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One has to cross labyrinthine sacred forests and secret caves hidden in mountains edges to access the great invisible.


Men & women on the verge of madness, haunted by strange visions that flickers through their minds like falterings images on a TV set live in some kind of University for Witchdoctors.


A Sangoma is believed to be « called » to heal through an initiation illness.

Symptoms involve psychosis, headache, intractable stomach pain and other illnesses that cannot be cured by conventional methods.


These problems must be seen by a Sangoma as Twasa or « The Calling of the ancestors ».


Sangoma believe that failure to respond to « The Calling » will result in further illness until the person concedes and goes to be trained.  


The word Twasa is derived from THWASA which means « The light of the new moon » or from Ku Mu Thwasisa meaning « Lead to the light ».


A trainee sangoma (Ithwasa) trains formally under another Sangoma for a period of anywhere between a number of months and many years.


The training involves learning humility to the ancestors, purification through steaming, washing in the blood of sacrificed animals and the use of Muti, medicines with spiritual significance.


The Ithwasa may not see their families during training and must abstain from sexual contact and often live under harsh and strict conditions.

This is part of the cleansing process to prepare the healer for a life’s work of dedication to healing.

The intense experiences of training tend to earn a deeply entrenched place in the sangoma’s memory.


The climactic initiation test is to ensure the Ithwasa has the ability to « see » things hidden from view.


This is signified and proved when other Sangomas hide the Ithwasa sacred objects, including the gall bladder of the goat that was sacrificed and the Ithwasa must, in front of the community, call upon their ancestors, find the hidden objects and return them back to the Sangomas that hid them.


Thus, proving they have the ability to « See » beyond the physical world.


On the other hand, a person, woman or man, believed to have been born with the ability to harm others are being labelled as witches (Umthakathi).


This ability is believed to pass from generation to generation « through the breast ».

Umthakathi are reputed to be able to fly & shape-shift to work their witchcraft at night.

People accused of being witches are ostracized or killed.


Many are being falsely accused of witchcraft.

Men and women accused of being witches without trial are burned to death or forced to flee their home in fear of their lives.


In South Africa Northern Province, there is a village lost in the bush,

Not far from the Zimbabwean border.


A village of shame and eerie silence where no one wants to stay.

Its name : Helena.


No boards or signs mention its name anywhere for it must remain secret.


There are currently ten such « Witch Sanctuaries » throughout the country, part of the witches Protection Program.

Where accused practitioners of black magic can find refuge from certain death.

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