10 November 2008

The Times - Military believe judge was ‘bewitched’

The case of a military judge who has claimed that she was bewitched has really set the cat among the pigeons.

The Times - Military believe judge was ‘bewitched’:
A Senior military judge has escaped prosecution for attempting suicide because some of the SA National Defence Force’s top brass allegedly believed her claim that she had been bewitched.

The defence force’s first black female judge, Colonel Phildah Nomoyi, 41, doused herself with petrol and set herself alight in her garage in June.

Now Thaba Tshwane — the military complex in Pretoria that is home to thousands of personnel from privates to generals — is buzzing with gossip about how Nomoyi escaped being booted from the force.

Not only is the unfortunate judge in danger of being sacked for "shooting herself in the foot" (as the saying goes), but the South African Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) have said they will lodge a formal complaint with the Minister of Defence, SANDF Legal services, SANDF Chief and the Defence Secretariat, against "the spurious religious prejudice and defamation demonstrated against Witchcraft by Colonel Phildah Nomoyi" and (according to reports) "supported by the SANDF in their refusal to remove Nomoyi from her Judicial position or charge her with conduct unbecoming."

Which quite frankly seems utterly ridiculous. Or do SAPRA have evidence that Philidah Nomoyi has accused them, or any of their members, of bewitching her?

I believe that, however the case turns out, the SA Pagan Rights Alliance owe Colonel Phildah Nomoyi an apology for accusing her of "spurious religious prejudice", unless they have evidence to show that she specifically accused them, or any of their members, of bewitching her.

It appears that they are confusing two very different things -- the modern religion of pagan witchcraft, and premodern African witchcraft beliefs. As the historian Ronald Hutton has pointed out in his book The pagan religions of the ancient British IOsles,

By assuming that witchcraft and paganism were formerly the same phenomenon, they (Wiccans) are mixing two utterly different archaic concepts and placing themselves in a certain amount of difficulty. The advantage of the label 'witch' is that it has all the exciting connotations of a figure who flouts the conventions of normal society and is possessed of powers unavailable to it, at once feared and persecuted. It is a marvellous rallying-point for a counter-culture, and also one of the few images of independent female power in early modern European civilization. The disadvantage is that by identifying themselves with a very old stereotype of menace,
derived from the pre-Christian world itself, modern pagans have drawn upon themselves a great deal of unnecessary suspicion, vituperation and victimization which they are perpetually struggling to assuage.

Now I am sympathetic towards neopagans who have been maligned in this way, and have suffered vi8ctimisation as a result. But it is disingenuous to claim that Colonel Phildah Nomoyi had the slightest intention of doing this. It is confusing two very different concepts, and has the effect of victimising Colonel Phildah Nomoyi in the same way that neopagans have themselves have been victimised. She clearly has problems, and deserves sympathy rather than persecution.


Feltrex said...

But even if SAPRA understands the differences between African Witches and Western Witches, the context of "bewitchment" could technically fall under both instances and unless I'm mistaken, aren't both technically Pagan in religion???

If that's correct, the SAPRA don't owe anyone an apology, because by definition, bewitchment is a "curse" by a witch - and since Witchcraft falls under constitutionally protected recognized religions, it would be slander.

So yes, I see where SAPRA is coming from, though quite frankly, I think the Military are really thickheaded for keeping such uninformed personnel in such high ranking positions - it's irresponsible.

Yewtree said...

The problem is a complex one. I see where SAPRA is coming from, but I think the problem is in the misapplication of the word "witch" to African beliefs, which are different to European beliefs. My further thoughts are here: "Witchcraft" in Africa (a slightly expanded version of what I wrote on the mailing list).

Steve Hayes said...


I disagree about the term "witch" being misapplied to African beliefs. When it was first done, it was pretty accurate. See my blog post on Witchcraft - African and European". What was misapplied was the application of the term to more recent European beliefs, but I'll comment on that in your post, and perhaps we can discuss it in the ReligionRap forum -- I give the link in case others want to join us in discussing it, which they are welcome to do.


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