UNISA criminologist Prof. Anni Hesselink promotes erroneous prejudicial stereotypes against Occultists.

A response to Krugersdorp killings: ‘Cult leaders are cunning and believe they are invincible’
[Times Live / Sunday Times 12 August 2019]

by Francisco Fumarola
Executive Chair: South African Pagan Rights Alliance

In South Africa a narrative has prevailed for the longest time. This narrative involves alleged organized Satanic groups, numbering into the hundreds of thousands, posing a grand threat against this “Christian nation”. This narrative is wholly false and a product of a particular religious bias.

This narrative accepts as fact, the existence of literal, personal, personified evil in the form of the Christian devil, who takes an active role in the affairs of the world, opposed by the good forces of Christianity, which is presented as the only answer and solution to the “problem”.

In South Africa lurid accounts of “Satanic crimes” and “Occult crimes” have persisted long after the Satanic Panic of the 80’s and early 90’s. The idea that “the occult” or “Satanism” is a threatening phenomenon and a special type of threat, persisted due to the efforts of religious fundamentalists in state institutions like the Occult Related Crimes Unit of the South African Police Services, formerly under Kobus Jonker.

The media and some academics fell for this narrative, hook, line and sinker – and apparently, some still do. Although, this Christian constructed straw man of “satanism” and “occultism” had and has little to nothing to do with real Satanism or Occultism, or any kind of real Occult practices. [i]

Frequently, the Christian constructed horror stories and lurid warnings led to “legend tripping” – a subject thoroughly explored in academic fields. [ii] In legend tripping, myths and urban legends are made a reality when bored youths spray-paint a pentagram on the walls of a church, or a mentally deranged person stabs a cat and claims, “the devil made me do it”. These legend tripping cases present the bulk of what came to be called “Satanic” or “Occult” crimes, even though the perpetrators frequently had no actual knowledge of anything even remotely linked to actual Satanism or Occultism. This situation persists with the so-called “Krugersdorp Killings”. 

SAPRA has spoken out against this bias in the media for many years. In recent years, this kind of sensationalized reporting has waned somewhat.

Yet, when it comes to the “Krugersdorp murders”, the old narrative is still alive. As early as 2012 when the first cases came to light, the series of murders were called “Satanic Killings”. The idea was promoted by the media that Satanists were behind the murders, and that an innocent Christian group, The Overcomers through Christ (OTC) were being targeted.

SAPRA was suspicious of the OTC as early as 2012, and critical of the media labeling these crimes as “Satanism” [iii] [iv].

When more events came to light, it became known that the matter actually involved a war between a Christian group, and another Christian group which demonstrated an obsession with evil, the devil and spiritual warfare. Members of the Overcomers Through Christ were murdered by members of a split-off and rival group known as Electus Per Deus, or the “Chosen of God” – an apt name for a group involved in the alleged “satanic” killings, which had the media so excited in 2012. [v] [vi]

This brings us to the problematic article published by TimesLive (Sunday Times), Krugersdorp killings: ‘Cult leaders are cunning and believe they are invincible on the 12th of August 2019 [vii].

UNISA criminologist Professor Anni Hesselink is quoted as stating:

“The leaders of occult groups often believe they are invincible and protected by dark forces, becoming capable of gratuitous violence, sadistic acts and even murder.”

As an Occultist I have to object to the gross misuse of the term “occult” here. The term “occult” refers to a broad range of esoteric or arcane subjects, including magic, divination (tarot, scrying etc.), alchemy and astrology. The statement by Prof. Hesselink implicates every High Priestess of a Wiccan group, or the study leader of a Hermetic group, as “capable of gratuitous violence, sadistic acts and even murder.” In this statement, the occult is demonized as something inherently bad and harmful. It is a reflection of the same old religious bias against the occult!

The article goes on:

Professor Anni Hesselink, from the criminology department at Unisa, said “occult-type murders are all about power. Leaders of occult groups focus on consolidating their power in a group, controlling their members, creating fear, seeking status, attention and fame, she said.”

Why generalize and imply that all occult groups behave in such a manner? Especially, since the Electus Per Deus were not an occult group, but a Christian, anti-occult and anti-Satanism group, which split off from the Overcomers Through Christ.

