Questions Not Asked in Santeria Ritual Cutting Story

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  February 8, 2012 — 114 Comments

Local and national news outlets are reporting on the case of a 4-year-old girl whose parents are being investigated by police after a daycare employee found lacerations on the girl’s chest. The parents, and a neighbor who witnessed the event, claim it is a Santeria ritual of health and protection for the child, not abuse.

Neighbor Nadeshda Ramirez.

Neighbor Nadeshda Ramirez. Who witnessed and underwent the ritual in question.

“The girl’s parents told police that the cuts were part of a religious ritual. Channel 2′s Mike Petchenik went to the girl’s apartment off Greenhouse Drive and talked to a woman who said she actually witnessed the ritual that she contends is part of the Santeria religion. “This religion is to help people, to help people get better, to protect people,” said Nadeshda Ramirez.”

Avoiding the question of if this action constitutes child abuse, a matter for the authorities to decide, I’d like to instead focus on what this story doesn’t tell us. For example, is this a normative and routine part of an upbringing within Santeria, or was this ritual unusual and brought on by a crisis of some sort? Why didn’t ABC News use its contacts to speak with an academic who studies Santeria, or a prominent figure within the faith? In the local video report, but not the written report, neighbor Nadeshda Ramirez claims the ritual is normal, and underwent it when she was seven years old.

“I had it done when I was seven.” Reporter: Did it hurt? “It did hurt, just a little bit.”

This brings to mind a case somewhat similar to this, involving a 7-year-old girl, which made the news back in 2009. In that case it wasn’t Santeria, but Palo Mayombe, and the mother ended up pleading guilty to neglect and cruelty charges.

“A mother who exposed her 7-year-old daughter to bloody religious initiation rituals in Paterson that included making her watch a chicken being sacrificed and feeding the girl its heart pleaded guilty in state court Monday to cruelty and neglect of a child. [...] In addition to being fed the chicken’s heart, the rituals included making the girl witness the decapitation of a goat, and the scratching of a religious symbol into her skin.”

The mother’s attorney argued that the “initiation ritual at issue is as necessary to the faith as a Catholic baptism,” an argument the judge rejected.  Which brings me back to the original questions: was this really Santeria? Is this a normative ritual for children within that faith? How was it conducted?

Media coverage, for better of for worse, shapes opinion and narrative. We live in an age where the secrecy of such rituals is difficult at best, especially when they involve children. Prominent figures within Santeria, and those who study the faith within academia, need to make their voices heard so that a nuanced portrait of Santeria, and related faiths, is presented. Certainly, journalists need to ask more questions, and dig deeper when reporting on a minority faith they don’t understand, but it is also incumbent on practitioners to organize, and become more vocal in presenting their beliefs to a world that is increasingly learning to fear and resent them. If these instances aren’t contextualized by experts and practitioners, then they will be contextualized by reporters and readers instead.

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Jason Pitzl-Waters

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  • http://sonneillon-v.livejournal.com/ Sonneillon

    Regardless of whether it’s normative to the faith, it still involved doing bodily harm to a child too young to consent.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      Which is why I want to know if this is common and accepted, or seen as unusual and drastic.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

        Very true. This isn’t something that is uncommon. My Indian friend had a dot tattooed on his forehead when he was 6, a common practice. The tattoo goes away because the child is growing growing growing, but the protection for the vulnerable time is there. West African tribes and also on the other end of the world in Papua New Guinea do scarification, tattooing, piercing, etc. I’ll have something done for my children and so on.

        In the ‘developed’ world people have forgotten how important protection for children truly is. Just take a look at how a birth is celebrated after 1 year–most cultures celebrate after 100 days! Even after those key 100 days children still might not survive. I don’t care what anyone wants to academically opine on the subject–parents have the right to protect their children in any way they see fit. Most would only hope it’s not a Human Rights violation like female circumcision or breast binding.

        The only real question I see here is why is the media so dedicated to mediocrity in their level of reporting?

        • Crystal Kendrick

          “The only real question I see here is why is the media so dedicated to mediocrity in their level of reporting?”
          Because sensationalism sales.

      • Medeina Ragana

        Well, back in the 1970s, my ex-husband who was born in Cuba, recounted a similar tale of being made to watch the decapitation of a goat when he was a child in Cuba. I’m not sure that it was an initiation ritual or what, but I got the impression that this was a common practice in Cuba. Of course, nowadays, especially in So FL, you have many Cubans, and other Latinos who are involved in Santeria, and other Afro-Caribbean religions, which are still carrying on the “old ways” that so many of us “new way” Pagans wish we can learn. The problem is, some of those “old ways” we in the 21st Century would consider horrific at best. Just look at the descriptions by anthropologists of the Aztec rituals. Now I’m not an anthropologist, although I have studied that subject, but I think many “new” Pagans romanticize the “old ways” and don’t understand that sacrificing, as in bloodletting, was a common practice throughout the world.

        Anyhow, my ex told me that story to explain why he had a phobic fear of seeing blood. This was after we went to see a horror movie which had gory blood being spilled and he fainted dead away on me!!!! I’ll never forget that first date!

        • Anonymous

          For kids growing up in rural areas, watching the decapitation of animals and being fed their parts sounds like a regular occurrence, not necessarily part of some cult practice. How else are you going to feed your kids? Do all the prep in private? Where does an American kid think his pork chops or chicken nuggets come from?
          Making a ritual of animal slaughter makes the practice more respectful to the animal, and does nothing to harm the food value.

          • Thelettuceman

            My friend recounted to me a story of his mother’s friend who moved up from the city into one of the more rural counties. Saw this big black bird running along her property and had to call his mother about it. No clue what it was, had never seen it before.

            It was a chicken. That they had never seen outside a plastic-wrapped bag.

            The dissociation from animal to food in this country is depressing.

          • Baruch Dreamstalker

            LOL!!

