23 April 2007

Witchdoctor - a cultural stereotype?

A recent issue of The pagan activist has some interesting articles on Western neopaganism in Africa, and some contrasts with African paleopaganism. I do take issue with the articles on one point in particular -- the use and misuse of the term "witchdoctor". I suppose my time in the Editorial Department of the University of South Africa has made me a bit of a pedant about such matters.

I think the term originally was a clear and reasonably precise description of a specialist, found in many different African societies, whose job, or part of it, was to protect against malign witchcraft. In different African societies these specialists were given different names in local languages, but the English term was clear, and covered them all. In Zulu such a specialist is called an isangoma, and that term has been universalised in the form of "sangoma" to apply to other societies too. Another way of translating "sangoma" into English (though it is well on its way to becoming an English word in its own right) is "diviner". The diviner is not only a witchdoctor, but rather determines the cause of evils and misfortunes, such as disease, quarrels, accidents, crop failures and the like. The cause, as determined by the diviner, may be witchcraft, but it may also be that the ancestral shades (amadlozi in Zulu) are annoyed because they have been neglected. Witchcraft is not the only possible explanation for misfortune.

If witchcraft is determined as the cause, then the sangoma may put on his (or her) witchdoctor hat, and prescribe treatment. This may include the use of umuthi (Anglicised as "muti"), in which case the sangoma is functioning as a herbalist or medicine man (inyanga in Zulu).

A witchdoctor, therefore, is one who protects against the harmful activities of witches. One of the articles in The Pagan Activist, however, implies that "witchdoctors" are the ones who perform harmful activities uxsually attributed to witches, which implies that witchdoctors actually cause harm, rather than preventing it.

I suggest that there are two possible sources for this misunderstanding.

  1. Hollywood movies, especially those of the mid-20th century, which portrayed "witchdoctors" as a force of evil, tyrants in African societies, and especially likely to turn a tribe against white visitors. Some of this may be based on historical incidents. When the Voortrekker leader Piet Retief visited the Zulu king Dingane in 1838 to negotiate a treaty, the king ordered his soldiers to "kill the witches" (bulala abathakathi). It is possible that a diviner told him that Retief and his companions were witches; it is also possible that he reached that conclusion on his own.
  2. A witchdoctor who "changes sides" and practices as a witch. A parallel can be found in Western medicine with a medical doctor who misuses his knowledge to poison and kill patients. Such cases are not unknown. Also, a corrupt police officer might moonlight as a member of a criminal gang. This does not, however, mean that "doctor" means "poisoner" or that "policeman" means thief"; so it also does not mean that "witchdoctor" means "witch". And sometimes sangomas may use their specialist knowledge in activities that are beneficvial to some, but harmful to others. In a recent case a four-year-old child was murdered on the advice of a sangoma, and parts of the child's body built into the wall of a hairdressing saloon, as muti to make the client's business prosper. Ritual murder, however, is not witchcraft.

I won't go into the different meaning applied to the word "witch" by many neopagans. That is another discussion, and one that I have dealt with in an article on Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery.

10 comments:

The Scylding said...

Its off topic, but you wanted to know ... I've posted on my blog again.

Sally said...

thanks for this Steve- actually I'm glad of the clarification- too much damage is done by those who asume that their definitions are right!

Steve Hayes said...

Sally,

It's amazing the way some words switch to meaning their opposite.

There's no hope for "stakeholder" any more, since I don't think anyone uses it with the meaning that was correct less than 30 years ago.

But there's stil, hope for "witchdoctor", which also has a useful meaning.

bigblue said...

A nice overview Steve.
I think the cultural prejudice is deeper and goes back further than Hollywood though - think of colonial English writers like Rider Haggard.

Steve Hayes said...

Bigblue

I'm going to have to read Rider Haggard again to check that. I've just read a book called "The hand of the devil" that reminded me very much of Rider Haggard, and I had to keep recalling that it was set in modern England and that the characters were not wearing Norfolk jackets and plus-fours.

Damon Leff said...

I have received notice of your commentary entitled ‘Witchdoctor – a cultural stereotype?’.

