Wave of Mutilations

Last weekend two British horses were found dead and mutilated in their fields. The first, a seven-year-old rescued pony called Barney from Carmarthenshire was found with his eyes gashed and a long slash in his side. The second, a two-year-old Friesian called Erik from Cornwall had been castrated, blinded, gutted and had its teeth pulled out. One local horse owner believes that the same attackers may have been responsible for the death of her Shetland near Bodmin in 2006 (news item from the BBC):

Mrs Penn said: “I was led to believe there are cults and they made sacrifices on specific days.” Some internet forums have contained speculation that the most recent killing coincided with St Winebald Day on 7 January, which is said to have been included on Satanic calendars as a date for blood rituals.

A spokesman for Devon and Cornwall police said: “We’re keeping an open mind with many lines of inquiry as to what happened. There is nothing specific to suggest that this is the case, there are no facts, it’s speculation. “It was a savage attack on or near a date, but there is nothing to suggest that it is things like a Satanic worship attack.”

The RSPCA’s spokesperson for the region, Jo Barr, said: “It’s impossible to know at the moment what the motivation was behind the attack. “I have been with the RSPCA for eight years. In my time I am only aware of one incident which was potentially linked. There were a couple of attacks on Dartmoor on sheep. There were suggestions that the bodies were left in a formation, I believe it was a pentangle, it was suggested it was linked to Satanic practices or witchcraft.”

Today it emerged that Barney died of natural causes and the police have closed the case: I’m assuming that this means that the “mutilations” he suffered were committed by wild animals, post mortem.

Whenever a horse is found with injuries that seem out of the ordinary people begin to talk about “horse rippers” and Satanists. In fact, most equine injuries are caused by… other horses, as this 2004 Guardian piece points out:

Ted Barnes, a field officer with the International League for the Protection of Horses, and a former member of the Met unit, calculates that 80 per cent of suspected horse attacks are not committed by humans. “In by far the largest percentage of cases where the animal has been harmed, it is either self-inflicted or inflicted by another horse. A lot of people find this hard to believe, but it does happen,” Barnes said.

The article does, however, also point out strings of attacks that clearly had human involvement, in particular one run in South Yorkshire in 2003:

In the run-up to the summer solstice, there were at least 12 attacks on horses in fields along the Derbyshire/Yorkshire border. One horse had eight litres of blood drained from its stomach, while stones depicting five-pointed stars were found in the surrounding fields. Some of the animals had their tails removed, and others had their manes plaited in intricate patterns – signs of black magic practices. Despite 24-hour surveillance, police caught no one. There had been similar attacks in Nottinghamshire at Hallowe’en the previous year, but no one was arrested.

Most Satanists and most Pagans would happily point out that their religion has nothing to do with these kinds of practices. The links to various significant dates seem rather arbitrary to me (there’s always a new one) but it also seems extraordinary that in these days of exposés, anonymous blogs and Deepnet there could be practices so arcane that they could baffle the mainstream for decades. Are there really no clues out there?

UPDATE: Ministry of Truth has a good breakdown on the “Satanic horse mutilation” hysteria, although they do ruin it all by proposing that Eric was in fact stolen and replaced with a, er, dead ringer. Obviously not paying attention to horse prices lately… Even if someone found a pedigree Friesian who looked exactly like Eric, it would be a pretty expensive swap, or else one that’s so economically pointless that it wouldn’t be worth the hassle.

UPDATE 2, 16th January 2012: Another young stallion has been found dead in Devon with wounds to his eyes and genitals. Although the police are sure that he died of natural causes, his owners believe that at least one of the injuries is too clean to have been made by an animal.

Is it Knot Magick?

You go to fetch your horse or pony in from the field one morning and find, buried in its mane, a perfect plait. Where on earth did it come from? These mysterious plaits are a common enough phenomenon and have been reported all over the UK, causing much speculation.

Up till now there have been two theories about the braiding:

  1. they’re caused by the wind rolling and tangling the horse’s mane
  2. they’re made by fairies, and indicate that the horse was ridden by these fairies all night (old school theory, this)
  3. they’re “markers” left by horse thieves, who will later turn up  to steal away the horse.

Theory three has led to lots of panic, but seems to be urban (rural?) mythology as the majority of the horses are not subsequently stolen. Now police in Hampshire and Dorset think they know what lies behind the braids: it’s pagans doing “knot magick”. The Bournemouth Echo has details (many of which it appears to have cribbed from earlier articles in other publications):

West Dorset officer PC Tim Poole investigated the pagan angle and told Paranormal Magazine: “This is part of a white magic ritual and is to do with ‘knot magick’.

“It would appear that for people of this belief, ‘knot magick’ is used when they want to cast a spell.

“Some of the gods they worship have a strong connection to horses so if they have a particular request, plaiting this knot in a horse’s mane lends strength to that request.

“The fact that this plaiting coincides with one of their ceremonial times of year [the winter solstice] adds weight to the theory.”

I know there are folk in the UK worshipping the Celtic pony goddess Epona, but knot magick has not traditionally been part of her worship, so I’m curious to know which gods are involved. Of course, “pagans” have also been blamed for “horse ripping”, although many experts on the subject believe that most “horse ripping” is a result of field injuries or damage done by other horses, who can be more vicious, and more precise in that viciousness, than their owners might want to credit. This form of knot magick seems pretty harmless, although you can get a nice frisson from reading this Wikipedia article on knot fetishes or “witch’s ladders”, which include human hair, cock’s feathers and broomsticks. A how-to guide is found here.
However, though one warlock told the police this was a pagan practice, another denied it, saying it was probably people just”playing at” Satanism. I have a feeling that British paganism isn’t exactly standardised, which could well account for this difference of opinion. Here’s the full article at Paranormal Magazine, which also suggests that rocking horse manufacturers have been lopping off horses’ tails to use on their creations. Given that said rocking horse makers can probably pick up tails by the dozen at a local abbatoir, that seems a little silly.

Theory number five comes courtesy of a commenter on the Bournemouth Echo piece:

“Maybe some little girls who don’t have a My Little Pony and use a real pony instead?”

Sounds about right. For aspiring MLP-ers, here’s a video on plaiting the mane of a Spanish horse in the traditional style.

UPDATED: another great piece on the phenomenon by the Fortean Times.