many of South Africa’s lurking vamps, and also contributed several significant articles to the VC’s cultural repository, including articles on energy feeding and healing through feeding on disease.

Kay is also credited with creating the Mintaka Code glyph used to symbolize community. By mid-2012, Kay Valkir Noctem had become one of the two Praetors to the Regent of the SAVA, alongside her sponsor, Psion. Additionally, in October 2012, Kay was elected Magister for Ilyatha Halo (Mpumalanga) in the SAVA High Council.

Time marches on, and in 2013, Psion Valur De Nocte retired from SAVA and was succeeded by Lunah Valur d’Eir – one of Kay’s recruits – as Praetor. Since 2013, Kay Valkir Noctem has acted as SAVA’s Ambassador to the Dark Nations, and became a member of the prestigious international VC body, the VVC (Voices of the Vampire Community) in February 2016.

“Back then we didn’t think about the long term repercussions of what we were doing,” She said, smiling. “We just did what we did, we did it for freedom, to be free of the tethers of organized religion.”

Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when these things changed in South Africa’s Pagan society. However, gone are the days when people not initiated into registered covens are looked down upon or dismissed as ‘wannabes.’ If some Pagans couldn’t accept non-initiated or non-hereditary witches among them, then there would be no way they would accept Vampyres. In some ways, Magenta says, she feels the stand for broad-based equality in opposition to puritanical Paganism paved the way for later acceptance of Pagans who were also Vampyres.

Kay Valur Noctem, as she is known today, still continues to serve the VC in the capacity of Praetor. Since relocating from Mpumalanga in 2016, she has become a member of Coven Veritas within House Valur. This past March, after an absence of several years, Kay resumed an active interest in the Way of the Rede and, as one of its founders, plans to welcome Otherkin (including Vampyres) into that forum as well, now as Kay Valur Noctem.

SOUTH AFRICA — Members of the South African Pagan Council are celebrating the organization’s decennial this year with a variety of festivities. It is also an opportunity for Pagans worldwide to learn about the efforts of this one organization, and to gain a greater understanding of the nature of modern Paganism in South Africa. Leaders of the SAPC opted to answer questions from The Wild Hunt as a group because of their organizational structure, which they explain in their responses.

Rainbow_BlackThe Wild Hunt:  How does SAPC fund its activities?

South African Pagan Council:  Currently it is done through contributions and payments by individuals, regional events that fund successive events, and the SAPC 10 year Commemoration T-Shirt, the sales of which will go towards funding bigger things.

TWH:  What benefits does someone gain by becoming a member?

SAPC: The members of the SAPC have at their disposal expert advice, trauma councillors who regularly assist members of the community, lessons, intervention on part of the organisation in cases of religious discrimination at school and in the work place, committees and subcommittees that take care of the spiritual needs of the community, spiritual and moral support, discussion groups, lessons from the high priestess, Pagan Freedom Day celebrations as well as the opportunity to take part in the advancement and upliftment of the Pagan banner through personal involvement in the various committees and subcommittees, becoming RMOs [registered marriage officers] for an officially recognised and registered religious organisation, having officially designated clergy to solemnise legally binding marriages and civil unions and affiliated groups to choose from when networking. The SAPC is run on the Arthurian round table principle. We advocate power with, rather than power over. Community building, bridge building, education, academic research and the presentation thereof in summits and conferences presented by the authorities, involvement with the media, are amongst some of the benefits the members of the SAPC enjoy.

TWH:  Has the face of Paganism in South Africa changed in the past ten years? If so, how?

SAPC: The key role players are still there, but there are a myriad of people out there, solitaries and independents that have met on forums/cyber and which have banded together as small covens and those who have maintained their solitary status but exchange ideas and request for assistance over the internet.

TWH: Is the membership of SAPC racially diverse? If it isn’t, is that something that you’d like to see change? Why or why not?

SAPC: Yes, we have several African, Indian and Coloured members but would (without proselytizing) see more folk from various backgrounds, identify as Pagan and join our organisation. We are not Eurocentric or neo-colonialist as many have intimated. The statistics are what they are because we’re still in a phase of education and introduction, but it is already clear that more and more folk find that they find themselves at home under the Pagan banner irrespective of their cultural or racial background. They find that the possibility of eclectically marrying their ways to the celebration of the days in the wheel of seasons and rites of passage, opens up new horizons.

It is for all of us (the Rainbow Nation) a matter of “coming home.”

TWH:  Do you have any information on the number of Pagans in South Africa, and whether that number is growing or declining? How does that compare to the number of members in SAPC?

SAPC: No proper census has ever been done by the authorities as this alternative option is not present in census forms. Any census done on line, between the various groups, is therefore only a marginal indication and cannot be considered to be accurate. Not all Pagans are cyber active. What we have noticed is that there are more and more applications and more and more online members, in our and in other groups. It is evident, therefore, that the movement is growing by leaps and bounds, but we cannot provide exact figures. I would be comfortable in saying, however that the numbers have trebled in the last ten years.

TWH:  Where in South Africa is Paganism most highly concentrated, to your understanding?

SAPC: We would say in the big cities, because there are more people in the cities, but we have members even in the remotest little towns in the countryside. Paganism is said to be the fastest growing religion in our campuses, but once again, we have no figures. Just some sporadic reports in newspapers at University Cities.

TWH:  As for the Pagan Freedom Day Movement events, how many people do you expect to attend these?

SAPC: This depends on many things from weather, the political climate within the Pagan community, funds available (our country is currently in a bit of pinch) and where people decide to attend the event. Some folk have taken to travelling to far-away events in order to meet friends for the first time, to see how it is done in that part of the country, etc. Some travel because they are curious about the activities advertised and decide that because these appeal to them, that they will support those regional organisers on a particular year. Johannesburg is by far our best attended event, every year. Ryan Fallon Young and his wife Nicki Lunawolf Young are absolute gems and the true experts at event organising.

TWH:  What kinds of activities will be involved? Is there included some kind of education component, such as what might be found in Pagan Pride Day events in the USA?