In your blog dated 23 April 2007 you wrote:

I do take issue with the articles on one point in particular – the use and misuse of the term ‘witchdoctor’… … one of the articles in The Pagan Activist, however, implies that “witchdoctors” are the ones who perform harmful activities usually attributed to witches, which implies that witchdoctors actually cause harm, rather than preventing it. [1]

Thank you for offering me an opportunity to further clarify my statements on this. I believe my definition of the term ‘witchdoctor’, within the context of my article entitled ‘Murder on the Dark Continent: but is it Witchcraft?’ of March 2007, did indeed affirm that a ‘witchdoctor’ is, to use your own definition, “one who protects against the harmful activities of witches”.

Traditional Healers in South Africa opposed to such practices tend rather to identify the perpetrators of muti-murders as “witch-doctors”, perhaps a misnomer as the term itself implies a ‘doctor of witches’ or one who euphemistically ‘takes care of witches’ when they are perceived to be a nuisance. [2]

In support of my statement I wish to draw your attention to a South African Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper 111 (Project 131) on Trafficking in Persons, Chapter 3 (Trafficking of persons for purposes of using their organs or other body parts in muti) in which a clear distinction is made between traditional healers “who only use plants and herbs for purposes of healing” and witchdoctors “who also use human organs and other body parts”.

… according to traditional African beliefs, the use of human organs or other body parts increases the power of muti. An important distinction needs to be made between those who only use plants and herbs for purposes of healing, i.e. traditional healers, and those who also use human organs and other body parts, i.e. witch doctors. This paper deals with the latter category. Several instances have been reported about the trafficking of persons within South Africa or from neighbouring countries to South Africa whose organs or other body parts ended up in the muti of witch doctors. Although it could not be established with certainty, there appear to be certain organised gangs which provide human organs or other body parts to witch doctors… Authorities generally prosecute only the perpetrators of the murder and not the witch doctor who has ordered the organs or other body parts. Unless the organs or other body parts are found in the possession of the witch doctor, the police have no evidence to link the killing to the witch doctor who often denies knowing the perpetrators. Given the belief that witch doctors possess supernatural powers, it is found that members of the community are often scared to testify against them. [3]

I accept that one of the traditional functions of the Traditional Healer was and still is to protect against the harmful activities of people defined within an African cultural context as ‘witches’.

I would argue that this traditional function is neither sanctioned by law, nor permissible in our society given the existence of a) the Witchcraft Suppression Amendment Act 50 of 1970 which makes it illegal to accuse a person of witchcraft, to name a person as a witch, or to injure or damage any person or thing on the advice of any witchdoctor or witch finder, and b) the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in which freedom of religion and belief is afforded to all South Africans, including Witches!

Whilst I applaud your closing statement, “Ritual murder, however, is not witchcraft.” I must challenge a number of statements made by you concerning Witchcraft, Witches, the Wicca and Paganism in your article ‘Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery’ to which you referred readers of your blog on the matter of “different meaning(s) applied to the word "witch" by many neopagans”.

In ‘Christian responses to witchcraft and sorcery’ you wrote:

I shall make a distinction between Wicca and witchcraft, and between Wiccans and witches, even though Wiccans themselves make no such distinction. I use the term "Wicca" to denote the modern religion, and "Wiccans" to refer to its practitioners, and I shall use the terms "witchcraft" and "witch" for those who are believed to cause harm by occult or supernatural means. It is important to note that Wiccans are not witches in the commonly-understood meaning of the term, nor are they Satanists - they do not believe in the existence of Satan. Though they have a wide range of eclectic beliefs and practices, one common feature is the Wiccan Rede, "An it harm none, do what thou wilt". Wiccans are committed to being harmless. In normal, non-Wiccan usage, however, the essence of witchcraft and sorcery is the causing of harm to persons or property by invisible occult means. [4]

Contrived disassociation of the term ‘Wicca’ from ‘Witch’ in order to support a cultural and religious world-view of good (the Wicca) versus evil (the Witch) is grossly misleading. The Wicca are (with exception), by self- definition, Witches! In modern usage the word ‘wica’ (with one ‘c’) was used by Gerald Gardner to describe members of the Coven into which he was initiated. [5] In ‘The Witches Speak’ by Patricia and Arnold Crowther (initiates of Gerald Gardner) use the word ‘Wica’ to refer to British Traditional Witchcraft. [6]

The English word ‘witch’ is derived from the medieval English ‘wicche’, derived from the Anglo-Saxon words ‘wicca’ (a male Witch) and ‘wicce’ (a female Witch). These words in turn derive from the Old High German word ‘witega’ meaning ‘a seer’.

