News / Africa

Pagans in South Africa Defy Religious Discrimination

  • The high priest welcomes the scribe into the sacred circle and calls for all members “to let go of all negativity, to feel your roots reaching into the lava at the center of the earth.” (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Pagans gather several times a year to ward off evil with rituals observed during candle-lit ceremonies in a Johannesburg lounge. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • “Our roots go way back, thousands of years before all the accepted religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam,” says a leader of the group. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • The high priestess holds up a ceremonial dagger to invoke aspects of the rites of ancient elders. "Most of us in this coven come from ancient Celtic roots,” she said.
  • “We reach for the stars and call down the moon! I bow before the moon, I bow before the moon,” Pearson cries out. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Pearson calls upon the Goddess of the Full Moon, Selene, who they revere for her “nurturing and mothering” nature at the end of the Esbat ceremony. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Most of those assembled are merchants, accountants, teachers and doctors who gather to observe the seasonal equinoxes. (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • Pearson lifts a ceremonial goblet of wine. “We believe very strongly in Jesus; he’s the god of little children in paganism. We also believe very strongly in Mary, because she’s a virgin goddess…” (Photo by Darren Taylor)
  • The high priest, Greg, kneels before the high priestess. They are discreet in their practices because of the popular prejudices against them. "We say live and let live, respect and love everyone,”  Pearson says. (Photo by Darren Taylor)

     
  • The high priestess, Shanyn Pearson, calls on the archangels for the group’s protection. “We believe in the earth, we revere the earth; the earth is our mother. Without her, we will die. We worship the Mother Goddess way above us all.” (Photo by Darren Ta

The Nature of Earthly Worship

Darren Taylor
The lounge in a suburb that epitomizes middle-class Johannesburg suburbia is gloomy, lit by a single candle. Its flame flickers in the slight, cool breeze that wafts through an open door. A loaded silence pervades the atmosphere, broken only by the whisper of soft rain soaking the ground outside.   
 
Adults of varying ages, and a few children, are seated on sofas or cross-legged on the floor. Their eyes are closed, their palms turned upwards.
 
The soothing voice of a bare-footed and bespectacled middle-aged man, salt-and-pepper stubble covering his chin, shreds the quiet and leads the meditation.
 
Swaddled in a shiny navy robe, he exhorts the group to inhale and exhale, “to let go of all negativity, to feel your roots reaching into the lava at the center of the earth.”
 
He’s the High Priest, preparing his fellow Pagans for a ritual that was first performed thousands of years ago. He wants to be identified only by his first name, Greg. 
 
“My family and friends know I’m a (high-ranking) Pagan but only one or two of my work colleagues know. We can’t share what we do with everyone; they don’t understand,” he says. 
 
Most Pagans present here are professionals. By day, they’re businesspeople, accountants, teachers, even doctors... Several nights a year, they meet to observe important dates on the Pagan calendar, such as the seasonal equinoxes.    
 
Darren Taylor witnesses a pagan ceremony
Darren Taylor witnesses a pagan ceremonyi
|| 0:00:00
...
 
🔇
X

“We observe the rites of our ancient elders, or our ancestors. Most of us in this coven come from ancient Celtic roots,” explains High Priestess Shanyn Pearson, her long, golden blonde hair streaming down her dark brown satin cloak. A silver five-pointed star hangs around her neck.
 
She continues: “Our roots go way back, thousands of years before all the accepted religions such as Christianity, Judaism and Islam. We believe in the earth, we revere the earth; the earth is our mother. Without her, we will die. We worship the Mother Goddess way above us all.”  
 
Roots in Greece, Egypt and the earth
 
Greg says Pagans “venerate” the natural world.
 
“We show this by honoring the old Gods of earth, from various ancient civilizations, such as the Greeks. One of our Gods is Herne. He is the stag, the God with antlers. He is the lord of the greenwood,” he explains.  
 
“Then we have Demeter, another Greek Goddess. She looks after the land; she gives us the crops, so we have food. Women who cannot fall pregnant very often give offerings and pray to Demeter and beg her to make them as fertile as she is.”
 
