May 20 is Founder’s Day, in which South Africa’s VC celebrates the founding of the South African Vampyre Community four years ago. It was a quiet time in the social lives of most Vampyres in South Africa, before the Facebook groups, before the forums, before the socials and meet-ups. It was a time before the SAVA rose to become the main driving force behind the community-building that resulted in the vibrant VC we are today. This is an address to the SA VC by Lady Octarine Valur, Regent of the SAVA.
Founder’s Day is a day for celebrating and commemorating the milestones and achievements of the community. We need only look at the SA VC now and compare it to what it was like back February 2011, to appreciate what we have now. Unless you were a part of the VC back then, it’s unlikely you will know what it was like.
Back in 2010 I founded House Valur. It was the first move in a timeline of events that resulted ultimately in the local VC we have today. I for one am grateful and glad that I set out on this journey because it led me to finding so many new friends.
Regardless of how you see the SA VC as it is now, things were very different back then. Back in 2009, before the Facebook we use so readily now, there were isolated forums all over the internet that were well hidden and hard to find unless you either knew where to look, or were given a link to them by someone on the inside. Google, if it existed back then, was not your friend. There were no Facebook groups for Vampyres, least of all ones for South African Vampyres. The larger and more active forums were filled with Vampyres from the USA, UK, Europe and so forth – but none from SA. Many forums I found had been long abandoned, some as far back as in the 1990’s. I began to wonder whether there were any others like me here.
It’s frightening to think if I had given up looking back then, the landscape that is the South African VC today would have looked very different indeed.
It was in February of 2011 that the first facebook group for real SA Vampyres was set up. I called it “Real Vampyres SA”, and its purpose was to locate and gather all the local vamps that could be found online – and to get them talking about making things happen in SA. Many at that time did not even have facebook accounts! Spirited discussion took place there, and it wasn’t long before the first community figures of the SA VC, seeing a need for co-operation and growth took steps to form the SA Vampyre Alliance.
Among these figures were people like Nereo, who was the leader of a Pagan coven in Johannesburg, which since it seemed to consist mainly of Vampyres, was simply renamed to become House Nereo. It got a new website on webs.com, set up by Samael Anathan – who many of you know and would play a role in many subsequent events in our history from that time. He started out as a member of that house, as did several of the other early Magisters who staffed the High Council of the SAVA.
At that time Johannesburg was the hub of local VC activity in the SAVA-influenced SA VC, and Cape Town was the second largest. Today it is Cape Town and Durban that are our main hubs of social activity, with Gacrux trailing in third place.
By early 2011 I had already been a participant in the international VC online, or OVC, for some years at that time, and I had already represented community building efforts in international bodies such as the Vampire Nation Concord (VNC) and the International Vampire Alliance (IVA). Much of the basis of the early SAVA core documentation was developed by me during my work on another project called the Vampire Judicial Council and re-purposed for use in the SAVA. On the lighter side, I’m sure you will still find some heavy venom-laced criticism of my contribution to the VJC hidden in the dark corners of the old places of the OVC. That was a product of its time, and I think that is reflected in its workings. I recall saying at the time that Vampyre politics is like swimming among sharks while wearing a meat bikini, and believe me, those fangs are sharp!
The new SAVA was greeted enthusiastically, but we were always operating on a learning curve – improvising, learning, trying to avoid the mistakes made by older VC’s around the world. By and large, this has been a very successful endeavor and despite the occasional setback, the SAVA together with the SA VC have grown and prospered. We have avoided the perpetual seasonal bickering and partisan politicking between sangs and psis and omnivores present in other VC’s by starting out at the onset by providing a doctrine which embraces all Vampyres as Vampyres and differentiating between feeding methods instead of encouraging a mindset which results in rivalry between Vampyres.
Locally the VC has interacted on diplomatic and also on social levels with other minority groups since 2011, including the local therian/were community, non-affiliate Vampyre groups and the SA Pagan community. Since 2011 the SAVA has played a diplomatic role in ensuring peace and understanding between us, and in furthering education of non-Vampyres about Vampyre-kind.
In the very first year, the SAVA formally revealed the existence of the local VC to the Pagan Community leadership – and while Pagan Vampyres (or vampyric Pagans) were welcomed officially, a dissatisfied minority of vampophobic Pagans openly launched vicious and scathing attacks on us all. It wasn’t a game – it was deadly serious. Many Vampyres then (as now) identified with Pagan religion in various forms. Most of them also feared hostility from fellow Pagans on account of their being vampyric. The Pagan-Vampyre Dispute led to the Pagan-Vampyre Conflict, and was a nasty episode that dragged out for almost 2 months, and even today there are occasional flare-ups of anti-vampyre sentiment among isolated Pagan leaders. Despite being ill-prepared for the magnitude of that hostility, its sudden onset and the extremes to which the intelligence and counter-intelligence efforts were taken on both sides, I am still proud to say we snatched that one out of the fire.
If you look at the situation we have today versus the situation we had then, there has been a marked improvement in some ways. For example, back in 2011 a vampyric Pagan would be fearful of admitting to their nature in a Pagan group, would remain hidden and secretive and fearful of being discovered. Vampyres were not talked about unless they were described as being “evil” and a threat. Today by and large, vampyric Pagans can find acceptance if not in a general setting within a Pagan group, then they can certainly find open support from Pagan leaders and community bodies. The Pagan religion is in an official capacity not about what you are as a person, but about the choice of being a Pagan and believing whatever a Pagan believes. Paganism in South Africa in effect has become far more open to more diverse individual Pagans because of us.
