Predominantly, in the VC/OVC and in everyday life, we of such places as the United States, Western Europe, Australia etc. live in the lap of luxury when it comes to freedom of speech and freedom of expression.
How many among us, native of those continents, who are “afraid” to be themselves? Who are concerned that their activities with friends may lead to police action and possibly criminal proceedings? How many of us have grown up with the knowledge that we can speak our minds and express ourselves as suits us… how many of us can say we don’t have these luxuries?
Our guest tonight probably needs little or no introduction, she is a well known and influential member of the VC/OVC, she is the Founder of House Valur, South African Vampyre Community, South African Vampi(y)re Alliance (SAVA) and SA Vampyre news (SAVN) and, until recently, served as Magister of Mintaka Halo.
It is with great pleasure we welcome to RVL, Octarine ‘Val’ Valur.
RVL: Good evening Octarine, it’s a great pleasure to be able to welcome you back this way.
OV: Hello Tim, thank you for the invitation.
RVL: First off, if we could, in case there’s anybody who passes by who doesn’t know of you would you kindly give us a little bio of Octarine Valur?
OV: I was born in 1973 and live in South Africa in a coastal industrial city which is also a favorite tourist destination. I finished high school here in the early 90’s. I have diverse experience, including being in military service for some time, and I hold qualifications in IT, logistics, and training.
I have a love for old things, and enjoy a variety of hobbies, among them collecting and restoring antiques – including, cars, old rotary dial telephones, legacy cameras, antique radios, swords, and guns. I also collect vampire movies, and since there are a lot of them, I have a long way to go! Aside from the writing I do for SAVN and my human rights activism articles, I write stories and have several completed novels looking for a non-vanity-press publisher. I dabble in photography and love trying new things to see if I like them.
I have been a human rights activist for GLBTI rights in various forms since 2005. Surprisingly, online a few people assume that I am male – when I am female, and anyone who meets me in real life would never make that mistake twice!
I first awakened at 15, but at the time the notion of “real vampires” was considered far fetched, and the concept of real people drinking blood was considered “evil” in the conservative religious environment I lived in. I put this out of my mind as best I could for as long as I could. One day while doing research about a meditative practice I had started doing spontaneously out of my own, I stumbled across sites talking about energy work, and then energy vampires and psychic vampirism. It was then that I started realizing that there really were Vampyres in the world, and that I was one of them. By that time I was already in my mid 30’s.
After I finally accepted my vampyric nature several years ago, I started out by looking for the real Vampyre Community in South Africa. I was looking for something like what I saw featured and described in articles and forums I saw online that spoke of a vibrant culture in places like New York and New Orleans etc, and it was something of a disappointment when I realized there wasn’t one. I encountered tiny isolated covens and individuals who ascribed to international vampire spiritual groups from elsewhere, with no single manifestation of a Vampyre Community as we see in the USA, UK or other places with older and more public communities.
Since I have a background in activism, I set about finding others with the intention of building a local community, which is something that has taken up much of the past 3-4 years of my life, and it is rewarding to me to watch it grow. That’s pretty much how I got to this point in the story, if you will.
RVL: …and how long have you been active in the “community”?
OV: I first encountered online forums and websites relating to real Vampyres back in mid 2009, and interacted sporadically on some of them, using an assortment of names. I only decided on the name Octarine Valur in January or February 2010. At that time I didn’t know of any other Kin in South Africa, but gradually began to uncover a few on international forums and message boards, also looking for others from South Africa. Sadly, most of them were unreachable, or based in other parts of the country too far away to meet up. I suppose you could say that I first “arrived” in the OVC at around that time.
RVL: What do you see as being your ‘role’, if you like, in the vampire sub-culture/community and what are your personal goals?
OV: I suppose you could call me the founder of the South African Vampyre Community, because to my knowledge, I am the first person who started looking for and gathering other local Vampyres and Donors and even Otherkin into forums and Facebook groups to try and create a workable local SAVC. In the process, I’ve been a part of a lot of online ventures, mostly as a means to the end of generating interest in the SA VC and the SAVA and the continually morphing concept of the Vampyre culture here. In a way, at least as far as the local community is concerned, you could call me an architect or even a “social engineer”. I fondly call it “bat farming”.