      • AnonGuest

        I’m not in a position to know, but I think it’s an uncommon honour and not one bestowed often. That it’s being added into a family.

    • FernWise

      Just like circumcision, ear piercing, immunizations, and not breast feeding, and grabbing a child running out into the street so hard that you leave bruises. BTW, I’m TOTALLY guilty of that last one.

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Circumcision popped into my mind immediately. Why isn’t it prosecuted if this is? The “evidence” is permanent.

      • http://sonneillon-v.livejournal.com/ Sonneillon

        Immunizations have a valid medical reason behind them. Circumcision and ear piercings do not. Refraining from breast-feeding just doesn’t belong in that group. Grabbing a child running into the street also has a valid medical reason behind it: the prevention of death.

        • Anonymous

          If you consider this to be ‘magical immunization’ (e.g. that the symbols are there for the child’s protection), than it does have a valid religious reason.

          Not that it is any of your business telling other people what is a valid religious reason or not…

          I have done very similar for my daughters (using oil and herbs, not scratching though) – it is for their protection. Its no different than getting immunized.

        • A.C. Fisher Aldag

          Immunization can cause autism.

          • Anonymous
          • A.C. Fisher Aldag

            Still being studied… as is the theory that vaccinations are part of the problems behind Gulf War Illness.

            It doesn’t seem to be the vaccinations themselves but the fixative or buffer… sometimes mercury.

          • AnonGuest

            Replying to A.C. Fisher at least one of the medicines meant to help against one kind of gas that our vets were given (since the Supreme Court has unfortunatey ruled that soldiers can be used as guinea pigs without their consent, they were given a lot of junk that wouldn’t pass safety tests if given to civilians) has an effect of making said person MORE susceptible to other gas exposures. And soldiers got exposure to the latter kind of poison, in less quantity than if they hadn’t blown said weapons up.

            None of this has anything to do with vaccines given your children, and how the doctor who put out the mercury scare did so maliciously. I had two dear great-aunts that passed on in the past 5 years who spent most of their lifetime partially disabled and crippled by polio, because the vaccines weren’t out when they were little. I have several people in my family with Aspergers which allows me to see a genetic link – not everybody gets it, it skips generations and about, but even if the doctor’s lying hadn’t been caught out, I don’t think it’s caused by vaccines. anyway

          • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

            “Immunization can cause autism.”

            That statement is not supported by any body of scientific fact. The study that started the whole controversy was found fraudulent and its results were never reproduced in any credible manner.

            http://voices.washingtonpost.com/checkup/2011/01/autismvaccine_link_another_nai.html

            Wakefield removed from the Medical Register and his dishonest falsification in the Lancet research was noted; he is barred from practicing medicine in the UK.

            http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Andrew_Wakefield

            Not to ignore other causes of autism, but autism is somewhat to somewhat to highly inheritable. “Different studies have shown that if one identical twin has autism then there is a 63-98% chance that the other twin will have it.” More reader friendly information about autism can be found at http://faculty.washington.edu/chudler/aut.html .

            It is thought that there are multiple causes and forms of autism.

          • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

            “Still being studied… as is the theory that vaccinations are part of the problems behind Gulf War Illness.”

            It is prudent to note that it was a combination of factors that are still being examined. Iraq had loaded anthrax, botulinum toxin, and aflatoxin into missiles and artillery shells for the Gulf War. There were massive petroleum burns and Scorched Earth pollutants. For this same war, US and UK combat soldiers were vaccinated with a highly reactogenic vaccination that never went through large scale clinical trials, unlike most other vaccines in the United States.

            I don’t see what that particular wartime combination has to do with the issue of possible child abuse and neglect charges in relation to the story in question.

            Back to immunizations, harmful or not, most US vaccines commonly given to children are not highly reactogenic, have undergone large scale clinical trials and are overall protective of public health. Serious reactions are on the rarer side and outweighed by the benefits, as far as public health is concerned.

            The diseases that US pediatric immunizations prevent are far more harmful than the rare reactions to them (including any brain inflammation that may or may not lead to autism) and “Crowd immunity” goes only so far.

            Once enough parents don’t immunize their children, we see clusters of diseases we once thought we pretty much wiped out. That is the greater harm with a much more ominous potential if left uncorrected.

          • MomofS

            As a parent of a child with Autism, I can assure you that the THEORY of immunizations CAUSING autism have been disproved several times over.

          • Anonymous

            That claim is so full of bullshit I don’t know where to start…

          • Thelettuceman

            It’s what happens when people listen to the likes of Jim Carrey over scientific journals. Can’t read those, because they’re part of the problem. /tinfoilhat.

    • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

      The same could be said of circumcision.

      • http://sonneillon-v.livejournal.com/ Sonneillon

        Yup. Exactly.

    • KarenAScofield

      I agree with you.

      But also…

      Chest scarification in the form of a religious symbol, ear piercings and circumcision of the foreskin are all done on children without their informed consent (something that can pnly be given at a later age).

      What are the criteria for drawing the line between abuse and religious ritual and why don’t articles clearly define such things? Because society and the law haven’t. Not really. Normative assumptions aren’t spelled out but that lurk around corners. What many mean to say is…

      ‘My infant body modifications are okay because their normative but for those who fall into the “Other” category, we shall call them mutilation, child abuse and perhaps even demonic. We shall lace any coverage with loaded terms, the most stark and damaging wording possible and purposeful gaps of information crucial to understanding and exploring any particular case with any clarity or respect.’

      Personally and for the most part, I’m against infant/child body modifications done for other than medical reasons and I don’t care for creedist-normative prevarications either (failure to bust past common misconceptions/disinformation and to explore, in any truly intelligent manner befitting our species, what other religions are about, what they do, what they don’t do and what should be criminalized, really).

      I think the latter, the dishonesty and criminalization, may often times prove more damaging than the scarification symbols, pierced ears or circumcisions, overall.