Contemporary Gardnerian Wicca reserve the term ‘the Wicca’ for Witches who have been initiated into a lineage of British Traditional Witchcraft popularized by Gardner between 1939 and 1959. It should be noted that Gardner was initiated into an already existing British Witchcraft Tradition from which several modern lineages distinct from Gardner’s, also claim right to identify as ‘the Wicca’. Witchcraft is not confined to British Traditional lineages.

Your attempt to identify contemporary Witchcraft as something distinct from modern Paganism can not be supported. Witchcraft is an ancient and globally prevalent phenomenon of the pre-Christian world. In contemporary Paganism Witchcraft is regarded as a Pagan spirituality / spiritual path. Witches who identify as ‘the Wicca’ were instrumental in the early public formation of modern Paganism in England. Today Witches constitute one of the largest and most influential ‘denominations’ within contemporary Paganism.


I am a Witch. I am not an initiate of any British Traditional lineage and so I am not ‘of the Wicca’. According to your selective definition I am therefore “believed to cause harm by occult or supernatural means.” I admit only to having the power to both heal and harm, but which man or woman does not already have this power?

Your use of the words “occult” and “supernatural” may however, if left unexplored within the context of this discussion, lead your readers to assume that this unexplained and therefore ‘hidden’ (occult) technique must be un-natural? Perhaps if the technique were understood it would cease to be ‘occult’ and ‘super-natural’? I define Witchcraft as ‘a religio-magical craft that employs the practice of sympathetic (natural) magic, the use of ritual, and the practice of herbalism and divination’. I believe this is a generally acceptable definition of Witchcraft amongst contemporary Witches.

Within a modern Pagan context Witchcraft is a life affirming spirituality and spiritual calling. For me the calling is an ancestral one not identical to, but not dissimilar with that experienced by iSangomas. For others, it is an initiatory choice made after much study and introspection. As a pantheist I believe that everything that exists in the known and unknown universe (i.e. Nature) is already Divine and therefore sacred; imbued with the immanent presence of Divinity. I choose to identify this Macrocosmic Divinity as The Goddess. My own ‘living theology’ is one of reverence and respect for Nature, Life and Death. [7]

The selective prejudicial cultural (African) and religious (Christian) use of the terms ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ to exclusively define maleficium ignores a growing movement of individuals globally who use these terms to define what they are and do. The word ‘Witch’ has already been contested within a modern historical European and American context and contemporary Pagans world-wide have reclaimed it within a modern Pagan paradigm.

In South Africa self-defined Witches will not abrogate their right to define their own spirituality and practice. Cultural and religious discrimination against Witchcraft can never be seen to be fair within a constitutional democracy in which the right to equality and religious freedom is a central tenet of national identity. In the 21st century Witches are what Witches say they are! Any Ideology that seeks to entrench the belief that Witchcraft and Witches be converted, suppressed or persecuted represents an untenable and unconstitutional position within society. A culture of prejudice promotes fear, hatred and violence.

In your article ‘Witchcraft and Death: Enculturation and Orthodox mission’ you quote (?) a Father Michael Oleksa:

People interested in witchcraft are also looking for ways of exercising power over others, even if it has negative effects. This desire to have control for its own sake is always demonic, even within the Church... Witchcraft always seeks to limit that freedom, sometimes by using evil spirits themselves and other times by using natural forces -- wind, fire, water or bacteria -- to limit or destroy the freedom of another. Any intervention in another person's life without their knowledge or consent by manipulation is therefore totally inappropriate, and potentially demonic. [8]

You also clarify Orthodox position on Witchcraft as, “For those who practise witchcraft, therefore, the Orthodox teaching is clear: it is a sin they need to confess and forsake, like any other behaviour that involves treating others with malice and hatred.”

