Wednesday, November 30, 2011

Mental Illness and Human Sacrifice

Normally these two terms are rarely mentioned in the same breath, but in the comments on yesterday's article RO posted a link to this story from Virginia, South Africa. Back in April, Chane van Heerden and Maartens van der Merwe lured a young man to a cemetery and killed him as a human sacrifice in some sort of occult ritual. They then dismembered the body and buried most of it, keeping the victim's eyes, ears, and facial skin. Where mental illness enters the picture is that Van der Merwe was diagnosed as schizophrenic as a teen and while Van Heerden was never officially identified as mentally ill, at her trial social worker Marilise Vergottini testified that the young woman's behavior had been odd throughout much of her life.

Vergottini said Van Heerden displayed strange behaviour, even as a young girl.

When her mother told her that dolls come alive at night, Van Heerden blindfolded her own dolls and bound them with shoe laces, said Vergottini.

Van Heerden's meeting with her co-accused Van der Merwe led to a disastrous partnership.

"They together [in a relationship] are a disaster. It created a platform for their behaviour," Vergottini said.

Van der Merwe was diagnosed with schizophrenia at the age of 14.

Vergottini said when Van Heerden and Van der Merwe met, they discovered they both had fantasies that were not normal to the rest of the world.

The couple watched the television series Dexter, in which a serial killer is the hero, reading it as condonation for their own activities.

One of the old urban legends floating around the occult community here in America is that magicians who are careless or practice improperly run the risk of developing mental illness. I put up a post on this topic back in 2007 and the reason I say urban legend is that I've become more and more convinced over the years that it simply is not true.

Anyone who's studied psychology will tell you that mental illness is relatively common, with some form of it afflicting as much as 25% of the human population, so of course there are some magical practitioners who suffer from it. However, there's no real evidence that anyone can acquire such a condition by practicing magick, even if those practices are done incredibly poorly. As I note in the older article, usually the only real risk of poorly done magick is that it won't work. Fantasy and occult television shows, movies, and stories commonly include the trope of the minor magical mistake that produces catastophic results, but the only world in which you're likely to see that happen is a fictional one.

So what to make of Van Heerden and Van der Merwe? It seems pretty clear to me that both are mentally ill individuals and have probably been afflicted for most of their lives. Furthermore, the two are unusual in that only a small percentage of such people ever act out violently. The schizophrenic murderer is another fictional trope that in fact rarely happens in real life, but this case appears to be the exception that proves the rule. It seems that the two became dangerous when they got together because their respective illnesses fed off each other to produce a deadly outcome. My best guess is that their occult interests were a symptom of those illnesses rather than a causal factor, just like their fascination with the serial killer drama Dexter.

I'm glad to see that these two were convicted despite their respective mental illnesses simply because it means that they will never again get the chance to murder anyeone on the basis of their delusions. But the evidence of the case strongly suggests that those delusions were there long before either of them studied occultism or performed a ritual.

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1 comment:

J.C. said...

Which came first the chicken, or the mental illness? :)

You make some good points. Certainly the mentally disturbed, whether into hurting others or not, are usually more drawn to the entities in the occult which make things worse. Additionally I would say that such entities when properly invoked by someone not so stable and well-balanced will tend to invoke a state of psychological disease, either temporary or permanent.

I haven't seen it happen often, but I have certainly seen somewhat well-balanced people dabble in lesser forces, even demonic, and fuck themselves up, seemingly permanent. Those are, of course, people not properly prepared for such work.