      • http://sonneillon-v.livejournal.com/ Sonneillon

        I would like to point out that I am not in favor of circumcision or ear-piercing either. I do not favor modifying a child’s body without their ability to give quality, informed consent, unless there is a valid medical reason to do so (such as immunization, but I do not consider the ‘reasons’ that are usually given to alter an intersex child’s genitals to be medical. Rather, they are societal. If the child is going to suffer harm from being intersex, cutting their genitals will not alleviate that harm).

      • http://www.patheos.com Star Foster

        There’s no mention the child was scarred, only cut.

        • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

          Point taken! Reports and articles should not use the word laceration in place of the word scratch — scratches are more superficial while lacerations can be quite deep and could commonly result in scarring.

      • A.C. Fisher Aldag

        Stop cutting boys’ hair, then. This is something that is against my religion, as we view it as body modification and an act which saps peoples’ strength, only to be done to honor an ancestor who has died. Yet the majority of folks who’re hollering about circumcision and ear piercing are okay with hair cutting.

        • Crystal Kendrick

          Um- I don’t really think that equates. It’s a bad comparison. Cutting hair has not observably caused harm or pain, whereas ear piercing and circumcision both observably have caused pain and very often harm via infection, etc.

          • A.C. Fisher Aldag

            Ever seen a two-year-old get their hair cut? Are they all smiles, or screaming their little heads off?

            Ever seen someone get a staph infection from cutting hair or shaving?

            Also, define “harm or pain”. Cultures that typically don’t cut their hair report that they have psychic capabilities such as communication with ancestors, foretelling the future, and communications with animals. People of those same cultures who are Westernized, who do cut their hair, report losing those capabilities. I take the word of people with Shamanic abilities who had their hair cut, who say they then lost some of their abilities.

            There may be a correlation — impossible to judge, as it can’t be measured, and it’s subjective.

            However, I would consider losing my ability to interact with the spirit world as more harmful and painful than the tiny pinch caused by piercing.

          • Anonymous

            AC wrote:
            Ever seen a two-year-old get their hair cut? Are they all smiles, or screaming their little heads off?

            Meh, depends on the kid (like most everything else). My older daughter enjoys having her hair cut, the younger doesn’t have enough hair for it to matter yet ;). Two of my nieces hate it, and one of my nephews likes it. Anecdotes aside, its also a matter of who does the cutting, the mood/environment that it is done in, etc.

            A lot like the dentist, really – If you go in, tense and expecting the pain; you’re likely to end up experiencing a rough time (its called confirmation bias).

          • Anonymous

            I’ve seen 2yr-olds scream bloody murder when told they can’t have candy. Should we let them have all the candy they want? You present a pretty poor argument.
            And no, I’ve never seen or heard of anyone getting a staph infection from having their hair cut.

        • http://sari0009.xanga.com/ Karen A. Scofield

          “Stop cutting boys’ hair, then. This is something that is against my religion…”

          Although prohibitions against cutting hair are important to some religions on theological and cultural bases, comparing circumcision and ear piercing to hair cutting is a very poor comparison on several counts more relevant to Jason’s entry…more relevant to concerns about the criminalization and cultural defamation of religious practices that hurt and/or permanently alter children’s bodies for religious reasons.

          The murkier waters of what harms a child’s mind is above most people’s pay grade here and whether cutting hair harms a child spirituality or energies is the governance of particular religions, not argument for law of the land, outside of theocracy.

          Cutting hair or nails is not classified as body modification but as grooming — it’s not permanent, doesn’t alter living tissue and there are no nerve endings in hair or nails.

          Things classified as body modification may include:

          Body Piercing
          Circumcision, Female
          Circumcision, Male
          Tattooing
          Plastic Surgery
          Scarification
          Foot binding or neck rings and any other “explicit ornaments” that make permanent changes to the body…

          If a religion or individual wants to classify hair or nail cutting as a type of body modification while communicating within a pluralistic society 0(as opposed to within a theocracy), they should understand that their definition is peculiar to them. In that situation and without any clarification or differentiation, substituting unusual definitions for common ones muddies and bogs down discussion more than anything else.

    • AnonGuest

      It’s more like getting a child immunized than meaning any bodily harm. It hurts a little bit but is meant for their protection.

      Now slippery slope arguers may say this means if this is allowed (and said thing is not any “every week” type of deal or anything, okay), sadistic jerks would be allowed free reign to do things that hurt to children however they want, but so far, no.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1749751601 Penny Clifford

    Thousands of parents get their babies and toddlers ears pierced, yet no one is looking at that as child abuse. I’m not saying I condone either practice, but I wonder if there would be an investigation if this wasn’t during a Santeria ritual.

    • http://sonneillon-v.livejournal.com/ Sonneillon

      Saying ‘no one’ is looking at it as abuse is disingenuous. Plenty of people who believe children should have a degree of choice and autonomy in matters regarding their own body frown on piercings.

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1066316113 Jocelyne Berengaria Houghton

        and circumcision, even more so!

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

    As a pagan, secularism is very important to me. I don’t want the gov making social or political decision based on religion and I’m certainly not altering my opinion for this. If you cut open a 4 year old with a straight razor, you go to jail, i don’t care what religion you are and I don’t care what the context is, I can’t believe the DA hasn’t pulled the trigger on this.

    • http://quakerpagan.org/ Cat C-B

      And shall we jail the Mohel at an infant’s Bris (Jewish circumcision ceremony) as well? Or is there some age at which the clarity around religious body modification becomes problematic?

      Or is this about how familiar and comfortable we are with the religion in question?

      I don’t say this was not abuse. I simply don’t know enough from the coverage I’ve read to be clear. To me, there is room for a kind of social and individual calculus: how much pain/harm is caused the child, and how long-lasting is it? And how central to the religious tenets of the group in question?

