Catholic Church Struggles with De Facto Polytheism

This is an old story, but it erupts in new forms. Polytheistic-style devotion keeps irrupting in the Roman Catholic Church, much to the concern of the hierarchs.

From The Catholic Herald (UK): “The Church’s life-and-death struggle with Santa Muerte: The Church in the Americas is sounding the alarm over a macabre new devotion.”

To the great consternation of the Church, over the past 17 years veneration of a Mexican folk saint that personifies death has become the fastest-growing new religious movement in the West. At this point there are no systematic surveys of the precise number of Santa Muerte devotees, but based on 10 years of research in Mexico and the US, we estimate there are some 10 to 12 million followers, with a large majority in Mexico and a significant presence in the United States and Central America. However, the skeletal folk saint, whose name translates into English as both Saint Death and Holy Death, now has followers across the globe, including in the UK, where there are sufficient devotees to support a Facebook group specifically for British followers . . . .

To understand the devotion to death, we must also examine the historical record. Across the Americas, and in particular in Mexico, death deities were prevalent during the pre-Hispanic era prior to colonisation. Many indigenous peoples, such as the Maya and the Aztecs, turned to death gods and goddesses for healing ailments, and also to guarantee safe passage into the underworld.

Yes, devotion to Santa Muerte is huge, and I have heard of some American Anglo Pagans who also participate in her cult, particularly in the Southwest.

El Niño Fidencio (Kid Fidencio), a folk saint of northern Mexico who is frequently channeled by healers.

There are more “folk saints.” One of my graduate-school professors, of partially Mexican ancestry, was fascinated by the cult of El Niño Fidencio, one of several folk saints who emerged from the chaotic years of revolution and civil war in early 20th-century Mexico.

Another of that period is Jesus Malverde, considered the patron saint of drug traffickers. It’s not to hard to find statues of him. He is one of a whole choir of “narco saints” (the linked article includes N. S. de Guadalupe; she is versatile).

Kicked Back in Time

I was contacted a couple of months ago by family members of  the two defendants in a Wicca-related murder case. It was big news in the American Craft network1)I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era. circa 1977–80. If you remember it, fine. If not, I am not going to summarize it now because I am thinking in other directions. Maybe later.

A few days ago, two medium-size cartons arrived in the mail, full of newspaper clippings, notes, correspondence, annotated copies of jury lists, itemized bills from lawyers and investigators, sworn statements and affidavits, investigators’ reports  — pretty much the entire paper trail except for the actual trial transcripts and some of the law-enforcement paperwork.

The old Court TV channel (now TruTV) would have loved this case, but it came a decade too soon.

And too early for the Internet, thank the gods. The hypothetical comments on a hypothetical post on The Wild Hunt would have blown up the server, I am sure.

One thing you don’t find in every criminal case is a thick file of psychics’ impressions of what “really happened,” complete with maps and diagrams, not to mention psychic readings of a couple dozen potential witnesses. (The investigator checked out some of this info as best he could.)

Yes, it was just the opposite of the Salem witch trials of 1692–93. In this case, it was the defense using “spectral evidence.” And while there was no bill from Dr. Buzzard for “chewing the root” in court, you can bet some magic-workers were involved.2)For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

I don’t feel like writing a “true crime” book, but I want to write something.  I had drafted a chapter on the trial for Her Hidden Children: The Rise of Wicca And Paganism in America, but I deleted it because it did not mesh with the other themes of the book. (Now where is the file, on the old iMac in the basement?)

Maybe we need a Contemporary Pagan Studies Group session on “Paganism and Violence,” and since I won’t be co-chair after this year, I can submit something.  It’s a story that needs to be told, from the perspective of folklore studies or perthaps the study of new religious movements. To me, now, almost forty years after the events, it’s not so much the “who done it” that interests me as it is the context in which these events were imbedded.

Meanwhile, I have rough-sorted all the papers and condensed two cartons down to one, having set aside lots of old Pagan zines and unrelated materials of various sorts that were tossed in with the trial documents. Among these was the “Pagan Occult New Age Directory Supplement, Autumn 1978,” from the Pagan Grove Press of Atlanta. I looked up “Colorado” and there I was, with my old Manitou Springs telephone number. Kicked back in time.

Notes   [ + ]

1. I prefer that word to “community”—especially for that era.
2. For more on the doctor, read High Sheriff of the Low Country.

The Blue Moon Made Me Do It

A northern Florida sheriff speculates that the deaths of a family were “ritualistic” murders.

“The time of death on Tuesday also coincides with what’s referred to as a blue moon, which occurs every three years.”

According to the Associated Press version, linked above,  which “faith or religion” the sheriff had in mind was not made clear. Not so in the local press — in case you could not guess.

Or is this more like those many instances when archaeologists who cannot explain an artifact’s use label it as a “ritual object”?

It Gets Better: Wiccans Push Back

This is how today is different from the “Satanic Panic” of the 1970s–80s. The Internet makes it easier to push back. “Wicca experts slam Florida sheriff for linking triple murder to ‘witchcraft.'”

Leading experts and practitioners of Wicca and other pagan [sic] religions have slammed a Florida sheriff’s department after police announced that a triple murder was a “ritualistic killing” linked to “witchcraft”.

Strange Doings in Hagley Woods

This “cold” English murder case caught my attention because of the involvement of Professor Margaret “Grandmother of Wicca” Murray, who apparently injected herself into it, somewhat after the fact, with tales of witches.

(Never mind that “wych elm” does not mean “witch elm.”)

Some British writers have attempted to cast the geographically close murder of Charles Walton as a “ritual sacrifice.”

But wait, maybe it’s not witches, maybe it was Nazis!

Read the whole thing. Fascinating stuff.