SAPC: The activities include stalls, meditation, competitions, sword fighting, musical entertainment, dancing and drumming around the bonfire, ending off with a circle and spiritual gathering. Talks on Paganism open the event and continue, in the form of demonstrations and lectures during the course of the day.

The events take place in open and public areas so the public at large joins the crowds, participate and of course learn from the talks and from making acquaintances with the Pagans at the event.

TWH:  For those of us unfamiliar with South African geography, would it be possible for an individual to hit all six event sites in one day?

SAPC: No, not unless he has mastered instant teleportation.

South Africa is a medium-sized country, with a total land area of 1 219 090 square kilometres, or roughly equivalent in size to Niger, Angola, Mali or Colombia. It is one-eighth the size of the US, about a third the size of the European Union, twice the size of France and over three times the size of Germany. [Ref: www.southafrica.info/about/facts.htm]

TWH:  What would you say the major SAPC accomplishments have been in its first ten years?

SAPC: SAPRA were the first officially registered organisation in Africa and the SAPC second. We were the first officially registered Pagan Religious Organisation to have a designated Marriage Officer. Clients of the LHRC and key interested party and role players in the field of equal religious rights along with SAPRA, CRL and SALRC. We have taken on schools and corporate companies on the matter of religious equality and succeeded. Our membership has loyally supported our endeavours, such as the exhibition of Art for Human Rights in 2013, part of our support for SAPRA’s 30 Days Advocacy Against Witch Hunts campaign, which we have supported since its very start. We have alongside SAPRA, also been instrumental in stopping the Mpumalanga Witchcraft Bill in 2007 and in working towards the CRL’s proposal this year, for the scrapping of the 1957 WSA. We have published several volumes of Pagan Literature, ipods and mini videos.

We can proudly say that we have spent the last ten years educating people in matters Pagan and occult, participating in symposiums and publishing papers with University Departments of Missiology and Religion countrywide, fighting against human rights abuses, standing up against misinformation in the media, fighting off the waves of Satanic panic, addressing with SAPRA smearing campaigns by religious extremist and the statal bodies which support them and within which they operate, as well as the cancer of exclusivity within our own community, in order to function as the intended umbrella, and operate as per our motto of “Unity Through Diversity,” a reality in which every affiliated group has autonomy and manages itself independently.

TWH:  What would you like to achieve during the next ten years?

SAPC: We would like to continue striving to outdo what we have so far delivered but most of all, of having a central place where we can run a community garden, a soup kitchen and offer low cost accommodation for Pagans and their families who have been hard struck by unemployment and homelessness.

The Convener has also gathered a library of over 5000 Pagan and Esoteric books which would be housed in a library at this centre.

A Pagan temple is also our oldest yet not forgotten dream.

SOUTH AFRICA — After years of lobbying by Pagan groups in the country, the South African Law Reform Commission has determined that portions of that nation’s Witchcraft Suppression Act are unconstitutional. Witches should be able to identify themselves as such, the commission found, as well as practice divination. However, the proposed replacement law still has its problems, according to members of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, because it singles out “harmful witchcraft practices” for regulation on the basis that they can cause “intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror.” SAPRA members are drafting a response to the bill and hope to see changes in it before it becomes law.sapralogoThe Witchcraft Suppression Act of 1957 is, like most similar laws in African nations, based on 1735 Witchcraft Act of the United Kingdom, which was itself repealed in 1951. SAPRA requested a review of this law in 2007, an effort which was joined by the South African Pagan Council and the Traditional Healers Association. That slow process has finally resulted in the release of a lengthy issue paper by the SALRC, an independent body created in 1973 to investigate South African laws and make recommendations to the national and provincial governments for reform.

In that issue paper, members of the SALRC agreed that by making it illegal to identify as a Witch, the act violates the right to religious expression guaranteed in the South African constitution. Part of the problem stemmed from the fact that there is no definition of Witchcraft in the legislation. In other words, Wiccans and other Pagans fell into the same category as those who are more traditionally considered Witches in sub-Saharan Africa, a place where the word “witch” is often associated with people who use supernatural powers to cause harm.

Where the SALRC paper deviates from the hoped-for outcome is in how it tries to make distinctions between the different uses of the word “witch.” According to Damon Leff, who has been working on this cause for years, “The draft bill is focused on preventing accusations of witchcraft and witch-hunts, human mutilations and ritual murder, and what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices.’ ” In Leff’s view, that lumps together actions which should be unacceptable for any person to commit with beliefs that are protected.

We believe that existing laws may be used to deal with human mutilations and ritual murder – we already have a Human Tissues Act which prohibits the harvest and sale of human body parts, and murder is already illegal. We also believe that what the Commission calls ‘harmful witchcraft practices,’ in the absence of actual demonstrable criminal activity, cannot be proven in any court of law to exist without reference to belief, and since the Bill of Rights protects the right to belief, ‘witchcraft beliefs’ aught to play no role in the determination of actual criminal guilt.

The bill has apparently been structured to address concerns that the widespread belief in malevolent magic makes it possible for one person to cause very real harm to another by convincing them that they intend to cast such a spell. Leff provided a copy of the response that SAPRA is drafting, which lays it out thus:

Whilst certain crimes may indeed be motivated by belief, those crimes identified in the Commission’s definition of alleged ‘harmful witchcraft’ practices, specifically, intimidation with the intent to cause psychological distress or terror, may be committed by a member of any (or no) religious faith. Indeed, there is sufficient evidence to show that some Christians and Traditional Healers have in the past attempted to justify their criminal acts by appealing to their beliefs as motivation for such acts.

Traditional healers may also underlie muti murders, committed to obtain a specific human body part for the purposes of healing another. Children, the elderly and disabled are most susceptible to these kinds of attacks. The draft response reads:

SAPRA must argue that since the perpetrators of such practices, specifically those who trade in human body parts, do not self-identify as Witches or as practitioners of Witchcraft, but have in the past been identified as traditional healers or as practitioners of traditional African religion (who do not self-identify as Witches), the application of the term ‘witchcraft’ to such practices constitutes an equally inaccurate misnomer. Muthi murders have nothing to do with Witchcraft, because actual Witches are not the perpetrators of such crimes.

