10 September 2012 by Julienne du Toit

The shape-shifter praying mantis

A trickster deity? A creature that changes form? A creator that brings life? What is Kaggen, if not a simple praying mantis?

A praying mantis appeared among the flowers. Photo Chris Marais

I chanced upon the 1st praying mantis of the season in my garden the other day.

One of their Afrikaans names is Hotnotsgod – because Europeans used to believe that the Bushmen, or San, worshipped them.

Kaggen is a trickster, and can be wise and helpful, or mischievous and foolish.

In fact, the truth is far more mystical. The San name for it is Kaggen, or Cagn, which is where the confusion crept in – Kaggen can also mean ‘god’. He certainly is seen as a deity, but he is a shape-shifter, and a praying mantis is only 1 of his many forms.

It has weird alien eyes that watch you. Photo Chris Marais

There are so many stories about him. He can appear as a vulture, a snake, a hare, a human. Kaggen is a trickster, and can be wise and helpful, or mischievous and foolish.

Sometimes he lives as an ordinary man doing ordinary things.

But Kaggen is also a creator of life, and his favourite creation was the eland antelope. According to 1 myth, his 2 sons killed it by accident while hunting, but it was brought back to life after its blood and fat had been spilt on the ground. In fact, a herd of eland arose from it. But the eland never again trusted humans.

I looked at the praying mantis and it looked at me, its head turning to watch me with those implacable alien eyes.

I turned away, and when I looked again, it had gone. In its place was Gordon of the Garden, the family tortoise. Or was it...?

Shape-shifting into camouflage mode. Photo Chris Marais

Category: Culture & History

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