Tag Archives: animal sacrifice

UK pony death: Satanists? No, hungry animals.

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Photo by Flickr user treehouse1977.

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.

Satanism, Santeria, or Sensationalism?


Is a torched chicken Satanic? Photo by Flickr user adactio.

Step 1: Patrol the local cemetery at night.

Step 2: Find a patch of burned ground.

Step 3: Find a dead, burned chicken.

Step 4: Find an empty bottle of cologne nearby.

Step 5: Conclude Satanism is involved.

Wow. Do they teach this stuff in the police academy?

Honestly, I’m still trying to wrap my head around this particular bit of deductive reasoning. Maybe the fact that this incident took place near Halloween is what set the police officer’s Satan-radar off; I’m not sure. The article is much less about the actual incident in question and more about a string of supposedly Santeria-related activities involving everything from dead animals to human skulls and, er, coconuts.

Because, of course, a bunch of police guesswork is the same thing as proof of an “upswing of occult activity in Bridgeport, much of it related to voodoo or Santeria.”

Unfortunately, one thing it doesn’t include is any information from actual Santeria practitioners, or Satanists for that matter, to discuss such things as a) their actual religious/spiritual practices, b) whether those practices routinely involve harming animals, and c) how these groups feel being mistaken for each other. (Try calling a Catholic a Mormon sometime, or vice versa. After all, they both believe in Jesus, right? Just try. See what happens.)

As I’ve said here before, Satanists rarely, if ever, practice animal sacrifice. Those who do harm animals under the banner of Satanism probably aren’t dedicated practitioners, but dabblers who don’t know what they’re doing, and are following horror movies or misguided web sites or books — they aren’t the real deal.

Santeria does, at times, involve animal sacrifice — and, by the way, it’s protected under the Constitution after a 1993 Supreme Court vote. It’s part of the religion, practiced rarely and carefully, and shouldn’t be touted as ooky-spooky “occult” ritual and certainly not “Satanic.” However, it’s hard to say whether these particular incidences in Connecticut were the work of a devoted Santerian, since I’ve been told that just leaving animals lying around — or, in this case, leaving one of them alive and half-burned, isn’t considered a respectful part of their religious practice.

In other words, it’s wrong to peg such acts on a particular faith without a much deeper knowledge of the incident in question, and who perpetrated it. Right now, all they’re doing is making Satanists and Santerians look bad, and that’s not right.

Horse killings: Satanic conspiracy or bad reporting?


Another horse mutilation in Cornwall — this one a beheading — has locals blaming Satanists. Again. Photo by flickr user Beer Coaster.

Someone in Cornwall doesn’t like horses. At least, that’s what their newspapers want you to believe.

In recent days, locals found a beheaded horse on Pentewan Beach, and a mutilated, pregnant mare dead in a field. They are, predictably, fingering Satanists for the attacks — and many reporters are listening.

A headline in the Telegraph proclaimed, “Satanic cult blamed for beheaded horse on beach: Fears are growing that a Satanic cult may be behind a spate of animal sacrifices.” Where did those fears come from? A local expert on Satanic practices? No. A fisherman:

A local fisherman told the Sun: “The head seemed to have been surgically removed in a sort of ritual. The way the artefacts were arranged made me shudder.”

No pesky details that would complicate the fear factor — just conjecture and enough scare words to get the imagination going.

In fact, that fisherman seemed to get around, talking to the Sun and the Daily Mail:

Speaking about the Cornwall horse killing, a fisherman told The Sun: ‘The way it was arranged makes me shudder. I believe whoever did this is sick and needs help.

‘It really seems like some sort of black magic ceremony has taken place.’

Reports of the attack on the pregnant mare, 19-year-old Penny, from This is Lincolnshire were thankfully much less sensationalistic, but that didn’t keep other major news outlets from lumping the attacks together — and using locals’ speculation to fuel tales of a Satanic conspiracy.