The virtues of “modesty, humility, patience and love” are virtues of the aspiring soul in every man and woman irrespective of their religion. Witches in South Africa associated with the newly formed Pagan Council of South Africa (SAPC) recently affirmed our own commitment to participating in the Moral Regeneration Movement by setting down a Pagan Code of Principles [9] representing our collective and communal aspirations as Pagans and as Witches.

I am of the opinion that good people everywhere will always seek to promote love and tolerance rather than fear and hatred. How will Christians and African traditionalists reconcile their religious and cultural prejudice with the Witch’s right to religious freedom and dignity?




References and Footnotes:

[1] ‘Witchdoctor – a cultural stereotype?’ Steven Hayes
http://methodius.blogspot.com/2007/04/witchdoctor-cultural- stereotype.html

[2] ‘Murder on the Dark Continent: but is it Witchcraft?’ Damon Leff
http://www.thepaganactivist.com/paganisminafrica.htm

[3] South African Law Reform Commission Discussion Paper 111 (Project 131) on Trafficking in Persons, Chapter 3 (Trafficking of persons for purposes of using their organs or other body parts in muti)
http://www.doj.gov.za/salrc/dpapers.htm

[4] ‘Christian Responses to witchcraft and sorcery’ Steven Hayes
http://hayesfam.bravehost.com/WITCH1.HTM

[5] ‘The Meaning of Witchcraft’ (1959) Gerald Gardner

[6] ‘The Witches Speak’ (1959) Patricia and Arnold Crowther

[7] Clan Ysgithyrwyn
http://www.geocities.com/clan_ysgithyrwyn/index.html

[8] ‘Witchcraft and Death: Inculturation and Orthodox mission’ Stephen Hayes
http://www.theandros.com/witchcraft.html

[9] South African Pagan Council – Code of Principles – Moral Regeneration Movement
http://pagancouncil.za.net/

• As Pagans we recognize humanity’s duty towards the environment and acknowledge that Nature is our Mother and teacher. We should strive to protect Her and to live in harmony with Nature.

• We acknowledge the interconnectedness of everything and should therefore strive to practice kindness, generosity, hospitality and cooperation.

• We acknowledge equality of the sexes and should therefore not regard one above the other.

• We should honour those who teach and acknowledge those who have given themselves in leadership to the revival and advancement of Paganism.

• We should avoid gossip and the repetition of unverified facts, and avoid passing judgment on others. We should not promote a spirit of animosity towards other religious paths.

• Honour is a sacred virtue. Let our actions be upright, causing harm to none. We should at all costs, avoid deceit, exploitation of others, fraud, violence, theft, abusive behaviour, and any form of action deemed detrimental to society.

• We believe in religious freedom and should therefore be tolerant and accepting of other Pagan and non-Pagan spiritualities and religions.

• We should remain true to our highest selves and strive to act with wisdom and strive never to do anything that would bring our religion and spirituality into disrepute.

• We should be honest with others and let them know that we expect nothing less from them. Our word should be our bond.

• Pagans should strive to obey the just laws of the land and its government.

• Pagans should strive to act with dignity. Let our words, thoughts and actions be in line with our philosophy of life, respect and reverence towards all.

• Pagans reserve the right to preserve our cultural and Pagan heritage and traditions in the form of rituals, doctrines, practices and religious holy days.

Salige Rus said...

What about the bony old lady in Shaka Zulu, the one with the glowing eyes and the pet hyenas. She seemed to be the official religious of at the kraal, yet she was always followed around by an ominous cloud of evil looking mist. That certainly gave my whole generation the creeps - witch, witchdoctor, the details were lost in the ensuing nightmares.

Steve Hayes said...

Damon

Thanks for commenting. Bloogs are, by definition, commentaries on web sites one has visited, but it is all too rare for the authors of the websites to comment on the blogs, and so open a real dialoge, so I'm grateful for your comments.

Let me clarify: you said the use of "witchdoctor" as a designation for those who commit ritual murders was a misnomer, because it implies a "doctor of witches". That I agree with. I disagree with the law commission report's use of the term, it IS a misnomer. A security guard may be in cahoots with a gang of robbers. But that does not make it correct to refer to all robbers as "security guards".