I see my role in the global VC as someone who has “inherited” the responsibility of cultivating the subculture in my country, working to grow it as a community, develop the sense of identity, and to participate in the global community in a useful meaningful manner, and I take this responsibility very seriously. I know there are real potential risks to our members should they be exposed, considering the conservative mindset here and so yes, this means more to us than just organizing a few parties and wearing fangs on weekends.
My goals at this stage are to keep the existing SAVC as stable as possible, and despite challenges, to grow it in size while maintaining quality of membership and participation, while also looking at ways to develop and grow the culture here.
RVL: You have been a strong voice for cooperation and proactive engagement within the “community”, what are your thoughts on the “community” today?
OV: Well, my ideas haven’t always been popular or met with everyone’s approval! I suppose you might say that when I started searching for the real Vampyre Community, I had a preconceived ideal – that of an organized and developed community flourishing all the while in seclusion, perhaps (in my wildest dreams!) even with a long convoluted secret history!
Of course, I didn’t find it, certainly not here in South Africa, and while I did find hopeful signs of what I was looking for in places like forums and websites based in the USA, it still left me wanting. Once this sank in, I set out to do whatever I could to make it a reality, both for me, and for the others I was meeting both IRL and online. I really would like to see the VC grow internationally to the point where one day it can achieve a level of recognition and acceptance in broader human society, thereby acquiring a level of legal protection equal to that of other minorities. Some scoff at that idea today, but 50 years ago the idea that a mixed racial couple or same sex couple might marry, seemed like a far-fetched fantasy, and yet today, through the tireless efforts of human rights activists and the weight of social pressure, these are virtually commonplace, and accepted fact. In 30 years time, we may look back and think “Wow, we never thought this was possible, look at us now!”
The modern Vampyre/vampire community is largely online as well as offline – it’s unrealistic fantasy to claim that the two are still entirely separate – the two are very much part of the same thing, and it is very realistic to expect the degree of overlap to continue to increase each year from now. With this advance has come global interaction in real time, and a growing sense around the world that we are all interconnected and part of the same group, even though we are separated by language and distance – but that’s all just geography. Also, sadly, this has also brought the risks inherent to the internet – we don’t always know who is ‘real’ and who isn’t, and it becomes difficult to detect frauds, criminal risks, and infiltration from hostile entities.
That aside, we have a degree of judgmental attitude among many long-time members of the VC, who tend to shoot down newcomers and their efforts (and any possible useful contributions they may make in future) seemingly without a second thought. Living in an isolated place away from the older communities, it’s easy for new communities and their leaders to fall into the same holes and make the same mistakes that older communities made far earlier – and also it’s far easier for members of these older communities to judge harshly and say “we tried that too, didn’t work etc”, without realizing that we didn’t have the benefit of their hindsight and experience. Seldom did we find experienced members prepared to mentor or guide those of us working to build the local community, but a few did come along in time. Also, little factual VC history is freely available on actual events within the VC in the past, for newcomers to see, and to put them in the picture – that is one of the reasons I started the Vampyre History Project (aka The Secret History of the Vampyre).
I know some of my contributions to the global community went down quite well, such as co-ordinating the team that produced the Vampyre Declaration of Community in early 2011, while other ventures resulted in a feeling rather like I had taken a swim in a shark tank while wearing a meat bikini! Luckily I have a healthy sense of humor, and I don’t quit easily. I do like to think I learn from the past, and I try hard to adapt and to apply lessons learned.
OV: SAVA has been restructured so many times, it’s really hard to keep track of everything that has happened since we started the organization back in May 2011! I think in 2012 alone, SAVA was restructured several times to compensate for various internal issues that came up, obstacles that had to be overcome, and challenges that we faced.
In the beginning, we saw SAVA as a hierarchical system, and we set it up that way because we needed to have clear leader figures to draw on the resources of the non-SAVA VC in our country, we needed them to be an inspiration to the others. In the end though, it didn’t work out quite like we planned it. Like any hierarchical system, there were problems, and we finally abandoned the system of Magisters, Secundi and so forth in November 2012. Also, in the beginning, we worked to build the local community by making it policy that those who were to represent the SAVA in its community dealings, i.e. Magisters or Secundi, had to be the leaders or founders of a House, Coven or Temple. This hamstrung us a bit, as it meant someone who was keen to help out and volunteer their expertise, was not eligible to be a Magister or Secundus, unless they quickly founded a House, Coven or Temple.
