Since yesterday’s post, more details have emerged regarding a large assortment of dead animal skulls and ritual implements found at a Pennsylvania home by animal welfare officers. According to reports they found an altar consisting of “hundreds” of animal skulls, allegedly including the skulls of primates, sheep, cats, and dogs. Now in a follow-up we learn some more about who may be behind the altar, and some tease-pictures that don’t really show all that much.
“There were lit candles and tribal drum music playing from a portable stereo, indicating that somebody was there not long before the humane officers appeared, said George Bengal, director of law enforcement for the PSPCA. The officers found what was believed to be a human skull, but it turned out to be fake. But they did find what appear to be the remains of small monkeys. “The house was covered in bones,” Bengal said … Bengal said the man who lived at the house and probably performed many of the killings is believed to now be in Mexico. However, his wife may still be in the city and she is being sought for questioning, Bengal said.”
So certainly more than one person? A local ABC affiliate gives us some more information on the man who lives at the house, who is currently believed to be in Mexico.
“Investigators believe the animals were sacrificed as part of religious rituals. Neighbors tell Action News Ramon Cruz lives here. He calls himself a high priest of Santeria, a religion of West African and Caribbean origin. One neighbor, who did not want to be identified, says the stench emanating from the house was unbearable. She never saw the sacrifices, the blinds were always drawn, and Cruz always kept the place protected with security cameras. “I saw 7 cases of live chickens delivered every week.” Authorities are now trying to track down Cruz. They believe he’s in Mexico. They’ve received reports he’s ill with swine flu and unable to re-enter the country but when he does he faces several counts of animal cruelty charges.”
So it is Santeria? But is abusing animals and keeping a bone-yard of dead remains and filth common behavior for a Santero, or adherents to Santeria? Philadelphia Inquirer staff writers Robert Moran and Kia Gregory do the responsible thing and ask an expert.
Bill Ellis, professor emeritus of English literature at Pennsylvania State University at Hazleton, said that in Santeria, devotionals to a deity often include the ritual sacrifice of a goat or a chicken, “but not in a wasteful way” because these are later cooked and eaten. “So, whenever you see a wanton act of animal cruelty, it probably doesn’t lie in religion at all,” Ellis said, “but with people with very serious psychological problems.”
There you have it. The general expert consensus about cases like these that I’ve been maintaining all along. Even if Cruz was or is a practicing Santero, this behavior is aberrant, the product of psychological problems, not a product of the religion. Whether that message sinks through to PSPCA officials, who seem almost excited by their “huge find”, remains to be seen.