Concerning the use of the term "witch", I think we'll just have to agree to differ. I agree entirely that according to the religious freedom we enjoy under the cosntitution, you are perfectly entitled to call yourself whatever you like. I agree with Ronald Hutton that there are certain difficulties in calling yourself by a name that is a very ancient stereotype of evil, that goes back long before Christianity existed. If members of a religion want to call their adherents "terrorists" or "serial killers", they are at perfect liberty to do so. English-speaking Protestant American Christians find it almost incomprehensible that Arabic-speaking Christans worship Allah and pray for success in their jihad, but they do, and in this country they have a constitutional right to do so. Religious freedom means that we are also free to differ on the way we understand religious terminology. That is where interreligious dialogue, such as we are having now in this conversation, is so important. It enables us to understand one another's terminology. We won't always agree on theology or the meanings of words, but at least we can understand one another better, and not misrepresent each other.

But it works both ways.

You say, "The selective prejudicial cultural (African) and religious (Christian) use of the terms ‘witch’ and ‘witchcraft’ to exclusively define maleficium ignores a growing movement of individuals globally who use these terms to define what they are and do. The word ‘Witch’ has already been contested within a modern historical European and American context and contemporary Pagans world-wide have reclaimed it within a modern Pagan paradigm."

I think I have recognised the right of modern pagans to use the term "witch" to describe themselves, but I think you perhaps go too far when you say contemporary pagans have "reclaimed" it. Claimed it, yes, but but reclaimed is a moot point, though not one I want to debate here.

You also say, "In South Africa self-defined Witches will not abrogate their right to define their own spirituality and practice. Cultural and religious discrimination against Witchcraft can never be seen to be fair within a constitutional democracy in which the right to equality and religious freedom is a central tenet of national identity. In the 21st century Witches are what Witches say they are! Any Ideology that seeks to entrench the belief that Witchcraft and Witches be converted, suppressed or persecuted represents an untenable and unconstitutional position within society. A culture of prejudice promotes fear, hatred and violence."

I really don't know what to make of that. It strikes me as being itself an ideological statement, but perhaps I have misunderstood it.

But this is the heart of the problem:

"I accept that one of the traditional functions of the Traditional Healer was and still is to protect against the harmful activities of people defined within an African cultural context as ‘witches’.

I would argue that this traditional function is neither sanctioned by law, nor permissible in our society given the existence of a) the Witchcraft Suppression Amendment Act 50 of 1970 which makes it illegal to accuse a person of witchcraft, to name a person as a witch, or to injure or damage any person or thing on the advice of any witchdoctor or witch finder, and b) the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in which freedom of religion and belief is afforded to all South Africans, including Witches!


I believe you have confused several different things. The most important is where you speak of freedom of religion and belief bring accorded to witches. The question (in the Witchcraft Act) is nor whether freedom of religion and belief is being afforded to witches, but the freedom to harm others. The witchcraft legislation is based on a Western Enlightenment worldview, in which it asssumed that witches do not exist, and that any accusation of witchcraft is ipso facto false.

The legislation is intended to protect people against false accusations, which is important: people do indeed need to be protected against false accusations, but the legislation has proved ineffective in doing that precisely because of the premise that it is based on: that there are no such things as witches, not in your new sense, but in the old sense of someone who deliberately seeks, out of malice or for reward, to harm another.

People know that there are witches, and if the law does not acknowledge it, that just shows that the law-makers are ignorant, and the law is an example of the intent to impose European culture on African culture. The problem cannot be solved on the legal level alone. The law does not punish motives, it punishes overt acts that can be shown to have had certain consequences. If a oertoin shoots someone with a gun, and the law can show that A pulled the trigger, and B died as a result of a bulletwound caused by the shot, then A can be found guilty of murdering B.

But if A plants muti in B's doorway, and B has a heart attack and dies three days later, the law cannot show cause and effect. The motive, however, is precisely the same -- A intended to kill B, and performed an action that was intended to bring about that result. And there ARE people who do such things, whatever the assumptions of the law may say. Witches (in that sense) do exist.

