Mama Afrika: South Africa's Pagan Spirit
North is South, Winter is Summer and widdershins is deosil. The South African experience of Paganism is topsy-turvy compared to our Northern brothers and sisters; but much like the Afrikaans saying, “ŉ boer maak ŉ plan,” Pagan South Africans make do with what they have and make it their own.
Like Christmas in July
As I stand outside, feet firmly planted on the grass I can feel the steady pulse of the Earth beneath me. Around me, my garden has come to life in an explosion of green, just as the insect population has rapidly grown. I sink my awareness deeper into my surroundings and feel the rapidly approaching Summer Solstice hanging in the air “Mom! Damien won’t leave the Christmas tree alone!” And with that, I am jerked back to reality and motherly duties, and to a world with a cultural clash in celebrations.
I am a Pagan, so on 21 December I’ll celebrate the Summer Solstice. But it’s hard to get into that summer feeling when, from October and the start of summer, all commercial enterprises have been pushing consumers into Christmas. Malls are decked with frosted garlands of plastic greenery, and elves practically melt in the 30˚ plus (86˚F and higher to those over the Atlantic) heat as they usher children to an equally sweaty Santa. And let’s not forget the winter foods traditional to Christmas that leave you feeling more like a beached whale than a streamlined dolphin as you swim in the pool.
Another aspect of this cultural clash is that, unlike Northern Hemisphere Pagans, our Sabbats in the South are at odds with the commercial calendar- Samhain and Yule décor in summer and Ostara décor in autumn. Not only does it hamper the convenience of the Sabbat, but I find it makes it harder to really get into the feel of the Sabbat when everyone else is celebrating its seasonal opposite.
There is a deeper side to it too. At Yule, Samhain and Ostara, Northern Pagans, especially those in America, have the opportunity to let the religious family divides slide, meaning that families can come together to celebrate the holiday in a more secular way. In South Africa, Yule is in June- everyone is either in school or working, and as the majority population is Christian, have no interest celebrating Christmas in June. And as it is more likely that a few, if even that, family members may be Pagan, it means that Yule doesn’t hold that same family-time feeling as it does in the North.
So what’s a South African Pagan to do? Do as the first settlers to her shores and adapt! With leaving my children to decide on their own religion, and naturally being like any child who will never say no to a chance for presents, we have Christmas in our home, but with a twist. We have a small Christmas tree decorated in shades of pink and purple, and as soon as they are made, some flower decorations too. And while I will make offerings on the astronomical event of the Summer Solstice, I’ll leave the true celebration of Summer to Christmas day. So instead of a heavy wintery feast indoors come Christmas day, we’ll have a light lunch of light meats and seasonal salads and fruits by the pool. And we’ll make the most of both holidays by spending the day together as a family, enjoying the height of summer.
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