Instead, they argue, such crimes should be enforced under the existing Human Tissues Act, which was passed specifically to prevent such crimes.

From the SALRC issue paper, it appears that the Traditional Healers Organization has pushed for a clear definition of Witchcraft in a new law, and regulation of the harmful practices associated with it. Traditional healers, according to Leff, would never identify as “Witches” because of the strong cultural bias against the term, which has only been challenged recently with the spread of Wicca and related religions.

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Pagan Freedom Day in South Africa [Photo Credit: Ginney May / Wikimedia]

Another problem with the replacement bill, insofar as Pagans are concerned, is that while accusations of Witchcraft are banned, it doesn’t go far enough to protect those accused. The existing law has even been flouted by public officials. SAPRA’s draft response asserts, “Such a Bill must however not merely prohibit accusations of Witchcraft and punish those who do make accusations of Witchcraft which lead to harm against the accused, it must also provide the victims of accusation, living refugees of accusation, with access and means to victim support and restorative justice,” Since the lifting of apartheid, restorative justice has become a powerful concept in South Africa.

In short, SAPRA’s position is that laws should be based on verifiable evidence of wrongdoing, and no crime should be associated with a belief system such as Witchcraft, since heinous acts can be committed by anyone regardless of their religion or lack thereof. The comment period on the draft bill and related issue paper ends in April, and it could be another year before it is presented as a white paper, and submitted to parliament for consideration.

“If the SALRC goes ahead with the proposal, the Bill will be sent to Parliament for review before it is published, and only after that, could it become an Act of Parliament,” explained Leff. “We plan to stop that from happening.”

Encompassing over 470,000 square miles and boasting close to 1,750 miles of coastline on two oceans, South Africa is the 25th largest nation by area, and 24th largest by population. The term “Pagan” was all but unknown there prior to 1994, at which time the same constitution that lifted the apartheid system of racial segregation also provided for freedom of religion. Since that point minority religions, such as those within Heathenry, Wicca and others associated with Paganism, have been adopted by a growing number of people, modelling — and sometimes adapting — practices more common in the northern hemisphere.

PAN eventsOne group that is active in promoting Paganism in South Africa is the Pagan Assistance Network, which has been putting on a growing number of annual events. A quick look at PAN’s calendar shows how adapting wheel-of-the-year holidays for the southern hemisphere doesn’t always result in a complete reversal. While their Midwinter Fairy Festival takes place during the northern summer solstice, the Samhain event, which has since been cancelled, was set for October 29. This scheduling suggests that cultural influences — such as trick-or-treating — exert as much of a pull on these relatively new practices as the changing of the seasons.

Ryan and Luna Young, regional organizers for PAN in Johannesburg, described the concept:

We have four days a year that we celebrate and gather Pagans and like-minded people for a day of fun and give our community the opportunity to meet other like minded people.

The first day on our calendar is Pagan Freedom Day. This is celebrated on the 27th April of each year, on our National Freedom Day [which] represents the first post-apartheid election that was held on this day in 1994. As Pagans we celebrate on this day as it is a day also given to all South Africans no matter race, gender, or any other classification. They are free to be. The event was started with unity in diversity in mind, and is the biggest day on our calendar. It is celebrated with live music, archery, medieval sword fighting, ancient games and activities. The day is ended off with a fire display and a drumming circle.

Medieval-style activities are used frequently in celebration. Ryan Young offered some details about the nature of the local traditions which have led to that overall tone. “We, my wife and I. . . and our medieval fighters are for the most part Heathens, and [sword fighting] is our way of including all the different Pagan paths. We are fortunate to be blessed with a rather large assortment of different paths here, Wiccan, Druidic, Heathen, Egyptian, eclectic, vampiric, solitaries and so many others. We do our utmost to include all paths into our events. Every year we add on a bit more than the year before. In this way the events grow, as does the attraction value.”

Drawing together people from a variety of paths for a public gathering shows how much has changed in the ten years since Pagan Freedom Day was adopted. From 1997-2007, Annika Teppo studied South African white Neopagans. She found that this group mostly avoided public rituals and often avoided even interacting with one another. In her paper, “My House is Protected by a Dragon: White South Africans, Magic and Sacred Spaces in Post-Apartheid Cape Town, she describes her interviewees as preferring to meet online, to gather in private homes, or most frequently to just go it alone:

A ‘solitary pagan’ is someone who practices alone. They do not ask others to join their rituals, nor are they willing to give detailed descriptions of their own practices. They are wary of pagan circles, as they fear that some individuals might want to benefit from them financially, or might want to involve them in power struggles —- a phenomenon globally connected with neopagan movements and known as “witch wars.”

Some of my informants divulged that they were or had previously been solitaries simply because they found ‘pagan politics’ too difficult in Cape Town. My informants’ unanimous opinion was that organized neopagan groups or covens are prone to squabbling —- which can be both fierce and malicious. I could seldom conduct an interview without the issue of ‘pagan politics’ surfacing. Those working in covens were also aware of the dangers involved and wanted to avoid them.

Teppo’s research was not only conducted over a number of years, it was also performed solely in Cape Town, which is nearly 870 miles from Johannesburg, the country’s largest metropolis and the place where PAN conducts its events.

 

SA kids drumming

Continuing with the description of the four PAN events, Ryan Young said:

The second day on the calendar is Midwinter Fairy Festival, and it is celebrated on the first weekend after the midwinter solstice. This event is organized by Blossoming Tansy in conjunction with PAN. The day is celebrated with everyone dressing up as the fairy folk, and concentrates on the more charitable work where we raise funds for charity organizations, be they for animals or humans. The event is ended also with a drumming circle and fire display.

Our third day on the calendar is Pagan Heritage Day and is organized by PAN in conjunction with Blossoming Tansy. With this event we concentrate on the arts and crafts of the Pagan community, giving our artists the opportunity to display their paintings and crafts. Otherwise, the day’s activities include live music, medieval sword fighting, ancient games and activities like Viking chess, toss the kaber and so forth, and as always ends with a drumming circle and fire display.

