[I wrote the following article for The Wild Hunt (a UK Pagan magazine) in 2016. It also appeared locally in SA Vampyre News (SAVN) and on Penton Alternative Media at more or less the same time. At the time I was acting as the chief researcher for the Alternative Religions Forum, after working on the academic paper known as "Satanism: The Acid Test".]
Most in the South African Vampyre community who have done a little research into the history will know that this community’s recorded history began in May 2010 with the foundation of House Valur. Most will know that the community only began growing and taking form with the founding of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA) in June 2011, but little if anything is known about the community in the time before that.
Sometimes though, one finds little gems that shine a new light on what we already know. This being the case, we examine the recollections of one of the community’s earliest builders from before 2010. Also, we will examine the initial overlap of Vampyre culture with other subcultures and societies at the time – in this case, South African Pagan culture. We will also examine the role played by vampyric Pagans in laying the groundwork for the growth and formation of the VC independently of the Pagan community in SA – and the important role these events played in the subsequent relationship between the Pagan and Vampyre communities. First, a little background.
A Little Background
In South Africa under the previous Nationalist government, there was no freedom of religion – that is, not unless you were Christian. Judaism, Islam, Buddhism and Hinduism were tolerated by the government, but Paganism and the worship of Pagan deities and any Pagan rituals, reading matter, gatherings or practices were criminalized and outlawed under laws pertaining to ‘satanism’. If you were vampyric, well - the less said about that, the better. Government-appointed witch-hunters like Kobus Jonker and his police unit enjoyed cult-fame status among naive evangelical Christians, spinning wild and unlikely tales of ‘satanist’ conspiracies that could not be, and have never been, substantiated.
The adoption of South Africa’s new constitution changed all that – in theory at least, and with the dawning of greater religious freedom in the early 1990’s, came a sudden scramble among those who identified as Pagans (including a lot of people who wanted to identify as Pagans) to establish an open and free, publicly visible body of Pagans on the cultural landscape of the country. Several Pagan bodies were formed, with one or two looking to speak for and on behalf of all South African Pagans. Sometimes however, it becomes clear that not everyone holds the same understanding of a word as everyone else who identifies by it.
Paganism (or neopaganism), it should be said, is not ONE religion, but many. There are Asatruists (Heathens), Wiccans, Druids, Witches, Hellenists and Kemetists and others – not to mention the large and growing number of eclectics - and all claim the umbrella term of Pagan. At the start of that new age of freedom, not everyone shared the same understanding of what was what. The Pagan community is and always has been, diverse. As such, it has always been (and likely always will be) a breeding ground for a healthy respect for differences. That said, as a Pagan, I have found the South African Pagan community to be generally a trouble-free zone where people tend to be more easily accepted for who they are, than elsewhere. It is also generally, on point of this article, a Vampyre-friendly place. But it was not always so.
In 2011, when the fledgling SA VC initially reached out to the SA Pagan community bodies to establish formal relations between them - completely unaware of any previous issues within Pagan culture - the results were quite dramatic.
As Vampyre Community history bears out, the drama resulting from the vampophobic bias of some Pagans made things a little unpleasant for some time. Pagan Vampyres became the ‘hot topic’ on Pagan Facebook groups and forums. Before too long, although the main Pagan spokespeople openly declared their understanding and acceptance of vampyric people who identified with Pagan beliefs (as long as it didn't mean vampyrism would become a part of Paganism) and welcomed them – it became all too clear that the Pagan community was in danger of splitting in two over the issue. Several Pagan writers stormed out of the community forums etc when Octarine Valur accepted an invitation to write a column for Penton (then Pagan) Magazine to write informative articles about vampyrism from a Pagan perspective.
Critics refused to accept Vampyres as fact, despite many in the Pagan community who had the ability to identify Vampyres among them by second sight alone. They rejected everything the Vampyres offered in defense of their identity. They were adamant that the purpose of the SAVA was to ‘coerce’ Pagans to accept vampyrism as a Pagan path, or religion.