Now I know that you do not use the world in that sense, and that a distinction that needs to be made to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. For that reason I said, in my article, that I would use the word "wiccan" to refer to modern witches in your sense, to distinguish them from the witches my article was about, and so avoid misunderstandings.

Damon Leff said...

Hi Steven

"A security guard may be in cahoots with a gang of robbers. But that does not make it correct to refer to all robbers as "security guards"."

I agree without reservation Steven. Perhaps the SLRC discussion document reflects existing misconceptions within the public domain surrounding the term and its use. Similar misconceptions exist around the term ‘witch’.


"Religious freedom means that we are also free to differ on the way we understand religious terminology. That is where interreligious dialogue, such as we are having now in this conversation, is so important. It enables us to understand one another's terminology. We won't always agree on theology or the meanings of words, but at least we can understand one another better, and not misrepresent each other."

Thank you.


"I think I have recognised the right of modern pagans to use the term "witch" to describe themselves, but I think you perhaps go too far when you say contemporary pagans have "reclaimed" it. Claimed it, yes, but but reclaimed is a moot point, though not one I want to debate here."

Fair enough. I concede that my use of the word "reclaimed" needs to be supported by evidence that Witchcraft is historically supported within the context of paganism (with a small "p" to refer to pre-Christian belief systems of the pagan world). "Claimed" will suffice yes.


"You also say, "In South Africa self-defined Witches will not abrogate their right to define their own spirituality and practice. Cultural and religious discrimination against Witchcraft can never be seen to be fair within a constitutional democracy in which the right to equality and religious freedom is a central tenet of national identity. In the 21st century Witches are what Witches say they are! Any Ideology that seeks to entrench the belief that Witchcraft and Witches be converted, suppressed or persecuted represents an untenable and unconstitutional position within society. A culture of prejudice promotes fear, hatred and violence." I really don't know what to make of that. It strikes me as being itself an ideological statement, but perhaps I have misunderstood it."

I don't believe my statement is that complicated? Cultural and religious prejudice against Witchcraft and Witches leads to violence.


"I believe you have confused several different things. The most important is where you speak of freedom of religion and belief bring accorded to witches. The question (in the Witchcraft Act) is not whether freedom of religion and belief is being afforded to witches, but the freedom to harm others."

I do not believe I have. I said:

"I would argue that this traditional function is neither sanctioned by law, nor permissible in our society given the existence of a) the Witchcraft Suppression Amendment Act 50 of 1970 which makes it illegal to accuse a person of witchcraft, to name a person as a witch, or to injure or damage any person or thing on the advice of any witchdoctor or witch finder, and b) the Bill of Rights of the Constitution of the Republic of South Africa in which freedom of religion and belief is afforded to all South Africans, including Witches!"

a) The Witchcraft Suppression Amendment Act 50 of 1970 makes it illegal to accuse a person of using witchcraft to bring harm.
This necessarily obviates the function of a 'witch-finder'.

The Witchcraft Suppression Act determines that any person who Imputes to any other person the causing, by supernatural means, of any disease in or injury to any other person or thing, or who names or indicates any other person as a wizard... Shall be guilty of an offence and liable to conviction.

b)The Bill of Rights enshrines freedom of belief, religion and opinion.

No confusion there.


"The witchcraft legislation is based on a Western Enlightenment worldview, in which it assumed that witches do not exist, and that any accusation of witchcraft is ipso facto false."

And that is where part of the problem lies. Witches do exist.


"The legislation is intended to protect people against false accusations, which is important: people do indeed need to be protected against false accusations, but the legislation has proved ineffective in doing that precisely because of the premise that it is based on: that there are no such things as witches, not in your new sense, but in the old sense of someone who deliberately seeks, out of malice or for reward, to harm another."

The Act does not limit the protection to "people against false accusations". It protects against any accusation of witchcraft.


"People know that there are witches, and if the law does not acknowledge it, that just shows that the law-makers are ignorant, and the law is an example of the intent to impose European culture on African culture. The problem cannot be solved on the legal level alone. The law does not punish motives, it punishes overt acts that can be shown to have had certain consequences. If a oertoin shoots someone with a gun, and the law can show that A pulled the trigger, and B died as a result of a bulletwound caused by the shot, then A can be found guilty of murdering B. But if A plants muti in B's doorway, and B has a heart attack and dies three days later, the law cannot show cause and effect. The motive, however, is precisely the same -- A intended to kill B, and performed an action that was intended to bring about that result. And there ARE people who do such things, whatever the assumptions of the law may say. Witches (in that sense) do exist."

