Is witchcraft behind these cruel attacks on horses? ; Welfare groups probe occult links as sinister assaults on animals continue to rise
Mail on Sunday (England), Dec. 8, 2002
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At first Jacqueline Boyd was simply puzzled and annoyed when she found someone had entered her horses’ paddock at night and carefully cut chunks of hair from two of their tails.
It had been done with a precision which left the long tails seemingly intact at first glance. But closer inspection revealed a good three handfuls of hair cleanly cut from each horse.
The animals seemed unperturbed so the 26-year-old, from Aberdeen, tried unsuccessfully to put the incident out of her mind.
A week later, when she read of another horse’s tail in the area being brutally hacked off in an attack which caused spinal damage, she called police – realising that this was no isolated prank.
What Miss Boyd could not have known was that since October similar cases have emerged in areas as far apart as Aberdeenshire, the Borders and South Wales, following a sinister pattern which many animal welfare groups believe points to witchcraft.
At the very least, tails and manes are hacked or carefully cut. In some cases plaits covered with a sticky substance have been woven into the horse’s mane. In others blood appears to have been taken from powerful males and fertile brood mares. Less often, the horses are sexually abused and assaulted.
Increasingly, owners have found disturbing ritualistic symbols hidden in corners of fields, ranging from tiny stone altars where hair has been burned to pre-Christian power signs such as double- headed axes.
Even more worryingly, animal groups believe the handful of cases reported so far belie the true picture. The reality could run into hundreds of apparently minor attacks on horses throughout Britain.
‘We’re seeing the tip of the iceberg,’ admitted Doreen Graham of the Scottish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.
‘A one-off tail cutting may seem too trivial to report to police but this is a number of incidents around the country which point to something extremely disturbing and potentially downright sinister.’ So concerned are the welfare groups that the SSPCA and RSPCA are setting up a database which will monitor all such incidents, with help from the National Equine Welfare Council, the British Horse Association and police forces.
It is not the first time such a move has been tried. In 1993, after scores of attacks across the country, Hampshire police launched Operation Mountbatten – but disbanded it after 18 months with no one charged. Four years later, a second task force was set up. It also failed, and now it seems another wave of terror has begun.
One man convinced a twisted form of Wicca – ‘the old religion’ of witches – is behind the latest outbreak is a retired police officer from northern Scotland. He is helping the SSPCA and several police forces but wishes to remain anonymous for fear of reprisals.
He said: ‘I think we are seeing shamans or witchdoctors at work – not true followers of paganism and Wicca. The Internet and New Age thinking has let parts of many secrets, in this case of the old horse guilds and Wicca, into unwise hands.’ He added: ‘People are seeking to find themselves these days with spells and healing. One way is to take hair from a powerful horse and mould it with clay to make a potent image.
‘It seems many of the attacks happen after midnight on a Tuesday, the day dedicated in the old calendar to Mars. He was the war god who also covered horses, passion, sex and many other things to do with confrontation or authority.
‘I point the finger at travelling communities of New Age travellers who take in a mishmash of ideas and go with the seasons from area to area.’ As disgusted as all animal lovers by the attacks, the Pagan Federation has agreed to look at the evidence gathered a year hence and try to unlock the symbolic import of any signs left near attacked horses.
There is no historical evidence that horse mutilation has been known for centuries. The abuse is a phenomenon of the past 30 years.
Karen Attwood of the Pagan Federation said: ‘I’d be surprised if practising pagans were involved in this. I have searched all the old books and there is nothing involving horses and spells. We are as disgusted as anyone else.’
By speaking out and suggesting occult reasons for the attacks, the animal welfare groups know they are taking a grave risk. Copycat attackers are one possibility – ridicule is another. Putting the fear of God into Britain’s several million horse owners is even more likely.
Elaine Cannon of the National Equine Welfare Council admits: ‘We don’t want to be seen as scaremongering but we want people to be on the alert.’
Last week, as she tended her horses – Chappie, 20, and Rolly, five – in secure new stabling near Aberdeen, Miss Boyd was coming to terms with the fact their tail hairs could have been used in an occult incantation.
‘I feel scared and sick when I think about it,’ she said, shuddering. ‘I don’t understand how they got close enough to be able to do what they did.’
That is the worst thing of all. The experts agree that whoever and however many people are involved in this, there is only one certainty – they know, and are trusted, by the very animals they maim.