Culture Shock – Part 3: Community Building By Any Other Name

Newcomers to the South African VC are often frustrated by some aspects of our culture. They struggle with the terminology, they find the culture cryptic and arcane, and some things just don’t suit them all that well. In part 3 of this series of articles covering a few examples of issues which give the noobs (and then the rest of us) a headache in the local community, we take a brief look at some of the terminology we use in South Africa. Unsurprisingly, most of this terminology has largely been inherited from other parts of the world – but much has been renewed, reinvented, and some has even been created from scratch.

As a young community, we’ve had to look at terminology in use in VC culture around the world, where available. Likewise, we’ve also had to develop our culture here essentially from nothing, and had to decide over time what we like, what we don’t, what works for us, and what doesn’t. We’ve also had to choose whether we want a carbon-copy of other VC’s – or something unique and special to us.

Incidentally, the picture accompanying this article is a look inside a bottle of headache pills, and you might be asking yourself what the relevance is to this. As you progress through this article, you may begin to understand. I just thought I would mention that.

Anyway, moving on – a term we come across fairly often, in general OVC use, in various international documents, and even on a recent internet survey – is “elder”. What is an “elder”? Who are the “elders” of SA Vampyre Community? Are there any?

When one hears the term “elder” being used in the VC, the thing most people think of first, is someone with an arrogant bearing or an aristocratic attitude, who expects other members of the community to bow and scrape before them, to call them by fancy titles such as “Lord” or “Lady”, and to kiss their ring. There is also the ever-present fear and even paranoia that those who build a community or a group or House within a community are out to set themselves up as aristocratic and even despotic figures, or do so for the power rush, or for self-enrichment. Otherwise, it is seen as an attempt to subjugate members to a kind of occult society structure, where caste and class systems are set in place.

As one of the founders of this community, I know of nobody who has ever tried to kiss my ring, nor have I ever expected anyone to – rather, I have found that some have expressed a desire to kick it instead – and a few actually have. Naturally, I would prefer to avoid this – as over time, it makes you walk funny.

The reality is that elders in any community often hold some power or influence over at least a portion of that community. Some claim that position by their own hard work, and by the fruit of their labors. Others are just handed that title because they have stuck around long enough to see things change over time, and their timing (and scheming) was pretty good. Some step up into a leadership vacuum and take the lead to do things that need doing. Some perform good works and build people and the community up – while others build themselves up at the expense of the community and to its detriment. In the case of the latter, stories of the doings and even screwings of inept and self-centered – and even mentally suspect “elders” from decades past still do the rounds in the OVC, some retold by people who still bear the scars of their actions. In contrast, there are people we could describe as elders in the international community, who have thrown themselves into the work of bettering the community, demonstrated unwavering integrity, and who have delivered exactly as promised. Elders then, are those who have left their mark on the Vampyre Community, for better or worse.

There are frequent and ongoing debates about what makes an “elder” in any VC, and we shouldn’t be surprised that ours is no different. Some say an “elder” is a person who is older than most others in the same community, or individuals who have been in the community for a long (er) time and have accumulated more knowledge and experience – and others say those in the VC who hold leadership positions are “elders”. In some circles, the term “elder” is used as a rank, and in others, a title indicating achievement. To some, an “elder” MUST be a member of the VC who is all of these things, and to others, anyone who has more knowledge or experience in certain fields or aspects of the community can be referred to as an “elder” – regardless of their chronological age. Yes, and – um, then again, no.

I find this rather confusing, don’t you? While you are enjoying the dull thumping at your temples, and having an “aha” moment – reach out for the headache pills. While you’re doing that, consider how we’ve been doing things here in South Africa.

Before 2010, there was no formal or visible Vampyre Community in South Africa. As far as the known Vampyre Community is concerned, the SAVA (SA Vampyre Alliance) was formed in 2011, and through that, we work to build and develop the local VC. Among the founding members, there were those who had only just stumbled across the VC, and were relatively ‘new’ – and there were others who had also been active in the online VC internationally for several years prior to this – and some had already founded their own Houses in their local cities and been active for some time in that respect. From a certain point of view, those founding members could today also be considered “elders” – although, as with most things, I think someone being considered an “elder” is all relative.

