Harmful Religious practices in SA

In the Times LIVE article dated 7th June 2014, Harmful Religious practice and occult on the rise in SA, we see a lot of the same alarmist rhetoric. Claims are made that there is a rise in Occultism, Satanism and Vampirism and these movements are dubbed as “harmful religious practices”. It can only be assumed that yet again these practices are deemed as “harmful” due to the fact that Christian detractors have constructed a “straw man” – a false caricature used to demonize and attack these minority religions. 

Occultism is depicted as if it is a part of troubled teen behaviour or a cry for attention – Serious students of the Occult should rightfully object to this kind of stereotyping. The study of the occult arts involves discipline and serious study and in actual fact a study of Occultism as early religious philosophy spans a whole range of human knowledge. Occultism is too often unfairly depicted simply as a subversive sub-culture, while in truth occult arts and sciences intrigued some of the greatest minds of western civilization. Occult simply means “hidden” and this is a reference to the esoteric or “inner tradition” which we can find in all religions and cultures. All cultures have forms of magic and divination and all cultures have sanctified and socially acceptable forms of such arts. It is only by taking a biased religious perspective that “Occult” means “Evil”.

It is clear from the article that the awareness campaign by the Justice and Correctional Services Department contained the same old anti-Occult polemic, which usually has its ultimate origins in fundamentalist Christian religious groups. It is clear in the article that yet again “faith based speakers” ruled the event. These are religious detractors who base their opinions on the occult merely on their beliefs that Occultism is “against God” or “forbidden” and thus “evil”. Yet, in South African society we have a plurality of various beliefs opinions of which should also be respected.

Yet again, a Christian pastor gets to speak for the Occultist, the Satanist and the Vampire. Were any Occult or Pagan organizations even asked to attend this campaign? Did they bother to consult with the South African Vampire Alliance, SAVA, for real information on this sub-culture? Did they bother to speak to any actual adherents of the religion of Voodoo or Voudon? It seems doubtful. It is far more likely that the focus was placed on the most sensational and lurid tales of blood drinking and human sacrifice. No distinction is ever made between the “legend tripper” and the serious occultist. Legend Trippers act to portray the horrific image of the “Satanism/Occult strawman” – a strawman created by pastors and religious leaders in the first place. Why not teach children about the real beliefs, practices and philosophies as opposed to religious polemic to depict other faiths in the worst possible light?

What will happen to the child with a serious interest in the occult? What will happen to the child with an actual interest in minority religious beliefs such as Paganism? Paganism frequently includes the much maligned Occult arts such as magic and divination. Should a child be in trouble if caught with tarot cards in his possession because one religion may deem it “spiritually harmful”?

The most likely result of these “awareness” campaigns will likely be victimization of students who may have legitimate interests in alternative spiritualities. The various approaches taken against the Occult by state departments stink of a Religious Right and means by which they wish to sneak Christianity back into schools.

F. Fumarola