      So a highly-painful, harmful, and long-lasting proceedure (like female circumcision) is of more concern than a mildly-painful, not-harmful one (like ear piercing); and an individually-chosen or merely culturally and not religiously-required proceedure (like ear-piercing vs. male circumcision) would be more of concern to me.

      I think this is a case where more knowledge is needed before I get on a high horse. When it comes to matters of religious or racial minorities and child custody, I like to know a lot of background before rushing to judgement; such an orientation would have saved, for instance, a lot of Native American kids in foster care from having essentially healthy childhoods disrupted by inappropriate placements by over-zealous social workers.

      There a balance to be struck.

  • http://www.facebook.com/people/Lamyka-L/649965363 Lamyka L.

    @Eric Devries: So I guess we’ll have to add all the Jewish babies’ parents to the list of offenders to clog the justice system. Because I’m sure rapists, murders, and thieves can wait.

    (it wouldn’t let me reply properly)

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

      Circumcision is legal.

      • Thalesin

        Because powerful religion lobby’s to keep it legal.

      • http://sonneillon-v.livejournal.com/ Sonneillon

        Why? Why is cutting pieces off a baby’s genitals legal?

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

          I live in California and we passed a bill last October barring any future attempts to ban or limit male circumcision in response to the growing outcry against it. I still utterly fail to see any correlation between it and cutting religious symbols into a childs skin. Whether I, you or anyone else thinks it is reasonable, cicrumcision is legal and within societal norms. I don’t put my own spiritual beliefs above the rule of law and and i think that if anyone does they should accept the consequences of their actions. If the laws aren’t reasonable there is a process to get them changed.

          • Aine

            “cutting religious symbols into a childs skin”

            You /don’t/ see the correlation?

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

            56% of boys in US were circumsized in 2006. Jews/Muslims account for about 3% of the poplulation so it seems to me that a vast majority of circumcisions are performed for non religious reasons. My wife and I were able to decide what to do regarding our son as it is a legal and customary procedure. If I want to do something to my child that is illegal/child abuse I expect to get arrested regardless of what faith I offer as a shield to the behavior. The government should never respect a faith, ever, period.

          • Harmonyfb

            cicrumcision is legal and within societal norms.

            And the only difference between that and other forms of body modification done on infants/children without their consent is that circumcision is a ‘norm’ of Jewish/Christian culture and the story above posits a ‘norm’ of a different religion/culture. Arguments of this nature wind up sounding…well…I think ‘ethnocentric’ is the more polite term.

            If you’re looking at light scratching of a preschooler versus cutting off a piece of flesh from an infant, it’s clear — to me, at least — which is the more drastic and harmful action.

  • http://forestdoor.wordpress.com/ Dver

    First of all, if they’re going to say that this is child abuse because there is pain and blood involved, then they will have to arrest all the mohelim in Judaism. (And if they’re going to say it’s child abuse to make a child witness an animal being slaughtered, they will have to arrest all the small farmers too. I think that should actually be mandatory for everyone who’s going to eat meat, regardless of religion.)

    Secondly, while I agree that it would be relevant information to some degree whether the ritual was normative for Santeria or not, does that mean that if it is, it should be protected, but not protected if it’s unusual? Should only official, recognized religions have their rituals protected? What about the vast umbrella of paganism, where no one person can speak to what is “normal” and customs vary from group to group and even person to person? I don’t technically belong to any one tradition, but that doesn’t invalidate my spiritual practices.

    This all makes me very glad I am childfree though. I would inevitably face some problems in the way I would choose to raise a child.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      I personally think that it’s above my pay grade to decide what rituals should be protected by law, and which ones shouldn’t. I’m just for more information in general, and better contextualization of what’s happening in this instance.

  • http://twitter.com/YearInWhite Year In White

    The ABC article mentioned the parents practicing something called “Paulo”. lol. Awesome. At least there aren’t news articles about the evils of “Peeganism” ;)

    I can’t speak of Palo, since I have no direct experience in it, but I was certainly not cut on the chest when initiated in Santeria or for any practices in it. In Santeria, if someone’s going through a priesthood ceremony, there might be some small cuts on the crown of the head perhaps, but even that practice can vary from house to house.

    I haven’t seen anything about why it was done, but given the result of the Paterson case, I have a feeling they’ll get hit with abuse charges on this.

    • Just by way of information:

      It is worth noting that the term ‘Santeria’ is not as specific and tidy as we would like–even in Cuba, the term sometimes gets used (by people in the religions) to refer to either (or both) Palo and Ocha. If we want to get technical, it’s best to use one of those terms rather than ‘Santeria.’

      Now, the ritual (called, simply enough, ‘scratching’) under discussion *is* normal within Palo, one of the very basic rites with which an individual is brought into the community, and serves as a symbol of their protection by the spirits of the religion. The cuts are shallow and it’s fairly rare for them to scar (I imagine all the more so when performed on one so young).

  • Obsidia

    My grandmother pierced our ears (the girls) when we were very young (7). This was supposed to be something that would protect us, too.

  • Mia

    If this is abuse then where’s all the screaming and crying over people who are ACTUALLY being abused? Why aren’t all the kids forced into prostitution taken off the streets?

    Nobody wants to address the real issues, so they target the flashy “others” instead. Typical.

    However, if people involved in the matter actually keep a level head in this then maybe it’ll be resolved reasonably. But the cynic in me is taking over at the moment.

    • http://sonneillon-v.livejournal.com/ Sonneillon

      Your logic is that, because some of us don’t think children should be cut or mutilated, we cannot possibly be active in preventing other forms of abuse? That doesn’t even make sense. There is plenty of screaming and crying, as you put it, over people who actually are being abused. Certainly not as much as there should be, but don’t try to push the logical fallacy that we shouldn’t also pay attention to the small things because there are bigger things out there.

