The African Connection
You have to admit it; South Africa is beautiful. Yes, we can be pessimists by nature as we focus on the crime rate, corruption and political faults. But South Africa the country, the land itself, has a wealth of natural beauty. From the lush rainforests of Knysna to the stark beauty of the Karoo, to the kaleidoscope of Namaqualand in spring; we are blessed to live in a land that is as rich as it is diverse. And yet, as Pagans, we generally ignore the details of this natural landscape as we stick to the Pagan traditions of our predominately European roots.
When the first settlers arrived on these shores, they had to learn to adapt to the intense summer heat and the sometimes harsh landscape in order to survive. Their adaptations became our heritage. The way in which they learned to live with the land, and in turn, love this land, are our heritage too. And if the first settlers allowed their way of life to evolve to fit South Africa, why have we as Pagans, not allowed that same spirit of adaption and evolution to extend to our various religious beliefs?
In this country I have found that we embrace our heritage, take pride in it, and willingly stand up and say, “I am proudly South African”. That pride has extended to our collective Pagan identity, and we created an emblem with the accompanying words of, “Proudly South African Pagan”. And yet, as we state our national pride, we still keep it separate from our beliefs, choosing to experience our individual paths or traditions through the natural worlds of the North.
It is understandable that the majority of Pagan traditions have their roots in the mythology and folklore of European countries; and that mythology and folklore has its roots buried deep in the natural landscape of those countries. And as we explore our individual paths, exploring its folklore and mythology, it is done so through those roots which are buried in the countries from which they hail.
I can also understand, from a reconstructionist’s point of view, wanting to experience the beliefs of a specific ancient culture as accurately as possible. However, the majority of Pagan traditions and paths here in SA are not reconstructionist in nature, and are based on Wiccan traditions. I would go so far as to say that, like the evolution of our national heritage, many of these traditions and paths are blends of different beliefs, mythologies and folklore. However, it would seem that no-one is taking that spirit of evolution further and adapting it to all the natural wonders that this land has to offer.
If so many paths here in South Africa claim to be “Earth-centered”, why is it that they still venerate the plants, trees, herbs and flowers of the Northern hemisphere? Why do they not look right here on our shores to the rich flora and varied landscapes we are so lucky to have? My understanding of such paths is that deity is to be found in nature. Surely if one wanted to find deity in nature, the true spirit of the lands, it would be through the plants, trees and flowers native to it? If one wanted a symbol of a Sabbat, why look to the natural world far away from our shores, when there are so many symbols right here?
Perhaps it is because no-one has taken that next step and shared their discoveries and experiences with the greater community. When we look at Paganism in South Africa, we have very little in the way of resources that are based on our unique landscape as all books and such material hail predominately from the US and UK. I have also heard on more than one occasion local Pagans asking if there are any other South African books besides Dancing under an African Moon. Sadly there are not, and I know that clinching a book deal for a Pagan resource book with a local publishing house is probably no easy feat.
I am not saying that we should establish a new eclectic Pagan path, but I am saying that we should not allow ourselves to be so rigidly confined to our individual path that it prevents us from embracing South Africa, the land itself, and all it has to offer us. I think it is time to embrace that spirit of evolution that founded our heritage, and extend it our various Pagan paths to create a Pagan heritage unique to South Africa. It is time to explore and experience South Africa within our respective paths and share our experiences with the larger community. Then we can truly say, “proudly South African Pagan”.