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© 2023 Dr Margaret Sheppard

Remedies - comparison with Traditional Remedies

The majority of members had joined the Zion Churches originally in search of healing for their symptoms that they had failed to find either from traditional doctors or from Western medicine. Their symptoms too showed similarity - aching legs, body pains, headaches, dizziness, trembling, palpitations etc. Much mention was also made during prophecies of such symptoms as death of livestock, accidents, lack of success at the Lands or work. Prophets, like traditional doctors, '”see" all these types of symptoms as connected. whereas a Western doctor will treat the various aspects of the symptoms for example headache with pain killers, T.B. with drug therapy etc.; he still does not explain WHY a particular patient contacted the disease in the first place. Prophets, like traditional doctors, explain who or what was the cause, for example a sorcerer, a dissatisfied ancestor, a buried taboo (a buried stolen foetus), buried sorcery etc. etc. The original cause is then treated whether it involves purification, sacrifice, a special service etc. Protections are also administered.

Whereas the traditional doctor commonly "washes" the patient with medicated water, Zionists use Holy Water, the prophet might "wash" the patient, or the patient might be given Holy Water to use daily as necessary. As was the case with the Holy Water administered at the Healing Service (Africa) Holy Water can contain substances that look similar to traditional medications, it is also prayed on during its preparation. This is somewhat similar to the incantations used by traditional doctors whilst preparing their remedies.

Bottles of Holy Water can be hung from the rafters or buried in the yard to protect the home, or "put"  new house etc. This is obviously similar to the preparation of traditional doctors' protections.

Another form of Zionist protection is the cords made of twisted coloured wool that are worn around the wrists, waists, ankles, necks, upper arms etc. of patients. N.B. I did not find the same symbolism of colours that some other South African writers have found. The usual answer I received was that a certain colour or combination of colours was “seen” in the prophecy as being helpful protection for that particular case. Individuals were also prophesied to wear certain articles of dress or decorations as additions to their basic church uniforms. Again these were for protection from various complaints. Thicker cords were also used in the same way as bottles of Holy Water to hang from rafters or "close" Botsetsi (newly confined) mother with baby) ouses. These protections were attributed with the same types of powers as traditional protections i.e. those challenging them (e.g. trying to bewitch the one protected) would themselves have the intended misfortune reflected on to them. It can perhaps also be noted at this point that Zion remedies can be misused, like the traditional ones, and made to serve as ingredients of sorcery to harm victims.

Another aspect of prophecy that should be mentioned is that of counselling and correction. The Zionists have very firm beliefs about what behaviour is acceptable and what is unacceptable. All church leaders mentioned that drinking and smoking were not allowed at their churches, nor is stealing, cheating, gossiping and rumour-mongering. All sorcery is condemned.  At several services I attended members who had broken church rules were called to the centre and prophesied until they admitted their faults publicly. Much mention has already been made of sorcerers, both of the sorcerers and victims. Mention has also been made of how the two are connected. Very often someone will complain they have been bewitched but it will also be discovered that their problems are in retaliation for that individual's previous nefarious activities against the present causer of their problems. For example at a  B.U.C.2. Sunday Service a woman member was called to the centre. She had not asked for a prophecy but the Moruti called her out and accused her of not affirming her sins properly, and this was disturbing their Spirits. He said he could “see" that at her home they were troubled by a springbok at night both in Kanye and at their Lands. The woman agreed to this. He continued that they were being bewitched by people staying close to them. (This family had originally lived in the kgotla where I lived, and then because of sorcery, they had decided to build outside the village.) The Moruti continued that at first he could “see” they had moved from their original kgotla to escape from sorcery from their relatives. But he could  “see” that this sorcery had followed them to their new home. He could   “see” that this woman suffered from headaches and aching shoulders. He could “see” that when they lived in their original kgotla they had been bewitched and gone for help to a traditional doctor, who had reflected the bewitchment.

However this traditional doctor had been a sorcerer and had actually made those reflective medicines for them by killing a child.  In turn his medicines had then caused the death of a child in the family they had bewitched. The woman stated she could not understand which child this was, as at that time many children had died in that kgotla and that was why they had decided to move away. Other children had subsequently become useless or drunkards.

The Moruti then continued to describe the particular traditional doctor they had used and how he had even ended up not only working for them but also for their enemies against them. He could even “see" in his prophecy how this particular woman had been invited to the Botsetsi party for a child of their enemies. She had taken sorcery from her traditional doctor to the Botsetsi Party and the next day the child had died. Although she had done this before she was a Zionist she had not confessed it properly, and that was the reason that she continued to have problems now and the Spirits of the prophets were being disturbed.

This type of prophecy obviously has the effect of correcting adverse behaviour. Certain types of behaviour to do with sorcery were frequently condemned in these types of prophecies, and one would expect that this would therefore have a discouraging effect on those who tried to misuse the Zion remedies.