The article goes on to reinforce the stereotype that occult practitioners are simply the products of troubled backgrounds:

“The followers in such groups, Hesselink said, have low self-esteem, low self-worth, lack a sense of belonging, and are often isolated loners.

She said the followers believe they too can harness such amazing powers and abilities and are often terrified of opposing the leader.

‘These members are susceptible to influence and manipulation and may exhibit underlying personality disorders, history of childhood abuse, neglect and rejection, subjection to bullying behaviour, are emotionally and mentally vulnerable, if not unstable, often being ostracised by peers or the community.’”

The article reinforces prejudicial and harmful stereotypes about the “evils of occultism”, stereotypes that originated from a Christian religious bias against the occult. Yet, it has been made clear, numerous times, that the Electus Per Deus, and Overcomers through Christ, were Christian groups obsessed with fighting against Satanism. The leader of Electus Per Deus, Cecilia Steyn, herself claims to be Christian.

The terminologies used by these groups reflect a Christian background, woefully ignorant about any real aspects of Satanism or the Occult. Terms such as “High Days” (used in Christian spiritual warfare groups for days such as “Halloween”, when they undergo prayer to combat occult activities), Bride of Satan, 42nd generation witch, or “Danger Prayers” [viii] are used. Terms and concepts such as those above are usually found in religious/Christian fantasies about the occult, and are not terms used at all by serious occult practitioners, whether they be Satanists, Wiccans or Thelemites.

Cecilia Steyn denies the Satanism label used by her peers, such as her rival from the OTC, Ria Grunewald. It is very clear these groups fell under the sensationalized Christian fantasy version of “satanism” and “the occult” and that they were true believers in lurid fantasy tales of evil. [ix] [x]

Why would Times Live, in 2019, still want to take this sensationalized route, labeling these crimes as “occult”, when it is clear that if anything these crimes deserve the label “Christian crimes”?!

Prof. Hesselink’s article constitutes gratuitous hate speech against a religious minority not in any way involved in crimes committed by Christians!

[i] Satanic panic (South Africa) . Wikipedia.

[ii] Ellis, B. 2000. Raising the Devil: Raising the Devil: Satanism, New Religions, and the Media. University Press of Kentucky.

Victor, J.S. 1993. Satanic Panic: The Creation of a Contemporary Legend. Open Court Publishing Company

[iii] The Absurdity Continues. (2012). News24.

Deliver us from Absurdity. (2012) . News24.

[iv] Call for caution and reason as new cases fuel Satanic Panic. (2013).
Francisco Fumarola. Penton Independent Alternative Media.

[v] Moorde vir Satan. (2012). Annelene Oberholzer. Huis Genoot.

[vi] ‘Satanists killing us off’ (2012). Graeme Hosken. Times Live – Sunday Times.

[vii] Krugersdorp killings: ‘Cult leaders are cunning and believe they are invincible’. Followers have low self-worth and lack a sense of belonging. (2019). Iavan Pijoos. Times Live – Sunday Times.

[viii] Krugersdorp Killers: Six of the strangest things we learnt about Cecilia Steyn. (2018). Luke Daniel. The South African.

[ix] The Krugersdorp killings explained: Who was murdered, how, and why. (2019). Riaan Grobler. News24.

[x]  Some additional sources:

KrugersdorpMurders — The State’s keywitness tells her story. (2018). Natasha Pretorius. Krugersdorp News.

KrugersdorpMurders — Cross examination of Le Roux – was Cecilia’s group even a real ministry?. (2018). Natasha Pretorius. Krugersdorp News.

KrugersdorpMurders – trial starts with son Le Roux’s disturbing testimonial. (2018). Natasha Pretorius. Krugersdorp News.

KrugersdorpMurders – Pre-sentencing starts with social worker’s testimony. (2019). Natasha Pretorius. Krugersdorp News.

KrugersdorpMurders – Cecilia Steyn says judge should call on God to testify. (2019). Natasha Pretorius. Krugersdorp News.

KrugersdorpMurders – Steyn children’s stepmother testifies. (2019). Natasha Pretorius. Krugersdorp News.

WATCH: Ex-Krugersdorp anti-Satanic member dishes dirt on group in court. (2019). Chanté Schatz. News24.