Leading experts and practitioners of Wicca and other pagan religions have denounced a Florida sheriff’s department after police announced that a triple murder was a “ritualistic killing” linked to “witchcraft”.
The bodies of a man and his two sons were discovered on Friday in a house in Escambia County in the Florida panhandle, after a routine welfare check.
They had been bludgeoned to death on the afternoon of 28 July, with what police said had been a claw-hammer, and their throats had been slit. One of the sons, who was a Department of Homeland Security employee, had also been shot through the head.
In a press conference on Tuesday, Escambia County sheriff David Morgan told reporters that his department was investigating a connection with “witchcraft”, saying that the “method of the murder, blunt force traumas, slit throats, positions of bodies and then our person of interest has some ties to a faith or religion that is indicative of that”.
“Those of you that follow any of that will also note that at the time of death we believe on Tuesday it also coincides with what’s referred to as a blue moon,” Morgan added.
A “blue moon” is when a full moon occurs twice within one month, giving a year 13 full moons instead of 12, and one indeed occurred that week – though the astronomical rarity actually happened on Friday, the day the bodies were found, rather than on Tuesday, when police say the murders took place.
“If they had done even a modicum of research it would be clear this had nothing to do with paganism,” said Dr Gwendolyn Reece, a specialist in contemporary paganism at American University. “It’s very irresponsible and highly prejudiced on the part of the sheriff.”
While Morgan referred to “witchcraft” in his conference, Andrew Hobbes, a spokesperson for his department, referred to Wicca specifically in a statement to NBC News.
Selena Fox, a Wiccan priestess and the senior minister of Circle Sanctuary, one of America’s largest Wiccan churches, said that many in the movement found their statements very troubling. “Ritual murder is not part of the Wiccan religion, it never has been, and it’s not now,” she said. “It goes against the ethical principles of the religion.”
Fox, who is also executive director of Lady Liberty League, a pressure group which lobbies for rights for Wiccan and pagan beliefs, described Morgan’s statement and many of the media coverage that has followed it as “defamation”.
Wicca and other nature religions, she said, are “about celebrating life and celebrating the cycles of the season and nature – and living in harmony with other humans. If more people understood that, there would be less prejudice”.
“There are so many crime shows on TV and the internet [that involve witchcraft], and I think that some storylines can complicate reporting on actual crimes,” Fox added.
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