Why we SHOULD speak out against an SAPS occult-related crimes division in South-Africa
After the leaked memo from the SAPS concerning the establishment of a new occult related crimes division, South African Pagans have been expressing their concerns. Yet, I have found that these concerns were for the most part brushed aside in the media and by comments from the SAPS. It would even seem that people generally feel as if the SAPS know what they are doing and in the end that they have everyone’s best interest at heart.
“They are going after criminals and crimes committed. The memo clearly states that they will not persecute religious groups.” This is a common statement to brush aside our concerns and even imply that we are somehow being crazy or exaggerating the whole thing. The memo has a lot of cringe-worthy, shocking and outright ridiculous statements conveniently overlooked because apparently the SAPS seems to have grown up quite a bit since the days of Kobus Jonker and the former Occult Related Crimes division or people think that we are “more enlightened” today and such a unit poses no threat.
The former Occult Crimes division under Kobus Jonker was very clearly driven by the man’s religious agenda. He is a self-proclaimed born-again Christian with a fundamentalist view of the Bible. He believes in the devil as a literal reality and the only answer to Satanism and occultism is the “blood of Christ”. Clearly such ideas do not belong in a country where we have freedom of religion as a primary cornerstone. You cannot use state resources to drive your own personal religious crusade. After the Occult Crimes Unit was disbanded in 2001, former members remained vocal in the media and were still frequently called in as “experts”. Several members started their own anti-occult, anti-witchcraft, anti-Satanism ministries; on their websites they spew misinformation and lies, espousing a fundamentalist Christian agenda. That they know nothing at all about the occult or contemporary religion can easily be discerned by any serious occultist, Pagan, Witch or Satanist.
Johan De Beer and his mother Barbara from Auksano in Bloemfontein were very vocal in the media after the Van Eck “graveyard murder”. He appeared on 3rd Degree and was oft quoted in the papers, leading the country to believe the devil was on the loose and Satanism was out of control.
F.H. Havinga from Aserac was recently quoted in several articles. One notable article involved a mutilated rabbit found in Kempton Park, he wanted everyone to believe that “African witchcraft” and Satanism was running rampant.
Kobus Jonker recently commented on cases from KZN. He stated that witches gather around a “witchgram” (solely his term for a six-pointed star known as a Hexagram) to drink blood and traffic with demons after several symbols and an apparent ritual was discovered on the University of Kwazulu-Natal campus.
It should be remembered that these men cling to a religious and mythical world view where there is a literal and ongoing struggle between the forces of light and darkness. Add the mythical ideal that we are living in the “last days” and you can begin to understand why they expect and want evil to be out of control. They want and even need the darkness to exist in such a literal form because it becomes part of their identity and reality. Witches, Satanists and non-believers must be evil and bloodthirsty because these things are the very opposite of what is “good” or allowed by their Bible or God. Witches, Satanists or Pagans could not possibly have any merits or redeeming qualities. In the fundamentalist view the only true or acceptable way to salvation is through Jesus Christ. Would I be wrong in saying that these individuals have a jaded view when it comes to other religions and even when investigating crimes? Would they not see what they want and expect to see?
Going further back, we should note that the common version of Satanism as believed in by the majority of Christians and supported by a biased media is actually a myth. It is a CONSTRUCTED phenomenon. It is uncannily similar to the stories and myths surrounding the witch-craze in Europe in the late middle-ages. The darkest fantasies of churchmen found expression in tales of sexual orgies with the devil, black-masses and infanticide (Now I have a craving for ground baby and banana smoothie – delicious!).
The more modern Christian myth of Satanism arose in the 60’s and reached its height in the 80’s and early 90’s. The whole myth arose because of so-called survivor stories where a former “Satanist high priest or priestess” or a “powerful witch” would suddenly find new life in Jesus Christ. Their testimonies would attest to the triumph of “light” over “darkness” and serve to reinforce the Christian message. Unfortunately, most of these so-called occult survivors turned out to be liars, frauds, attention seekers or people with real mental health problems. The book “Michelle Remembers”, which was among one of the first texts to describe horrific rituals and ritual abuse, was actually based on highly controversial regression therapy techniques and memories recalled under hypnosis.
Horrific stories emerged from these accounts about thousands of human sacrifices and vast conspiracies. Yet, these survivors never provided any evidence and they never pointed out where the bodies were buried. The rumours spiralled into the whole Satanic Ritual Abuse debacle. The FBI stepped in to investigate and the 1992 Lanning report basically debunked the ritual abuse fiasco or the idea of a vast and organized satanic conspiracy. Yet, the damage was done and rumour panics remained. The devil was on the loose and he was EVERYWHERE. He was in children’s toys, rock and metal music, television programmes and he was behind whatever movement was politically taboo at that time. The climate of fear and paranoia was set. Rumours and stories of Satanism reached South-Africa and we soon had our own “survivors” and accompanying conspiracies. Within this climate, Kobus Jonker conveniently “encountered his first case of Satanism”.
