A captivating facet of popular culture related to the healing industry is the display of posters at gathering points and intersections in Gauteng. Often stuck to the traffic light pole, these A3 and A4 pages, solicit attention.

Literature printed in lurid colours of livid pink, purple and synthetic grass green with diagrams of skeletons, exaggerated buttocks and breasts, containers of “hips, bums breasts cream” or magic wallets, really focus the mind of the viewer.

This immediate form of advertising, often has a FREE VOUCHER on the back for an appointment with the specialist. The adverts claim quick cures for a plethora of symptoms, illnesses or random occurrences. The authors of these notices like quacks and charlatans anywhere, from the beginning of time, prey on the vulnerable.  Sometimes these confidence tricksters sell over-priced medicament of little use.  They appeal to the forlorn, the loveless, and the absolutely desperate.

While a large percentage of the population frequents traditional healers for herbal medicine or divination, referral generally depends on the established reputation of the person concerned. So in this country alternative medicine is therefore an entrenched option, but as in every industry, impostors and fraudsters abound, many using modern advertising methods to propagate a following.

How bold are they? The outrageous promises of solutions within 3 days, should ring alarm bells for the more cynical. The florid language structure and inventive spelling (like some internet fraud) may hint that this is a less than a serious business opportunity and that you are about to be scammed.

The process is purveyed as instant gratification in a jar or spell, delivered with the “specialist” firmly in control.  These businesses, are often the product of migrants taking up residence in major centers, some with salubrious addresses in the most affluent of areas. As a perk some offer “house surgery in suburb area with tight security”,

Bearing grandiose titles to impress, Doctor, Professor, Sheikh or physiotherapist somebody or other, are entirely at your disposal, for a substantial fee.  Their superior services, differentiated by techniques and herbal remedies transplanted from their home countries are flaunted as naturally better than local traditional healers and actual science. Some are cheeky enough to offer local healers more “power” to perform.

ARE YOU DISSAPOINTED IN YOUR LIVING LIFE? Queries one heading.

Treatments among others, seek interpretation of the verisimilitude of life:  surviving the economic downturn, health issues and affairs of the heart. But also affirm control.

How to oust: evil spirits, witchcraft and ill luck.

How to influence future prospects by passing examinations, securing work, obtaining job promotion

Combating physical symptoms such as cancer, aids, blood pressure, and infertility, among others.

Returning lost or cheating lovers, repairing marriages and ensuring “eternal happiness”.

In historic times, things related to sexual relations, and a satisfying sex life, were taught at initiation schools, during important rites of passage, when young men were taught the finer arts of love making, preparing them for adult life.  This undoubtedly gave one an edge and the use of natural herbs was sometimes an integral part of this process.  But today where ancient traditions relayed with integrity have fallen away and contemporary conquests appear more fraught by competition and internet choice, people are susceptible to the lure of dubious potions for comfort.

Foreign tourists, seeing the content of these posters would be forgiven for thinking that here is a pre-occupation with genital enlargement, forming a dominant part of the cures on offer. For example:

The 3 in 1 moringa penis cream claims to “..increase size, length and thickness. Power and more rounds..”    Alternately, masai gel remedy, from Masailand promises “ to enlarge penis in girth and length”. It can be noted that both these substances, are not indigenous to South Africa.

One balks when imagining the compound ingredients incorporated into unguents like this, causing allergic reactions that may temporarily feign the desired result, but at what cost.

How about technical skill, Sensuality and imagination? If this had been carefully considered and incorporated as part of foreplay, bogus “snake oil elixirs” logically, would be irrelevant. Perhaps the need for speed in a fast pace take-away life is changing the most basic of human interaction.

Yet, many of these so called doctors solicit blind faith from their victims.  Besides the vagaries of re-instilling passion and patching up ones love life, a more recent trend, links these charlatans with bank robberies and cash-in-transit heists where medicine procured by victims is believed to render these criminals “invisible” turning law enforcement bullets to water.

Besides the figurative imagery on Photostats, some professionals also have large painted images in their consulting rooms, as marketing, endorsing their expertise at magic.

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This image depicts fantastic demons, in a narrative format and serves as something else: Art. (and i enjoy the content). On the one hand, the painting could be a way of substantiating the subject matter as reality (like a photograph) to some clients. On the other,  the belief in witches flying or being conveyed in baskets or brooms, is common and has been recorded by anthropologists. These entities travel across time and space, doing their masters bidding and certainly require specialist and delicate handling to be controlled.  This vision unfolds on a canvas using rather a saccharine colour scheme, reminiscent of  the ink used in photostats.

Witches are depicted airborne, hovering at grave sites and accompanied by serpents who may be familiars, protruding from various orifices. There is also a warning ” dont play here” of their banishment by the specialist.

Reptiles, death, sleep and unspeakable flying things at night are hardly new, commented on by Jung and countless other psychoanalysts delving into and stirring the muddy depths of the human psyche.  Fear as the lid of the unconscious is hardly an African occurrence, but a universal one.

It is an obsession echoed in biblical texts. A small peak at gothic art recalls the fear of God, satan and his winged cohorts. Dreams and guilty pleasures of the unconscious mind in the form of the succubus (female) and incubus (male) was referenced by countless monks flagellating themselves in the morning light.   This was beautifully portrayed by Fuseli, in 1781 in the painting entitled The nightmare.

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The nightmare, 1781

Eduard Munch’s comment, 1903: “.. Disease and insanity were the black angels on guard at my cradle” were comments explaining his work, feeding into our collective repository of superstition and fear, as in contemporary times Giger’s depictions of aliens, or vampire and zombie computer games, do.

Depictions of Hell, in prose like Dante’s divine comedy in 1300 influenced painters like Jan Van Eyck nightmarish last judgement in 1440 or Hieronymus Bosch in 1490 to paint the garden of earthly delights.

Germanic tales of demons and witches that possess people are part of folklore. Witches, play a supporting role in Shakespeare’s Macbeth, where delusion and loss of control underpin the character of Lady Macbeth. But a walk down memory lane shows that over centuries, from 13-1850 as many as 40 000 witches (according to Wikipedia) were executed or burnt at the stake in Europe, Britain and America, clearly a victory for civilization?.

Some of the allegations leveled at these women were for having loose morals, proving irresistible to men, or making love charms. We recognize again the illusion of the succubus.

Looking further afield how do other African cultures manage passion and affairs of the heart?

In Ivory Coast, the Baule people traditionally believe that their lovers are left in the spirit world, when humans are born into this realm. When some adults therefore experience difficulties with specific gender roles, small wooden facsimiles are carved to attract and house the spiritual partner.    These beautiful figures of 15-20 cm in height are known as spirit lover figures. Males are termed blolo bion and females, blolo bla, both reflecting the aesthetics of idealized beauty.

These are then nurtured, oiled, fed and cared for by the owner and are believed to appease the spirit lover concerned and improve one’s life here. Over time, it’s interesting to observe how these sculptures changed, reflecting the fashions and aesthetics prevalent during specific decades.

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