Like Pagan Freedom Day, Pagan Heritage Day is part of a wider celebration, in which “all South Africans across the spectrum are encouraged to celebrate our culture and the diversity of their beliefs and traditions, in the wider context of a nation that belongs to all its people.”  Then, finally there is “All Hallows Eve.” Although it was ultimately cancelled for this year, Young had already provided a description of the final of the four events:

Our last and newest day is Old Hallows Eve. This is a new one that we have started and will be held on the 31st October and will be slightly different from the others, in that we will be starting later in the day and will be having trick or treat, an outdoor theater showing old horror movies, and on the other side of the field a drumming circle and fire display. And what is Halloween without costumes?

Halloween, at least as it’s celebrated in the United States and other northern countries, presents endless opportunities for Pagans to confront familiar stereotypes of witches as ugly, malicious women, known for terrorizing children and duping peasants in European fairy tales. In Africa, however, the word “witch” is not so easily dismissed as myth by the overculture. Damon Leff, a former director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance, explained:

In every African country, including South Africa, the word ‘witchcraft’ refers to the negative use of magic to cause harm. It has no positive usage or definition amongst Africans. South Africa is the only African country that I know of where the term’s negative usage and definition is being contested by actual Witches. We (SAPRA and the SAPC) are also legally challenging the constitutionality of the 1957 Witchcraft Suppression Act which (although it does prohibit accusations of witchcraft) also prohibits any knowledge or practice of witchcraft.

Teppo found this to be the case, as well:

The distinction between healing and witchcraft is of fundamental importance in this worldview. In the wrong hands, knowledge of invisible forces and muthi, traditional medicines, can cause death and destruction, but in the hands of a benevolent healer, or a sangoma, this knowledge can cure illness and protect people from harm. Witchcraft holds no such ambivalence: it is always evil, an antithesis of everything sacred or commendable. A witch is any person who uses muthi or his knowledge of the occult to harm others.

Moreover, Leff suggests that many Pagans are not interested in readily accepting this widespread definition of “witch” and continue in their attempts to reclaim the term. This particular issue also points to a cultural and racial divide that is, in part, specific to this country. Teppo explained:

Many Wiccans prefer to call themselves ‘witches’, which has been a root of confusion and misinterpretations, and has divided them into two different camps in the United States. In South Africa, the term is even more controversial. In most of the African cultures, a witch is a malevolent character, truly feared. Among black South Africans, witchcraft means something irrevocably evil and horrifying. This perspective also prevailed for centuries in Europe and the United States, where being a Wiccan is still rather marginal despite Wicca’s recent popularity. … In the African systems of belief, a ‘good witch’ does not exist.

Teppo follows up with an observation by one of her Wiccan informants, who explained the problems with terminology:

In Wiccan terms witches are light-workers, terms that we are proud to use (…) However, our neighbours in this same country, the traditional African pagans, use the same terms in a very, very different, horrible connotation. A witch is often the person that all sorts of misfortunes are ascribed to… It is most unlikely that we are going to change [this perspective] … it is too deeply ingrained in the language, you cannot take it back any more… The white witches of this country, who are proud of the term, are also not prepared to give up these terms. (Female, 37)

While, as Teppo notes, the controversy over the word “witch” is not as intense in the United States, it still remains a challenge the two Pagans communities share to some extent. Another is the relationship with indigenous practitioners. In both countries, there are some people who cross that cultural boundary with mixed reactions, and there are those with a desire to include indigenous traditions under the Pagan umbrella, which is not typically welcome. Teppo quotes a member of one Pagan group who wishes to bring two paths together:

The cornerstone of this temple is rooted in a futuristic idealism to marry and integrate aspects of African pagan paths’ tradition with those of the current practice of Wicca. Everyone who joins our temple knows that they should not join the temple if they do not prescribe to the idea. – Andi Fisher, Temple of Ubuntu.

Fisher’s use of “pagan” in reference to African religions does not appear to be the norm. Leff observed that “. . . people engaged in African traditional religion/s do not self-identify as Pagans, nor as pagans, through their own choice; the term ‘pagan’ was used to label African religious practices under colonial and National Party rule, and it’s a term practitioners of indigenous religions refuse to embrace. In the South African context, Paganism (neo-Paganism) and Traditional African Religions are two separate religious identities. This, despite the very obvious similarities between them in both belief and ritual and magical practice.”

Additionally, it is important to note that, because of the scope of Teppo’s work, her informants were mostly white. As a result, the reasons why black South Africans might not be drawn to modern Pagan religions could only be inferred.

Despite sincere attempts to rise above the racial divide that separated South Africa for decades — including a groundbreaking Truth and Reconciliation Commission to mend those wounds — there remains quite a bit of self-segregation in this country, and Paganism has largely fallen on the white side of the fence. It’s a fact that Leff is also unwilling to deny. However, he’s quick to point out that it’s not the whole picture.

I think there is lingering “racial tension.” Although the system of apartheid has been removed, the effects of that system remain ever present in society. We changed the political system, not people’s prejudices. That said, many South Africans of all ethnicities have and do work together to make our country better than it was.

Harmony is a constant tension between opposites.Sometimes that tension slips one or the other way, only to be re-centred on an external value, whether common interest or legal principle. Our countries share many of the same ideological “conflicts.” Our legal and constitutional systems appear to be sound, so far, and the rights enshrined in the Bill of Rights are upheld (largely).

In some ways, Paganism in South Africa is surprisingly similar to what is found in other parts of the world, which includes many of the same tensions and discussions, such as religious respect and freedom; cultural appropriation and influence; racial and ethnic disparity and inclusivity – to name a few. At the same time, this growing community was birthed within both a unique socio-cultural climate and specific a geographical environment, which informs it and allows it to thrive in its own way.

[On a weekly basis, we bring you the news and issues that affect Pagan and Heathen communities around the world. Pagan Community Notes is a weekly column that features important short stories and news blurbs from within our collective communities. If you value our work, please consider donating to our fall fund drive today. Bringing you important news and stories, like the ones below, is what we love to do. Your support makes it possible for us to continue for another year. Thank you very much.]