Shortly after this tense moment on our timeline, the SAVA hosted its very first gathering. It was in late 2011 in Johannesburg, and it was an open semi-public event attended by locals. By our present standards, this was a little risque’ and even careless – but we were enthusiastic and driven to succeed – and succeed we did, without incident. Four years later SAVA is about to host another, our very first national gathering, and I daresay we’ve learned a lot since then. The planning is outstanding, there is a budget and there is a staff group doing the planning and arrangements – all courtesy of Coven d’Eir.
Since 2011, across the SA VC small groups sprung up – Covens, Houses and so forth holding VC related events, socials, meet-ups to bolster the growth of our young community. Today the culture of smaller groups holding local events is firmly entrenched in our culture.
In 2012 the SAVA established the SA Vampyre News agency – the very first of its kind in South Africa if not the African continent. Since then, the SAVN has posted over 290 articles on diverse subjects, informing the local (and quite often) the international VC on matters of interest to Vampyre-kind.
The SAVA set up the Vampyre Academy in mid 2012, and this body handles the VVDFGS survey. This survey is still running, with responses being added as they arise. The Academy is also responsible for the maintenance of the Culture Site, which is without exaggeration, one of the most comprehensive free public resources on the subject of the real Vampyre subculture ever to exist, ranking among the top 3 most accurate and reliable in the English-speaking world. Also forming part of this resource is the Vampyre History Project, which in itself is a tome of collected unique material originally devised by House Valur and is today available translated also on Spanish VC sites – as is the Totum Lex Vampyrica, the SA equivalent of the Black Veil.
When the local VC began, we had a great deal of terminology inherited from external VC culture. We could not move an inch it seemed without looking like copy-cats. Since 2011 we sought to make our corner of the VC unique, interesting, vibrant and distinctive. Looking at the number of valuable contributions to our global culture made by South African vamps to the subculture, it is right that we should feel proud and satisfied with our work.
In 2011 SAVA started with a High Council that was appointed based on skill and on community position. Magisters were often the first or only members of the SAVA in their regions, given the daunting task of community building. SAVA, like any entity made up of diverse individuals, is not immune to drama. From 2012 into 2013, the SAVA was run exclusively by the Regent, a position created as an insurance policy against in-fighting and power-grabbing among some of its leaders. Since 2013 SAVA has had a Senate system in place, in which Senators are nominated and elected from the membership on an annual basis, where the membership decides whether or not they will continue to serve their interests.
Times change. Today we have leaders like Kay Valkir Noctem, Psion Valur De Nocte, Lunah Valur Eir, Jezebel Strigoi, Serephim Lena Karayan, Dagan Nightalon and Octavius Drake to name but a few. The truth is, we can all be leaders. Nothing stops us as individuals from achieving our own goals, and the goals of our common drive to make this community all it can be. All we have to do is stand up, reach out and take it.
On the local front, in March 2013, the SAVA partnered with the SA Pagan Rights Alliance to address the issue of satanic panic hysteria in the Media. It is due to this association and the efforts of the Alternative Religions Forum co-founded by both organizations, that the South African media today has been re-educated to a significant degree about SRA hysteria and the negative effects of inaccurate and biased reporting or coverage on minority religions and identity groups. It is because of nearly incessant campaigning by the ARF and its activists that by early 2014 the SA media had largely changed the way it reports on so-called “ritual abuse crimes” to reflect a more realistic and accurate bias which does not encourage fear or foster hatred of minorities by reporting propaganda that favors a third party. SAVA and the SA VC has begun to affect our surroundings and to mold the space around us.
On the world stage, the SA VC has helped other community builders on distant shores to build their own communities. Among our new friends we have helped in this way, by sharing our experiences, our lessons and documentation and strategies with them, we can count the Norwegian VC, The Indian Vampyre & Otherkin Alliance, the Philippine VC, the British Vampire Association and the Canadian VC.
Today South Africa’s VC is represented on two well-respected VC social bodies, the Voices of the Vampire Community (VVC) and the Dark Nations, which while not actual governing bodies of the community at large, are certainly and undeniably influential within it. In nearly five short years, the South African Vampyre Community has risen from nothing to being a player on the world stage of the VC.
Of course, most of the locals aren’t aware of all the behind the scenes work, the sweat, the tears of all the volunteers who sacrificed their time and energy into building such a community, or all the roles played by that community in the larger world – but they will notice the Friends group, an open facebook group set up for seekers to find the local VC and to observe and interact with it. They will have noticed how nice it is to find so many Vampyres and friends of Vampyres in one place, and to socialize, ask questions, meet friends and to relax and be themselves. They may notice the events popping up now and then in their inboxes, the vampcentric items or services for sale, the news or entertainment items being posted on SAVN. They may see updates to the Culture Site about bands, music, movies, books or history or cultural items, while they research nightside names for themselves as they enter the VC. They may even be forgiven for assuming that it was always this easy.
It wasn’t. All this was achieved through a great deal of co-operation, dedication, hard work, personal sacrifice, determination – and love. You can’t make something like this grow and work without putting in all the love you can spare. There is a lot of love here.
In closing, let us pause this Founder’s Day to look at everything that happened before, how the VC is now – and think of how we’d like it to become. Let’s all recount our thoughts on this subject, and relate our experiences and how finding the community has changed our lives.
Happy Founder’s Day everyone!