North is South, Winter is Summer and widdershins is deosil. The South African experience of Paganism is topsy-turvy compared to our Northern brothers and sisters; but much like the Afrikaans saying, “ŉ boer maak ŉ plan,” Pagan South Africans make do with what they have and make it their own.
Picking up the pieces
Joseph Merlin Nichter’s recent blog post, The Unpopularity Contest, had an eerie familiarity to it. Even a few thousand miles across land and sea, it echoes recent events that have rocked South Africa’s own Pagan community. It would seem that being crowned Miss/Mr Unpopularity is not something unique to this country or that, but to Pagan communities in general.
We’ve all, at one stage or another, discussed our beliefs with a non-Pagan and the inevitable question/accusation has come up: are you a Satanist? At this point, and depending on how long you’ve been Pagan, you take a deep breath, roll your eyes and prattle off, “we don’t believe in Satan he is a Christian deity and we don’t worship him therefore we are not Satanists”. It’s the bog-standard response the majority of us go with, but here in South Africa, some of us have wondered just how well that has been working out for us.
With the recent discovery that the South African Police Service’s Occult-related Crime Unit was never disbanded, and the dramatic rise in national media sensationalism on alleged ‘Satanic crime’, some Pagans and the SA Pagan Rights Alliance decided that a fresh approach was needed.
To cut a long story short, in South Africa- a country with a conservative Christian background- there has been a resurgence in Satanic Panic paranoia. We have the ORCU, self-styled ‘occult experts’ receiving plenty of media attention, the media pushing occult and ‘Satanic’ angles and even the Department of Education aiming to curb “Satanism and occultism” in public schools.
Now instead of the usual sidestepping from what is believed to be Satanism, some SA Pagans and SAPRA have decided that throwing shade at mythical Satanism is perhaps not the answer, and have opted to debunk and squash the Satanic Panic myths altogether. Why? Because from these myths, anything of an occult flavour is conflated with 'Satanism’, and that includes Pagan and New Age symbols, theology and practices. So instead of running from these myths, we can do away with them using facts and evidence so that we won’t have to prattle off the default we-aren’t-Satanists response.
So where has the problem come in? In order for those working on this initiative to debunk Satanism myths, we’ve had to find out what legitimate Satanism is all about; a move that led to the founding of a group named the Alternative Religion Forum, where Pagans, occultists, Satanists and similar religious adherents can come to together, exchange knowledge and work together towards debunking these myths... but this move has not come to sit well with some SA Pagans who prefer the distancing route.
This difference of opinions resulted in things turning ugly quickly, and when things turn that particular shade of ugly, you can bet fingers are pointed, slurs are slung, egos are inflated and everyone gets defensive. It has been a dark period for SA Paganism the last few days; one that has resulted in the end of affiliations, the forming of new groups and factions, and the restructuring of older organisations. And of course, there are the few who have been crowned Mr Unpopularity.
However, hope is not lost- it is always there, but just not always seen in all the mudslinging. As one solitary Pagan pointed out, these blow ups are necessary; if we don’t have these eruptions, we end up stagnating as a community. Once the dust has settled and we look at the scattered pieces, we are presented with an opportunity to rebuild, stronger and better than before.
Sure, that process is not easy when egos are still rather tender and bruised, and you may be looked at as a leper- but the opportunity for new growth is there and we have a chance to be humbled, and build a stronger Pagan community.
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