3377032_1440958544.4266On Aug. 18, the Florida Pagan community lost one of its longtime, active members. Lady Moonfire, elder of the Church of Iron Oak – ATC and High Priestess of Coven Tropic Moon, passed beyond the veil after losing a long battle with cancer. Also known as Brandie Gramling, Lady Moonfire was born in Bristol, Connecticut March 25, 1957. She studied and lived in Kentucky before arriving in Florida, which then became her home.

Brandie’s Pagan journey began in 1994 when she joined the Church of Iron Oak. She helped with the group’s 10 month legal battle over zoning restrictions in the city of Palm Bay. During that time, Iron Oak’s neighbors attempted to stop the group from performing Wiccan rituals and worship in its home temple space. These neighbors claimed that the area was zoned residential only. In the end, Iron Oak won the battle when the city’s zoning board, ruled in its favor.

In 1996, Brandie moved to the Coven Lia Fail where she was initiated into the Gardnerian tradition. Then, in 1999, she finished her training, receiving her third degree. Nine years later, she was ordained by the Aquarian Tabernacle Church. Over that time period, Brandie also became involved with Florida Pagan Gathering (FPG), first as an attendee and eventually as a staff member. For twenty years, Brandie was present at every FPG, twice-yearly. In addition to being an active Priestess, Brandie enjoyed teaching students, making mead and being an herbalist. In the late 1990s, she maintained a small web presence devoted to these topics.

In the fall of 2014, Brandie was diagnosed with stage 4 lung cancer, and she began and extensive treatment program. In February 2015, a GoFundMe campaign was launched to help offset her growing medical costs. However, in Aug, she lost her battle and passed away. Her family has left the fund open to donations, and all money will be used to pay her final bills. Brandie is survived by her husband, their partner, her two daughters and her father. Coven Tropic Moon has moved to Kentucky and is under the care of Lady Luna Owlheart and Lord Fox Fire. According to the family, there will be no public memorial. They have chosen to privately scatter Brandie’s ashes over a number of different places that she held dear. What is Remembered, Lives.

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Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Many Gods West Facebook Photo

Organizers have announced the return of Many Gods West. According to the announcement, Niki Whiting is returning as one of the coordinators of the event uniquely devoted to Polytheism. Once again, it will be held in Olympia, Washington. The opening and closing ceremonies will be hosted by Rynn Fox of the Coru Cathubodua. At this point, those are the only details provided.

Whiting said, “The enthusiasm, support, and love for this conference – from the gods and from humans – exceeded any expectations I had. I am hoping that MGW 2016 will be even better.” She added that organizers will be accepting proposals sometime this fall. She suggests following the MGW facebook for the most recent news, including all important dates and the launch of the 2016 web page.

In the meantime, you can read more about the inaugural 2015 Many Gods West event here at The Wild Hunt. Heathen Chinese attended and provided us with an extensive review of his experience.

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602721_484990421567144_202466889_nEverglades Moon Local Council (EMLC), a division of Covenant of the Goddess (CoG) located in Florida, has released its most recent podcast. This Mabon recording marks the 15th episode of the “Reaching for the Moon” podcast.

In 2013, EMLC organizers began creating podcasts in conjunction with the sabbats. They saw this as a way to not only regularly communicate with their community members, who are spread out over the entire state, but also to involve them in a unique way. The first podcast was recorded for Imbolc of that year. It included interviews with attendees of EMLCs yearly “Turning the Tides” event, as well as a Pagan parenting discussion and music by Lady Bridget and Ginger Doss.

Over the past two years, the podcasts have grown considerably and include more variety and greater participation. The 15th edition includes five different talks, on topics from baking bread to “Pagan Standard Time,” and three musical selections by the groups Crow Woman and Emerald Rose. EMLC invites everyone to participate, “If you’d like to contribute something to our podcast, whether it’s your music, an article, or something else, please leave us a comment below and we’ll get back to you to help make that happen!” You can listen to the podcasts on the group’s website or through iTunes, Stitcher and Libsyn.

In Other News:

  • Dr. Karl E. H. Seigfried has published the first of a two-part interview with writer Jennifer Snook. As we reported in June, Snook is the author of the new book American Heathens: The Politics of Identity in a Pagan Religious Movement. She is a professor of sociology at Grinnell College, and has been a practicing Heathen since the age of eighteen. In his article, Seigfried writes, “For anyone interested in the subject of modern Heathen belief and practice, the book is indispensable. As the first work of its kind, it will be the defining text in this field.” He then moves on to the extensive, in-depth interview.
  • As we noted last week, T. Thorn Coyle has returned to blogging after an short hiatus. During that break, she was able to focus on different projects, one of which was her fiction book Like Water. The other is the newly published book Sigil Magic: For Writers, Artists and Other Creatives. This book was published in Aug, and it is described as such: “Sigils can assist us with any creative venture: from writing novels and prepping art shows, to building lives filled with curiosity, wonder, and success. Sigil Magic walks us through a variety of ways to generate and charge up our sigils, and includes instructions for preparation and cleansing, working with intentional statements, and using magical mantras and a variety of sigils types. Take a risk. Make your mark.” Sigil Magic is currently available through Amazon.
  • Diotima Mantineia, Chief Star Gazer at Urania’s Well, is beginning a new 9 week course in Astrology. Mantineia has been studying the subject since 1968, and it has guided much of her Pagan experience. Taught from Mantineia’s home in North Carolina, the beginner astrology class will be held completely online and will begin Oct. 19. Manineia writes, “The symbolic language of astrology offers profound insights … No astrologer, no other person, can do more than point you toward these gems — only you can fully experience the truths that ignite your soul. And that’s why I am teaching this course.”
  • The Conference on Current Pagan Studies has extended its abstract deadline to Oct 6. The announcement reads, “The overall theme for the 2016 Conference is Social Justice. We face issues of social justice everywhere we look, from something as overwhelming as ‪#‎blacklivesmatter‬ to the seeming trivial Wiccanate privilege … We are looking for papers from all disciplines. A community needs artists, teachers, scientists, healers, historians, philosophers, educators, thinkers, activists, etc.” The abstracts should be no more than 300 words. More information is available on its website.