Nearby sits another senior Pagan, cloaked in a snow white tunic edging off with royal blue material and trimmed with rich gold fabric. He holds a wooden staff that’s hewn in the form of a patterned, spiraling cobra.
 
Pearson introduces him as Rico. “He is our Scribe,” she says. “He does all our paperwork and voices our rituals. He practices the Egyptian side of Paganism. He is our conduit to the Gods and Goddesses of ancient Egypt.”
 
Tonight, The Grove - one of Johannesburg’s most eclectic Pagan covens - is observing an Esbat, a full-moon celebration. 
 
Marching slowly in a muddy backyard
 
After the meditation, the Warden, a young man in a black, hooded cloak, beats a drum to “consecrate” the Pagan’s Sacred Circle, to drive away all evil, says Pearson.
 
The Pagans, some shaking rattles, march slowly in a row to a muddy, tree-filled backyard, with a table in the middle of it. Jagged daggers, an ivory white conch, a golden statue and ceremonial wine in pewter chalices decorate the table.  
 
Wooden poles mark a large circle.
 
“A circle is a ring of power; it has no beginning and no end, that’s why it’s so powerful,” the High Priestess whispers.
 
Rico the Pagan Scribe then “challenges” each person who wishes to enter the circle by pointing his crook at them and demanding, “How do you enter?” They reply with phrases such as, “With love in my heart and knowledge in my soul,” and “In perfect love and perfect understanding.” The Scribe replies, “Welcome, child of the Goddess. You may enter. Blessed be.” 
 
Each Pagan announces his presence in the circle with a name taken from ancient times, such as the age of the Vikings of Scandinavia, around 800 AD.
One dark-robed man introduces himself as “Svehaltrihar;” a woman in a hooded blue cloak calls herself “Ilvalon Kestavar.”
 
They believe they’re reincarnations of people from bygone epochs.
 
Reverence for Selene of the Full Moon
 
Then, the Pagans call out the names given to God by various religions, such as the Hebrew, Adonai, and the names of their “archangels.”
 
They chant: “In front of me, Rafael. Behind me, Gabriel. On my right hand, Michael. On my left hand, Uriel. For about me flames the pentagram. Above me, now within me, shines the six-ray star. Shala, descend upon me now! Atar, Malkut! Vigibra, Vigillah, Laiulam; amen!”
 
They call upon their Goddess of the Full Moon, Selene, who they revere for her “nurturing and mothering” nature.
 
“She brings things into fruition,” says Greg. Pearson adds: “Young girls, who are maidens, go and they pray to her because she’s the closest to them, she understands them; she understands what they’re going through. They’re virgins, she’s a virgin; she’s pure and untouched, they are…”
 
In the ceremony, the High Priestess clutches a knife and shrieks: “We call upon the great Selene!  I invoke thee thus with the powers of shadow and dark! We reach for the stars and call down the moon! I bow before the moon, I bow before the moon!”
 
‘Salamanders of fire’
 
The Pagans demonstrate deep reverence for nature, worshiping the elements of water, air and fire.
 
“Hail Lord Jin!” shouts one. “I call to thee, my Lord. Come into the circle tonight! Bring your passion; bring your fiery creatures with you. Come salamanders, salamanders of fire! Play with us in the circle… Fire on this Esbat night, fire burning, burning bright! Come to me! So mote it be!”
 
They ring a bell to welcome their Gods and Goddesses, and sing a melodious Pagan song, the chorus of which rings: “All that’s born shall rise again… We all come from the garden, and to her we shall return. Like a drop of rain, falling into the ocean…”
 
The celebration ends with the traditional Pagan parting: “Merry we meet, and merry we part, and merry we meet again. Blessed be!”
 
'We have to be discreet about our beliefs ...'
 
After the ceremony, the Pagans reflect on the prices they’re forced to pay for their unusual beliefs. Society often brands them deviants, and even Satanists. 
 