      • Mia

        My point is that people are ONLY paying attention to the relatively easy, small things and putting a lot of effort into that. If that same effort was put towards some bigger issues then we may actually get somewhere.

        • Anonymous

          Your point is off the mark then. There are huge organizations fighting to save kids from prostitution & slavery. The fact that it still continues does not mean that nobody is doing anything about it.

      • Mia

        By the way, I wasn’t referring to the Wild Hunt commenters like you’re assuming.

  • https://plus.google.com/111691454183886288664 Celeste Neumann

    I’m with the majority of the people commenting on this. What is required of a secular society to protect people who cannot protect themselves from extreme religious practices which harm these victims physically or mentally? Does it really matter if this was usual or unusual Santaria ritual? A 4 year old has life-long scars branding her a member of a religious cult she cannot yet decide if she wants to belong to our not. If you defend this in the name of proper Santorianism, then you must allow forced clitoris mutilation, circumcision, ritual tattoos and piercing of children, and allow Jehovah witnesses to tie children to chairs and scream at them. If the secular society cannot condemn Santaria ritual scarring, then we might as well give up on condemning Catholic priests for raping children in the name of God.

    • http://www.wildhunt.org/blog/ Jason Pitzl-Waters

      “A 4 year old has life-long scars branding her a member of a religious cult she cannot yet decide if she wants to belong to our not.”

      We do not know if the child was scarred, or simply scratched.

      Having proper information and contextualization is important in making a value judgment. You certainly want to have correct information before you equate the practice with serial rape.

    • Jack Heron

      That’s a good point – regardless of whether or not this could be considered abuse, the child is being marked physically as being part of a religion they are far to young to understand, let alone know if they want to be part of. A lot of people on this blog have come to paganism after having been raised Christian – what if Christianity had a tradition of tattooing crosses on children’s chests? How would that affect them now? And how would we react if the story had been ‘Evangelical Church Accused of Abuse After Cruciform Lacerations Found on Girl’s Chest’?

      • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

        If the government considers the religion of the family in an abuse case I think they are already violating the constitution. They aren’t supposed to favor or prefer at all so for me it’s a non-consideration. If it meets the legal criteria for child abuse you charge. It does seem to me that some pagans are quick to defend their own at the cost of reason. I want an actual even playing field and the government can not make exceptions as that favors one faith over another. Everyones rituals need to conform to the law of the land and no matter how deeply held ones beliefs are they do not make you immune to legal remedy. If you can’t follow the law, you need to face the consequences. And as for the oh so common circumcision card, circumcision is legal in every country on earth. If it was illegal I would expect the government to arrest folks who had it done regardless of their faith. As a parent of a 3 year old I fully expect to meet resistance to how I am raising him at some point but I am also certain that the way I am raising him will be legal. As Jack pointed out, if someone was carving on their kids chest in some other context we wouldn’t even be having this conversation.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1003007850 Christopher D Bradford

          I imagine you have no experience with the kind of rituals being alluded to here. I’m a Mayombero (I practice Palo Mayombe). Our rayamiento, which is likely what this girl experienced, does involve animal sacrifice and the scratching of certain symbols into the skin. These small cuts are not deep, and they very rarely leave a visible scar at all, especially in children. If it is legal to pierce a child’s flesh (pierced ears), or to remove parts of them (circumcision) I cannot see how these scratches cross over into abusive and illegal territory. You brush off the circumcision bit with one breath, while in the previous one you state “I want an actual level playing field , and the goverment cannot make exceptions as that favors one faith over another.” How is it you defend circumcision while vilifying our practice, if you want a level playing field and no government favoritism? And no, circumcision is not “legal in every country on earth”. There is a world of difference between this scratching and “carving on their kids chest”, and in your ignorance you lump we who live this tradition in with child abusers. Obviously I think you are incorrect, and not being intellectually honest.

          • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

            I have no problem with anyone practicing any faith as long as their practice falls within the rule of law. I think that if the wounds on the child are severe enough that they would be judged as an act of child abuse if they were not performed for a religious reason they are child abuse if performed for a religious reason. I simply dont think anyones faith should get exemptions from the law ever, no matter what. Circumcision is legal, i think the police in Georgia should determine the legality of what was done to this child without considering religion at all. If it’s a few scratches we are talking about then this is a lot of tempest in a tea pot.

          • http://www.facebook.com/mirage358 Jason White

            Just a few years ago, there was a divorce case in my home town (Indianapolis) where both parents were practicing Wiccans, and were barred by the judge from raising their child in the Wiccan faith. The ruling of a judge in these cases has the effect of law on the case. In Canada, it is still illegal to “pretend to exercise or to use any kind of witchcraft, sorcery, enchantment or conjuration.” If parents are obliged to only follow the law of the land, then in both of these cases their right to religious practice is wrongly restricted.

            My point being that there is a difference between “legal” and “good,” and it seems to be a heel-faced turn to say that one harmful act unacceptable, while another is acceptable — especially when legality is in most cases decided by majority sentiment.

          • AnonGuest

            I live in a state with many common laws. I probably could break the rule of law giving my partner a kiss in public.
            What police chase people for is motivated by public opinion, they aren’t trying enforce every law in their state and country.

          • AnonGuest

            Eric Devries, I looked up on the web in curiousity and it turns out I had broken a kiss law. LOL

          • jhamm77

            Thank you Christopher for taking the time to educate us on the religion of Palo. I mean, it’s unfortunate that you have to, and that we don’t just research it ourselves, but you provide great clarity to this discussion!

