Pagan Burials & Animal Sacrifice Arrests

Jason Pitzl-Waters —  May 16, 2009 — 2 Comments

Four recent news reports tie into two larger stories, the first is the issue of Pagan burial space, a matter that will become more prominent as the Baby Boomers travel further into their retirement years. There are already dedicated spaces in Wisconsin and Washington in America, and an Asatru-dedicated space in Denmark. Now we can add at least two more, an Asatru space in Norway, and a Pagan-inclusive interfaith woodland burial park in the UK.

“Leaders of 11 faiths travelled to Beaconsfield to dedicate the largest woodland burial park in the country yesterday. Set in ancient woodlands off the A40, the £3.2 million Chilterns Woodland Burial Park at Potkiln Lane opened in October and so far around 40 people are buried there. By the time it is full around 2000 people will have been laid to rest there, as part of a growing trend away from traditional funerals. The service was opened by Bishop of Buckinghamshire Rev Allan Wilson who said he was struck by how much nicer it would be to attend a service in a woodland setting than in a crematorium “with terylene curtains.”  Also speaking were Father Francis Higgins of St Teresa’s Church Beaconsfield and Professor Ann Floyd of Jordans Quakers, along with a Rabbi from Harlow, a Hindu leader from Watford, a Pagan, a humanist, a Buddhist, and a Reverend from the Interfaith Ministry…”

This is certainly one of the better manifestations of interfaith efforts, it’s nice to see Pagans included in the dedication, moving away from the idea that the earth can only be hallowed by a certain faith (or that the earth needs “hallowing” at all). Of course this is just a start, two small spaces in America and one in the UK won’t be sufficient if a large percentage of modern Pagans end up wanting to be buried in a dedicated Pagan cemetery, and there are still many obstacles for those who want to engage in rituals and practices that are frowned upon by an overwhelmingly Judeo-Christian funeral industry. Still, this is a step in the right direction. No doubt as the Pagan community grows in size and influence, so too will the issue of Pagan (or Pagan-friendly) burial gain more attention.

Turning away from the issue of human mortality, we tackle the ongoing issue of animal sacrifice. While the Supreme Court ruled the animal sacrifice is indeed legal, court battles are still raging over what limits local governments can place on the activity. Meanwhile, in the resulting legal gray area, cops continue to arrest practitioners of Santeria, Vodou, and other faiths the practice animal sacrifice on grounds of “animal cruelty”. Recently police in Los Angeles, acting on an “anonymous tip”, arrested a man for animal cruelty, only to see the local DA drop the charges due to lack of evidence.

“Prosecutors dropped animal cruelty charges Thursday against a man who was sacrificing animals in his Lawndale home for religious purposes. However, the case against Rafael Giralt was dismissed not for any kind of freedom of religion issues, said Deputy District Attorney Paul Guthrie. “At some point we would have to prove that the animals suffered needlessly or excessively,” Guthrie said. “We didn’t have the proof.” Giralt, 58, was about to go to trial in Torrance Superior Court when the case was withdrawn.”

Then, two women were arrested in the Bay Area for animal cruelty.

“Two Bay Area women were arrested Thursday afternoon for felony animal cruelty in connection with the killing of four chickens in the Mill Valley area, Marin County Sheriff’s Office officials said.”

Of course police have no idea if the animals were actually slaughtered cruelly, and they too will no doubt see charges dropped or reduced once the matter comes to trial. Still the spectre of a possible three years in prison for engaging in what might have been a sacred rite is certainly chilling. The problem is that until a definitive SCOTUS decision absolutely declares that animal sacrifice is a protected religious activity (the previous SCOTUS ruling only said that Florida’s law unfairly suppressed a single group instead of being a neutral application for all) we will continue to see arrests and lower-court battles over the issue. Once legality is firmly established, we can start to have a sane set of regulations and guidelines for those who want to engage in animal sacrifice, avoiding (mostly) bogus arrests prompted by adversarial neighbors, prejudicial laws from biased city councils, and cops treating adherents of Santeria like terrorists.

Jason Pitzl-Waters