Heritage-Day-2015

  • Our friends in South Africa will be celebrating Pagan Heritage Day on Sept. 26. This event is sponsored by the Pagan Assistance Network and will be held Sunnyridge Primary, Germiston. The festival includes music, drumming, food, art, vendors and more. Contact information is available in the graphic above and on the website

That’s it for now. Have a great day!

Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

Elder Flint of Dragon Ritual Drummers

It was announced this week that Dragon Ritual Drummer founder and elder Flint has lost is battle with cancer.  Flint was diagnosed July 2014. The doctor’s gave him only two months to live, but he fought hard, even performing with the band. Utu Witchdoctor posted on the group’s Facebook page, “Brother Flint was one of our founding members, a force to be reckoned with, a soul that touched so many, one of the best there ever was. Our man Flint was the grounding force in our troupe, kept all us youngins’ in place, he was our father, our brother, our best friend.”

After Flint’s family is finished with its private ceremony, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will be holding a special, public Viking funeral for him. Utu Witchdoctor said, “We have already begun the construction of the funeral boat, and it will be set a flame and cast out into the waters as everyone drums and celebrates his life, full open pagan ceremony and celebration.” 

Despite this loss, the Dragon Ritual Drummers will not be taking any time off and plan to honor Flint at every one of their scheduled performances. The next one will be at Florida Pagan Gathering, where the group plans to share many of their memories and release some of their grief. Utu Witchdoctor also noted that the song Bamboula, performed at the end of most shows and captured in a recent video, will be forever dedicated to Flint. He explained that this song has an “historic New Orleans voodoo rhythm [that they] were entrusted with” and that honors one’s ancestors. Flint is now considered an ancestor of “their tribe.” What is remembered, lives.

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Pagan Freedom DayIn South Africa, April 27 marks Pagan Freedom Day. The movement began twelve years ago, in 2003, when a number of local Pagans began discussing the need to openly declare their religious freedom. Damon Leff explained, “At the time, even prominent (public) Pagans were questioning whether or not Witches in South Africa were really free. It was important to show them that we were, that we could gather publicly.” The first gatherings happened in 2004 in “Johannesburg, Cape Town, Durban and the Wilderness” with no negative backlash.

Over the years, the annual celebration has become larger, spreading to other communities throughout South Africa. Mja Principe, convener of the Pagan Freedom Day Movement and Pagan Council, said, “Freedom Day is the annual celebration of every South African’s right to human dignity, freedom of expression, freedom of association, as well as the celebration of religious freedom, irrespective of the individual’s alternative or mainstream religious background.”  Penton Independent Media has published several posters advertising local celebrations and scheduled activities. Photos of the day’s events will be uploaded to the Pagan Freedom Day Movement Facebook page.

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[Courtesy Photo]

[Courtesy Photo]

This past weekend, Rev. Patrick McCollum, together with friends, celebrated his 50 years of service to the Pagan community. In 1965, McCollum began the work that eventually led to his position today as a global ambassador of peace, a respected spiritual counselor and interfaith chaplain. Over those 50 years, he has been involved with a number of Pagan organizations, including Our Lady of the Wells, Cherry Hill Seminary Covenant of the Goddess, Circle Sanctuary, Lady Liberty League, and more.

In 2010, McCollum won the Mahatma Gandhi Award for the Advancement of Religious Pluralism and, through his foundation, he continues his commitment, as a Pagan voice, to global peace work. Most recently, the foundation announced that it is reaching out to communities in Nepal to assist in the aftermath of Saturday’s earthquake. We will have more on that developing story tomorrow.

In Other News

That’s it for now. Have a nice day!

On April 6 South Africa’s African National Congress (ANC) held a 35th anniversary event to commemorate the death of freedom fighter Solomon Malanghu. Several national politicians spoke including President Jacob Zuma. The event turned “surreal,” as described by The Cape Times, when the National Sports Minister Fikile Mbalula labeled opposition party members “witches.”

The ANC is currently the controlling party of South Africa’s national government. However the country’s provinces are independently run. While the ANC maintains control over most of these provinces, its opposition party, the Democratic Alliance (DA), is the controlling force in the West Cape. The two parties regularly engage in heated political debates, street conflicts, marches and rallies.

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: Government ZA Flickr]

Minister Mbalula at CHAN 2014 media briefing, 16 Jan 2014 [Photo Credit: GCIS]

The anniversary event was held in a community center in the township of Nyanga in Cape Town which is located in the DA-controlled West Cape. Speaking to ANC supporters, Minister Mbalula took a direct shot at the opposing party when he said:

This thing of witchcraft is when a witch does nothing for the people but they still get re-elected. This is what we find ourselves in here in the Western Cape. We are being governed by witches. (As quoted by The Cape Times)

Later in the speech Mbalula adds:

These witches are oppressing us, they are trampling on us. Where are the tokoloshes and the (sangomas) so that we can chase these witches away? It is witchcraft to let people live with feces inside their own homes and have no proper toilets. This is the same province where farmworkers are not paid with money but in the dop system … It is the same place where our people are called refugees. What do you call that? Witchcraft … (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Witchcraft accusations are a serious business in sub-Sahara Africa. As described in this Daily news report, a lost grandmother can be accused of witchcraft and consequently in danger of being physically assaulted. Through his words Mbalula called up a deep-seated cultural fear surrounding occult practice.

In the weeks prior to Mbalula’s speech, the DA had publicly challenged President’s Zuma’s fiscal policies and accused him of corruption. In response the ANC demanded a legal retraction. Mbalula’s witchcraft accusations may have been a direct response to the DA’s claims.  All of this is happening only a month prior to general elections.

As explained in an opinion piece published by mainstream media site eNCA, a South African 24 hour television news station:

The ruling party seems to have deployed the Minister of Sports and Recreation to bring inflammatory and incendiary ideas and practices from the fringes into mainstream political debate… This was a role played by the party’s Youth League leaders not so long ago: making statements so provocative that the party elite could maintain a safe distance from any fallout yet benefit without necessarily disavowing or disciplining the errant figures. 

