And the Associated Press is doing their damnedest to help out. Wicca gets caught between a rock and a hard place in incidents like these. On the one hand, Wiccan theology claims a link between modern Wicca and some mythical religion that stretches back into prehistory, which leaves them being in the position of defending the practices of “ancient pagans” who as a matter of historical fact were known to sacrifice people. On the other hand Wiccans, who are predominantly urban liberals with little tolerance for The Old Ways (as their constant maligning of Voodoo and Santeria illustrates quite nicely) often feel the need to be accepted by mainstream (leftist) society which means they often embrace attitudes concerning magic, faith, and the universe that are at odds with any religious world view.
It doesn’t help that Wiccans were targeted during the Satanic Panic. Of course, they didn’t help their own cause by embracing Gavin and Yvonne Frost, two Wiccans who promoted ritual child sexual abuse in their early writings. However, the targeting of Wiccans in the 80s and 90s, and the subsequent reemergence of conspiracy theories often involving Satanism on some level (like 9/11 “Truth”) amongst the left, means mainstream Wiccans are harder pressed to ensure that their ideological fellow travelers understand that they have nothing to do with anything that could be construed as “Satanism” or supportive of ritual crime.
Which leads us to the story at at hand. 3o-year-old Angela Sanford of New Mexico stabbed 52-year-old Joel Leyba to death in the desert last month, during the Spring Sabbat. She claims he tried to rape her, but cops say the evidence doesn’t fit her story, especially after looking at her phone where they found Leyba’s contact information.
She nicknamed him “Sacrifice” on that contact list:
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. â€” A self-described Wiccan had a man’s phone number programmed in her cell phone under the word “sacrifice” before she stabbed him to death, then claimed he had tried to rape her, authorities said Thursday.
Angela Sanford, 30, is accused of killing 52-year-old Joel Leyba last month with a dagger after inviting him to join her in a Wiccan celebration of spring near a popular hiking trail east of Albuquerque.
She told police she stabbed Leyba three times in the stomach after he tied her up and tried to assault her.
But police say Leyba was stabbed 11 to 13 times, and a detective reviewing Sanford’s cell phone found the nickname “sacrifice” instead of Leyba’s name.
“It makes us absolutely confident there was something more here than her claims of self-defense,” said Patrick Davis, a spokesman for the Bernalillo County district attorney’s office.
Sanford was indicted Wednesday by a Bernalillo County grand jury. Her bond has been set at $500,000.
Now here’s where the A.P. tries a little too hard to help the Wiccans clean up this mess:
Wicca is an earth-based religion, derived from pre-Christian religions and magical practices, that promotes a peaceful and balanced lifestyle. The Wiccan spring celebration normally is held at the end of April.
Members of Wiccan groups in Albuquerque have said they do not know Sanford.
Yeah, that’s actually one of the better descriptions of Wicca I’ve seen. It splits the difference between their claims of ancient wisdom and the reality of Gerald Gardner creating the first Wiccan covens in the 20th century, but Wiccans, Pagans, and others will see a problem with this statement. The Wiccan “spring celebration” is the Vernal Equinox (or Ostara) and happens around March 21st. Beltane happens May 1st in most traditions. An odd mistake, no? But a convenient one designed to make it look like Angela Sanford had no idea what she’s talking about it seems.
This article from the reliably leftist True Crime Report was filed on Wednesday, March 24th and claims the murder happened that previous Monday. That would place the murder on … the Vernal Equinox. Some reports are also claiming that the man was stabbed 13 times, but I’ve also seen the police quoted as saying “between 11-13” so that might be just seasoning on an already juicy story. But the Wiccan claim that Ostara and Beltane are one only undermines the Wiccan cause, and shows how far modern Wicca has fallen from the time when it was a vibrant tradition of people interested in searching for truth by reclaiming their pagan past. Now it’s a P.R. firm for teenagers who want to wear pentagrams; a group of people who spend more time explaining away Witchcraft than actually practicing it.
As for the wider Wiccan community not knowing her, this is meaningless. Most Wiccans are active online and only the gods know what sort of people she was associating with there. Her MySpace has been deleted, and of course there are now people claiming that her page was covered in Biblical quotes, but my sources say that her religion was listed as Wiccan and that the majority of the page was covered in vampire and Wiccan images and thoughts. If anything, she sounds like she came across older Witchcraft material like Paul Huson’s (excellent) Mastering Witchcraft, which doesn’t shy away from Judeo-Christian magical practices and their influence on Witchcraft.