I remember in 1991 a girl in my class told us that the Satanists were going to invade our home town and they would murder all the Christians. Stories also emerged about kids who disappeared on their way home from school, kidnapped for sacrifice – None of these things ever happened. We were told to burn our Masters of the Universe and other action figurines because of satanic influences. Fear and paranoia pervaded. The Occult Crimes division ensured that fear and paranoia prevailed.
I should note that I draw a distinction between real practicing Witches, Pagans, Satansist and Occultists and the Christian mythical ideals and expectations of what these groups represent. The Satanic Bible used by the Church of Satan and other Satanists clearly speaks out against the atrocities Christians attribute to Satanists. You do have theistic Satanists who may believe in Satan as an actual being. Yet, none of these official groups condone the Christian mythical version of Satanism. Theistic Satanist Diane Vera has a site dedicated to debunking these myths. I agree with her when she states that the Christian mythical version of Satanism fulfils a particularly Christian ideal or agenda. It serves to keep Christian communities fearful and filled with repugnance, enforcing unity and affirming their beliefs in a war between “good” and “evil”. Why would the devil have folks running around committing horrendous crimes if his goal is to get people away from God? The violent crimes and horrendous acts of the mythical Satanists will drive people towards the Church.
The Church of Satan would argue that they have the rights to the terms Satanist and Satanism and technically they did coin the terms, these terms were seldom used before the founding of the Church of Satan in the 60’s. Of course the Satanic movement had its philosophical precedents and there were previous “satanic” organizations, the Hell-Fire clubs come to mind.
There are some self-styled satanic groups out there, frequently criticized for espousing racist or anti-Semitic ideals. Still, they are a far cry from the murderous savages in the Christian myth. There are also fringe groups like the Order of the Nine Angels, but I have yet to hear of the “satanic crimes” that they seem to endorse.
The Christian mythical ideal of Witches and Pagans usually confounds them with the Satanists. Jonker commented in a recent article that witches gather around a “witchgram” drinking blood and trafficking with demons. At the very least it will be made clear that these groups are somehow being misled by demons, despite their claims to the contrary, and it is usually a downwards spiral until they “find Christ”.
So if the Christian ideal of Satanism is actually a con and a myth, why do we need an occult crimes unit? If “satanic crime” or “occult crime” is so common why is it such big news if a crime has even vague ties to the occult?
The media and former occult unit members have helped in recent years to construct the idea that we somehow have “occult crime” running out of control. Yet, all the recent cases including the “sword killing” by Morne Harmse, the “graveyard murder” of Michael Van Eck, the mutilated rabbit in Kempton Park, the burning of Kirsty Theologo in a “Satanic” ritual, Kyle Mudaly’s suicide and strange symbols found at the University of KZN to name a few, all these cases are highly problematic if presented as evidence of Satanism out of control in South Africa. Jaded and biased views and opinions helped CONSTRUCT these cases as Satanism – shame on Beeld, Volksblad and die Burger for even using the testimony of a debunked “occult survivor”, Lauren Stratford in the Michael Van Eck case.
It seems that very little evidence is actually required to start spinning a story about blood drinking satanic cults. A few candles and a pentagram is basically all it takes to form your own conclusions that conspiracy and evil is afoot. How is this being level headed? Is this how the occult unit will operate again? Where is actual concrete evidence that occultists or Satanists commit more crimes than people of other religions?
While the SAPS claim that they will not persecute religious groups but crimes committed, the occult crimes division is still inherently discriminatory. You may not be arrested for claiming to be an occultist or Satanists but you are still under suspicion because you follow a religion or philosophy made out as “prone to violence and crime”. Again, where is actual evidence that occultists or Satanists are more prone to committing crimes than people of other religions? Why should the “occult” be singled out as a special category? This comes from Christian bias and agenda against the occult, not from actual evidence. The media and the anti-occult cops have gotten away all these years with calling murders “occult murders” or “satanic murders”. These labels are usually applied while investigations are still under way and any arbitrary ties could result in a crime receiving a label of “occult” or “satanic”, this sensationalism probably helps sell papers and magazines. Strange symbols, art, literature or even music could result in a crime having the “occult label”.
To illustrate, suppose I commit a crime of passion and I kill someone in the process. In my house they will definitely find plenty of occult books and paraphernalia. Although the crime I committed had nothing to do with my other activities, immediately and for some inexplicable reason, there will be statements issued that there may be “possible occult involvement”. The slightest rumours can ensure that a crime will be tied to a “possible satanic connection”. To the public, this kind of reporting actually strengthens the misconceptions and bias already in place. Their worst fears are confirmed and they should remember that the devil is out to get them. It is usually also implied that Christianity will protect them or is somehow the answer.