There was also an unpleasantly high Magister/Secundus turnover rate, with some Halos (provinces) changing Magisters more than twice in only one year! We also found that some Magisters and Secundi tended to jump at the chance of holding a title for the sake of having something to brag about, while evading the tasks allocated to them, also contributing to the high replacement rate. This is pretty much what went on in the past 3 years.
Since the most recent changes, this system has fallen away, and all SAVA members now enjoy equal status, while the need to belong to a House or other group has also fallen away. Houses and groups are also no longer included as member groups in the SAVA, although their may be friendship agreements between Houses and the SAVA. The opportunity for any and all members of the SAVA to volunteer and contribute to the building of the SA VC is now much, much better than before.
RVL: This restructuring came hot on the heels of the release of the law enforcement memo, September 2012, regarding the new “Occult Crimes Unit” which, in article 6, specifically mentioned “Vampirism and joint infringement of the Human Tissue Act” as being worthy of investigation by the new specialist unit. Was the new law enforcement strategy a factor in the need to restructure SAVA?
OV: Some of the changes were related to this concerning new development. There was a strong need for SAVA to streamline certain processes and policies and to ensure that while we know who our members are, both day and nightside, that our members are persons of good character, with clean records and that their real identities would remain protected and intact should any potential ORCU investigation go beyond a mere inquiry to become actual persecution. Another reason for adopting the equal member policy, was that should a potential persecution/investigation look for individuals within the organization on which to place blame, as Founder and Regent of the SAVA I would assume full responsibility for decisions made, and not the members.
RVL: Overall, what has the release of this memo done to affect the “community” in your country?
OV: A lot of participants have gone underground since the ORC thing broke. I would say that in our groups – and even in Pagan circles, we have noticed reduced activity and presence in their groups. Many participants fear public exposure, with rejection of their family members, loved ones, loss of income or employment, persecution and possible legal ramifications as consequences. Many have children and fear losing custody or visitation rights, should their involvement with the community become public knowledge.
For a time there was a tangible nervousness about negative police attention, even an anger towards perceived threat of religious persecution. It has eased somewhat, although whenever the topic comes up, the same feelings tend to manifest, and the SA VC has been noticeably muted since this issue broke, even more than is usual around the start of summer and the holiday season.
RVL: Was the purpose of this new unit, in your opinion, aimed more at curbing the “vigilante” type justice against suspected witches, vampires, “tokoloshe spirits” etc.?
OV: Definitely NO. You see, the “witch” killings take place in rural areas, villages and so on, and the regular Police in those areas deal with those, not any specialized police unit such as the ORC. I would say that none of the victims of so-called “witch hunts” in SA have ever been practicing witches or been involved in any magickal practice. The government did engage briefly with the Pagan community organization (SAPRA) on the matter over a number of years, and recently there has been an educational campaign mounted in these areas, although I feel this has been somewhat lackluster in comparison to what they could really achieve if their hearts were in it. It has to be noted though, that this information campaign was not executed by the SAPS, but by the office of a government minister which addressed the senseless and unjustifiable murders of elderly people, and in some cases even teenagers accused of witchcraft, either brutally killed or forced to flee their villages.
By contrast, the aim of the ORC unit as stated by the SAPS appears to be to target crimes relating to “supernatural” and “Satanist activities”, even though Satanism is not illegal as a religion in South Africa ever since the adoption of our new Constitution in 1996, and supernatural phenomena do not fall under any aspects of South African legal code.
Witchcraft as a religion is apparently not their focus (according to subsequent statements in the press), although crimes such as trading in human body parts (including blood, and a whole range of obscure and esoteric things – most of which cannot be proved in a court of law anyway). The way in which this unit and its dogma is laid out would make innocent people the subject of unwarranted police attention simply because of their religious beliefs or affiliations. This has been the subject of heated debate in religious minority circles, and also where Vampyres are concerned, within the VC.
The SAPS seem to have lost the plot. Crime is crime – why does crime need to be redefined as a special category of crime because it is committed by a person SUSPECTED of being a “Satanist” or a “Witch”? The crimes are still the same crimes if they are committed by Christians, not so? By that I mean, if a sangoma (“traditional healer”) sells a human body part to someone as “muti” for a ritual, or a Christian undertaker sells (or rents) someone a corpse to commit insurance fraud, what is the LEGAL difference if the crime is trading in human body parts?