“Look,” says the High Priest, Greg, “we’re not ashamed of being Pagans but because of all the prejudice out there we have to be discreet about our beliefs and practices.
 
“In this country, and throughout the rest of Africa, there are witch hunts and people do get burnt and things are blamed on satanic rituals. It happens very often, more often than people realize…”    
 
He adds: “What is taken very out of context and why people believe that we are Satanists and that we worship Satan, is that we worship Pan… He is the goat-footed God. However, he is absolutely a nature-based God. He is so far from Satan, you couldn’t possibly believe it! He is the God you call on to have absolute fun; he is the lord of the wildwood.”
 
‘Live and let live’
 
Pagans “honor and cherish” many of the same deities that Christians do, Pearson says.
 
“We believe very strongly in Jesus; he’s the god of little children in Paganism. We also believe very strongly in Mary, because she’s a virgin goddess… We venerate her; we adore her. She’s somebody that young women go to and can pray to very easily, from a Pagan point of view.”
 
But the High Priestess also maintains that there are “just too many aspects” of other religions that Pagans cannot believe in.
 
“We cannot accept that women are unclean when they’re having their period, or that women are inferior to men, as in Islam. And we disagree strongly with certain religions seeing themselves as superior to others.
 
“I don’t believe that we must hate everybody else that’s not of our religion. I don’t hate you because you’re not a Pagan. I do not discriminate against you because you are a Christian. You are welcome in my circle, because the (Earth) Mother says you are my brother.”
 
According to Pearson and other Pagans, they’re a “breed apart” because they’re “seekers.”
 
She emphasizes: “Unlike other religions, we don’t believe that a kind of paradise, or true meaning in life, can be accessed using only one, righteous path, to the exclusion of all others. We say live and let live, respect and love everyone.”

You May Like

Elusive Deal With Iran Could Yield Foreign Policy Legacy for Obama

A new Iranian leader -- and a strategic shift by the United States -- opens narrow window for nuclear agreement with Tehran More

Column: Saudi-Iran Meeting Could Boost Fight Against Islamic State

The fact that Iranians and Saudis are talking again does not guarantee a breakthrough, but it could make it easier to build a broad coalition against IS More

Thai Ruler Gives Top Cabinet Posts to Junta Inner Circle

Thailand's army chief has kept an iron grip on power as he extends the government, hand-picking an interim parliament that subsequently nominated him prime minister More

This forum has been closed.
Comment Sorting
Comments
     
by: Gearoid from: USA
May 21, 2014 5:51 PM
Just a note, the more correct term to use would likely be "Wiccans" based on the article. Just calling them "pagans" is extremely vague. Based on the practices mentioned it seems to be a group of Wiccanate eclectics, with some ceremonial magic influences as well. That is rather distinct from ancient forms of paganism or the Reconstructionist paths that seek to revive those. The individuals mentioned here are definitely modern syncretists and eclectics.

Featured Videos

Your JavaScript is turned off or you have an old version of Adobe's Flash Player. Get the latest Flash player.
West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015i
X
Carol Pearson
August 30, 2014 7:14 PM
A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video West Africa Ebola Vaccine Trials Possible by Early 2015

A U.S. health agency is speeding up clinical trials of a possible vaccine against the deadly Ebola virus that so far has killed more than 1,500 people in West Africa. If successful, the next step would be a larger trial in countries where the outbreak is occurring. VOA's Carol Pearson has more.
Video

Video Survivors Commemorate 70th Anniversary of Nazi Liquidation of Jewish Ghetto

When the German Nazi army occupied the Polish city of Lodz in 1939, it marked the beginning of a long nightmare for the Jewish community that once made up one third of the population. Roughly 200,000 people were forced into the Lodz Ghetto. Less than 7,000 survived. As VOA’s Kane Farabaugh reports, some survivors gathered at the Union League Club in Chicago on the 70th anniversary of the liquidation of the Lodz Ghetto to remember those who suffered at the hands of the Nazi regime.
Video