          • https://plus.google.com/111691454183886288664 Celeste Neumann

            It might surprise you to find I am against the indoctrination anyone under the age of 16 in any particular religion – be it Christian, Islam, Buddhism or Wicca. It might be the parents’ prerogative to “see to their child’s religious upbringing”, but in many pagan parents’ cases I see them repeating the very same mistake many of their own parents made with them. In many cases their parents forced them into Christianity, they rebelled and chose as adults a pagan religion more suitable to their beliefs. It used to be – at least in the case of Wiccans – that you could not join the coven until one was 16. But now, it seems they are letting 4-year-olds participate in circle gatherings. Hurrah for the pre-programmed animosity when they turn teenagers, and those Wiccan children decide to become Buddhists or Mormens, because they don’t see eye-to-eye with their parents’ religious beliefs. As the saying goes where I live, “Let’s leave the church in the village” and not take every stone away from the subject: An outsider noticed possible abuse. If this is the case, then answers have to be found, and these issues have to be judged by the secular society whether or not this religious practice is generally good for children, and not beat a retreat into the sanctuary of ‘religious freedom’ with raised indignant fingers “You don’t even understand our religion”. With all due respect to the members of Santaria in their esoteric beliefs, I ask: Do you not see you almost sound like Catholic priests when they grasp at straw-arguments and excuses saying, “You can’t really call it rape just because we repeatedly touched children’s genitals. It’s not like we penetrated them with our genitals.” If this is really so harmless, why can’t you wait to perform this ritual until the person is of an age of consent?

          • AnonGuest

            People taking their kids around to open circles that welcome them doesn’t equate at all to Catholic Priests that were rapists.
            This is why slippery slope arguments have another name – fallacies.

      • Jack Heron

        It also occurs to me, somewhat contra to what I wrote above, that we do as a matter of course allow parents to do many things which leave an indelible mark on their children – teaching them, for a start. Some have argued (Richard Dawkins, for instance) that people should not be allowed to indoctrinate their children in their religion. But if you go down that route, what *are* they allowed to teach them? Political views are at least as disputable as religion, so maybe they’re out. What about cultural preferences? But if we’re allowed to hand down our culture to our children, why not physical manifestations of it as well? Sure, they might not come off, but what you learn in your first few years doesn’t come off easily either.

      • Anonymous

        Look into the Freshwater case, where a Xtian school teacher (in a public school!) burnt crucifixes onto student’s arms using a Tesla coil.

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1003007850 Christopher D Bradford

      These initiations very rarely leave a visible scar; the scratching is very light. I feel that many of these comments coming from persons with zero understanding of this practice are rooted in “othering” of African-based religious traditions. You lump in this scratching with circumcision, which permanently maims a person? With child molesting, for heaven’s sake? You talk about this 4 year old having life-long scars, as if you have any idea of how this ritual is done, and know whether there is anything but superficial cutting (there isn’t). You’re statement is appalling in it’s ignorance, and in it’s disrespect of a religion you clearly have no understanding of.

      • jhamm77

        Totally agree…..this story just fits a pattern too well.

      • Anonymous

        The similarity between the kind of othering happening on this very forum and the sort of othering I see among certain Christians with regard to Wiccans is striking. “Witches have late night rituals where they are naked, have public sex, and smear menstrual blood on each other. Obviously, no child can have anything to do with what witches do without being abused. Those witches are dangerous people and children should never be allowed around them.”

    • Anonymous

      You are really comparing this to Priests raping little boys?

    • Anonymous

      We don’t know that she has life long scars. From what others are saying on this forum, it sounds like the scratches were unlikely to leave any kind of permanent mark.

      By what definition is this a religious cult?

  • Kilmrnock

    i ‘m going to er on the side of religious rights/freedoms on this one , due to lack of info . We donot know how deep these scratches are or if scarring will result at all. And also i agree a proper sourse should have been consulted to know weather or not this is a normal or common voudon ritual. The article gives way too little valid information to make a value judgement .If real child abuse did occur , that in itself changes things , but in this case not enuf info was given . Kilm

  • Kilmrnock

    Oh and just for the record , i’m 56 yrs old . I’m a child of the mid fifties . i am personaly not at all happy that i was circumsised. But , this was common practices back in those days . I do consider that mutilation . There is nothing i can do about that now , but how nasty a thing to do to a child that is only days old .And not to even mention barbaric and based on a jewish tradition , being done to a protestant child . Oh well. It on no real logical grounds makes any sense . Kilm

  • jhamm77

    Excellent reporting, Jason.

    Channel 2′s investigation into this issue is pathetic.

    I like the point about circumcision. Why is circumsicion seen as totally normal, and this isnt?

    • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1066316113 Jocelyne Berengaria Houghton

      Non-religious male circumcision has been normative in the United States for some time – first accepted in 1900 per Wikipedia. There is also wide-spread opposition to the practice, though I can’t find any numbers.

      • Thricraven

        It is normative for non-religious reasons in the U.S., but has never been so in other countries, including Canada and Western Europe. (The rates in Western Europe are nearly as low as the numbers of Jewish and Muslim infants born, suggesting there is almost no non-medical, non-religious infant circumcision in these countries http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Prevalence_of_circumcision). It became normative in the U.S. after a group of influential and misguided doctors encouraged the process beginning the the early 1900s mostly as a deterrent to masturbation and that legacy has remained with us. Just because it’s normative and legal doesn’t mean it’s a good idea.

  • Eva Muhlhause

    Not cool at all, and before you ask, yes I am against male circumcision or piercing children’s ears without their consent. Just because it’s pagan and traditional doesn’t make it ok.

  • Elia malgieri

    To compare an established ritual act of a religion to the phenomenon of Catholic priests invoking God to justify sex abuse is a rather grotesqe failure of logic. Catholicism has always taught that sex is justified exclusively in the marriage bond between one man and one woman, all else being sinful. Sexual criminals often attempt to rationalize their acts by appeal to some virtuous intention as some of these priests may have done. I witnessed this frequently in the sex abuse unit I worked in at the child welfare administration in New York. Fathers, step-fathers, and paramours would describe even rape as a loving act! The problem in the Church lay in the seriously incompetent fashion in which religious superiors dealt with these offenses not in the fact that it was an acceptable ritual of the religion – quite the contrary. I’m afraid that that the idea that it is comparable in any way arises from a deep hatred of the religion in question.

  • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1006464595 Cathryn Bauer

    Good questions, but this was wrong of the parents. I’m thinking of a child watching a knife or knives coming down on them. Were there restraints? I have a huge problem with what seems to me to be the inevitable trauma, pain, and scarring. I can’t imagine a child choosing this or seeing it as inclusive or caring.

    I don’t support ear piercing or any other body modification on young children. I knew a Filipina when I was growing up whose family customarily pierced their daughters’ ears shortly after birth. She declined to have this done on her own daughter, saying it was best to decide this for yourself. I’m with her.

    I think given the context, I would not say the parents were guilty of child abuse, though I do believe that the various judges I’ve worked with would be all over the map, so to speak, on this. But I do think they went way overboard, way over their moral and legal prerogative to teach their religion to their child.

  • JoOrton

    I’m sorry, but NO “religious belief” gives you the right to cut up and scar your children. That’s true whether or not it’s some kind of healing ritual, as in this case, or if it’s female genital mutilation done under Islamic rules. I don’t even think the Jehovah’s Witnesses should be allowed to kill their children by denying them life-saving blood transfusions. I may be a Pagan, but I also live in the 21st century, and mutilating your children, no matter what “belief” is behind it, is wrong. “It’s my religion” is not a valid excuse for acting like a primitive barbarian.

    • A.C. Fisher Aldag

      Better not pierce their ears, circumcize them, or give ‘em vaccinations, then. While you’re at it, don’t cut their hair, either. In fact, we should wrap our kids in cotton wool and make them live in a plastic bubble. No more riding carnival rides, or skateboarding, or riding a bike, or roller skating, or ice skating, because they might get hurt. Could even leave a permanent scar. And Gods forbid they take it into their heads to become “blood brothers”.

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hugh-Intactive/100002216540067 Hugh Intactive

        You are quite right about circumcising, but the other things you mention are reversible (hair cutting and ear piercing), voluntary (blood brotherhood), life-saving (vaccinations) or able to be made relatively safe (skateboarding, etc, with suitable protective gear). Circumcising always “leaves a permanent scar”.

        • A.C. Fisher Aldag

          The ceremony mentioned in the article is reversible, too.

    • http://www.facebook.com/pjvj1 Pamela V Jones

      >>>I’m sorry, but NO “religious belief” gives you the right to cut up and scar your children. That’s true whether or not it’s some kind of healing ritual<<<

      Unless it is a healing ritual performed by the medical community where they open you up in surgery, right? And those healing rituals don't always work, but we don't arrest the doctors for doing them as long as there is no provable malice.

      Why is the medical community's healing ritual more valid than a religion's healing ritual? This child was not "mutilated". Light scratches on the skin hardly bear the definition of mutilation. And a scar left from surgery is not considered "mutilation", either, even if the surgery was performed for cosmetic reasons like a cleft lip ore removal of extra toe.

  • Anonymous

    I’m still trying to figure out how “making the girl witness the decapitation of a goat” is in any way relevant to the child abuse charges.

    Animals die. In the case of edible livestock, humans kill them so that we can eat them. I ate venison at the age of 6 fully aware that my grandfather had gone into the woods, found a living deer, shot it dead, and brought the carcass home. Throughout history, farming families routinely butchered their own livestock, and it would be silly to insist that children never observed this process.

    • A.C. Fisher Aldag

      The 4-H program has a “carcass class” where animals raised by children are killed in a slaughterhouse, or by a licensed butcher, then the quality of the carcass is judged and ribbons are awarded. Most 4-Hers, and farm children in general, learn to slaughter chickens, rabbits, and larger animals for meat, and butcher them up (with help from adults, of course). Otherwise, we don’t eat. They realize that meat doesn’t come from the meat fairy, who magickally transports it to the grocery store or McDonald’s.

      And not only are the youth aware that Grandpa goes hunting, most are clamoring for their own gun safety lessons and wanting to go along to deer camp with the grown folks. It’s a rite of passage at about age 12.

      This incident in this article is another fine example of meddling social workers and the over-educated class, weaned on Disney movies, trying to insulate our children from reality, and assuming they know what’s best for our young folk… which is why so many American children are becoming so incompetent to function in the real world. Our ancestors had other rites of passage that would the delicate do-gooders quail in fear and quiver in indignation… having young men swim a river, taking a vision quest atop a hill or in the woods without food for three days, killing their own dinner and cooking it, ritual scarification, sweats, having young women assist with childbirth and preparing bodies for burial. Which is why the elder generations weren’t wimps.

      Oh, is my contempt for collegiates and city folk showing again? Did I just call them pansies? And am I implying that we aren’t doing our kids any favors by insulating them from real life?

      • Baruch Dreamstalker

        Of course young women assist at childbirth. Then they’ll know what’s going on when it’s their turn, and the next generation of midwives will be inspired. Probably been doing this since our skulls got inconveniently big for the purposes of childbirth.

        • Harmonyfb

          Of course young women assist at childbirth.

          My oldest daughter was present at the birth of both her siblings. And the oldest two children have helped their father clean and prepare animals for cooking.

          ::shrug:: Dunno where AC gets the notion that we don’t do these things.

      • Crystal Kendrick

        Yes, it’s definitely all the fault of educated people. What a nonsense conclusion to draw.

        • A.C. Fisher Aldag

          People in pre-industrialized societies, which do not emphasize book learning, but DO emphasize experience and survival, have no such bogus notions of coddling children.

          • Taelech

            Many of us collegate-types of people do not coddle our children. As a father who quit a six-figure job to stay at home with his two children (because my priorities are in order) I can say that between my two advanced degrees and my wife’s three, we are prepared to teach our kids what they need to know. My kids will be able to live on the land and adjust to the seasons. My wife and I are excellent shots with both rifles and shotguns (I am marginal with sidearms, she is better.) Granted, none of our degrees are MBAs or fill-in-the-blank Studies, but I do not think we are out of the ordinary with respect to our children.