Another example, if someone commits suicide and they find occult books and paraphernalia in that person’s house, then yet again it will be made out as if the occult involvement was part of the problem. Conveniently, they will ignore the fact that the person had a history of mental illness, that the person struggled with depression or that the person dealt with pressures or bullying.
While a murder could be labelled as a Satanic or an Occult murder, why is a murder never labelled as a “Christian murder” or a “Muslim murder”. If we apply the same reasoning as described above to all crimes than any crime where a person had a Bible or Koran in the house or around the crime scene, these crimes should be labelled Christian crimes or Muslim crimes. The same use of arbitrary connections applies. The Lotter siblings’ murder of their parents should rightly be called a “Christian Murder”, yet no one does this. I suppose that only when it comes to Christianity then we can realize that a few bad elements do not and cannot act on behalf of the whole. Yet, conveniently occultism as a whole can be stigmatized.
Why should occultism receive a different treatment? Occultism is also an umbrella term that could include many varying beliefs, philosophies and practices including Wicca and Witchcraft. The occult crimes unit seeks to use the term as a synonym for “Satanism” and “evil”. The term simply means “hidden” and refers to hidden or esoteric knowledge. It is not a negative term and it should not be used in a negative light.
It is the former occult crimes unit members such as De Beer, Havinga, Jonker etc. who provide training and advice to the police and the public in dealing with occult related issues and crimes. As previously mentioned the Christian mythical ideal of Satanism is a con fuelled by a fundamentalist Christian agenda. Can the SAPS prove in some manner that they distance themselves from the religious agenda inherent within such a unit? Without the inherent religious agenda and bias can there even be an occult crimes division? Remember that the answer and final solution provided by these men is always a “personal meeting with Jesus Christ”. I strongly suspect that the new occult crimes unit will be another front used to pursue a religious agenda.
Finally, it is not simply Pagans, occultists or Satanists who should speak out against such a religiously motivated unit but other minority groups as well. There are elements in South African Christianity which constantly pushes for political influence and power. They try to have a say in many matters and they want to force their agenda’s and perspectives onto others. Bringing a religiously motivated unit into the SAPS is a step-backwards with regards to religious freedom and equality. It gives too much power and influence to one religious group.
The occult crimes unit should be looked at with suspicion by everyone. This unit gains the power to define occultism and Satanism under its terms, influenced by a Christian agenda. They have the power to label things as “occult” and “satanism” while it is clear that they receive most of their “knowledge” from misinformed and biased sources. They conveniently ignore the actual practitioners and the rights of these practitioners to define their own practices and beliefs. Rather than educating the public such a unit will simply affirm the public’s darkest fears and suspicion. It will help the satanic myth live on.
The young men who set Kirsty Theologo alight claimed that they were conducting a “satanic ritual”, yet the fact remains that it had absolutely nothing to do with actual established satanic practice. These young men were “legend tripping”, they were acting out and fulfilling the Christian mythical ideal of satanism. Diane Vera calls such criminals “tabloid prophecy fulfillers”. They were acting out the urban legend as taught within Christianity. Myth seemingly becomes reality and the lines between truth and fiction begins to blur. The cult-cops and the media have their “evidence” that the devil is indeed out of control. The fact remains that it was Christianity with its concerned pastors, cult cops and school education programs warning about the dangers of Satanism and occultism that inspired and moulded those young men. Christianity is to blame for cases like these; the blame does not lie with the Satanists, the occultists, the Pagans, Vampires or the Witches despite all attempts to scapegoat such groups. The satanic myth survives as a whole new generation falls prey to anti-occult propaganda.
When I hear the words occult or occultism, I do not think about bloody rituals and crudely drawn pentagrams, I think about the lofty systems of Hermetic philosophy, Neoplatonic Theurgy and the complexities of Kabbalism with its intricate angelology and demonology – the Western Mystery Tradition. I think of the Royal and Sacred Arts practiced since the days of Ancient Egypt, including Alchemy. I think of mysticism and of seeking a closer and more intimate connection with the divine and with God. I think of the spiritual transformations of mystic alchemy as “lead” turns into “gold”. When I think of occultism I think of the joyous and colourful rituals of the modern day Pagans, seeking to establish links to the natural world. I think of those Pagans who want to reconstruct and reclaim our true heritage before Christianity. Occultism brings to mind the independent and strong willed philosophy of Satanism, which I admire in many aspects. These diverse and often conflicting groups and ideologies constitute my occult brethren who I will always defend.
Occult philosophy, Alchemy and Christian mysticism preoccupied the greatest minds in history and shaped Western Civilization. How has it turned into something to be reviled, ridiculed and mocked?
I strongly recommend this resource for a huge collection of articles on Satanism and Satanic Panic from Anthropological, Sociological and Folklore perspectives.