Video Cost to Raise Child in US Continues to Rise

The cost of raising a child in the United States continues to rise. In its latest annual report, the U.S. Department of Agriculture says middle income families with a child born in 2013 can expect to spend more than $240,000 before that child turns 18. And sending that child to college more than doubles that amount. VOA’s Deborah Block visited with a couple with one child in Alexandria, Virginia, to learn if the report reflects their lifestyle.
Video

Video Chaotic Afghan Vote Recount Threatens Nation’s Future

Afghanistan’s troubled presidential election continues to be rocked by turmoil as an audit of the ballots drags on. The U.N. says the recount will not be completed before September 10. Observers say repeated disputes and delays are threatening the orderly transfer of power and could have dangerous consequences. VOA correspondent Meredith Buel reports.
Video

Video Ukraine Battles Pro-Russia Rebel Assault

After NATO concluded an emergency meeting to discuss the crisis in eastern Ukraine, the country is struggling to contain heavy fighting near the strategic port of Mariupol, on the Azov Sea. Separatist rebels are trying to capture the city, allegedly with Russian military help, and Ukraine's defense forces are digging in. VOA's Daniel Schearf spoke with analysts about what lies ahead for Ukraine.
Video

Video Growing Business Offers Paint with a Twist of Wine

Two New Orleans area women started a small business seven years ago with one thing in mind: to help their neighbors relieve the stress of coping with a hurricane's aftermath. Today their business, which pairs painting and a little bit of wine, has become one of the fastest growing franchises across the U.S. VOA’s June Soh met the entrepreneurs at their newest franchise location in the Washington suburbs.
Video

Video Ebola Vaccine Trials To Begin Next Week

The National Institutes of Health says it is launching early stage trials of a vaccine to prevent the Ebola virus, which has infected or killed thousands of people across West Africa. The World Health Organization says Ebola could infect more than 20,000 people across the region by the time the outbreak is over. The epidemic has health experts and governments scrambling to prevent more people from becoming infected. Zlatica Hoke has more.
Video

Video Asian Bacteria Threatens Florida Orange Trees

Florida's citrus fruit industry is facing a serious threat from a bacteria carried by the Asian insect called psyllid. The widespread infestation again highlights the danger of transferring non-native species to American soil. VOA’s George Putic reports.
Video

Video Aging Will Reduce Economic Growth Worldwide in Coming Decades

The world is getting older, fast. And as more people retire each year, fewer working-age people will be there to replace them. Bond rating agency Moody’s says that will lead to a decline in household savings; reducing global investments - which in turn, will lead to slower economic growth around the world. But experts say it’s not too late to mitigate the economic impact of the world’s aging populations. Mil Arcega has more.
Video

Video Is West Doing Enough to Tackle Islamic State?

U.S. President Barack Obama has ruled out sending ground troops to Iraq to fight militants of the so-called Islamic State, or ISIS, despite officials in Washington describing the extremist group as the biggest threat the United States has faced in years. Henry Ridgwell reports from London on the growing uncertainty over whether the West’s response to ISIS will be enough to defeat the terrorist threat.
Video

Video Coalition to Fight Islamic State Could Reward Assad

The United States along with European and Mideast allies are considering a broader assault against Islamic State fighters who have spread from Syria into Iraq and risk further destabilizing an already troubled region. But as VOA State Department Correspondent Scott Stearns reports, confronting those militants could end up helping the embattled Syrian President Bashar al-Assad.
Video

Video Made in America Socks Get Toehold in Online Fashion Market

Three young entrepreneurs are hoping to revolutionize the high-end sock industry by introducing all-American creations of their own. And they’re doing most of it the old-fashioned way. VOA’s Julie Taboh recently caught up with them to learn what goes into making their one-of-a-kind socks.
Video

Video Americans, Ex-Pats Send Relief Supplies to West Africa

Health organizations from around the world are sending supplies and specialists to the West African countries that are dealing with the worst Ebola outbreak in history. On a smaller scale, ordinary Americans and African expatriates living in the United States are doing the same. VOA's Carol Pearson reports.

AppleAndroid