“Some Pagan elders literally became hysterical.” Octarine Valur, widely recognized as the founder of the SA Vampyre Community, and Regent of the SA Vampyre Alliance, said. “Some of them misunderstood us. They thought we wanted to establish vampyrism as a unique path within Paganism as a religion. Even when we made very plain-language efforts to clarify the point, these seemed to be deliberately distorted by our critics. What our purpose was in contacting the Pagan community, was to clarify that there were Pagans in their covens and groups already who were also vampyric people – people who identify as Vampyres. As SAVA we were simply trying to look out for their interests because of the number of reports we received from vampyric Pagans who were either afraid to be known as Vampyres in Pagan circles, or who had been on the receiving end of prejudice in their Pagan group because they were known as Vampyres.”
The SAVA meanwhile, had also conducted similar diplomatic outreaches (although less successfully) to Christian groups (because Christianity was the second most-prevalent religious affiliation in the SA VC according to a contemporary poll) and to the SA Goth Society (2013). Christian groups did not react well to overtures of friendship from a Vampyre group, as could be expected – no matter how open-minded they thought they were – although some of the reactions were rather entertaining. No further engagement took place in that sector. Some Goths did attend a Vampyre gathering in 2014, but – reportedly – they were simply curious and none of them were Vampyres.
As time went by, things settled down between Pagan and Vampyre communities in South Africa. The critic’s worst fears did not realize: The Pagan community and Vampyre subculture remain distinctly separate from each other, but there is a lot of co-operation between Pagan bodies and VC bodies. The SAVA and the SA Pagan Rights Alliance (SAPRA) jointly chair the Alternative Religions Forum in 2013 to combat ignorance, misinformation and propaganda in SA media and Press. Their efforts went on record as having successfully changed how the SA media portrays ‘occult-related crimes’ and ‘alternative religions’ in their coverage. Vampyre-Pagan covens have organized Pagan public celebrations in their areas for Pagan Freedom Day – and received praise from both the SAVA and Pagan bodies for their efforts. These days, it is not unusual for Pagan groups to openly acknowledge their vampyric members, and general knowledge among Pagans about Vampyres and Vampyre nature has dramatically improved.
Again, it was not always so, and a lot had to happen before it became so. The current state of affairs and the history of the Pagan-Vampyre Dispute of 2011 aside, it had to start somewhere. Before the SAVA began representing the local VC, before Octarine Valur began her search which led to the formation of House Valur - before all that – there were lone, solitary Vampyres who longed for a community of their own.
It was in 2003 when a young lady in Kriel, a small mining town in Mpumalanga, who had started her Pagan path at first as a practicing Wiccan since 2000, experienced her vampyric Awakening. That is to say, she first awakened to her nature as a sanguine vampyre. Her first donor was her girlfriend at the time, and although the relationship lasted three years, the donor-vampyre relationship lasted for two of those years. Following the termination of that arrangement, after a period of extreme hunger and ill-health, she adapted to feed from storms, running water, wind and strong elements. Like most sanguines, she maintains that this is not as satisfying or lasting as a sanguine feed and frequently endures the effects of vampyric hunger in times of ‘good’ weather when a donor is not available.
Like many vamps, Darklady was drawn to Paganism, and perhaps hoped to find others like her in the process. Adopting the Pagan name of Darklady, she began to explore her nature and what Pagan culture she could interact with online and offline. At that time, Pagan culture flatly ignored Vampyres and those who identified as vampyric. The subject of vampyric people was not openly discussed in Pagan groups and forums online, and generally seemed to be avoided altogether.
Also at that time, there was no known Vampyre community or subculture in Southern Africa of any kind. Vampyres who were Pagans would generally keep their vampyric interests to themselves, particularly in Wiccan groups. Like most Vampyres who awaken alone, Darklady looked online for information. What she knew about Vampyres she gleaned from reputable VC resources such as ‘Sanguinarius’, but there was simply nothing here in South Africa for her in that regard.
In 2005, Darklady started a forum group on WAP called ‘Vampyric.peperonity.com’ in order to try and attract local Vampyres. It was an attempt to reach out to a local community of real Vampyres which did not then exist. She never found any local vamps at that time or via that channel. In May 2006, Darklady relocated to Hazyview, another small town in Mpumalanga.
