Archives For Is it Santeria?

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.

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.

I’ve reported on this again and again; a dead animal (or animal part) turns up and local officials cry “Santeria”. This is despite the fact that academics, experts, and even officials within the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals say that this usually isn’t the case.

“According to experts, like local anthropologist and folklorist Dr. Eoghan Ballard, and Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of anti-cruelty services for the American SPCA, sacrificial remains found in parks, especially those adorned with talismans like candles or pennies, are most often the work of religious novices, teens or satanic dabblers.”

So I wasn’t particularly surprised  to see this article from The Journal News in New York’s Lower Hudson Valley about animal heads turning up in a local park.

While no direct link between the two macabre discoveries has been made, investigators said the incidents were the latest in the Lower Hudson Valley linked to ritualistic practices, such as Santeria, an Afro-Caribbean religion that often uses animals for ceremonial sacrifices. “Something like this, from what we’ve seen, is pretty close to Santeria,” said Kenneth Ross, the law enforcement chief for the Westchester Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, which is investigating the New Rochelle incidents. “What we’re finding is the ritual here looks like it has to do with the blood or sacrifice to a god,” he said.

The statements by the local SPCA head aren’t that unusual, we’ve seen them before from various law enforcement and animal welfare officers. Nor is the article from The Journal News all that bad, it even goes to the trouble of contacting Miguel De La Torre, a theology professor and all-around go-to guy for debunking Santeria scares. What stood out for me, and made me want to write about it, was this secondary quote from Kenneth Ross of the WSPCA.

“I think what happens is you have different cultures coming into the United States, and when the cultures come in they bring their traditions and they bring whatever they practice,” said Ross, the SPCA police chief. “If you look back in the ’70s … Satanism was the big thing and everybody was dabbling in Satanism. I’m sure it happens and that’s how different sects are created within Santeria,” Ross said. “But I don’t know if it’s the dabblers or is it just the influx of different nationalities that bring their own traditions?” the SPCA police chief added.

Everyone was dabbling in Satanism? Now folks are dabbling in Santeria and creating “different sects”? Or maybe it’s the “influx of different nationalities”? This sort of open conjecture is troubling. First off, I’m concerned when law enforcement agents of any nature start talking about Satanism. For instance, the case of a Humane Society Police Officer, and member of the Lycoming County SPCA, who intimidated a local Satanist and told him that practitioners of his religion sacrifice animals. Add in the not-too-distant “training” many officials received concerning “Satanic crime”, and you end up with officials who may hold dangerous preconceived notions about what’s going on in someone’s house if they are “Satanic”. Secondly, for the last few years there’s been an increasingly ugly dimension to some Santeria stories that point towards anti-immigration hostility, and have even led to what some have called racial profiling.

“Capt. Richard Conklin of the Stamford Detective Bureau said Wednesday that police are targeting people of African, Central American, Haitian, Cuban or Caribbean decent who practice satanic rituals as potential suspects in the grave robbing. “We’re starting to look at this as a ritualistic-type incident,” said Conklin … Conklin said evidence recovered at the grave site and in New Jersey indicate the body was taken for ritualistic reasons. For fear of compromising the investigation, he would not go into specifics …”

In many of these cases I’ve covered the terms “Satanic” and “Santeria” are used interchangeably by journalists and law enforcement officials.  Though both camps are quick to cover their rears with a quick statement that it could just be “vandals”, in case it turns out to be, you know, vandals.

“Still, police note that graffiti and other vandalism — and even more graphic discoveries such as those in New Rochelle this month — could always have another explanation: They could just be the work of vandals.

But how many casual readers are paying attention to the small disclaimer? How much fear and animus towards innocent practitioners of Santeria, and other African diasporic faiths, is being generated by this stream of “dead animal” stories? Why do we almost never see the follow-up stories where it turns out to not be Santeria? I keep insisting we have to on the lookout for the development of new moral panics in our society, are we seeing a “Santeria Panic” in the works? Fueled by sensationalism, ignorance, fear, and increasingly desperate occult “experts” grasping to the last straws of their relevance? Whether a moral panic ensues or not, what is clear is that journalists and law enforcement/animal control don’t seem to care if they all but blame Santeria and turn out to be wrong later.