Let’s look at their evidence:
* They claim the horse slaughters were tied to the full “supermoon” May 6. The pregnant horse died May 3 or 4. The beheaded horse was found May 7. Neither happened on the full moon.
* The beheaded horse was found with a dead seagull and a cross. “Rest in Peace” was written in sand near the body. None of this is particularly Satanic.
* Three bulls had recently been “mutilated with blunt instruments” (how is that even possible?!) in St. Tudy, Cornwall.
* In January, another horse was slaughtered on a made-up “Satanic sacrifice day” that journalists didn’t bother verifying.

If indeed all these crimes were committed by the same person, that person would have to be incredibly dedicated. Pentewan Beach is 25 miles from St. Tudy and another 25 miles from Stithians, the site of the January killing. Stithians is more than 30 miles from St. Tudy. And Cornish roads aren’t like major motorways; traveling 25 miles can take an hour or more. Gainsborough, Lincolnshire, where the pregnant mare was killed, is more than 360 miles away from any of these places. The chances that they’re all linked are very, very small.

I give this link a workout, but in general, Satanists don’t sacrifice animals. However, the Romans and ancient Irish and Hindus did. I doubt any of these groups are offing horses in England, either, but pinning the crimes on them would at come closer to accuracy. Likewise, it’s amazing that, so many years after the Satanic Panic, the idea (and fear) of Satanic cults still exists, despite the lack of evidence.

It’s much more likely that bored teens in a few places are taking their frustrations out on animals — and locals should find out, because such acts are signs of antisocial personality disorder, or sociopathy. Someone who’s killing horses now may move on to killing humans later.

“The New Satanism” in heavy metal


Pelle Forsberg, guitarist for black-metal band Watain. Photo by Flickr user Tiffany Peters/TiffanyFoto.

Heavy metal has always had a reputation for being Satanic. That reputation came from a number of places: the stage makeup used by Arthur Brown, Alice Cooper, KISS, King Diamond, and others in the 1960s and 1970s, the moral panic sparked by folks like Bob Larson and Tipper Gore (and echoed in churches nationwide), the explicitly Satanic lyrics of bands like Slayer.

But how many heavy-metal musicians are Satanic? Fewer than you might think. Many bands play up the demonic/evil angle because it’s theatrical and emotionally resonant. But these are metaphors; it would be a mistake to assume the musicians themselves practice Satanism in any form. As in mainstream society, among metalheads there are Christians, Catholics, Jews, Muslims, atheists, pagans, Hindus, and so on — in proportions that are not widely out of sync with the culture they live in. The primary exceptions may be among those in the early Norwegian black metal scene. There, a number of musicians claim loyalty to Satanic ideals, in part to rebel against the dominance of Christianity and the takeover of old Norse and pagan traditions.

Over at Invisible Oranges this week, Joseph Schafer examines what he calls “The New Satanism” in heavy metal. As Schafer points out, metal and Satanism actually had very little to do with each other until recently:

Only a handful of pre-’00s metal musicians profess to be actual Satanists. Even fewer claim to worship the devil—most out-Satanists in metal music follow(ed) Anton LaVey’s Church of Satan, which does not believe in Satan as an actual entity.

More contemporary bands talk about satanism than ever—the Decibel tour celebrated theistic satanism as much as the magazine that sponsored it. And art fueled by genuine faith has a powerful character -— one distinct from music just about opposing the conventions of others.

And perhaps theistic satanism is the most interesting thing about these bands. Musically, Watain, The Devils Blood, and In Solitude all harken back, instead of pressing their genres forward. Performing in live animal blood is not new, neither is torches—that’s all descended from Mr. Brown. Their individual knacks for excellent songwriting is overshadowed by their collective ability to work the press in their favor while keeping up mystique.

Still, what’s behind that “mystique?” Many fans claim it’s just smoke and mirrors; that Watain, for example, probably really isn’t Satanic, they’re just trying to maintain an image. Still, many outside — let alone inside — the scene would be hard pressed to tell the difference. How do you know when all the blood and animal bodies are there for theatrics, and how do you know when they’re there as part of a genuine ritual?

In an interview with Invisible Oranges in 2010, Watain frontman Erik Danielsson had this to say:

These things have been used throughout all of mankind’s existence as a way to commune with something that is greater than life. What we’re using is, as the way I see it onstage, not a bunch of dead animals. … The important thing is that it has lived, and now it is dead. And therefore it represents a state of in-between. It represents a state of putrefaction that is very relevant in the magickal context, in the context where you actually can correspond with something that is beyond life, that is beyond reality. That is what these things are onstage for.