For me, the title “elder” is far more a mystic and awe-inspiring device than having any practical real-world use. In terms of our policy in the SAVA, the title ‘elder’ itself is not in use within the organization, except as you will see later, in the name of a specific council body. So what does it actually mean – and what is the South African context?

South Africa does have some older underground vampyric traditions harking back to the days before 1994 and the dawning of religious freedom, although these would be by and large LHP and religious or spiritual – and as far as I know, they would not view themselves as being part of the Vampyre Community at all. The fact that we have only had religious freedom in this country for about 15 years, has until recently prevented the growth and development of a less secretive and more public VC as we have now – or we would also have had long-established VC groups as in the USA for example, where some today claim to date back as far as the 1980’s, if not further.

Secretive groups in South Africa are today either in decline due to the newfound freedom of religion in this country, or remaining in the shadows due to caution and prudence. Because of this lack of anyone else for the Awakened to turn to, our modern Vampyre Community in South Africa has had to be built by those who took it upon themselves to become pioneers and to learn what they could and when and where they could. Of necessity, most of our community leaders are self-taught, though this is not unheard of, even in more developed communities.

Unlike Witch School, there exists no formalized Vampyre Academy anywhere that I know of, where the newly awakened or founders of new Groups, Houses – or VC’s can go and study under a mentor – or Elder. At least not yet. Maybe one day, some wealthy and resourceful benefactor somewhere will put such a plan into action. Until then, the best we can do, is to learn from those we encounter – both online and offline, who are willing to teach and to share their experiences and their knowledge. And yes, these teachers – and those who have learned from them, and who have built up a sum of experience in their own right in working to build this community, could be considered its elders.

The matter of ‘elders’ in the SAVC being dealt with, let’s move on to other terms that cause confusion. Yes, I know, those headache pills look tempting, don’t they?

Last year, when we decided to use the word “Halo”, we essentially “borrowed” a word from the American VC – but rather than apply it in the same way as they did, we made it fit our environment. Instead of just describing a local area, for example, a few cities within a ring – we applied it to mean an entire province – and thus, South Africa has nine Halos (and I would like to clarify at this point that this in no way implies that the SA VC is at all “holier than thou”, compared to our American friends and counterparts).

Whereas most other VC’s around the world tend to use Latin to name things, we chose instead to name our Halos using the multicultural names of the brighter stars in the night skies of the southern hemisphere – and using the Mintaka Code, developed symbols to represent them based upon indigenous ideas. The overall effect is something uniquely South African, and gives a unique and special character to what will grow and thrive to become the largest and probably only formalized VC in a reasonably free democracy on the African continent.

Clarity on the titles of ‘Primus’, ‘Magister’ and ‘Secundus’ – in the structure of the SAVA, the leader of a group, and often its founder, is called a Primus. This word very simply, means “the first”, or First of the group. In the fashion of that great statesman, advert for hair-oil, and inspiration for a sports-bar in Sydney, Australia – Pik Botha – I would like to state categorically that the title of Primus has absolutely nothing to do with the stove of that name. Nothing whatsoever.

Conversely, any “second in command”, assistant to whatever leader-figure, or exec in a group, is called a ‘Secundus’ (plural, Secundi). It is a word which means “second to”, or if you will, assistant. Any variance just depends on what sort of group it is, and at what level.

In the SAVA, we have made provision for Covens, which make up Houses and Temples (spiritual equivalent to a House) – and Clans, which are made up of groupings of Houses or Temples, or both. Obviously we still have to reach a level where multiple groups form Clans or Orders etc, but on each level, there are group leader figures, and each of them, as part of a succession plan, is expected to appoint an assistant, or Secundus.

