The term, ritual crime, is often associated with occult religion. Such crimes may include: graffiti, animal mutilations, kidnap, substance abuse, sexual abuse, child molestation, grave-site desecration and murder.
There are four major occult religions that seem to be frequently associated with certain types of crimes.
One of man's earliest religions was a nature-and fertility-based, polytheistic religion. It was an attempt to explain the growth of crops, the changing of seasons and natural phenomena.
In modern times, true pagans are law-abiding citizens, whose view is that the earth is full of life and that all things have a life force or energy.
Wicca (an Old English term associated with wisdom) or witchcraft is a form of paganism. Most practitioners of Wicca fall into the same category as we do--law abiding. They believe that what is done to others will come back on them three-fold. Therefore it is better to try and help someone with a ritual rather than hurt them.
Witches and pagans share some common ceremonial instruments which may include bells, candles, athame, chalices, incense, and talismans. Sacrificial offerings may include breads and fruits. Animals and humans are not sacrificed. The pentagram, five-pointed star, point up, is another common craft symbol.
Probably one of the most unique religions in our country today is Satanism. The religion, in the U.S., formally began with the Church of Satan, in San Francisco, Calif., in 1966.
Neither the Church of Satan of the Temple of Set (the second-generation satanic church) formally advocate animal sacrifice, inverted pentagrams (point down), the number 666, black-colored robes, candles, ritual alters, ritual daggers, the baphomet (goat's head) and chalices.
Culturally Expressive Religions
There are a number of religions that fall into this category. They include, but are not limited to, Voodoo, Palo Mayombe and Santeria (a blending of Catholicism and the Yoruban religion from southwestern Africa). These are probably the most common religions that are referred to in law enforcement investigations.
In the Santeria religion, popular in South American Hispanic communities, small birds are sacrificed. It is common to find a black or metal colored cauldron filled with blood, wood and metal objects.
Small statues of Catholic saints also represent the Santerian deities. Metal objects such as hammers, farming tools, sea shells, seven special woods, gourds, round wooden containers, and colored ceramic bowls have been used to make the altars. Copper pennies in multiples of seven are also used.
Sometimes a dysfunctional criminal latches on to one or more of these religions and customizes a destructive hybrid form to justify their actions. Richard Ramirez, the "Night Stalker," is allegedly a self-styled Satanist.
Other cases have involved the ritualized sexual abuse of small children and animal sacrifices. Again, investigations have shown that either a few individuals or a single person has self-styled a blend of religions to fit their criminal behavior. However, the media reports the incidents as the "work of satanic cults."
Police might encounter teen-agers and young adults who label themselves as "witches," "Satanists," or "satanic witches." They can be solo or practice in small groups, called covens. With these groups, you might find unique graffiti and symbols, including pentagrams, inverted crosses, the number "666," references to Satan, demonic or sexually explicit drawings.
Drugs, sex and alcohol are common. Suicides and homicides have been a part of pacts made with the devil in order to guarantee entry to hell. Ritual sites can be found in abandoned houses, caves, out-of-the-way locations and even bedrooms and garages.
Rarely, would true occult religious practitioners be involved in "satanic cults." Criminals and at-risk youth have used versions of the occult religions to justify their behaviors.
As law enforcers, we must separate fact from sensationalism. We must also ask ourselves how we feel abut these issues and how our bias will affect our handling of such cases.
Al Valdez is an investigator with the Orange County (Calif.) District Attorney's Office and author of the book, Gangs.