Enter the Magenta Dragon
In September 2006 Darklady joined a Pagan forum called Wica.co.za under the name ‘Magenta Dragon’. Known simply as ‘Magenta’ after that, she interacted there for a while, quickly rising to become one of the site’s Adminstrators. In 2007, an argument broke out between Magenta and a rather influential South African Pagan, which escalated quite rapidly. The issue was about freedom of association and elitism in the Pagan community. At that time, almost a decade after the vaunted new South African democracy had become a fact of life, many of the then Pagan leadership in the country expressed the opinion that only hereditary witches and witches who belonged to a coven could have a valid voice in Pagan affairs. Solitary practitioners and converts were portrayed as unworthy or lesser than these. Magenta, a relative newcomer to the Pagan community – and a solitary witch, found herself taking a fiery stand against this position, not even realizing that she was butting heads with the leader of the South African Pagan community at the time! Although she was a cocky newcomer – all of 19 years old – and virtually an unknown, she did not stand alone for long.
“I was young, and thought I knew all the answers.” She smiled. “I’d also only just learned how to use the internet, and it was all new to me!”
Three other Pagans joined Magenta in this dispute, and their number of supporters grew dramatically in a short period. This group of four would lead what some saw as a necessary wave of change in the SA Pagan community at that time. Together they decided to split away from the main body of Pagans as headed by those seen as elitists, in order to form their own free community of Pagans. They would receive plenty of support from solitary witches and those who did not find the idea of ordered, structured and hierarchical ‘Christian-like’ Paganism appealing. To this end, the group expanded to six – and established ‘Way of the Rede’ on July 4, 2007.______________________________________________________________
The Way of the Rede
Way of the Rede still exists today, quietly, and operates the same forum (wayoftherede.com) offering free membership, interaction and acceptance to all who identify with Paganism and other occult paths.
“The point of it all then,” Magenta explained, “was to have a safe space where people could interact without being judged, or being looked down on for their views – or for not being part of a coven, or being a hereditary witch. You didn’t even have to be a Pagan or a witch to join – you just had to be friendly!”
Through all of her public debates, arguments and interactions as Magenta, she was open about her vampyric nature in context of her Pagan beliefs – and at the time, she was the only one to be so. However, she was not the only vampyric Pagan. It was on WOTR that she first encountered other Vampyres in South Africa – the first being on the staff of WOTR – who was, perhaps somewhat ironically, an agnostic Christian. It also has to be noted as a reminder that not all Vampyres are Pagan – just like a diabetic can hold any religious affiliation, so can vampyric people. That said, perhaps it wasn’t too surprising that Magenta struggled to find Vampyres in South Africa. Others kept their vampyric nature low-key on WOTR, and in fact, Magenta had no inkling that they were kindred until they confided in her much later. Meanwhile, on WOTR many ideas were openly discussed, including vampyrism. These essentially remained theoretical. People who commented on them generally wanted more information, but these still did not draw out any new local vamps.
“From the day I discovered I was a Vampyre I never hid it.” Magenta explained. “Through all my work in Pagan groups I was serious about building those groups, but I was also trying to find others like myself. I needed to find others like me, and I couldn’t find any.”
There is little doubt that Magenta and the Way of the Rede had a profound effect on Pagan culture in South Africa during 2007-9, including, but not limited to challenging the status quo – even if just by stating the viewpoint of a majority of South African Pagans, and in making those in authority aware that the way they wanted things to be was unpopular.
Had Way of the Rede not started, it’s quite likely that – for the SA VC at least, the future might have been quite different. Magenta might never have encountered other vamps who would cross her path there. The SAVA might never have found her, and she may never have found the community – and both would be the poorer for it.
It was in 2008 that Facebook began operating, and being very active online, Magenta saw an opportunity to reach out to find more like her. She started a group called ‘Real Sanguinarians’, since she was looking for sanguine Vampyres in particular, but nothing came of it. The group had only her and another member of WOTR as members! “But,” she reminisces, “Facebook was brand new and much, much smaller back then! The right people were just not there yet!”
In March 2009 Magenta moved from Mpumalanga to the Western Cape in the hope of finding better employment opportunities there. While there, Magenta remained in general contact with other WOTR members – including real life gatherings and socials – basically lost hope and stopped looking for other Vampyres in South Africa. She knew they existed, but they were just so hard to find. 2009 was not a good year for Magenta. She felt isolated, as she had little in common with her social circle, and struggled to make ends meet. Her attention turned increasingly to matters of day-to-day survival.
