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Growing menace of Voodoo

Mail on Sunday, UK
Nov. 9, 2003
infobrix.yellowbrix.com

ReligionNewsBlog.com • Tuesday November 11, 2003

In a West London council flat, an African witch doctor gives a blood-curdling account of the ritual slaughter of a child and reveals the growing menace in Britain of Voodoo

My contact had told me to wait outside Queen’s Park Underground station in West London at a specific time. After a few minutes scrutinising the faces of the hurrying crowds, a shabbily dressed young man with excessive facial hair and clutching a large, overstuffed bag shuffled towards me and introduced himself as Anthony. He was eager for us to set off, so little was said as he quickly led the way through a labyrinth of graffiti-covered concrete buildings on to a sprawling council estate.

Despite my repeated attempts to find out exactly where we were going, he merely grunted and replied: ‘Just follow me. It’s not very far.’ His eyes darted about anxiously and he seemed visibly nervous as we approached one block of flats. I thought he was being a bit melodramatic but then reminded myself that we were on our way to meet one of Britain’s most powerful witch doctors, an expert in the black art of voodoo. It was the African version of this menacing, superstitious practice, muti, which police believe was behind the murder of a young boy whose dismembered torso was found floating in the Thames two years ago.

After walking for about 15 minutes, Anthony and I turned into a courtyard and walked briskly up the short concrete

been for a more malevolent spirit to put a curse on someone.

Le Mante left the room and returned in a costume that looked something like a cross between a French maid’s uniform and a butcher’s apron. He lit the yellow candles and tea lights, then began an incantation in a patois mix of French and African, calling on the Chango spirit he worships.

The ritual took about ten minutes. Le Mante, who explained that he was a voodoo Hougan, or senior priest, waved his long arms around and chanted in a deep rumble that was almost feral. All the time, his grey eyes stared into mine.

‘I have asked the spirit to bring you money,’ he told me afterwards. ‘It is the spirit who will do the work for you. I will also give you a special oil made from secret ingredients which you must carry at all times. If you do exactly as I say, you will get what you want. I am never wrong.’ He daubed frankincense on my temple and wrists and behind my ears, the overpowering scent threatening my ability to breathe.

Then, to my amazement, he made the sign of a cross on his chest blatant Christian symbolism that seemed incongruous in such a pagan setting.

I pointed to a plaque hanging over the door which read ‘God Bless This House’ and asked how the sentiment squared with his witchcraft. ‘Oh, to us voodoo is a religion,’ he replied smoothly.

‘In Haiti, black slaves taken from Africa took both forms of worship and combined them to create an interesting cultural mix.

People in the West may think of voodoo as evil but we mostly try to use it for good work.’ But despite Le Mante’s benign appearance and protestations to the contrary, witchcraft can be a sinister business and lead to the murder of innocent children.

It was because of his extensive knowledge of the occult and expertise in practising it throughout the black community that Scotland Yard detectives spoke to Le Mante during their investigations into the chilling ritual murder of the six-year-old African boy whose dismembered body was discovered in the Thames.

The still unidentified boy whom police named Adam had been decapitated and his limbs expertly removed.

Initially it was believed he was a murder victim who had been mutilated to prevent identification. But several months of painstaking work revealed something altogether more sinister: that Adam had been smuggled into Britain from West Africa ( perhaps Benin) via Germany and sold to witch doctors who killed him in the hope of gaining supernatural powers from dark spiritual forces.

‘I told the police everything I know about the kind of people who might do this sort of satanic magic,’ said Le Mante. ‘It’s pure evil and I have no respect for anyone who takes a life in such a sickening way. But I don’t actually know any of these kinds of voodoo priests. They tend to be very secretive and it’s hard to catch them.

‘It’s not just that they can work powerful magic to protect themselves, but the young victims who end up as human sacrifices are often related to the person paying for the ritual. So he or she will never talk about what happened.’ He went on to explain the astonishing power that this form of been for a more malevolent spirit to put a curse on someone.

Le Mante left the room and returned in a costume that looked something like a cross between a French maid’s uniform and a butcher’s apron. He lit the yellow candles and tea lights, then began an incantation in a patois mix of French and African, calling on the Chango spirit he worships.

