Recent murders in Mexico are tragic enough on their own, but they have the potential to cause repercussions for us, too: you should know about them if you ever talk about Paganism to non-Pagans.
Three murders in Mexico have resulted in the arrest of eight members of one family. There is suspicion that the murders may have been human sacrifices to Santa Muerte, a non-traditional saint revered by some Catholics, particularly the extremely poor and people in drug culture.
Pagans need to know about this because there’s a tendency to lump together all non-mainstream religions: people hear “Wicca” and think “Santeria,” or more likely, “voodoo,” with all of the associated misconceptions and fears. Since the idea of “human sacrifice” echoes back to the Satanic Panic in the US not too many decades ago, some people are likely to draw that mis-connection. And let’s face it, human sacrifice is the stuff urban legends are made of.
So you need to know about this. If you’re ever talking to non-Pagans about Paganism, this is the sort of thing that can totally define the conversation. Whether it’s the vague fears of your Aunt Tillie who heard about this one thing one time, or whether it’s a “gotcha” question being popped by the latest reporter trying to get a juicy quote for the “Halloween! Witches!” story this year, you need to have a response when someone brings this up.
Here are three things you do not say in response:
* That never happened.
If you say this, and the people do their research, they’ll be convinced that you’re at best misinformed and at worst lying. Anything else you say that could have been beneficial will backfire completely.
* Huh? I don’t know about that.
While less disastrous than a false denial, this makes you look underinformed or dodging the question. At worst, it’ll make you look completely freaked out, and you’ll probably drop back to mistaken response #1.
* They’re a different kind of Pagan/minority religion than I am.
While this is likely true, it doesn’t address the heart of the questioner’s fears and leaves open several unpleasant possibilities. Pointing out that people who venerate Santa Muerte mostly describe themselves as Catholics might be helpful, but only after establishing that this is not what Santa Muerte’s following is about.
What you do want to say in response is something that puts the incident in a framework the listener can understand. Look at how Religion Dispatches does it:
“If we can accept that not all Beatles fans are Charles Manson, we must also have faith that not all who pray to Santa Muerte are [murderers].”
Everyone who might face questions about this should have that comparison in their back pocket. A more aggressive one is to say that not all Christians are Branch Davidians.
Particularly in this case, it looks like it was all members of a single family, so it’s not hard to imagine they came up with their own weird interpretation that was as sick and twisted as other murderers’ motivations have been. It’s not about venerating Santa Muerte; it’s about what went wrong in this specific instance.
Obviously, it will help if you occasionally check in on the story and find out what the resolution is once there is one.
Then you can say things like “I don’t follow that path, so I don’t know much more about it” and “No Pagan religion practices or would permit human sacrifice; it’s a completely atrocious idea,” and if you have time, explain that the Satanic Panic was a manufactured fear that continues to be completely overblown, so whatever the person thinks they know about past incidents of “sacrifice” is probably not true.
This is a matter of both defusing potential fear directed at us and about helping people understand and accept members of other minority religions or offshoots. If you’re going to talk to people about Paganism, you have to be prepared.