Mbalula’s speech may not have been completely a party play. He has a history of publicly lashing out. In a recent interview he called the South African media “losers” for criticizing his plans to shape South African athletics. In a tweet he likened his dreams to that of Hitler’s.

110414tweet

When soccer fans booed President Zuma, Mbalula called these fans “wolves and hooligans” whose “plans, infused in Satanism at best, will never succeed in the future because their plans are nothing else but filled with evil.”

Minister Mbalula appears to have a propensity for using inflammatory language. However in the case of his witchcraft accusations, the words are more than just offensive.They are illegal as defined in the Witchcraft Supression Act of 1957 & 1970. Making this point is South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) director Damon Leff,

We remind the Minister and the ANC provincial secretary that according to Act 3 of 1957, accusations of witchcraft are punishable by a fine of up to R400,000 or imprisonment for up to 10 years. Accusations of witchcraft amount to incitement to violence in South Africa. ANC members therefore contravene the electoral act by inciting violence (as quoted in the Citizen Daily)

Leff was interviewed about this subject by Talk Radio Host Kieno Kammies:


SAPRA has called on the ANC and the national government to apologize and condemn the ongoing, dangerous witch accusations. Since this call-to-action there has been no response from either party.  

These recent political events happen to coincide with SAPRA’s yearly “30 Days of Advocacy” campaign to raise awareness for and end the notorious witch-hunts in the country. SAPRA and other similar organizations have been regularly engaged in a cultural struggle and daily conversation with media, law enforcement and government.

30daysIn early 2014 the South African Police Occult Crime Unit revealed that “occult” related crimes were rising. In reaction:

[Unit] investigators [will be] doing awareness workshops that are being presented at various schools, churches, police stations …  A network of prayer groups from different church denominations where establish to assist with the problems.

In a press release SAPRA noted that the Unit has designated the warning signs of Occult “dabblers” as:

Personality changes including rebelliousness, boredom, low self-worthiness, difficulty relating to peers, a change in friends, secretiveness, a drop in academic performance, loss of interest in extra-curricular activities, avoidance of their family, drug and alcohol use, and withdrawal from their family religious heritage and a lack of church attendance … an unusual interest in books, films and videos with an occult theme…body markings, including the Pentagram 

In February SAPRA protested by lodging “a formal charge of hate speech against the SAPS Occult Crime Unit and its members, with the Minister of Police Nathi Mthethwa, and the South African Human Rights Commission.”

Fortunately all of SAPRA’s work isn’t defensive. Just today Leff announced that SAPRA is being consulted in the amending of the country’s Witchcraft Suppression Act. The final paper will be submitted directly to the Law Reform Commission by May 30. It is SAPRA’s hope that the Commission will make some distinctions in Witchcraft practices that will support South African Pagans and curb the destructive witch-hunts.

In the meantime charges of witchcraft continue even at the highest level of public politics. The eNCA’s opinion piece concludes:

We can ill afford to either tolerate or entrench vilifying political speechifying which deploys tropes designed to provoke communities into moral panics. In March it was Satanism; in April it was witchcraft. What will May bring? …As for the appropriateness of calling people witches at a memorial for Solomon Mahlangu, one recalls the words of Joseph Welch from the United States’ anti-communist ‘witch-hunts’ during the 1950s: “Have you no sense of decency, sir?

While SAPRA will continue to wait for an apology from Mbalula and the ANC, it is not expecting to receive one.  The organization will be focusing its energy on the Commission’s reform work. A full article and update on that effort will be published in Penton Media’s Minority Review blog near the end of April.

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Pope Francis

Pope Francis

  • Esquire Magazine thinks we are living in a “pagan” age, and that Pope Francis is the perfect Catholic Pontiff for these times. Quote: “The paganism of 300 and Pompeii reflects that world in its representation of a paganism of pure might; it shows the savagery of mere materialism. Another brand of entertainment shares this criticism: that oldest practitioner of show business, the Catholic Church. Pope Francis fully deserves the adulation that has been showered on him, because he is one of the rare public figures of our moment who is adequately humble and adequately in touch with reality to know the limits of his own power and the institution he controls.”
  • But wait, the recent Frontline special on the Vatican shows that Catholicism has a lot of beams to take out of their collective eyes before they start picking at the “pagan” specks in ours. Quote: “The list of problems facing the Catholic Church is long. Among the scandals Pope Francis inherited nearly one year ago are the clergy sex abuse crisis, allegations of money laundering at the Vatican bank and the fallout from VatiLeaks, to name just a few. Given the challenges, where should reform even begin? Moreover, how much change can truly be expected?” If you want to make your religion’s problems seem small and relatively easy to manage, do check this out.
  • Peter Foster at The Telegraph argues that America is becoming secular far quicker than we might think, and that the seemingly once decline-proof evangelical Christians are starting to buckle (demographically speaking). Quote: “After several decades of doubt over the data, says Chaves, it is now clear beyond reasonable doubt that America is secularizing, but that doesn’t answer a much trickier – and more interesting question: how far, and how fast? America still feels highly religious on the surface, but is it possible that attitudes to religion in the US could undergo a sudden shift – as they have, say, on gay marriage – or is religion so fundamental to the US that any change will continue to be incremental?”
  • Ron Fournier at National Journal asks: Is “religious liberty” the new straw man? Quote: “To be clear, I worry about infringements on personal liberties under Presidents Obama and Bush, and I consider religious freedom a cornerstone of American democracy. I empathize with the views of Perkins and others, but I am suspicious when people use religion to marginalize others. Like Michael Tomasky of The Daily Beast, I hear echoes of the segregated South.”
  • At Bustle, Emma Cueto explains why she converted from Catholicism to Wicca. Quote: “Like most things in my life, Wicca first started with books. The first time I came across a Wiccan book in Borders I was a preteen in Catholic school. Where most kids my age were rebelling against their parents, I was more ambitious: I rebelled against God.  I wasn’t consciously aware of it, but I’m pretty sure that somewhere in the back of my mind a little voice was wondering, What would piss off the Catholic Church most? Paganism seemed like a solid idea.”
Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

