Archives For Angela Sanford

There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

Design by Jeff Leiboff.

Design by Jeff Leiboff.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

  • Angela Sanford, a Wiccan who killed Joel Leyva in what some media described as a ritualistic sacrifice, has had a request for a reduced sentence denied. Sanford has been sentenced to 20 years under a plea agreement, her story was recently dramatized on the show Fatal Encounters.
  • The Pagan community has been in the process of having a debate/discussion over the issue of obesity. It started with a post by Peter Dybing, and has been raging ever since. Notable responses have come from Star Foster,  Iris Firemoon, and  Kitsune Yokai at the Fat Pagan blog, with Margot Adler, Crystal Blanton, and Shauna Aura adding their voices in the comments of Peter’s blog. The most recent commentary on the question of health and obesity comes from T. Thorn Coyle: “There is some real dialogue, some hurt feelings, some anger, and some derision. Bottom line is this: we all have ways in which we do not walk our talk. Bottom line is this: we cannot know what another’s life looks like on the inside, by observing it from the outside.” As this conversation  no doubt continues, I hope we can steer clear of judging bodies, and instead focus on building a more supportive community for everyone.
  • At The Revealer, Alex Thurston writes about syncretism in Islam within the context of Mali and the destruction of Sufi shrines. Quote: “The alternative – and the greatest challenge to Ansar al Din’s program – is not to assert Islamists’ hidden love for the things they say they hate, but to assert the reality, the desirability, and the possibility that there is more than one way to be a real Muslim. Timbuktu in 2012 is not Mecca in 630. African Muslims are Muslims, full stop. And the loss of shrines in Timbuktu is a loss not only for world civilization and for locals, but also for Islam.”
  • PNC-Minnesota recently published two interviews, one with M. Macha NightMare, and one with Lady Yeshe Rabbit, who will be appearing at Sacred Harvest Fest. Quote: “I am bringing an open mind. I am interested in learning and sampling from you all the regional flavors of your community. I am bringing my own classes and rituals that I will be leading. One is a project that has been dear to my consciousness, called American Sabbats. It is looking at the secular, bank holidays of this country and their history, and the amount of energy that is generated within them. How the energy of those holidays, which many of us celebrate in addition to our Pagan holidays,  might be channeled toward the greater good of our country. There are many changes needed in our country in order to be healthy. I am curious to go and sample what the opinions and thoughts are of all of you who have a unique experience of America from your vantage point in the Midwest.”
  •  The US Dept. of Justice is supporting Native American inmates in their quest to have a South Dakota ban on using tobacco in religious ceremonies lifted. You can read the DOJ’s supporting brief, here.
  • Nicholas Campion, author of “Astrology and Cosmology in the World’s Religions,” shares an excerpt of his book at HuffPo’s religion section. Quote: “The ancient zodiac signs survive in the modern West because, uniquely, in an age of aggressive consumerism, media-overload and scientific materialism, they encourage people to reflect on themselves and their inner worlds; their hopes, fears and secret motivations. In mass culture, astrology replaces the remote scientific language of relativity and light-years with stories of love and luck. In an era when we are now aware that we live on an insignificant planet on the edge of a minor galaxy, astrology restores each individual to the center of their own cosmos. According to its practitioners it provides a sense of personal meaning and purpose and, sometimes, a guide to action. Both astrology’s advocates and its critics find rare agreement on this point. This has nothing to do with the truth of astrology’s claims, but it does explain its survival in the 21st century.”

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

Through 2010, and into the beginning of 2011, I covered the case of Angela Sanford, a Wiccan who killed Joel Leyva in what some media described as a ritualistic sacrifice. While Sanford initially said the killing was in self-defense after Leyva tried to rape her, that story started to unravel when evidence surfaced that the violent encounter may have been premeditated. Ultimately, Sanford plead no contest to second-degree murder, and was sentenced to 20 years in prison. Now, the story is being dramatized for the show Fatal Encounters on the Investigation Discovery (ID) cable network, and local press are worried that ID may be stretching the truth to make good TV.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Levya.

Actors portraying Angela Sanford and Joel Leyva.

“A mysterious Albuquerque murder that may have been a sacrifice is about to be featured on a national TV show. But did the show stretch the truth in the murder of Joel Leyva? […] Leyva and Angela Sanford met at the Downs Casino a few days before his murder. No one knows what the two talked about but the show tries to fill in the blanks.  “It’s believed the conversation soon takes an unexpected turn when Angela tells Joel that she is a practicing Wiccan,” the shows announcer said.”