On the one hand, that sounds like a perfectly legitimate spiritual explanation. On the other hand, it seems like Eriksson is tipping his hand, since on the whole, Satanists do not practice animal sacrifice. Watain isn’t claiming they kill the animals (and they certainly don’t do so onstage), but the use of these animals seems to serve the same purpose. So perhaps it’s primarily theatrics, after all.

Ultimately, does it matter if heavy metal musicians are practicing Satanists? Satanism, whether it’s LaVeyan, theistic, Setian, or something else, is a legitimate and protected spiritual practice in many places (even though it is also in a minority position in those places, and is treated very poorly). Will these bands “convert” listeners to Satanism? That’s not particularly likely — listeners who were already drawn to the faith are probably also going to be drawn to music that echoes what they feel, just as Christian metal bands don’t make fans Christian; Christian fans seek out Christian metal.

We have to remember that there is no harm in listening to music, in celebrating music in the arena, in engaging in theatrics to express shared feelings about the world. For every example of “Satanism” in heavy metal, there are other examples that we revere: Greek Tragedy, Japanese Noh theater, horror movies. It is our understanding of heavy metal music, and of the use of Satanic imagery within it, that is the problem — not Satanism itself.

How fundamentalists control the story


Dawn Jewell’s horse, Erik, was slaughtered in Cornwall last weekend. Probably not by Satanists.

Satanic fervor has overtaken both British newspapers and Internet forums following the death of a 2-year-old stallion last weekend. Details of the death have been scarce, stoking public imagination. Because he died either late Sunday night, Jan. 8, or early Jan. 9, on the full moon (Jan. 9) and close to the supposed Satanic holiday of “St Winebald Day” (Jan. 7), speculators believe the horse’s death must somehow be related to Satanists or the occult.

BBC’s first article played up the “St Winebald” idea. Other, more predictable British papers, took it even further. “Eric the horse mutilated on ‘Satan sacrifice day’,” screeched the Sun, which also shared a few gruesome details. Their piece also contains this potentially libelous gem:

Rumours are rife among locals that the butchery in Stithians, near Falmouth, Cornwall, was part of an evil occult ceremony.

The Daily Mail, meanwhile, has attempted to connect Erik’s fate to a second horse’s death nearly 300 miles away, in Wales.

However, in a followup story, the BBC has toned down the Satanism:

Some internet forums have contained speculation that the most recent killing coincided with St Winebald Day on 7 January, which is said to have been included on Satanic calendars as a date for blood rituals.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We’re keeping an open mind with many lines of inquiry as to what happened. There is nothing specific to suggest that this is the case, there are no facts, it’s speculation.

“It was a savage attack on or near a date, but there is nothing to suggest that it is things like a Satanic worship attack.”

Worrisomely, if you look up “St. Winebald’s Day” on Google, the first link you come to is one from The Forbidden Knowledge, which presents a “Satanic” calendar without sources or explanation. Click through to the front page of this site and you’ll see an above-the-fold warning that, “Your government is poised to inject you with a tracking chip manufactured by Applied Digital Solutions called, ‘Veri Chip.’ Don’t believe me? Click below, I’ll prove it to you.” Reporters who visit this site should be backing away, as quickly as they can, from any information it contains.

However, the second link with information about this “holiday” is a piece by pagan leader and former cop Kerr Cuhulain debunking the aforementioned calendar. He believes the source is the Calvary Chapel, a fundamentalist Christian organization, based in West Covina, California. In other words, not exactly experts on occult and Satanism — in fact, they have a vested interest in making such faiths look bad.

Cuhulain explains:

This calendar claims that Satanic groups perform between 4 and 8 human sacrifices (“blood” or “Da Muer” rituals) per year. It also claims that every year these groups must engage in 10 sexual orgies with males and females between the ages of 1 and 25 as well as with animals. Let’s look at this awful calendar in detail:

“DATE: Jan. 7, CELEBRATION: St. Winebald Day, TYPE: Blood, USAGE: Animal or Human Sacrifice, AGE: 15-33.”(5)

NOTE: January 7 is Sekhmet, the ancient Egyptian New Year’s Day. It is not a Satanic holiday. Winebald was the brother of Saint Walburga, also known as Walpurgis.