Is it Santeria?

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  October 22, 2010 — 20 Comments

Once again, it’s time to play that game beloved by journalists, animal control officers, and law enforcement officials: Is it Santeria? That’s right, we present some suspicious evidence and allow you to decide if it was an act perpetrated by that oft-misunderstood Afro-Caribbean syncretic faith, or if it was simply some disturbed teenagers playing with dead animals. Our first case comes from Miami, home to many Santeros and Santeras, where a trail of headless animals was found in a local neighborhood.

“About a dozen goats, cats and different types of birds were laid out on nearly two blocks between 16th Terrace and 15th Terrace on 34th Avenue in Miami, leaving residents scared at what might be next as Halloween approaches … Miami Police believe the dead animals might have been part of a religious ritual like a Santeria, but those don’t usually involve cats. There was also a “very large” animal that no one could identify, residents said.”

Is it Santeria? There’s a clue right there in the paragraph! Did you catch it?  But those don’t usually involve cats”, you see, adherents to Santeria usually cook and eat the animals they sacrifice, and it would be highly uncharacteristic of them to sacrifice dogs, cats, or other household pets. Even more uncharacteristic of authentic Santeria is the following fact in the report: “it seemed like the animals had been dead for some time.” Santeros and Santeras usually don’t hold on to piles of moldering animal corpses and then spread them around local neighborhoods. So if you guessed “probably not Santeria” then you’re right!

Our next case is a tough one! Because it doesn’t involve animals at all, it involves human hearts!

The worker was in an isolated part of the Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery on Oct. 12 when he spotted the tops of two jars sticking out of the ground and knelt down to take a closer look, said Colma police Cmdr. Jon Read. He pulled one of the jars from the dirt, saw what was in it, and then he called Colma police. Police opened up one jar and found a human heart with the photo of a young man and woman pinned to it. Nearby there was a second jar with the same contents, but bearing a photo of a different young man and woman. Officers also found partially burned cigars and candles, Read said. The San Mateo County coroner’s preliminary investigation shows the hearts contain embalming fluid and likely come from dead bodies … “The investigation appears to lean toward some kind of ritual involving Santeria,” Read said. Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion that melds Catholicism with traditional African religious beliefs.

So we have what is obviously a ritual act, but human hearts? It sounds like whomever did it had access to a funeral home or other business that prepares dead bodies. How about we turn to our panel of expert judges to help out the audience?

Two experts on the religion say otherwise. They said it is unlikely that the hearts were buried by people practicing Santeria, because the faith does not call for human organs to be used in rituals. “I would be totally shocked if it was related to Santeria or Voodoo,” said Miguel De La Torre, a professor at Iliff Divinity School in Denver. “If it is connected to Santeria it would be by people who don’t know what they are doing.” Police say the investigation is ongoing, and they haven’t ruled out the whole thing could just be a prank.

So it doesn’t look like it’s likely to be Santeria, even the Santeria-happy police say it could be a prank, sorry to those of you who were sure they had sure thing!  That’s all we have time for this week, and remember, just because you find a dead animal or a strange looking ritualistic item, it doesn’t mean that you’ve found the handiwork of a Santeria practitioner.

Just as the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals says:

“According to experts, like local anthropologist and folklorist Dr. Eoghan Ballard, and Dr. Randall Lockwood, senior vice president of anti-cruelty services for the American SPCA, sacrificial remains found in parks, especially those adorned with talismans like candles or pennies, are most often the work of religious novices, teens or satanic dabblers.”

So don’t confuse a dabbler with a Santero, and we’ll join you next time for Is It Santeria!