Further, why does the ORC not specifically mention as part of their focus any crimes that can be attributed to their own preferred religion? As examples, what about the hate preached against minority groups in those churches, in their literature, or advertising? That surely, is left to the SA Human Rights Commission to deal with – and that option has proven to be at best an uphill battle for individuals and non-profit organizations to fight, and at worst, a fruitless exercise which demonstrates clear bias in favor of the majority religion, or even apathy towards the dignity or equality of minorities protected by law. In fact, when the press first reported on the ORC story, mostly in a sensational manner, they made a good deal of fun about how a cop was going to arrest a tokoloshe, or how a poltergeist was going to be handled in court. When we saw “vampires” listed in the leaked SAPS memo, we didn’t think it was so funny.
The police media liaison propaganda office has been skillfully working to create the impression that there is nothing at all fishy about this “new” unit, which is in essence the resurrected double of its predecessor that was closed down in 2000 after it was declared unconstitutional. Somehow, this unit, although nearly a carbon-copy of the old one in its training, focus and ethos, is “not unconstitutional” at all!
The unit members are specially screened and selected, with candidates having to conform strictly with requirements such as being uniformly evangelical Christians with a “strong faith in Christ”, an unshakeable belief in the “harm” supposedly done by witchcraft, belief in “the occult” and magickal practice. The former lead officers of the previous incarnation of this unit (including Kobus Jonker) now retired and working as Christian pastors preaching against the “dangers of ‘Satanism’ and ‘the occult’” have been appointed by the SA Police as special consultants and training officers for this unit, imparting their skewed views as self-proclaimed “occult experts”. Several books written by Jonker are being used as training material, perpetuating several important misunderstandings, assumptions and errors regarding Paganism, Witchcraft and Satanism as religions in the training of these officers.
I want to stress that these people posing as “consultants” and “experts” on “the occult”, “Witchcraft” and “Satanism” have NO personal training, education or real-life experience IN the religions they are acting against, but have called themselves “experts” because they have been schooled in their own religion’s hostile views ON these other religious practices, beliefs and spiritualities – which are largely ignorant of the true facts, out of touch with the reality (because these are largely forced underground by prejudice) and, obviously, biased.
It can be said that it is accepted generally within the Vampyre and Pagan communities, and indeed within the general occult community, that this unit (and indeed the SAPS as a department of government) is demonstrating a clear bias against non-Christian religions and spirituality. This makes for an apprehensive Vampyre Community, and even though we do not view ourselves as a religion perse’, we do self-identify as Vampyres, and that is technically a belief of sorts.
The SAPS have stated in subsequent press interviews that they will be focusing on those who kill or steal body parts, and have referred to “vampires” in the context of criminals who supposedly stick syringes into other commuters on public transport such as busses, in order to steal and sell human blood for “occult purposes”. This of course makes little sense to me, as I have never heard of any such reports in any local news media, despite the impression created by the SAPS that these things happen often.
Indeed, the SAPS has repeatedly refused to engage in dialog with representatives of the SA Pagan Council on the correction of the plethora of false information and errors in the material they have placed in a book for public and ORC use, about “the occult” and the practice of witchcraft. In fact, every email from the SAPC/SAPRA has been ignored, and attempts to point out these errors on the SAPS facebook page have been blatantly deleted by their group administrators without comment, indicating that the SAPS couldn’t care a tuppence about the accuracy of their information (or training material) and that they appear either totally indifferent or even hostile to minority religions such as Paganism and Witchcraft and wholeheartedly support the willful promulgation of false information to the public about minority religions.
Even in terms of letters to the press, Editors are censoring these, and letters written by members of minority religions to clarify misconceptions are buried and never see the light of day. Individuals or community representative organizations are rarely given any opportunity to be interviewed for the “real deal” – and on the few occasions this happens, the article (or headline) is skewed and distorted to evoke a sensational response. In many cases, the press perpetuates hysterical nonsense about animal abuse, pedophilia and human sacrifice. Most typically, these journalistic sensation-seekers (and TV talk show hosts) will add insult to injury by engaging with unqualified people, presenting them as “experts” on the topic, doing yet more harm to the cause of religious freedom and equality. Their top scoring favorite “consultant” is none other than ‘Dr’ Kobus Jonker, the former head of the previous ORC, and “special consultant” who has been training the new unit members – a man who has single-handedly done more damage to religious freedom and equality (and I daresay unbiased education) in this country than any other individual in the last 20 years.
