What’s religion got to do with it?


At a time when South Africans are collectively fighting to maintain the freedom of our press, I objected to the Sunday Tribune using the “witch” label to describe a murderer who does not identify herself as a Witch. Prior to the Sunday Tribune’s article, the murderer was linked with Satanism in the media and was later downgraded to an “occult killer” when, as quoted in the News24 article titled “Occult killer shows no remorse“, a social worker testified that she agreed “that satanism could not have played a role in the murder, but that occult practices *might* have had an influence”. As much of a stretch as it was, perhaps the “occult” label did not have the impact that the media had hoped for (I suspect many readers do not even know what it means), or perhaps the alliterative “Welkom witch” just had a much better ring to it? Why let the truth get in the way of a good story? It’s cool, unless you identify yourself as a Witch or are even suspected of being one, or do not swim in the mainstream for that matter.

Why can a murderer not just be a plain murderer? Is the crime really not bad enough on its own to sell a newspaper without dressing it up as something more interesting?

I believe that the misuse of religious labels to sell newspapers abuses the freedom of the press, feeds prejudice that leads to unfair discrimination and violence in our society, supports religious bias and indoctrination, and violates our constitutional rights to freedom of religion without unfair discrimination.

Some of the objections made in the online petition asked that Witches not all be painted with the same brush, as there are both “good” and “bad” Witches. Why is it even necessary in this day and age to make this point when it comes to one religious group and not others?

I know plenty of decent Christians, and plenty that I don’t want anything to do with. The same goes for self-identified Witches and other Pagans. (I don’t know too many people from other religions, so I will leave it at that.) Wearing a religious label or going to church does not make anyone a decent person. Actions speak volumes. Being kind, considerate, respectful and non-judgemental makes someone a person that I want to be around rather than avoid. Nobody’s perfect, but hopefully we acknowledge when we have behaved badly and do our best to make amends.

In all religions there are bigots and bullies. In all religions there are people who hurt others regularly without any sense of remorse. In all religions there are thieves, murderers and rapists.

People should not expect moral guidance to come from their religious leaders either. A Christian government implemented apartheid in South Africa and religious leaders condoned it. I can even remember the passage in the Bible that was quoted to support it. I also remember the first time my mother acknowledged that apartheid was wrong. We had just returned from the Emmanuel Cathedral in Durban where the late Catholic Archbishop Denis Hurley gave a speech saying as much. I was old enough to remember the occasion so it must have been well into the apartheid era (around 1980). Bless him for that, but why did it take so long for anyone in the Catholic Church in this country to speak up?

Sometimes religion does have something to do with it. Historically there have been many major atrocities committed in the name of religion, such as the persecution of suspected witches that arose out of the Inquisition of the Roman Catholic Church in the Dark Ages. In that case it is relevant and by all means the media should mention it, but if not they should just keep religion out of it.


“a salesman is an it that stinks to please

but whether to please itself or someone else

makes no more difference than if it sells

hate condoms education snakeoil vac

uumcleaners terror strawberries democ

ra(caveat emptor)cy superfluous hair”

Edward Estlin Cummings (1894-1962)




You may also like...

5 Responses

  1. Helen says:

    Thanks for your comments Daniela 🙂

    Witchcraft is already recognized as a religion in this country to the extent that SA bodies representing Witches have been registered by the relevant legal authorities and there are SA Witches who are licensed marriage officers. That is the extent of the process as far as I am aware, I have not been directly involved though.

    I do not identify as a Witch myself, but even if I did I do not believe that I could trademark the word any more than one could trademark the words Pagan, Christian or Jew. I would object to anyone trying to do that!

    Religious stereotyping by the media is as despicable as racial stereotyping and yet they get away with it due to ignorance. This is incomprehensible in a country where people who do not even practise any form of Witchcraft are brutally attacked, murdered and exiled due to superstitious fears and suspicions fuelled by such stereotyping.

  2. daniela leigh says:

    Very good article helen, not easy to fight with the meida as they will ignore you and print what they want. You need to first of all focus all your energies on getting recognized as a religion. this is importnat.
    Once you have done, registered the tradeamrk, witch, and noone is allowed to use the word witch without your permission, or in a defamatory.. you can set your trademark rulings…..
    look for the alternative, it will be there@

  3. daniela leigh says:

    Very good article, Helen, i applaud you. The problem is you can’t change the media, the media will publish as you said, whatever sells and causes shock. YOu have to fight from above. I know you have applied to be recongnized a a religion, i would first focus completely on that. Secondly take the : word ” Witch and wiches and place a trademark on those, with the restraining order that these names cannot be used in any article or description without the holder permission. (if you can do that , the trademark lawas are changing drastically and this might be the door open for you. then you write to all the nespapers and warn them that you have registered the trademark, it belongs to you, and they are not allowed to use the words. When you fighting these poeple , you have to fight them on the same ground level and look for alternatives where you can win. Hope this little advise helps. I have had my wars in my times with the system and although stil wish I had the fight in me , i am old and weary, so new generation, take up the fight , with blessings.

  4. Helen says:

    Thanks for your comment Antoinette 🙂

  5. Antoinette Keyser says:

    An excellent article, very well written. From where I am, the odour of bigotry and shameless sales tactics (wouldn’t call it technique, since technique requires at least some brains) still hovers over the whole Charne van Heerden debacle. As a Witch, I strongly object to the way my religion has been blasphemed in the related Sunday Tribune article. Some of us furiously objected in writing and by signing a petition. This is all good and well, but what happened to the rest of us? Damon, Morgause and various others did their utmost to bring this atrocity to the attention of us all. And in the same breath I would also like to refer to the Touchstone Advocacy and other public appeals with regards to discrimination against the very core of who we are. Why is it only the same 10% (if that) who always respond while the rest of us act like freaking u-boats, hiding out of sight?! What will it take to get SA Pagans to all stand as One, as it should be? And don’t you think it is about time? Just saying. Bb! )o(

Leave a Reply