Now before you even start Wiccans, I am not saying Wicca performs human sacrifices; it does not. But Wicca has a very loose theology including the belief all gods and goddesses are in actuality the one god and goddess. Combined with very lax standards (necessarily so, to be fair) for who gets to be called a Wiccan and a thriving online community that includes quite a bit of role playing it is to Wicca’s credit that more crimes aren’t committed in its name.
Instead, Wiccans tend to be victims of crime. Not from the modern day inquisition that populates the Wiccan mythical landscape, but by unscrupulous grifters who see the Wiccan community as priming people for financial and sometimes sexual exploitation. It’s no coincidence that PaganSpace and other online gathering spots for Wiccans attract “Gorians” and other men interested in sado-masochism, or child molesters. Wicca has done a piss poor job policing itself, mainly because to do so removes the hippyish charm of being part of an “earth centered” religion, and many young Wiccans pay the price for that lack of resolve.
But as I said in the comments of this The Wild Hunt report, Wicca does bear some responsibility. It is the dearth of occult knowledge, replaced with fantasy convention, mixed in with the faithless view of Wicca as a club rather than religion which convinces people like Sanford to adopt the mantle of Wiccan when they are in fact something else entirely:
The fast and loose “anybody who claims to be a Wiccan is one” mentality strikes again. Mass marketing nonsense as religion attracts people for whom Wicca can mean almost anything and no one challenges them on it. From what I’ve read of her she was an online ‘Wiccan” who seemed to blend PaganSpace style posturing with an image of Wicca that comes directly from supernatural romance.
Maybe Wiccans should spend less time telling people what they aren’t and more time thinking about who they are. Maybe embracing Wicca as a sub-culture rather than a faith means you attract people who don’t share your values. Maybe a general nod to New Age pabulum disguised as moral guidance isn’t sufficient to keep the Wiccan who converted while high after watching Charmed and getting her information from a teenager calling himself Silvermist Thunder DragonWolfe from acting out the fantasy she thinks Wicca is in the real world.
Ironically, I was just talking to another ex-Wiccan, born again Witch about this new trend we’ve seen of Wiccans claiming that Witchcraft and magic “are metaphors” or whatever. I told her know self-proclaimed Wiccan had the guts to practice good, old fashioned Witchcraft. I almost though I was going to be eating my words until I read up on the story and saw that she was just a paranoid weirdo (funny how they pop up in Wiccan circles) who probably thought she was killing a demon or something.
This was good coverage though, Jason. Although I’d point out that the Matamoras murders by Adolfo de Jesus Constanzo were technically done as a form of Witchcraft (a blend of Palo Mayombe which is considered Witchcraft and Gothic Satanism for lack of a better term) and there have been cases of Sante Muerte cultists sacrificing people but there is not of course a neo-Pagan element in either.
But couldn’t a person who has only read mass market books about eclectic Wicca have cobbled together a practice where human sacrifices were used? If Anglela Sanford used Meso-American gods as stand ins for the Wiccan God and Goddess (she is in their old stomping ground) it’s possible, no?
As I allude to above, Sanford likely cobbled together a practice of worship influenced by Reconquista groups active in the area as well as less than credible online sources. Two gang members in Mexico were caught burning the heads of victims in front of an altar to Sante Muerte, who many practitioners consider the reemerged goddess MICTECACIHUATL otherwise known as The Lady of the Land of the Dead. It is interesting to consider that in this aspect she is seen as a goddess of rebirth and regeneration, which is what pagans celebrate during the equinox.
I don’t know if Angela Sanford is guilty or if, as she claims, she simply was in a bad situation. Unlike many modern Wiccans I would be open to the metaphysical possibilities – her gods conspired to receive this sacrifice – were it not for the evidence on her phone. Given the location of this crime and the admittedly scant details I will call this one as the work of an amoral dabbler who placed power and its achievement over any moral code she had. It’s too bad Wicca doesn’t attempt to provide one anymore. Instead they have attempted to actually rearrange their sacred calendar to appease the very Christians they claim to oppose. This is a desperate attempt to maintain their image at any cost, including their integrity.
As a postscript to this I should say I have been somewhat surprised in the last few months to be contacted by quite a few Wiccans who were on the right, more “orthodox,” or otherwise find themselves on the outside looking in at modern Wicca. Like me they shared the view of Wicca losing its footing, either being too political or too much of a non-magical tradition. I am saddened by their plight, but cases like this (and mainstream Wicca’s reaction to it) proves that they are needed more than ever to help restore Wicca before it’s too late.
h/t Dreamin’ Demon. The Wild Hunt has extensive coverage of this case.