Photo: Earl Wilson/The New York Times

  • The Revealer shares notes from New York’s occult revival. Quote: “There is some material evidence that a new interest in magic and esoteric subjects is growing. Catland itself, an active center for pagan rites and magical ceremonies, opened last February. The Times article, which appeared ten months after opening, is an indication of that interest, although it was albeit a local-color piece called “Friday Night Rites”  in which the shop was erroneously located in  Williamsburg. More substantially, NYU hosted its first annual Occult Humanities Conference in October — a gathering of researchers, practitioners and artists from all over the world who engaged in work with the occult and esoteric. The Observatory, Park’s home base, has been offering well-attended lectures on magical topics since 2009, including a few by Mitch Horowitz.”
  • Climate Change science, it’s “almost like witchcraft.” Quote: “Climate change, and January’s record-setting heat, probably had nothing to do with increased CO2 emissions, CNBC’s Joe Kernen said Thursday morning. According to Kernen, the better explanation is that it’s just inexplicable. ‘It’s almost like witchcraft,’ Kernen said. ‘In the middle ages it was witchcraft. You would have attributed adverse weather events to witchcraft. Now we just have CO2 at this point.'” Thank goodness we put these people on television!
  • So, the “Satanic” stories that have cropped up recently? Turns out that Catholic exorcists think it’s a sure sign of increasing demon activity! Quote: “Father Lampert said there are around 50 trained exorcists in the United States. He acknowledged that reports of demonic activity seem to be increasing.” There’s an old adage about hammers, nails, and a surfeit of other tools that I think might be applicable here.
  • The Kalash tribe in remote Pakistan has been threatened with death by the Taliban, though the Pakistan military is trying to downplay fears. You can learn more about these “Lost Children of Alexander,” in a recent Huffington Post article. Quote: “High in the snow-capped Hindu Kush on the Afghan-Pakistani border lived an ancient people who claimed to be the direct descendants of Alexander the Great’s troops. While the neighboring Pakistanis were dark-skinned Muslims, this isolated mountain people had light skin and blue eyes. Although the Pakistanis proper converted to Islam over the centuries, the Kalash people retained their pagan traditions and worshiped their ancient gods in outdoor temples. Most importantly, they produced wine much like the Greeks of antiquity did. This in a Muslim country that forbade alcohol.”
  • At HuffPo, Erin Donley isn’t down with all the “goddess” talk. Quote: “When an adult woman calls me Goddess, her intention is to include me and to instantly elevate me to the same status as she. ‘Welcome to the Goddess Club where you’ve already arrived at the highest honor possible. And we all get along because we’re all Goddesses.’ No thanks, sister! That crushes my motivation. It suffocates my individuality and makes me wonder how much greater I could be if I played with the boys.”
  • Is South Africa gripped in a Satanic Panic? There are lots of troubling signs pointing to yes. Quote: “Occult-related crimes are on the increase across Gauteng, and now police are warning parents to be on the lookout for the telltale signs that their children are dabbling in the dark arts.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

“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.

Pagan Community Notes is a series focused on news originating from within the Pagan community. Reinforcing the idea that what happens to and within our organizations, groups, and events is news, and news-worthy. My hope is that more individuals, especially those working within Pagan organizations, get into the habit of sharing their news with the world. So let’s get started!

open_halls_squareThe Open Halls Project, an organization serving military Heathens, has announced a letter writing campaign to urge the U.S. Army and Department of Defense to expedite allowing Heathens to choose “Asatru” or “Heathen” as their religious preference (which they currently can not do). Quote: “We’ve already processed this request twice, with the support of the Asatru Alliance and the Troth. That was over two years ago now and we are being told we will have to wait even longer. The OHP would like to initiate a letter writing campaign to our legislators, in the hopes that putting congressional pressure on the Department of the Army and the Department of Defense will have some positive effect. We specifically are calling on those who live in a district run by a member of either the House Armed Services Committee or the Senate Armed Services Committee. These are the folks that can really bring some political muscle to bear for us!” You can download and edit a sample letter, here. With the recent publicity over the approval of the Thor’s Hammer for veteran grave markers and headstones, now seems like opportune time to press this issue forward.

AREN_ACTIONThe Lammas edition of ACTION (plain text version), the official newsletter of the Alternative Religions Education Network (AREN), has been released. This edition has a special focus on Pagans in South Africa, and according to editor Christopher Blackwell “deals with the development in the community from coming out until today.” Interviewees include Dr. Dale Wallace, who wrote her doctoral thesis on South African Pagans, Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA), Donna “Darkwolf” Vos, founder of Circle of The African Moon, and more. This is a rare, in-depth look at Paganism in South Africa, and these interviews deserve to be read widely. Here is a quote from Dr. Dale Wallace’s interview: “Far more than Paganism per se, it is the witchcraft issue that affects almost all religions in South Africa with many divisions arising over differences of opinion, experience and interpretation. Where these become really important is in finding some consensus over a definition of the terms in light of the repeal or replacement of current legislation, and also the very real possibility of this not being adequately addressed. Different outcomes will have some serious consequences for many communities.” In addition to the section on South African Paganism, this issue of ACTION also features an interview with Taliesin Govannon, director of “Dark of Moon.”

terra mysteriumThe Chicago-based performance troupe Terra Mysterium, who create “experiential works of music, theatre, and performance art that are rooted in the Earth mysteries,” has launched a new IndieGoGo campaign to fund their 2013 season. Quote: “This year we are looking to add even more exciting elements to two wonderful new productions – a full-length play that will feature animations and light mapping, as well as a touring production – and, as a stretch goal, two more music videos. In addition to these artistic projects we will incorporate this year as a non-profit theatre company with the intent to achieve a 501 (c)(3) status in the near future. Both these actions will help to make Terra Mysterium a sustainable troupe.” Terra Mysterium is trying to raise $6,500 in 30 days, and have raised nearly $2000 dollars so far. You can see samples of Terra Mysterium’s work at their official Youtube channel. I’ve embedded their official 2013 fundraiser pitch video below. You may also want to check out Terra Mysterium’s official Facebook page for further updates.

In Other Pagan Community News:

That’s all I have for now, have a great day!