The ritual took about ten minutes. Le Mante, who explained that he was a voodoo Hougan, or senior priest, waved his long arms around and chanted in a deep rumble that was almost feral. All the time, his grey eyes stared into mine.

‘I have asked the spirit to bring you money,’ he told me afterwards. ‘It is the spirit who will do the work for you. I will also give you a special oil made from secret ingredients which you must carry at all times. If you do exactly as I say, you will get what you want. I am never wrong.’ He daubed frankincense on my temple and wrists and behind my ears, the overpowering scent threatening my ability to breathe.

Then, to my amazement, he made the sign of a cross on his chest blatant Christian symbolism that seemed incongruous in such a pagan setting.

I pointed to a plaque hanging over the door which read ‘God Bless This House’ and asked how the sentiment squared with his witchcraft. ‘Oh, to us voodoo is a religion,’ he replied smoothly.

‘In Haiti, black slaves taken from Africa took both forms of worship and combined them to create an interesting cultural mix.

People in the West may think of voodoo as evil but we mostly try to use it for good work.’ But despite Le Mante’s benign appearance and protestations to the contrary, witchcraft can be a sinister business and lead to the murder of innocent children.

It was because of his extensive knowledge of the occult and expertise in practising it throughout the black community that Scotland Yard detectives spoke to Le Mante during their investigations into the chilling ritual murder of the six-year-old African boy whose dismembered body was discovered in the Thames.

The still unidentified boy whom police named Adam had been decapitated and his limbs expertly removed.

Initially it was believed he was a murder victim who had been mutilated to prevent identification. But several months of painstaking work revealed something altogether more sinister: that Adam had been smuggled into Britain from West Africa ( perhaps Benin) via Germany and sold to witch doctors who killed him in the hope of gaining supernatural powers from dark spiritual forces.

‘I told the police everything I know about the kind of people who might do this sort of satanic magic,’ said Le Mante. ‘It’s pure evil and I have no respect for anyone who takes a life in such a sickening way. But I don’t actually know any of these kinds of voodoo priests. They tend to be very secretive and it’s hard to catch them.

‘It’s not just that they can work powerful magic to protect themselves, but the young victims who end up as human sacrifices are often related to the person paying for the ritual. So he or she will never talk about what happened.’ He went on to explain the astonishing power that this form of make thedeadrise voodoo murder in this country, many other children could have been abducted and killed over the years.

It is a suggestion that should raise great concern among agencies dealing with missing youngsters.

‘There are many more witch doctors operating here than people realise,’ he said. ‘Most of us don’t advertise but work through recommendation. Of course, some are quacks amateurs with black hearts who believe that the most powerful medicine is human flesh. If they have a big case to handle, say trying to get someone off a murder charge, they will try to get hold of a young boy and offer his blood to the spirits.’ Le Mante explained the sickening ritual. The voodoo priest and maybe two or three helpers dressed in white gowns take the client and victim to a cemetery late at night. They burn black candles and begin to petition Baron Samedi, the Haitian spirit of graveyards, who has power over the dead. But if the wish is to be granted only fresh blood can be offered.

‘So in the case of the boy Adam, the murderers would have given him some kind of herbal sedative to stop him struggling.’ Indeed, experts at the Royal Botanic Gardens at Kew have confirmed that Adam swallowed a rare bean called calabar, which paralyses the limbs.

‘He might have been semiconscious,’ Le Mante added, ‘but he most certainly had to be alive when his throat was cut and the blood drained.

Some priests believe the victim’s screams help to get the spirit’s attention. If the offering is accepted, then you would feel the spirit’s presence.

It is like being taken over by a powerful force, like a cyclone.

‘In Haiti I have even seen the dead rise from their graves during ceremonies where animal blood was used.

The blood helps to sweeten the spirit and if he’s happy, he will give you what you asked for.

‘But it’s very frightening to witness and sometimes the client gets scared and tries to run. This can be dangerous because if the spirit gets angry he will turn on you. They can make you disappear.’ These ceremonies go on for more than an hour, during which the victim’s genitals, hands and feet are chopped off to be used in a potion believers think will bring them prosperity, vitality or good fortune.

The body parts of children, especially boys, are sacred in voodoo tradition.