Vampyres view all this as a sign of how they can expect to be treated, for if a legally recognized and supposedly constitutionally protected religious minority can be slandered and defamed by the Police who are really constitutionally bound by law to protect them against prejudice – what treatment should we expect as Vampyres?
RVL: Do you and your friends and associates fear that it has left the door open for “future action” as far as you and they are concerned?
OV: There is a lingering concern in the community.
This threat of “Big Brother is watching you” hangs over our communities, causing people in groups to be overly cautious, even paranoid, and even more secretive and closed up. Naturally this makes it harder for new seekers to find a group, and to gain entry to it as a member, causing the growth of such groups – and the community – to be slowed.
Whenever a new person asks to join a group, there is always the lingering suspicion about the individual, whether they are working as an undercover journalist, or someone wanting to gain access to our community in order to find out who we are and how to bring down the group. As SAVA we screen all our applicants before admitting them as members, and have encouraged other local groups to do the same. People cannot simply be trusted to be who they say they are online, on the phone, or via email. People need to meet new members face to face, and some don’t want to take that risk.
I’m sure you might say this sounds like the ordinary precautions many groups take in the US or other places where Vampyres are more open, but I think the tension and the level of caution – and the NEED for it – are a good deal higher here.
Given the way conservative religious views pervade government departments (and clearly the SAPS) one could expect a degree of prejudice from law enforcement in the way they would perceive our community. Of those who have children have expressed the fear that they may “lose” them if they are exposed, either through state intervention, or by a custody action in the aftermath of a resulting divorce or separation. This fear also prevents many with children from joining groups in the first place, and causes those who have, to leave.
RVL: What is the way forward for the SAVC now, in your opinion?
OV: For us, working within continually changing parameters, it’s business as usual. I feel the way forward for us is to work together more in a social sense, regular regional events, even private or semi-private ones, and getting involved in charity work, even if we do so and contribute the proceeds under other names than as “the Vampyre Community”. I don’t foresee us donating to charity as anything with the “V-word” in it, but even without the beneficiaries knowing exactly who they benefited from, it gives us a chance to make a public record saying “we as South African Vampyres did this, this, and this for those people, as a community we are helping to make our country and our world a better place”. It’s still a long way to go, before I feel we have arrived where I would like us to be.
RVL: Do you foresee a time when you will leave the “community” in general or simply slip away from the ‘semi-public’ side of the “community” there? and is personal safety a concern you hold right now?
OV: I have no plans to “disappear” just yet 😉 I maintain a clear division between my night and dayside lives, but even so, there is always the concern that one might be exposed by someone in the community. I don’t really fear for my personal safety, although I know that if I were exposed as a member of the community I would probably lose some friends, family and endure some social hardship. I doubt I would lose my job or face violence or anything that drastic. My partner knows my nature and is fully accepting. I don’t have offspring, so there won’t be any chance of the state removing those.
Although “witch hunts” do occur in rural parts of the country, these are very clearly restricted to ethnic communities – and in most cases, these killings are simply a pretext to settle a score with an enemy or rival, or to inherit their property and so on, not out of an actual belief in witches.
Honestly, I’m not too sure what to expect if I were to be exposed as a Vampyre, although several people close to me already are in my confidence. I am very open about being a Pagan and a practicing witch, and have never received a response more threatening than a dismissive “oh, that’s nice” from anyone who found out.
RVL: Val, it has been a distinct pleasure to share this time with you and we are most grateful to you for being our guest today.
OV: Again, thank you Tim.
It is, quite possibly, both an alien and unthinkable concept that we not be allowed to “express” ourselves with complete freedom. It is, quite probably, a disturbing thought that we may not always be able to exercise “freedom of speech” but we, at least, have the privilege of doing both without great fear of coming to harm, indeed, these “rights” are practiced everyday in the online cyberworld.
What if we didn’t have these luxuries to that extent?
Perhaps we need to focus less on using the concepts of “freedom of expression” and “freedom of speech” as cudgels to bash each other about the head and shoulders and consider appreciating them more as the gifts they are, and the luxuries we enjoy freely.
© RVL & Octarine “Val” Valur 2013
Links list to Octarine’s work and writing:
Regent of the South African Vampyre Alliance (SAVA)
Primus and Founder of House Valur
Editor: SA Vampyre News
Editor: Vampyre Bytes
Director: The SA Vampyre Culture Center
The Vampyre History Project
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