Witchcamp on for 2019
Witchcamp 2018 was a revolutionary event conceived by Leanne Middleton, high priestess and founder of Coven of the Crossroads, a fierce advocate for Pagan rights in South Africa. The event was due to take place on the weekend of 3 / 4 November and was thought to have the capacity to become one of the highlights of the Pagan events calendar. Pagans from near and far were ready to throw in for all the experiences this event had on offer.
During the run up to Witchcamp, the Coven of the Crossroads event post, and Middleton herself, received various levels of threats and hate speech from the Christian community in and around Randfontien. At first she opted to explain her outlook and what the camp was all about. This was however just met with more calls to stop the ‘Witch’ or ‘Satanic’ event in Randfontien.
Leanne explained that she was surprised that there seemed to be such absolute intolerance in the 21st century. “I was not concerned at first. I tried to respond positively to the slanderous remarks, but this seemed to fuel them even more. I then just deleted them and blocked or banned the senders from commenting further. I did not want our event to be a religious war; that was never the intention, but when we were threatened with marches and protest action, I knew something needed to be done to protect our Pagan folk.”
With a week to go before the event, mechanics were already in motion to stop the event in such a way that there could be no moving forward with it. This was proved to be true when an email was received by Middleton on Friday 2 November, the morning before the opening. The email explained the apparent unlawful nature of the event due to lack of permits, and the apparent classification of the event as a ‘moderate risk’ event. She was threatened with serious fines and even jail time should she proceed.
“My first contact with the police was the receiving of the email with less than 24 hours before the event was due to start. The police were factual in their argument and seemed very well aware of the event. The email was sent by a provincial unit, and they were all aware of the event without having to go into their records. They were adamant that the event was not going to take place due to legal non-compliance.”
Moira Chalklen, high priestess and founder of Coven of the Dark Moon Crescent, the owner of the venue where the event was due to be hosted, had been approached by the police earlier in the week leading up to the event, after receiving reports of the “evil” that was to take place at Witchcamp 2018. Chalklen explained “The police that had come to the house were concerned that we were practicing something evil, this was the basis of some of the complaints they had received from the Christian public. They were very supportive when an explanation was given.”
At no stage during this interaction was it mentioned that permits were needed for an event on private property. Moira continued “Following the email on Friday the 2nd when both Leanne and I went to the police station, Captain Tynessen was quite offish at first, but once we spoke to him and explained our position he seemed to soften towards us.”
Both ladies then spent the rest of the morning between the police and the courts in an attempt to get a go ahead for this event, in which Leanne was heavily financially invested. Damon Leff, director of the South African Pagan Rights Alliance was on hand, assisting as best he could with advice relating to legal aspects. [SAPRA’s statement] Their efforts were unfortunately in vain.
Leanne said “There was no flexibility, they were adamant. We received a call from Brigadier Johan Blignaut almost immediately, and he advised that there was no way the event could take place.” It struck both Leanne and Moira that the Brigadier’s demeanour was very inflexible to any inquiries or requests, and the finality of his manner seemed that this matter was considered dealt with.
It was only at this stage that the Brigadier informed them that the minimum period of 20 days was needed to attain the correct legal permits. It seems somehow that the omission of this information at the onset of Leanne’s interaction with the SAPS leads to the conclusion that an outcry of hate and misinformation by the Christian community was the cause of the SAPS’ clear indifference towards this event.
When asked what the Pagan sentiment was in the hours following the initial news of the cancellation, Leanne said “I have been inundated with support from our community. This made the devastation of the financial loss worth it. I realised how passionate Pagans are about their paths. People are angry and have voiced their support and rage about this discrimination. I am proud of our community. We have walked tall amongst all the hatred that we received.”
With all this said and done, we look forward and wonder, where to from here, what discrimination will future Pagan events experience going forward? “We stand up as a community and make this happen. We cannot back down! We need to show South Africa that you can’t keep Witches out of their neighbourhoods. We are home owners, doctors, engineers, architects, journalists, lawyers, scientists. We have every right to practice our religions in peace. We all need to join together at our events and prove this point. They will not silence us!” This positive message from Leanne comes on the tail end of a daunting week and weekend. The sentiment is seconded by Moira who believes that Pagans should not hide, and that we all should continue to openly practice our craft as she and her coven have done in the same venue for over 12 years.
As both Leanne and Moira are high priestesses for active covens in Gauteng, they both look to drawing on this experience to guiding their coven members and the Pagan community going forward. Leanne added that she hoped that the community as a whole would feel compelled to unite and continue to fight for our common rights to practice our respective crafts in peace. Moira’s view is to learn self-responsibility from this and to ensure all necessary bases are covered before launching a new event; in doing this we will ensure that no further blame can be placed on individual groups.
Can we expect a Witchcamp going forward? Leanne says most certainly. The planning and preparations for Witchcamp 2019 is already in progress. She calls on all Pagans to ready for next year with a new venue and new line up.
In closing, Leanne had this to say “We will ensure all the legal processes are followed and will keep the community up to date. I am excited for the future and the victory that will be ours!”