Wednesday, 5 September 2007

The Rehabilitation of a Word

Recently, we in South Africa have seen a fair amount of discussion over the usage of the word witch.

Many non-Pagans in this country have been in the habit of tossing the word around to indicate a person, usually female although sometimes male or a child, who produces malefica .Sometimes an isInyanga or iSangoma is called in, particularly those specializing in witch finding , to point out the presumed witch.

I don’t think I need to say that those pointed out are never, in actual fact, witches. They have no knowledge of the techniques and rituals involved in causing a drought, for example, or the sickness of somebody’s child. They are known to us today by another word, one which has rung down the centuries in bloody array: scapegoat.

It’s also probably not necessary to emphasise that the only people in the affected community who have the magical knowledge are those involved in placing the blame on others. It’s quite ironic and also infinitely sad.

We have been advocating the reclamation of this word for some time now – only to face opposition from the darndest quarter. It seems that there exist some Pagans, notably South African, who have gone to some lengths recently to make the reclamation look like an exercise in selfish human-rights trampling.
Their argument runs something like this: bad muthi, use of human body parts, etc are linked to black African ‘witches’ and so we , as purveyors of purity and light, should be using some other name.

Right on. Let’s just leave those innocent women to be scapegoated by that word because we don’t want to get our images tarnished. Never mind that it is in fact a criminal, and often a criminal wearing the guise of a Sangoma or Nyanga who is righteously pointing out the scapegoats while dealing in body parts him or herself.

Another argument to surface recently has been constructed around the perceived harm of the use of the word ‘witch’, the proponents arguing that, just as we no longer sanction the use of derogatory words which were used in the Apartheid regime as denigrating and belittling people-especially people of any other colour than 'white'– so we should not be seeking to use the word ‘witch’ for fear of hurting other people.

This is a fine specimen of a strawman argument. The proponents of this line of reasoning neglect to remember that those of us who suffered under the repulsive derogatory racist words were given no choice in the matter. Now we, as the witches (there are no other adherents- only more scapegoats) freely desire to attach this label to ourselves. In pride. Just as, in another country and another century, Americans of African descent proudly reclaimed the word ‘Nigger’.