A string of nine severed goat heads found in northwest Florida has some pointing the finger at a “dark branch” of Santeria.
“[Dee] Thompson [director of animal services for PAWS] said those involved in the investigation have discovered a possible link between the killings and Palo Mayombe, a dark branch of the Afro-Cuban religion Santeria, whose rituals call for animal sacrifice. “It’s the closest thing that I’ve been able to find to what’s been going on,” she said. For example, separating the animal’s head from its body is in line with the Palo Mayombe belief that the body is not sacred.”
While five paragraphs were devoted to the spooky Palo Mayombe angle, only one paragraph entertained a different scenario.
“Other than the Palo Mayombe angle, Thompson said investigators also have talked to people who raise and sell pygmy goats. She said they did receive a tip from a caller who said three teenagers between the ages of 18 and 24 came into a feed store in Panama City Beach to find out where they could purchase pygmy goats.”
The “three teenagers” angle isn’t mentioned again in an update, but more seemingly ritualistic details were released to the press.
“There are striking similarities about eight of the nine goats found were such that Thompson said she can link them to one person or group. However, investigators are keeping those similarities to themselves. However, there is one link that’s been publicized: Most of the goats were found with cut leaves and twigs arranged in their mouths.”
Leaves and twigs! It must be the dark path of Palo Mayombe! Who else could do such a thing! Who else? How about a group of disturbed teens getting their kicks?
“…rumors are surfacing of Santeria and Palo Mayombe involvement in the beheadings. “It is far more likely, even in Florida, that such activity is caused by teenagers looking for thrills or some disturbed individual, than from any Afro-diasporic religious activity,” Dr. Eoghan C. Ballard, an expert on Afro-diasporic studies, said in an e-mail. Ballard said that “paleros,” or Congo priests, are very discreet in their practices and prefer not to call attention to themselves. Authentic Palo practices require little in the way of sacrifice. Most sacrifices are used for celebratory meals. “From my experience, both in the U.S. and in Cuba, there are no discernable reasons for a Palero to leave a decapitated goat head on a city street,” Ballard said.”
But, but, what about that “dark branch”! It’s, like, dark! Plus, we totally know that practitioners of Santeria sacrifice animals, and the goats had LEAVES in their mouths, so it must be dark magic, right?
“Ballard dispelled theories suggesting Santeria or Palo spells. He said when paleros use spells that require an item to be placed somewhere, it is usually small, inconspicuous and intentionally unidentifiable. As for the azaleas and plants that have been found in the animals’ mouths, Ballard said azaleas have no specific meaning in Palo, although goats or rams are often given straw or grass to eat before they are sacrificed. “I suspect this is either a game someone is playing, or the work of another disturbed individual,” Ballard said. ‘There’s nothing in Palo that would justify doing this.'”
That fact that members of Afro-Caribbean faiths sacrifice animals has been sensationalized beyond all sense and reason, often with people who have never attended a ritual (or even met a Santero or Palero) passing cursory judgment on them. Local governments have banned their rituals, and police have harassed them for engaging in legal behavior. Every time a dead animal shows up in a public space in Texas or Florida, a leery eye turns their way, and “not in our backyard”-isms run rampant. The unspoken accusation: we know you did this, even if we can’t prove it.
It seems to me, and this is just an opinion, but practitioners of Santeria and other Afro-Caribbean faiths are going through something very like the “Satanic Panics” of the 1980s. Just as Pagans were getting big enough to be noticed, all sorts of nasty rumors started appearing. That we worshiped Satan, that once you were “elevated” through the ranks you learned the REAL TRUTH of our nefarious ways. That we performed blood sacrifices, held orgies, peddled drugs, and on, and on.
We were there, where our theological “cousins” in Santeria, Vodou, and other Afro-Caribbean faiths are now. We don’t have to personally approve of animal sacrifice to see that their faiths are being unfairly maligned, discriminated against, and sensationalized by the media. The least we can do now is stand up and say, these people have a right to their religion, and a right to practice it freely within the law. They have a right to fair and equal treatment, and should be defended from unfounded accusations and rumor-mongering in the press. These men and women are our natural allies in fighting for the rights of minority religions, and we should be ready to stand by them.