Also, in the structure of the SAVA itself, a Magister leads a Halo and sits on the High Council, but is assisted by another person from within the Halo who acts as their assistant, and is also called a Secundus. Differentiation of what sort of Secundus and at what level, is made in their specific title or job description. These include Coven Secundus, House Secundus, High Council Secundus, et al. In spiritual groups, ie Temples, Orders etc, founders and leaders and assistant leaders would be referred to as Priests/Priestesses at various levels and so on, according to whatever internal traditions they decide for themselves.

Not to confuse the issue any further (remember those headache pills) but to explain how a Magister relates to a Primus – a Magister in the SAVA must also first be the Primus of a group in order to be eligble to be a Magister.

And now we have come full circle – at last – back to the topic of “elders”. You see, most “elders” are self-appointed, promoted, or just sort of “happen”. To quote our dear, gun-toting President, “that’s where the difference comes”.

When the SAVA was first formed, we envisaged a time in the future when enough members and member Groups would make it possible for each Halo to have several groups, with all group Primi together forming a Halo Council of Elders – and that every 5 years this CoE would hold elections to appoint from among themselves, a Magister to represent the interests of their Halo on the SAVA High Council. As this was not possible the first time round, the current Magisters were pretty much self-appointed, being those who were the only ones available, and technically in the right place at the right time. However, it was agreed that within the first five year stretch, we would build up the community and the SAVA along with it, to a point where such elections would be practical at the end of the first 5 years. As things stand currently, this is looking extremely likely to happen by the end of the five year period, in 2016. That is, if the world doesn’t end before then – like say, in December 2012?

Moving on to more esoteric terms in use in the VC, we encounter the word “swan”. It’s a versatile word, and it seems to solve many problems of what to call whom, and it was even appealing enough to feature in that other vampire movie we all love to hate, you know, the one with those sparkly-twinkly vampire wannabe’s who have no fangs *shudder*.

Using “swan” for all non-vamps in everyday interaction gets confusing and clumsy. We have “Swans” for all non-vamps, then “White Swan” for those hostile to vamps, then “Black Swans” for those who are friendly, then “Crimson Swan” for sang donors, “Crystal Swan” for psi donors, then “Amber Swan” for those who donate to both. And then we have those who like to use “Swan” to describe their donors, or all donors. Then we have “kitra” – a word meaning a Vampyre who also donates to other Vampyres. Honestly, I think it’s simpler to refer to donors as Donors, Vampyres as Vampyres… and noting how sensitive some non-vamps are to the term ‘mundane’, I even tried using a capital “M” (and nearly got my – er, ring kicked for doing that by other vamps) and, despite all efforts to the contrary, I have still been made to feel like an elitist.

Mundane – the word is supposed to mean ‘non-magickal’ or ‘un-Awakened people’, those who are not Otherkin or otherwise Kindred to Vampyres. It’s not supposed to mean “plain”, “boring” or “dull” – or even “lesser than” in relation to us. Nevertheless, it is a word which conveys these implied meanings, more to some than others, as a veiled insult – a message delivered as loud and clear as a fist in a knuckle-duster to the jaw.

Over the previous weekend, there was another debate in the local VC about the use of the word “mundane” to describe the un-awakened or non-Vampyres. If memory serves, this has been the second or third debate on this topic in the last few months. Sometimes this term has been abused to – well, abuse – non-Vampyres, or those considered un-Awakened. For this reason, while some see nothing wrong with the use of the term – many do find it offensive if applied to them – which is often the case when it comes to pejorative terms. This was apparent, even during the discussion referred to.

It has been pointed out that the term “mundane” has been used within the VC since at least the 1980’s to describe non-vampyric folks outside the community. Reportedly, this usage stems from witch culture either in the USA or UK, meaning essentially “those not part of the craft”. A lot of others today seem to feel there is no need to change this usage, simply because “it has always been this way”. That argument is of course illogical – it implies that because something has been done a certain way for decades, any argument for change is pointless, counter-productive and disruptive – regardless of how valid an argument it is, or how it makes those doing the complaining feel.