However, according to KASA reporter Alex Tomlin, sources say Leyva was never informed about Sanford’s religion, and that their arranged meeting was about sex, not a chaste and friendly hike as the program portrays it. Leyva, in the preview clip, is portrayed as something close to a Christian minister who loved the outdoors and doted on his children. The only interview shown is with Leyva’s brother, who reinforces that image. But all reports from the time center on sex, the only real question was if it was consensual or not. That Mr. Leyva may have allegedly wanted to hook up with Sanford doesn’t in any way excuse his murder, but I find it problematic that the show is already traveling down the road of whitewashing the narrative to make it more dramatic. It makes one wonder what other facts or standing assumptions from the investigation they will play fast-and-loose with.

The problem with the Angela Sanford case is that nobody really knows, except for Sanford herself, the truth of that day. Considering the mental state of Sanford, that she stabbed him repeatedly, was a rape survivor who had a phobia about men according to one ex-boyfriend, and listed Leyva as a “sacrifice” on her phone, even she may not know the truth of that time. Also concerning is how Sanford’s religion will be worked into the narrative. The Fatal Encounters site links to a an explanation of “white magic or Wicca” from one of their supernatural-themed programs that sounds like it was written in the 1970s.

“Christianity tolerated the old pagan ways for hundreds of years, and it was not seen as something evil, but just another type of faith. During the Middle Ages, the church began to turn against the pagan faith and the word “witch” became a derogatory term. If a child died, if an animal became ill or if crops failed, the local witch was blamed. Witches were accused of devil worship and black magic, and thousands of people, mostly women, were tried for witchcraft. Many confessed under torture and were hanged or burned at the stake.

The first Witchcraft Act was passed in England in 1542 and wasn’t repealed until 1951. Today Wicca is described as a neo-pagan religion, and white witches observe the old religion of the Earth Mother and Sky Father. They believe that the power of magic comes from focusing their attention and suggest that spirits can intervene with their consciousness. There is no central authority and witches, male and female, sometimes belong to a coven, but can worship alone.”

This does not fill me with confidence. Will they portray Sanford as a fallen or corrupted “white Witch,” and the murder as a ritualistic sacrifice? What experts on the religion did they interview? Will they explore the fact that some local Pagans doubted that Sanford was Wiccan at allI suppose we’ll have to wait until April 30th when the program airs to find out.

Programs like these can create damaging narratives in search of a “thrilling” murder story, upping the contrasts and the drama for the viewer’s entertainment, until the true events are obscured even further. I hope that isn’t the case here, because the last thing our community needs is people thinking that “Wiccan sacrifices,” just like the ones recently dreamed up by Catholic columnist Christina Odone, are real, and not simply the sad result of an unbalanced mind.

Just a few quick news notes for you on this Saturday.

Wiccan Murderer Sentenced: The sensationalism-drenched case of Angela Sanford, a Wiccan who killed Joel Levya in what some media described as a ritualistic sacrifice, has finally come to an end.  Sanford plead no contest to second-degree murder in August, and was today sentenced to 20 years in prison.

“Angela Sanford was sentenced to 20 years in prison on Friday for her connection to the death of Joel Leyva back in March 2010. Sanford, 31, said she was afraid Leyva, 52, would rape her so she convinced him to have sex with her and then she later stabbed him in the head, neck and stomach a total of 13 times.”

Sanford originally said the killing was in self-defense against an attempted rape, but that story soon unraveled as the details didn’t fit, and her cell phone listed Levya’s number under “sacrifice.” What really sparked Sanford to violently murder this man still remains unknown.

Wiccan Teen Attacked: A New Mexico teen made the local news when a fellow student attacked him with pine-cones after he stated his desire to become Wiccan.

“Officers were dispatched to the Aggie Express on Monday at 4:20 p.m., where the alleged victim, 14, said he had gotten off the school bus and was talking to another boy about a book he had, “Protecting Your Teen from Today’s Witchcraft: A Parent’s Guide to Confronting Wicca and the Occult.” The alleged victim said he “recently has chosen to change religions to Wicca and the book was given to his dad by a friend of his dad’s,” according to the police report. After the second boy looked at the book briefly, he allegedly threw the book, called it “satanic” “and then picked up pine cones and started to throw them” at the complainant, who reported being hit several times in the arms.”

So why was this seemingly random bullying event covered by the local news, it seems because a man was sentenced to 4 days of prison and a year of probation for throwing a pine cone at a police officer this past Summer. In any case, this is a perfect example of how anti-Pagan propaganda gets distributed, and how Pagan/Wiccan teens can face harassment for their choices.

