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The Humanities Conference 2003

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Presentation Details

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Reflections on the water, the goddess and the serpent in a time of ecological crisis:: Universal wisdom and healing that transcends time and space.

Penny S. Bernard.

The theme chosen by the author is an appropriate one for the venue and focus of this conference. Ancient Greece, in particular Delphi, was a centre dedicated to the Earth Goddess, with its sacred spring, the python and the oracle. Far to the south of Greece, in southern Africa, knowledge of these key symbols, and their significance, persist among Zulu diviner-healers today. Although a direct connection through crude diffusionism is purely speculative and inadviseable, the author will present her own experiences, as an initiate, of a possible universal wisdom that has crossed into her own cultural and ethnic boundaries. She explores the significance of these beliefs in the current context of rampant globalization, the desacralization of the earth and the resultiant ecological crisis facing humanity today. It is only when we learn from both our past wisdom and our mistakes, that meaningful new directions for humanity can take place.


Penny S. Bernard  (South Africa)
Lecturer in Anthropology
Department of Anthropology
Rhodes University

Penny Bernard is a lecturer in Anthropology at Rhodes University in the Eastern Cape, South Africa, specializing in environmental and medical anthropology. As a PhD candidate she has been researching the beliefs in the water spirits, the mermaids and the serpent in southern Africa and their role in the 'calling' and teaching of diviner-healers. Her main focus has been among the amaZulu, the amaXhosa and Karanga/Shona groups. In the process of her research she has been initiated into a school of Zulu diviner/healers (izangoma), and thus her research has a deeply reflexive orientation that has been guided principally through dreams and her informants' responses to them. She is also the principal researcher and grantholder of a country wide research project that is exploring the connection between indigenous knowledge and the environment. The focus of this project is on rights of access to, and protection of, natural sites of cultural and sacred significance.

  • Comparative religion and ritual
  • Spiritual ecology
  • Esoteric wisdom, divination and healing

(30 min Conference Paper, English)