There are non-vamps, and spiritually non-Awakened folks in our own community as well. As members of our community, they support Vampyres. If those described by the term ‘mundane’ are the ones who find it offensive, then those who use it (most typically Vampyres) are (whether intentionally or unintentionally) causing offense to those who support them. Regardless of how we feel about the use of the term personally, should we, as Vampyres, be causing offense to our supporters?

If the term “mundane” applies to the un-awakened OUTSIDE our community, that is another matter, but then surely there should be another term to describe those WITHIN our community, whom we supposedly favor – without causing offense to either, or both?

After the last discussion a week ago, I made the effort to look up some alternatives to the word “mundane”. I looked in Latin, but couldn’t find anything that flowed, or anything shorter than two or three words. I tried Greek (but couldn’t read the symbols, *face-palm*) and then I thought about Japanese. No, I can’t read Japanese either – not even in Google, but I heard about the Japanese Vampyre Community last year, which as far as I know, is very secretive and not much is known about them – although this is likely due to the language barrier.

The Japanese name for Vampyre-kind is “Kyuketsuki”, and is apparently used to describe themselves and their community. Looking further, and trying various word combinations in Google Translate, I arrived at a simple and attractive word: “shinai”. It means, quite simply – “not”. If used to describe “mundanes”, Shinai would simply mean “not a Vampyre“. It may even include the traditional Otherkin types such as witches and therians, or simply refer to the un-Awakened, and non-vampyric folk. It certainly sounds more pleasing to the ear than “mundane”. “Shinai”? It means “not”, but I think it’s rather catching.

Alternately, we might turn to ancient myth for a solution. Mesopotamian myth was full of ancient Vampyre beings, described as the Ekkimu and the Uruku. The Akhkharu were blood-drinking entities, written about in the time of Sumer. Of relevance to us is the ancient Akkadian myth of Adepa – which offers a description for non-Vampyres – the Adama – the first humans, or the biblical Adam. So, “Adama” or “Shinai”?

We might ponder the importance of terminology, the relevance of names or labels we apply to ourselves, or to each other – but in the end it comes down to what sort of Vampyre culture we want to build here in South Africa.

Experience has shown how the Vampyre Community took years to overcome the aftermath of what we look back on now as the “Psi-Sang War” – a difference of opinion which was based largely on ignorance, inspired a form of ‘nationalism’ and which escalated to open a chasm between psychic and sanguine Vampyres, and which nearly tore the VC in two.

This chasm has largely closed up in the recent decade or so, although it occasionally threatens to reopen – but here in South Africa we have managed to side-step this pitfall largely by building this concept of “threatening difference” out of our young culture – treating it like a blank slate, and starting afresh. We have worked to cultivate the culture, if you will, that all Vampyres – regardless of what feeding methods they employ first and foremost, are seen as equals – with no-one less of a Vampyre than another for it. We have chosen to embrace and celebrate our own diversity, worked to include all forms of Vampyre in our community, and chosen to exclude terminology and cultural contructs which attempt to segregate or discriminate against specific sub-types of Kin on the basis of feeding methods.

If we are not here to contribute our efforts to make our community grow and thrive – to make things better for us and our culture, and others like us – then why are we here? Are we here for the good of the whole? Or are we here solely for our own gain? How do the terms and labels we apply to ourselves and to each other measure up to this standard?

At the end of this really long article though (and also at the bottom of a bottle of headache pills) I suppose the value of the terms referred to, should be decided by how they are used in the community – whether or not they serve to enrich our culture, and whether or not they make things more appealing. They should be evaluated by whether or not they lend themselves better to use – or abuse – and, in my humble opinion, so should the objects of these terms – in relation to this young, blossoming culture of the SAVC – the ‘elders’, Primi, Secundi and Magisters of the SAVA.

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About Octarine Valur

Octarine Valur - Founder: House Valur, South African Vampyre Community, South African Vampi(y)re Alliance (SAVA), SA Vampyre news (SAVN). View all posts by Octarine Valur

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