Lighting Up Stonehenge: English Heritage and Druid leader King Arthur Pendragon (no, not that Arthur Pendragon) are often at odds over the proper way to preserve Stonehenge, but they agree on one thing, lighting up the prehistoric monument would be a bad idea.

Senior Druid, King Arthur Pendragon, said it would “detract from the very purpose of Stonehenge”. English Heritage, which manages the site, said it could be a distraction for nearby traffic. […]  “It’s not designed to be illuminated at night and in my opinion it smacks of theme park Stonehenge which is everything I stand against.”

Meanwhile, archaeologists now think the site could have been a place for “sun worship” well before the stones were erected. Oh, and the Olympic torch will pass by the site.

That’s all I have for the moment, have a great day!


There are lots of articles and essays of interest to modern Pagans out there, sometimes more than I can write about in-depth in any given week. So The Wild Hunt must unleash the hounds in order to round them all up.

That’s it for now! Feel free to discuss any of these links in the comments, some of these I may expand into longer posts as needed.

A new development in the Angela Sanford case, a Wiccan who claims to have killed  Joel Leyva in self-defense during a Spring ritual gone awry, seems to point to the murder being premeditated.

A self-described Wiccan had a man’s phone number programmed in her cell phone under the word “sacrifice” before she stabbed him to death, then claimed he had tried to rape her, authorities said Thursday. Angela Sanford, 30, is accused of killing 52-year-old Joel Leyba last month with a dagger after inviting him to join her in a Wiccan celebration of spring near a popular hiking trail east of Albuquerque. “It makes us absolutely confident there was something more here than her claims of self-defense,” said Patrick Davis, a spokesman for the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office.”

This is a pretty damning revelation, and one that would erase any claims of self-defense or even a temporary trauma-related psychotic break. There has been no comment from Sanford’s court-appointed defense team.

While the local Albuquerque Pagan community say that Sanford was all but unknown to them, and have been working to educate the local police about Pagan faiths,  this will surely prompt a new firestorm of sensationalist press, and opportunistic editorials from folks like Chuck Colson wanting to prove that polytheistic faiths are inherently, violently, sacrifice-oriented. You can also bet the network of “occult experts” who talk to law enforcement officials will be having a field day with this.

The important thing right now is to let the legal process move forward, assist law enforcement when they ask for information, and not rise to the temptation of engaging in any public speculation to the press as to why this murder was committed. We don’t know Sanford’s mental state, we aren’t sure what she actually believes, if she believes in anything at all, and we have no idea what actually transpired on the day of the killing.

What we can do if the press comes calling is to state that no modern Pagan faith teaches or condones premeditated or ritual murder, that we have no information as to what Sanford’s belief system was, and we aren’t willing to offer conjecture as to why she felt the need, if true, to “sacrifice” Joel Leyva. Anything else will simply muddy the waters and provide ammunition for those wanting to turn this into a “Wiccan killing”.

You can read all my previous coverage of this story, here.

On Tuesday I was complaining that police officials and local media seemed to be ignoring the voices of the Pagan community in the case of Angela Sanford, an Albuquerque resident who used her ritual blade (athame) to kill Joel Leyva, allegedly in self-defense after an attempted sexual assault. Well, that’s all changed, local television station KRQE interviews Wiccan Linda Owl, and she isn’t happy.

“That excuse is not sitting well with other Wiccans. Linda Owl, a local practicing Wiccan, said Sanford is using the Wiccan religion as an excuse for her actions on Monday. Owl says a Wiccan would never use a ritual dagger as a weapon. “A dagger like this,” Owl told News 13 as she held her own 12-inch long dagger. “Would be blessed and cleansed in rituals and (to use it as a weapon) it would be so wrong.” Wiccans, according to Owl, place heavy symbolism on items like candles and necklaces. None of those items were part of Sanford’s ritual.”

I don’t know about you, but if I felt truly threatened, I’d be tempted to use a consecrated blade in my defense. I also find it problematic that Ms. Owl is taking the “she was doing it wrong” defense, especially considering the wide variety of eclectic practice in modern Wicca. Still, at least the press is talking to local Pagans. Meanwhile, APD Chief Ray Schultz, recovering from his “solstice” gaffe, has been inundated with calls from Wiccans, and is clarifying his department’s stance on Sanford’s religion.