Another example of this type of prophecy occurred at one of the Baptism Services. A member asked for a prophecy. That afternoon her husband had tried to commit suicide by hanging himself and had only just been discovered and cut down in time. The lady asked for a special prophecy to find out the cause of these problems. After she had been put in the centre and hymns had been sung to call the Spirit, the Moruti started by saying that his Spirit showed him a person having problems with her legs, with the pains reaching up to the spine. This person always had pain between her shoulders and a headache. He could also “see" her feeling dizzy and frightened. This person had these problems because of worry and this also made her suffer from palpitations. The woman agreed to this. Then the Moruti continued that he could “see" there was a baboon and a cat walking in the home of that woman at night and the door of her house always opened when the baboon walked about.

The woman agreed that this was also true. The prophet continued that his Spirit showed him a group of people that toured the village at night and this group of people always called for this woman - it was a group of sorcerers. When she slept at night she always heard herself being called, then she responded by going to join them (i.e. she is being accused of belonging to this group). She admitted to this. Then he continued that he could “see" that these nocturnal activities made her tired, so that when she got up in the morning he could “see"that she suffered from a painful chest and arms. This was because of the heavy duties she did at night like lifting heavy bodies out of graves when she went with the group of sorcerers, to obtain human parts for the purpose of sorcery.

By this time the Moruti was very angry with the woman. He said he could even “see” that she had a flat tin, (like a floor polish tin) in her house where she kept the sorcery items that she had obtained from a traditional doctor.  He could “see" that this tin contained very strong and evil medicine and unless she disposed of it everything in the family would fall apart. He could see that she had just obtained this medicine from a traditional doctor without telling her husband, and this was what had that afternoon endangered her husband's life and caused him to attempt suicide. (According to Tswana custom the head of the household must be consulted and the whole family or sub-kgotla be treated together. If individual members of the family use different protections from various traditional doctors, then the medicines are believed to fight against each other, causing accidents, illness, misfortune etc. to those protected by the weaker medicines.)

The woman agreed she had such a tin containing items for sorcery. The prophet continued that he could “see” that when she opened this tin it gave off a terrible smell that made her husband sleep, so that he would not notice when she left for her nefarious practices. He could “see"that both the wife and the husband had their own tins. This was what was causing the problems in their home. They were both using their own traditional doctors and the wife's one was more powerful. She was, he could “see”, a sorcerer.

By this time the Moruti was very angry and was shouting at the top of his voice and even jumping high into the air. He even said that the Spirit told him to take her on his shoulders and smash her against the wall because she was a liar. She then said she had had sorcery items  before, but that was a long time ago and she had thrown them away. But he continued that she was a liar. He could “see in his Spirit” that they were always calling traditional doctors to find the cause of the problems at their home, and the doctors’ bones always showed that she and her sorcery were the causes of the problems. She tried to deny this, insisting that this was all a long time ago and she had since destroyed that sorcery, but he again accused her of lying, saying that the Spirit clearly showed him the bones of a traditional doctor accusing her, he could even hear the words of the traditional doctor, who was a well-experienced and powerful one. At this point the woman's sister-in-law, who had accompanied her to the church, was called forward and also accused of helping to cause the problems because she too, was an active sorcerer.

This form of public accusation hopefully has a very positive effect of discouraging people from evil activities, and this aspect of Zionism is comparable to where sorcery can act as a form of social control.

Prophecy can also be supportive and reassure an individual. Like traditional medicine it “hands out” answers for causes and protections against commonly feared dangers. An individual can ask for prophecy  before embarking on long and maybe dangerous ventures such as when going on mines contracts.  At one Episcopal Sunday Service two miners returning to South Africa asked for prophecy. They were put in the centre, prophesied, sprinkled with Holy Water and special prayers were said over them to protect them from accidents and misfortune in the dangerous South African mines. (Traditional doctors also protect people against the same dangers.) In times of troubles the congregation is called for special services  and special prayers to strengthen the family, and prophecies, are directed towards helping that particular family. At such occasions the family or individual's problem is made public to the congregation, who share a common belief, and this collective sympathy can be supportive in the sense of "a problem shared is a problem half solved."


In Volume 2 further examples of prophecies made to individuals during services may be found in Part 2,

Mention has already been made in other Chapters of the various common Zion remedies. So at this point it is perhaps useful to summarise them in order to make a comparison with those of traditional medicine and to a lesser extent to the methods of Western medicine. It is perhaps here that one can rl~aw conclusions about the attractions of Zionizm vs traditional medicine and particularly as compared to Western Medicine.

Zion protective cords and flags hung in the rafters to protect a family

Entrance to room where Botsestsi (mother with newly born baby) is confined “closed” with protective Zionist cords. Admission  to mother and baby is strictly controlled by the specially appointed woman in charge of the welfare of mother and baby.

Zion prophet tying on protective chords at a Healing Service.