Reporters, or even Internet speculators, don’t seem to have gotten as far as link #2. Or even questioning link #1.

Regular readers of this blog already know that Most Satanists do not practice animal sacrifice. That’s not to say that people playing at “devil worship” won’t hurt animals. It just means it likely has nothing to do with established faiths or the people who follow them.

In short, a calendar cooked up by evangelicals is being used by some police, locals, and even British newspapers to explain a horse’s death — one even going so far as to finger a butcher shop and accuse workers both of horse slaughter and occult activity. Meanwhile, Satanists and occultists who actually follow their faith and their laws are quietly implicated.

Next, people will be believing that the government wants to put a chip in their brain.

Why Those Apparent Animal Sacrifices Probably Aren’t the Work of Real Satanists

Regular readers of this blog know that I have strong feelings about mischaracterizing the appearance of dead animals as the work of Satanists or of African and Caribbean faiths. Today, a piece I published on two recent incidents in San Francisco is published online at the SF Weekly’s Web site: Why Those Apparent Animal Sacrifices Probably Aren’t the Work of Real Satanists.

Goat killings rattle UK village, but Satanists and the occult aren’t to blame


Four goats have been slaughtered in the British village of Tipton St. John. Some had their horns removed. Photo by Flickr user Velo Steve.

Roughly 350 people live in the rural village of Tipton St John, located about 12 miles east of Exeter, the largest city in the western British county of Devon. Home to a former key railway station, the village now boasts country lanes perfect for strolling or bicycling, as well as a tennis club, a cricket club, and a bi-monthly magazine, the Tipton Times. It’s a small, tightly knit place.

Understandably, residents were shocked and upset when someone recently slaughtered four goats. The killings took place over multiple nights, and the details are gruesome: the goats’ heads were twisted backwards or their throats were slit. Some had their horns removed. One was reportedly foaming at the mouth as it died.

Unfortunately, at least one local journalist is running with a goat-owner’s fears that the slaughter had “something to do with the occult.” FOUR GOATS SLAUGHTERED IN ‘SATANIC RITUAL’ IN RURAL DEVON VILLAGE blares the headline. Note that “Satanic ritual” is in quotes, implying that an expert interviewed for the article said these words. They’re repeated in the first paragraph: “Four goats have been found brutally slaughtered in a rural village – sparking fears of killings linked to a ‘satanic ritual’.”

Who said it was a Satanic ritual? An anonymous goat owner:

“When I told my vet he advised me to read a book on occult. He seems to think the way the goats were killed and because they were horned, it may have something to do with satanic ritual.”

Oh. Since when are veterinarians experts on Satanism?

The village is already in a froth over these deaths. Now a reporter is trying to frighten them (and sell newspapers) by making it sound like a Satanist is on the loose. It sounds like it’s time to clear up a few things once again.

1) Killing animals without a permit is not Satanic or occult, it’s criminal.

2) Satanists do not sanction animal sacrifice. Anton LaVey, former head of the Church of Satan, himself wrote, “Under NO circumstances would a Satanist sacrifice an animal or baby!”

3) There are places in the world — including the United States — where animal sacrifice is permitted under law, but only within very specific parameters and by specific spiritual groups. I don’t know what the laws are in the UK, but I can tell you that randomly slaughtering other people’s goats wouldn’t qualify.

4) Animal sacrifice (including goats) is much more common in Abrahamic traditions, in other words, Christianity, Judaism, and Islam. That’s not to say it’s common — but it did happen.

There are times when teenagers get the wild idea that they’ll seem bad-ass if they kill the neighbor’s cat or a pigeon. There are other times when a burgeoning psychopath tortures and kills local animals, almost as an experiment to see what will happen. Killings like the ones that took place in Tipton St John are much more likely the work of a prankster — potentially a disturbed one — than an occultist. If you suspect your teen is harming local animals, it’s a good idea to get some help as soon as you can.

Readers, when you see stories like this one, who do you imagine is responsible for the animals’ deaths?