Testicles are used for enhancing sexual strength and performance while skulls are said to ensure commercial success.

Sometimes the organs are dried and ground into potions that are either carried or swallowed.

‘Boys are especially prized because they represent virility and life,’ Le Mante said. ‘Voodoo priests don’t use girls. That’s why in parts of West Africa it is boys who disappear off the streets. The problem is such that police don’t even bother to investigate.’ It can also be a get-rich-quick business. The sale of these body parts is thriving in countries such as South Africa, where eyes, brains, hands and feet sell for high prices.

In fact it can be so lucrative that families are tempted to turn on their own. There are documented cases of older brothers murdering younger brothers and parents murdering or selling their own children. Adam, like most children used in ritual slaughters in the West, would have been bought or kidnapped in Africa before being brought to Europe by an adult. It is extremely unlikely a child would be kidnapped in this country because the disappearance would attract the attention of police, schools and social services.

According to Le Mante, we would normally never know when a ritual slaughter had taken place in Britain as bodies of the sacrificed are usually ruthlessly disposed of, carefully burnt or buried. He thinks Adam’s body was thrown into the Thames because the client failed to pay the witch doctors the full amount for their services. Such a ritual would cost more than 10,000 because of the risks involved.

‘It was probably someone facing a murder trial who paid for the ceremony but it could have been a very important person wanting to get a major business deal or big job promotion. Whatever it was, there was a falling-out and the priests got rid of the body in a deliberately careless way, as if to publicly state that the spell was broken.’ Not surprisingly, Le Mante was coy about his own connection with any kind of blood ritual. Although he admitted killing animals such as cattle, chickens and cats during blood sacrifices in Africa and the Caribbean, he insisted he practised only white (or good) voodoo in Britain. ‘I did do some work with chickensand rabbits when I first came here in the Sixties but it became too dangerous with the animal rights people always on the lookout. I still get requests but it’s not worth the risk.’ He recalls those early years when he kept a couple of hens in the yard of his house for slaying. ‘Neighbours called the RSPCA. Thankfully, by the time they came the chickens had disappeared.’ Le Mante, the son of a gravedigger, became a witch doctor at a young age. He describes it as a ‘calling’ and was trained by an elderly witch doctor. But the ‘good’ voodoo which he professes to practise now seems to be anything but.

While the ceremonies may not, as he maintains, involve blood sacrifices, he admits: ‘Most of my British clients come here wanting me to get them off some kind of drug-related crime. I also see a lot of people asking my help with business, immigration and love matters. Very occasionally have I had to deal with murder.’ Clearly this would call for a blood sacrifice (a black cat, for example), but Le Mante was reluctant to admit it. He claimed to know a secret way to get into Kingsbury cemetery in Middlesex, where blood rituals involving animals take place late at night. ‘The foliage is so thick there that no one would notice anything going on inside,’ he said.

It is hard to believe that Le Mante could maintain his reputation as a Hougan without occasionally shedding the blood of an animal.

There is a real danger that people see voodoo, muti and all the other variations of these superstitions as little more harmful than horoscopes, but the fate of children such as Adam reveals the barbarism that lies at the dark heart of this practice.

As the number of immigrants from Africa and the Caribbean has risen in this country, so has the prevalence of the customs they hold dear. It is impossible to say how many witch doctors are practising here now, but the number certainly runs into hundreds. Some cater to a very small number of people and carry out rituals only rarely. Others with an international reputation, such as Le Mante, do them almost daily.

There are, of course, many thousands of people in Britain who believe in witch doctors but who find the idea of human sacrifices as appalling as the rest of us but there is no doubt that voodoo is a growing practice in this country. Some publications targeted at ethnic minorities openly carry advertisements for witch doctors, spiritualists, potions and supposedly supernaturally potent artefacts.

Indeed, I have a cousin who has spent a small fortune on witch doctors over the years, trying to get the father of her child to marry her. It has never worked.

We are a liberal nation, tolerant of the rich variety of customs and cultures which make up our society.

Disturbingly, though, we can no longer reassure ourselves that the worst superstitious rituals have been left behind in dusty African villages or the jungles of Haiti.

Now it can happen in a London council flat.

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