“Albuquerque Police Chief Ray Schultz said his detectives are trying learn more about the religion Sanford claims to practice. “Our detectives are trying to educate themselves and I know we have some community members of the Wiccan [practice] who have offered to share information with us about what the religion is and is not,” said Schultz. Schultz said he’s getting a lot of e-mails and phone calls from the Wiccan community in New Mexico and across the country stressing that murder and violence are not part of their beliefs.Schultz said Sanford’s Wiccan connections are not confirmed.”We’ve been very clear from the beginning [that] the offender, Ms. Sanford, is a self-proclaimed Wiccan. We’ve never said we’ve been able to directly link her to any Wiccan society. That’s just her telling us that,” Schultz said.”

Let it not be said that speaking up doesn’t work. The tone of the religion angle to this story has completely changed in the course of 48 hours, and may very well affect how this case is prosecuted.

Here in the comments section of The Wild Hunt, a local Albuquerque Pagan has come forward to give some insight into how the community has been reacting to this situation, and also noting that Sanford is “unknown” to the larger community.

“There is doubt in the local community that this person is Wiccan, not only because this incident happened at all, but also because it involved a (in the great words of the Abq Journal again) “Wicca ceremonial dagger” [sic] and she said the holiday was Beltane. For whatever its worth (which may not be much), the suspect is unknown in the larger local pagan community.”

Also of note is that an alleged former boyfriend of Sanford’s has come forward saying that there is no way she could have murdered Leyva in cold blood.

“Angela was my ex girlfriend. She did not murder him. It had to be self defense. She had a phobia about men after being raped. I went to that area where she stabbed that guy with her many times. She is not that kind of person. She raised her daughter and her nephew. That guy had to of done something to her to cause her to do such a thing.”

It should be noted that no one really knows what happened between Sanford and Leyva, and despite the inconsistencies in Sanford’s story, it very well could be a case of self-defense, or at least a trauma-related break from reality. Either scenario could explain the discrepancies between the collected evidence and her statement to police. So let’s remember that she’s innocent until proven guilty, and not be too quick to pass judgment from incomplete press reports and police statements. Let’s keep our criticisms to how the press and law enforcement are handling this case, and not focus overmuch on if Sanford was being ritually correct, or using the proper terminology.

A bizarre murder case is making headlines in Albuquerque, New Mexico, and at the center of it is a Wiccan and her ceremonial blade. 30-year-old Angela Sanford is being charged with the murder of Joel Leyva, a killing that Sanford claims was in self-defense after Leyva attempted to sexually assault her, but police say her story doesn’t add up.

“When Leyva arrived, the two walked from the Copper Avenue trailhead into the open space where they drank some beer and a miniature of Tequila. It was then that Sanford said she had to use the restroom and Leyva asked if he could watch. While she was using the restroom, Leyva removed a rope belt from her waist and tied her up. He also removed a dagger she had in her back pocket. Sanford said the dagger is used in Wiccan rituals and also told investigators she convinced Leyva to untie her as she wanted both of them to get undressed. When they did, she got on top of Leyva and stabbed him with her dagger. In her version to police, she said she only stabbed him about three times, but investigators reported finding as many as 13 stab wounds to Leyva’s head and torso. Sanford said she later told witnesses that she was raped and needed them to call police. Witnesses later stated that when they found Sanford she was only wearing her underwear. The investigation by police later proved that the story of rape was false. Sanford is being held on a $500,000 cash or surety bond.”

Both local new sources and the Associated Press have made note of her MySpace profile, though thankfully neither have tried to make any guesses about her mental status from the postings there. What is troubling is that local police are trying to see if there’s a Wiccan angle to this killing.

“Doing some research into this case, this is a time of Wiccan holiday being the solstice, and we’re still in the process of determining whether or not that had anything to do with this particular homicide case occurring,” [APD Chief Ray] Schultz said.

Let’s just hope that they turn to an actual scholar in modern Paganism, or a local leader in the Pagan community, instead of calling in some sham “occult expert” to give context to the religious elements in this case.  As for the journalistic coverage so far, it’s been pretty sensationalist and terrible. KRQE seems to be reading up on the religion from, home of the infamous Gavin & Yvonne Frost’s Church and School of Wicca, they initially referred to the murder as a possible “ritual killing” (since taken down), and nobody has seemed to talk to an actual Wiccan or Pagan yet for some perspective and insight.

Hopefully these problems will be addressed in future coverage of this case, and the issue of Sanford’s religion, both in the press and in legal proceedings, is separated from the question of if this murder was committed in self-defense or not.