An Open Letter to FH Havinga of ASERAC

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Dear Mr Havinga

I believe in respecting others, which is why I am grateful that in our country we have a fantastic constitution that enshrines those principles. Here in South Africa we are entitled to freedom of opinion and expression, and freedom of religion and belief. That means I can follow the faith of my choosing in a way that I see fit, and not be persecuted or discriminated against for it. However the sad truth is that there are those in this country who are of the conviction that their belief is superior to others- you are one of those people Mr Havinga.

In recent weeks your organization ASERAC, your opinions and the work you do have become known to me. I must say that I find your quest disheartening to say the least- your lack of respect and tolerance for those of faiths different to your own is appalling.

Religion is a tricky subject no matter how you try to tackle it. As I have previously mentioned, our country’s constitution protects each and every citizen’s right to freedom of religion and opinion. However there is a fine line between expressing your beliefs and encroaching on the beliefs of others; which is something you do with reckless abandon. Specifically I refer to an interview you gave for an article titled Occult and Satanic practices ‘on the increase’ (looklocal.co.za, Benoni News, 30July 2012).

According to you, Mr Havinga, three of the five primary reasons someone becomes involved in the occult, Paganism or Satanism are:

“Security; some people feel as if they don’t belong.”

“Position; they feel like they don’t have a say.”

“Value or worth; some don’t feel valued or worthy.”

I would say from that description you have just painted a picture of the average teenager. Any concerned parent reading your opinion is suddenly going to jump to the conclusion that their teenager is at ‘risk’.

You then go on to offer common “signs”  a child involved in “occult or Satanic activities” would display, which prove to be nothing more than misinformed propaganda. Your first ‘symptom’ is: “Obsession with supernatural phenomena”. As always with those, such as yourself, who peddle the Satanic Panic lie; it is a vague, open-ended statement.

Supernatural phenomena are a cornerstone of every religion- including your own faith of Christianity. By your own definition, as found on your website, you define the supernatural as:

“Most people are not aware of it. Not necessary experienced by our five natural senses. The Realm of the spirit.”

Your belief in God and Jesus would fit that definition, as would the faith of a devotee to any religion. Therefore your first ‘symptom’ could fit the description of anyone who is religious, no matter what that religion may be.

Your second alleged ‘sign’ names an obsession with, “occult, Satanic, Wicca or Pagan symbols.” It is at this point that I would like to state that ALL religions are protected under the South African Constitution, including Wicca and Paganism; even Satanism is protected under the constitution. Now ‘obsession’ is defined as a ‘persistent thought’ or can be described as having an unhealthy preoccupation with something. It could well be said that you, Mr Havinga, meet that definition of obsession in your relentless quest to slander constitutionally protected minority faiths.

Now to tackle your third supposed ‘sign’: “Occult nicknames (Black Raven, Vixen, etc.)”. This statement only displays your complete lack of understanding on modern Pagan practices, and your willful spreading of misinformation. What you are referring to here is the Pagan practice of taking on a ‘craft name’. Much like converts to Christianity take on a Christian name at baptism as a show of devotion to their new beliefs, so do Pagans upon dedication, or initiation into their chosen tradition, take on a name that has spiritual significance to them. The use of ‘craft names’ in Paganism is common, and is as much cause for concern as Saul of the Bible’s New Testament changing his name to Paul.

Your final symptom is stated as “Self-injury, symbols cut out of the body usually on the left side of the body.” As someone who is a practicing Pagan and who has explored the occult for the last decade, I can with certainty tell you that this is completely false. What you are perhaps referring to here is the practice of ‘cutting’ or self-harm as a way of coping with psychological issues, and as such it has no link to the occult or Paganism.

And while you may have only been quoted on four ‘signs’ in the afore-mentioned article, you have an entire list of similar misinformed ‘signs’ on your ASERAC website. You even list sexually transmitted diseases as a symptom of occult activity among many other ridiculous notions! And while I personally find your list frightening in its complete lack of credible information, I find it even more frightening that you peddle this utter nonsense to parents looking to understand their teenage children.

As I have already stated; your description of those most susceptible to becoming involved in the occult, Paganism or Satanism fits the behavior and psychological make-up of the average teenager. Most parents struggle to understand their teenage children, and as such will often turn to other sources of information to grasp what it is their child is thinking and feeling. I pity the child whose parent discovers your website of lies and misinformation.

To be blunt, the information on your website amounts to libel. You have, in writing, communicated harmful false information on occult practices, Wicca, Paganism and Satanism- beliefs and recognized religions that are protected under the South African Constitution. It is my suggestion that you consult with organizations within the South African Pagan community so that if you insist on having informative resources on the occult, Wicca, Paganism and Satanism on your website, it is at least accurate. Alternatively, if you find such an idea to be against your personal convictions, then I strongly suggest you remove such information from your website altogether.

As a Pagan I can say that while you may believe you are helping people, the truth is you are hurting an entire community of people with your misinformation. South Africa, with its liberal legislation on religion, is still a conservative country; as such, many Pagans in South Africa have experienced religious discrimination in one form or another, usually by people who believe the misinformation you spread. If you continue to peddle your lies, then you will continue to indirectly harm an entire community of people. How would you feel if there was a Pagan organization that actively and publicly sought to spread lies about Christianity? You would be hurt, outraged even- so stop doing it to us.

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