Category: Minority Review – Damon Leff

What can the Third World teach us about witchcraft?

DAMON LEFF. In April, Beliefnet Senior Editor Rob Kerby cobbled together a monstrous Islamophobic indictment of witchcraft in the Third World called ‘What can the Third World teach us about witchcraft’. The article has been roundly criticised as a “car-crash”, “thematic mess”, and “lazy slander” by Jason Pitzl-Waters [The Wild Hunt, Patheos.com] and Patti Wigington [About.com] called it plainly what it is, a “crap article”. With the exception of Pitzl-Waters, who made brief reference in his response ‘Beliefnet News Conflates Paganism and Harry Potter with Witchcraft Killings’ to Pagans and “witch-persecutions” in South Africa, none of the considered responses from Pagan bloggers thought it appropriate to defer to Third World Witches themselves for informed comment. As THE African expert on the subject, allow me to answer the question posed by Kerby.

Witchcraft is a religion!

DAMON LEFF. Those who insist on the weight of historical prejudice against ‘witchcraft’ as defining only ‘malevolent ritual acts of criminality’, deny to modern Witches the right to identify as ‘practitioners of natural (neutral) magic’ on the grounds that “no such thing as ‘good witchcraft’ existed” prior to the modern resurrection of ancient pagan religions. Witchcraft is not a synonym for ‘black magic’ – it never was!

Witches and the media

DAMON LEFF. During a recent interview on the ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’ with Kate Turkington – my second interview with her – on 702 (Believe it or not) on Sunday evening (2 April 2012), Kate asked with respect to my religious affiliation as a Witch, “What do you do”? I said religious affiliation, not occupation. I was being asked about my beliefs, not my chosen designation as a human rights activist. It’s an odd question to ask a person when discussing their religion unless referring specifically to religious and ritual actions of faith. If you don’t know what the person believes, how would knowledge of what he does (in a general sense) give you any understanding of what he believes, unless there is already some assumption of what those beliefs are or are not? Making such assumption is permissible if you’re interviewing someone affiliating with a well-known religion, but still, unless the question is targeted at a particular action being undertaken by that person as a result of such an affiliation, the question only has one answer… “What do I do when, where, about what?”

Challenging superstition, reinforcing faith

DAMON LEFF. Those who, like Lewis Caroll’s White Queen believe “as many as six impossible things before breakfast”, tend to treat their ‘beliefs’ about witchcraft and witches as if these beliefs were confirmed knowledge about the subject. Belief and knowledge however are not synonymous and have never been so. Witchcraft is a religious belief system that employs ritual actions as expressions of worship and veneration. Like any other religio-magical belief system, what Witches believe about themselves and their religion is a matter of opinion. But whilst religious belief does not require any rigorous proof, allegations of faith that contradict the laws of Nature must be re-examined with sincere and honest circumspection.

Witch-hunters everywhere, be damned!

DAMON LEFF. On March 29, Witches in support of the ’30 days of advocacy against witch-hunts’ will challenge, simply by boldly existing, the power of ignorance and blind stupidity that feeds an age-old fear of witches and witchcraft. We will not relinquish our defiant stand against those who think to use hatred and enmity to bring harm to the innocent. Witch-hunters everywhere, be damned!

‘Witchcraft’ Murders?

DAMON LEFF. Two News24 bloggers, Sean and Balstrome, each with little actual knowledge of either real Witchcraft or the underlying beliefs that motivate brutal witch-hunts globally, recently waded into the shallows on the conviction of Magalie Bamu and Eric Bikubi, who were found guilty of torturing and drowning Kristy Bamu (15), whom they accused of being ‘a witch’. Both bloggers approached the subject with little sympathy for the victim of this tragedy. As an activist advocating for an end to witch-hunts and an actual Witch resident in Africa, I have good reason to take umbrage at bloggers (and journalists in general) who have used this case to pontificate on the merits of ‘belief in witchcraft’ and ‘African morality’ as if African Witches themselves were to blame for this example of child abuse.

S.A. Witches give press ombudsman Thloloe ‘The Finger’ – again !

MORE LETTERS TO SUNDAY TRIBUNE & S.A. PRESS OMBUDSMAN. The following letters of complaint, submitted by South African Witches, were sent to Philani Mgwaba, the Editor of the Sunday Tribune and Joe Thloloe, the South African Press Ombudsman after the Ombudsman ruled against considering a complaint lodged against the Sunday Tribune by Christa Martin of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance. Martin and many other South Africans have objected to the characterization of convicted murderer Charne van Heerden as ‘the Welkom witch’ on the Sunday Tribunes front page on November 27 2011. If you would like to publish your letter of complaint in PENTON, send it to editor@penton.co.za

What are Witches going to do about the Press Ombudsman ?

DAMON LEFF. Has it once more become acceptable to use the prejudicial synonym ‘Jew’ for ‘stingy’ ? No, because we accept an automatic assumption that real Jews might be offended should they be stereotyped as miserly. The South African Press Ombudsman Joe Thloloe however is of the view that even in cases of non-fiction, it is permissible to portray a witch (any witch) as a murderer, in the South African media, whether or not the person so being portrayed is a real Witch. In accordance with this view the Ombudsman has ruled that the Sunday Tribune has the right to call convicted murderer Charne van Heerden ‘the Welkom witch’, even though there is absolutely no evidence to suggest that she was or is a real Witch. Thloloe’s ruling is based, in part, on his tacit acceptance of an assumed common use meaning of the word ‘witch’. In his mind ‘a witch’ is without question a morally ambivalent individual quite capable of being assumed murderously dangerous to people around her. Thloloe is unwittingly guilty of promoting prejudice against real Witches, based on nothing more than historical fantasy.