      • Tara

        Why don’t you get off the internet and go skin a moose or something then.

        • A.C. Fisher Aldag

          Actually, in between working online and reading for pleasure online, I DO chop the wood we use for heat, load it into a furnace, slaughter my own chickens, and grow much of my own food. Taught my kids to do the same, despite protests from left-leaning cityfolk, Pagans amongst them, who complained that having a youngster do farm chores is “abuse” and “child labor”. And so yeah, I DO think that enculturating children to withstand a bit of pain, or to work, is valid — especially when I see these kids being functional and successful, and the children of those who complained turning out to be neurotic video-game junkies.

          • Anonymous

            This left-leaning, video-game-playing city girl approves of agricultural practice and hard work.

            That said, there’s a difference between teaching your youngsters to persevere when the going gets tough (at an appropriate age–there is a lower limit for these things!!) and the whole….cutting your kids thing. I sincerely hope you know the difference. ;)

      • Anonymous

        Hey now, I’m a collegiate. :P

        But yeah, while physically harming your child is a Bad Thing, there is nothing wrong with kids seeing an animal being butchered. They need to learn where their food comes from sooner or later.

        • Harmonyfb

          Those of us who grew up out in the country or in hunting/fishing families weren’t ‘traumatized’ by seeing animals killed and cleaned. Must be a city thing.

          • Anonymous

            “To those of you who hunt animals for food, shame on you. You should purchase the meat for sale in the supermarket, where no animals were harmed.” –Actual letter to the editor of a newspaper

            There’s this weird meme in a lot of urban areas where because it’s bad to inflict violence on people, or abuse pets, it must therefore be wrong to butcher animals so we can eat their meat. Not sure how that follows logically–there’s a HUGE difference between purposeless violence and cruelty, and responsibly harvesting plants and animals in order to survive.

      • Anonymous

        I AM “collegiate city folk.” Please don’t lump us all into the category of namby-pamby use-TV-and-Internet-to-raise-our-kids helicopter parents, because quite a lot of us aren’t.

  • info

    It might be normative from a cultural relativism perspective, but the child has natural rights, inalienable rights, that include bodily integrity, which supersede the society they happened to have been born into. Take your first example: circumcision. I don’t care how many cultures or religions advocate cutting off the end of a man’s penis, it is still a human rights violation. Before your knee jerks just switch the gender.

    • AnonGuest

      Suggesting circumcision equates with what gets dubbed “female circumcision” to make it sound less horrendous shows ignorance about both procedures and gives its advocates credibility they don’t deserve

      • http://www.facebook.com/people/Hugh-Intactive/100002216540067 Hugh Intactive

        Info didn’t suggest anything of the sort. Surgical female genital cutting was covered by Blue Cross Blue Shield until 1977 and legal until 1997. A US doctor called Rathman invented a device to do it, with a shield to protect the clitoris (http://www.circumstitions.com/methods.html#rathman – NSFW). In 2010 the AAP proposed to allow a token ritual nick to girls “much less extensive than neonatal male genital cutting” but was forced to back down in the face of a public backlash within a month. The distinction between MGC and FGC is a pure double standard. As info said, “just switch the gender”.

        • http://www.facebook.com/profile.php?id=1197543165 Eric Devries

          They don’t equate and their are loads of valid medical reasons to circumcize your son including the WHO study that shows circumcized males are 60% less likely to contract HIV. We’ve never had a conversation about it but if we did i’d pat my mom on the back and say thanks. Calling male circumcision mutilation is like calling abortion murder, you might feel strongly enough to convince yourself of it but it doesn’t make it so. Regardless, male circumcision is completely legal and since it is not the job of government to sort out who’s religion has more weight than whoms what matters in this case is simply this: Is it legal to cut religious icons into your kid? If it’s OK for one faith, it’s OK for all and Christians can cut bible verses or whatever into their children as well.

        • AnonGuest

          I think you should read what is/was a typical cutting procedure which caused the practice to be made illegal, rather than searching through the internet to go try to find a “nice guy’s” version of genital cutting which isn’t the traditional practice.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vjbeall Jim Beall

    My questions are, “Is this a normal age to conduct this ritual and was the child a willing participant?” I find it difficult to believe that a 4 year old would be willing. On the other hand, what about those religions that circumcise their children at birth…..like I was. No consent is given in those cases. And I would have said “Hell no.” Yet no one of the abrahamic religions are being charged. Seems like religious discrimination to me.

  • http://www.facebook.com/vjbeall Jim Beall

    I see the makings of a witch hunt.

  • http://www.google.com/ google

    Kanha is the best tracking and best sporty place in mp.there are many types of wild life are there.

  • http://twitter.com/LWMag LittleWitchMagazine

    Personally, I am against applying painful practices to children in the name of religion. If they can’t make an informed decision about it, leave them alone. Give them an amulet, do the ritual without them present, use a magic marker; whatever works.

    BUT, as long as our government allows circumcision, full body baptisms where children are physically held underwater and any other harming religious practice, they have no right what so ever to interfere here and lay blame.

  • A.C. Fisher Aldag

    For those of you who disputed “Vaccines CAN cause autism” (not ALL vaccines DO cause autism ALL the time, but vaccines CAN cause autism)

    Jury’s still out:

    http://www.cbsnews.com/8301-31727_162-20049118-10391695.html CBS news reports a study that surveys various conditions by a scientist.

    and

    http://www.amazon.com/Callous-Disregard-Autism-Vaccines-Tragedy/dp/1616081694 Read the latest edition of this book (this is an older version).

    It’s a crapshoot. Is it a good batch of vaccine? Is the child predisposed? Is the administering agency or health clinic competent? Does the risk outweigh the benefit?