The assumption here for many of course is that Witches will, given enough time, commit "overt acts" of evil. The Witchcraft Suppression Act was used to form the Occult-Related Crime Unit in the SAPS in 1992 (Kobus Jonker). The SAPS definition of 'Occult-related Criminal activity' is: "any human conduct that constitutes any legally recognized crime, the modus operandi of which relates to or emanates primarily from any belief or seeming belief in the occult, witchcraft, satanism, mysticism, magic, esotericism and the like." * It is important to note here that in January 2001 the SAPS announced that the specialised unit would be dissolved and reorganised into "Organised Crime and Serious Violent Crime Units", but the definition still exists. Blanket derision against "belief or seeming belief" in the occult (derived from the Latin word 'occultus' 'meaning 'hidden'), witchcraft, mysticism, magic, the esoteric (from the Greek 'esoterikos' meaning 'the inner') "and the like" (?) perpetuates and encourages hate propaganda against people who call themselves Witches, Mystics and Magicians, or who are practitioners of belief systems categorised as occult and esoteric. Instead of focusing on actual crimes committed in a ritual sense, they focused on religious minorities and accused them of being the likely candidates for committing such crimes. Clearly the SAPS has some way to go before they fulfill the SAPS Code of Conduct which requires that the police "uphold and protect the fundamental rights of every person" and "act impartially".

Muti-murder is a case in point. Witches are not responsible for muti-murders, and yet we're still being fingered as the most likely targets. Yes I concede that some people do curse. Are all of these people Witches? No!


"Now I know that you do not use the world in that sense, and that a distinction that needs to be made to avoid confusion and misunderstanding. For that reason I said, in my article, that I would use the word "wiccan" to refer to modern witches in your sense, to distinguish them from the witches my article was about, and so avoid misunderstandings."

I appreciate the sentiment. But as I said, I am not of 'the Wicca'. I am a Witch. I own that term and I get to define what that term means in practice. :) That's my point.
the

Damon said...

Hi again Steven

I wanted to add a comment on something…

You said:

"I think I have recognised the right of modern pagans to use the term "witch" to describe themselves, but I think you perhaps go too far when you say contemporary pagans have "reclaimed" it. Claimed it, yes, but but reclaimed is a moot point, though not one I want to debate here."

I replied:

Fair enough. I concede that my use of the word "reclaimed" needs to be supported by evidence that Witchcraft is historically supported within the context of paganism (with a small "p" to refer to pre-Christian belief systems of the pagan world). "Claimed" will suffice yes.


The earliest records to refer to Witches appear in ancient pagan Greek and Roman writings, and the term was not always used in the negative sense at all. The names most often used to indicate a Witch in early Greek and Latin, according to author Raven Grimassi (Witchcraft, A Mystery Tradition), are pharmakis (referring to a person using plants in healing and sympathetic magic) and saga (a diviner). The Witch as herbalist and fortuneteller. To the Romans the Witch was known as strix, striga or venefica (a person who makes love potions).

Writers of this era tell that Witches worshipped deities of Nature and the Underworld such as Hecate, Diana and Proserpina, all identified as Witch Goddesses. The Goddess Habondia is a combination of Hecate and Diana and was used by much later authors to refer to the Goddess of Witches. Classical writers depict Witches using cauldrons, wands, plants and invocations to Nature and various Goddesses.

Ancient writers such as Horace, Lucan and Ovid refer to Witches (Medea) ‘drawing down the moon’ as a ritual magical act. In The Epodes Horace states that this is achieved through the chanting of magic words. In Rhizotomoi, Sophocles describes a Witch reaping herbs naked.

I would suggest that Hutton’s research be compared with that of other Pagan authors and historians.

I appreciate your willingness to listen to my perspective and look forward to continuing this discussion in the spirit of inter-faith dialogue.

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