Shortly after a pony was killed in Dartmoor, England in July, journalists were quick to report that a Satanic cult was involved. The pony was found dead “with its tongue and eyes cut out, and its genitals and right ear sliced off at Yennadon Down, a remote, bushy area of the Devon National Park,” the Telegraph reported. “Experts,” including the area’s animal-protection officer, said Satanists were to blame.
However, after a police investigation, a more likely culprit has come to light: wild animals took bites from the pony, causing the wounds described in the Telegraph. Here’s what they said:
Devon and Cornwall police concluded earlier this week that the pony had died of natural causes. The much-discussed “mutilation” was not, in fact, mutilation at all, but instead the normal result of wild animals eating the pony’s organs and scattering its entrails.
“Initial media reports linked the death of the pony to satanic cults and ritualistic killing,” the police said in a statement. “The police have sought the advice of experts and have come to the view that the death of this pony was through natural causes. All the injuries can be attributed to those caused by other wild animals. This incident received significant media reporting, some of which was clearly sensationalist.”
If this sounds in any way familiar to you, that may be because it’s similar to what forensic experts found in the West Memphis Three case — more than a decade after three teens went to jail for their supposedly “Satanic ritual” killing of three young boys. Originally, experts claimed that the marks on the boys’ bodies were caused by a ritual knife; that turned out not to be the case. The teens, now in their 30s, were later released under an Alford plea.
July’s pony killing is not the first time rural England has been gripped with speculation about an equine death linked to so-called “occult” practices. Last January, a shadowy (and likely made-up) group was blamed for a horse’s death, mainly because it was killed on a supposedly Satanic holiday that turned out to have been fabricated by conservative Christians. In another instance, Satanists were blamed for a horse’s beheading last May. I will grant that in the latter case, the activity of wild animals seems less likely. But Satanic activity is just as unlikely, considering most most Satanists don’t practice animal sacrifice.
The larger problem, of course, is that hardly anyone knows that. There’s so much misinformation about Satanic and other occult practices — misinformation that seems plausible enough that people actually believe it — that folks have little reason to dig deeper before they start pointing fingers. As the Livescience article says:
One problem is that most ranchers and livestock officials have no idea what occurs in a real animal ritual sacrifice, so they can hardly make a valid comparison. Though animal sacrifice has been a part of many religions (including Christianity, Judaism and Islam), these days, the practice is mostly limited to Afro-Caribbean religions such as Santería, which has very specific procedures and rituals for the sacrifice (and typically sacrifice chickens or goats, not horses). … Of course, with something as mysterious and clandestine as suspected satanists, anything could be assumed to be the result of their sinister actions.
Satanists make a convenient and exciting scapegoat for such incidents. But these kinds of allegations can result in very real consequences for practicing Satanists, who are suspected, as a whole, of brutally slaughtering animals. That isn’t accurate and it isn’t fair.