Meanwhile, in December 2009, a Vampyre group called ‘House of Havoc’ appeared on Facebook, based out of Centurion, Pretoria in Gauteng. Izak Havoc made various postings on Facebook during 2009 into 2010 looking for Vampyres in South Africa, and experienced as much lackluster response as did Magenta – although the two never apparently encountered each other online (at least until they met in the SAVA in 2011).
Magenta moved back to Mpumalanga in February 2010 and began interacting less and less with Way of the Rede. This was partly due to an introspective re-evaluation of her beliefs, as she began to move away from Wicca and adopted a more eclectic and atheistic view.
In 2010, the lady who would later become Regent of the SAVA joined Way of the Rede and fleetingly made contact before she founded the SAVA a year later, but lost contact with WOTR. Octarine Valur created an account there, but only made one post to introduce herself, and then never came back.
“At that time I had joined as many forums and groups as I could just to try and find Vampyres in South Africa,” Octarine said. “It was so hard to keep track. The fact is, I sometimes simply lost links and urls and never found them again.”
“Val had the right contacts to make the community work.” Magenta said of Octarine. “She’d already been part of the American VC for some time and had support from mentors there to draw on. Looking back, she succeeded where the rest of us failed. She was also more tenacious, I think.”
The first that Magenta knew of any kind of actual Vampyre community existing in South Africa was in 2011, when the SAVA’s first news interview (featuring Octarine and Nereo) made the headlines on News24. Shortly before that first news break, SAVA had begun to search in earnest for vamps in South Africa.
In 2011, Psion Valur De Nocte – who had been a member of WOTR since 2007, but under a different user name – approached Magenta. She too was vampyric, and a member of the newly formed South African Vampyre Alliance – to which she invited Magenta. Around June 2011, Magenta joined the SAVA as Kay Valkir Noctem, and the rest as they say, is history. The persona of Magenta gradually faded away, while Kay Valkir Noctem’s activities increased within the young and growing SA VC. Between 2011 and 2013, Kay was a fierce recruiter who discovered many of South Africa’s lurking vamps, and also contributed several significant articles to the SAVC’s cultural repository, including articles on energy feeding and healing through feeding on disease. She is also credited with creating the Mintaka Code glyph used to symbolize community. By mid-2012, Kay Valkir Noctem had become one of the two Praetors to the Regent of the SAVA, alongside her sponsor, Psion. Additionally, in October 2012, Kay was elected Magister for Ilyatha Halo (Mpumalanga) in the SAVA High Council.
Time marches on, and in 2013, Psion Valur De Nocte retired from SAVA and was succeeded by Lunah Valur d’Eir – one of Kay’s recruits – as Praetor. Since 2013, Kay Valkir Noctem also acted as SAVA’s Ambassador to the Dark Nations, and became a member of the prestigious international VC body, the VVC (Voices of the Vampire Community) in February 2016.
“Back then we didn’t think about the long term repercussions of what we were doing.” She smiles. “We just did what we did, we did it for freedom, to be free of the tethers of organized religion.”
Looking back, it is difficult to pinpoint exactly when these things changed in South Africa’s Pagan society. However, gone are the days when people not initiated into a registered coven were looked down upon or dismissed as ‘wannabes’. If back then, some Pagans wouldn’t accept non-initiated or non-hereditary witches among them, there was no way they would accept Vampyres. In some ways, Magenta says, she feels the stand for broad-based equality in opposition to puritanical Paganism – paved the way for later acceptance of Pagans who were also Vampyres.
Kay Valur Noctem, as she is known today, still continues to serve the SA VC in the capacity of Praetor. Since relocating from Mpumalanga in February 2016, she became a member of Coven Veritas, within House Valur. In March 2016, after an absence of several years, Kay resumed an active interest in the Way of the Rede and as one of its founders, plans to welcome Otherkin (including Vampyres) into that forum as well – as Kay Valur Noctem.
[Christina Engela is a writer, human rights activist, blogger and chief researcher for the Alternative Religious Forum.]