The village of Bramshaw has been witness to ‘occult markings’ spray-painted on the church door and a sheep was stabbed, daubed with purple and green pentagrams and left in a local field. A heifer and two calves were also stabbed and are currently in the care of local vets.
This is not the first set of attacks on animals in the New Forest this year. In October, a horse was found stabbed to death in a field in Walkford Lane, Walkford, near Christchurch.
Throughout the region, animals are owned by local farmers but are allowed to wander freely, particularly the New Forest’s famous community of ponies in addition to cattle and sheep. Thus, gaining access to animals is not difficult and much of the area consists of woodland or open scrub. Although there are villages, towns and isolated houses throughout the New Forest, much of it is still secluded and, at night, badly lit.
Because of the symbology used, the recent incidents have given rise to local concerns about a ‘Satanic cult.’ The ‘occult markings’ in question were the number 666 and an inverted cross.
The sheep were discovered by dog-walker Judy Rudd, who is reported as saying “It was very unpleasant – some people think it’s sinister.”
Her husband says: “I think it’s reasonable to say it’s not just lads messing about. It’s unnerving – we’ve lived here for 40 years and there’s been nothing like this before. It’s related to something other than simply a desire to injure animals – it’s either witchcraft or whatever. It’s rather worrying.”
A farmer from Bramshaw, whose cow was knifed and needed veterinary treatment, added: “I’m very concerned for the welfare of the animals and the people out there in the forest. It’s quite scary to know somebody is going around doing this. Why injure and kill animals and put symbols on them?”
Tony Hockley, a resident and the chairman of the New Forest Commoners Defence Association (CDA), has expressed concerns regarding these incidents to the wider community, pointing out to The Independent that this is a relatively small rural community.
“Any harm to New Forest livestock hurts everyone. We all depend upon the vocational commitment of 700 local people to turn livestock out to graze the landscape. Most have just a few animals, and there are only 200 sheep in the whole of the New Forest. It is devastating to lose one in this way, and it is the sort of thing that will make commoners give up. If the grazing goes then the accessibility, culture and biodiversity go too,” Hockley said.
The vicar of St Peter’s, the Rev David Bacon, said that the incidents, which occurred between November 16 and 20, could be a result of witchcraft or black magic. “It could just be kids but I don’t think it is, given the context. There’s been witchcraft round here for hundreds of years – the New Forest is well known for witchcraft and black magic and this has obviously gone up a level.”
People who are not conversant with the practices of contemporary Paganism cannot necessarily be expected to draw a distinction between the way in which this spiritual path is often misrepresented in the media, and how it takes shape in real life, which is why the educational efforts of organizations such as the Pagan Federation must continue to push back against inaccurate and potentially damaging stereotypes.
The New Forest is, indeed, known for its history of witchcraft. Gerald Gardner founded modern Wicca here, claiming that he had based it on the practices of older covens, and New Forest villages such as Burleigh are now known for the number of Witchcraft shops and Witch-themed businesses. Tony Hockley of the CDA comments upon this but says, “The New Forest, like many rural areas, has a historical association with Witchcraft so that draws some people and some of the local shops trade on that but it’s normally more about fairies.”
As readers of The Wild Hunt will obviously be aware, Wicca does not undertake animal sacrifice. Moreover, Satanic groups in the UK tend to be largely urban and revolve around political activism rather than any form of religious practice. Both groups are opposed to this kind of cruelty and vandalism, and Pagans obviously do not use symbols such as inverted crosses, although they do use pentacles and pentagrams. However – as is not uncommon in these cases – the local Pagan community and Satanic activist groups risk being associated with this criminal activity.
Simon Wood, from the New Forest clan Pagans of Ytene and a former member of the PPA before retiring from policing in 2016, said: “There are lots of clans in the New Forest but discrimination against Pagans is still widespread.”
The pagan community of the New Forest have expressed dismay and revulsion regarding the recent attacks, and have called upon the assistance of the Police Pagan Federation, part of whose remit is to work with local law forces and endeavor to provide accurate information about Pagan practices.
Comments by the general public beneath an article on the animal attacks in the Bournemouth Echo showed some awareness of the difference between Witchcraft, Wicca and Satanism, with, in addition, an emerging consensus that the animal attacks and vandalism are more likely to have been carried out by someone who has no particular spiritual affiliation and who is simply criminally minded or unwell.
The Hampshire police have asked for anyone who might have information to contact them directly.
The Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (RSPCA) has also requested that anyone who has information should come forward. Sergeant Andy Williams, of Hampshire Constabulary’s Country Watch team, says, “If you have any information that could help our enquiries, then please call 101, quoting the crime reference number 44190416137.”