To the ARM supporters, and ARM

Dear Animal Recovery Mission and Supporters

I’ve been asked by others in my spiritual community to weigh in on the claims and charges made by your leaders against two religions: Lucumí (you know it as Santeria) and Palo Mayombe. I’m not qualified to speak on behalf of Palo Mayombe, and because of my relatively short period of time in this religion (14 years as a priest of Obatala and close to 30 years as an adherent) I’m loathe to speak at all. There are much older heads who should be speaking. But, I’m not one to keep my mouth shut against gossip and false witness.

First, my background: I come from a small, rural farming town that serves as the entrance to the Northern Neck of Virginia. I was raised on land that was once a huge farm, but farming ended about the time I was born in the 1960s. I grew up in a rural environment where we raised chickens, pigs, and other animals (and we slaughtered them and we ate them) and where we had what we called a “garden” but was practically a miniature farm itself. We harvested. We burned fields. We canned. We cut wood. We had wood stoves and outhouses (although we did get indoor plumbing). We bred, raised, and slaughtered animals. I think I saw my first chicken head cut off when I was 4, and my first pig butchered when I was 6. I’m not your typical practitioner of this faith. I come from both a Christian and Jewish household, but was raised in an environment in which other things were taught as well. But I am white. My family has been in this country since the 1600s (well, my mother’s father’s side of the family anyway). I am well established . . . in this country . . . and I bet my claim to U.S. citizenship goes back much, much farther than most of yours. Yet you call for all of us who practice Lucumi (Santeria) to be shipped back to “our countries.”

At least my deportation won’t cost you much – just a bus ticket back to Virginia.

I wanted to comment on ARM’s Facebook page, but two years ago they were trying to start a campaign against the Lucumí faith. They put up several pictures of dogs that did not have their heads. They made it seem they had found a “Santeria dumping site” where several dogs were left headless, to decompose. When I saw these pictures I recognized them as roadkill. Living in the country we often saw feral dogs (or poorly kept pets) on the side of the road, dead and decomposing because they were hit by a car and left to die. Yes, it’s sickening to the heart. I love dogs. But that’s what people used to do in the country. And they do it here, too. I examined each picture closely; there was nothing there to be recognized as part of a Lucumi sacrifice (first – we don’t sacrifice dogs). When I realized that all the pictures presented were of one dog, obviously roadkill, I made a stink about it to both the Miami Times reporter who reported the story, and I raised a stink about it on ARM’s page. All I had to do was turn the pictures to see that not only was it the same dog carcass (sometimes repositioned for the shot), but all the vegetation around the dog’s body was the same. I pointed this out. I was blocked and banned from the page. So here I am, writing a blog that I hope you will read.

ARM is preparing a case for the Supreme Court. They write on their post, “ARM investigators are now building a case for the US Supreme Court to outlaw all animal sacrifice for religion!” Don’t believe that. It’s a lie. They simply CANNOT do that. No one can present a case directly to SCOTUS. No court in this country, not even a lower court, can write a law to outlaw animal sacrifice. It shames me that any U.S. citizen could be so gullible to fall for such a thing – but I do need to admit, some of our own priests have fallen for this lie and are going insane over it! No court in this land can make a law. No court in this land can outlaw something. Only the legislative branches of government can write and pass a bill into a law. That’s it. That’s the only way. And I’m sorry to say that most legislatures at any level would be loathe to try such a thing, since SCOTUS already ruled that there can be no law regarding animal slaughter from a religious standpoint alone. So you either have to outlaw all forms of slaughter . . . or no forms of slaughter. Take your choice.

You may not like that cold hard fact, but it’s true. ARM has lied to you. First a bill would have to be written. And then a law would be made. And then someone would have to test that law by getting arrested for it. They would have to fight at the local court level; if they lose, the higher court level; and if they lose there, they would have to petition SCOTUS for a review. Now – what lawmaker in his right mind is going to write a law against a SCOTUS ruling? And what lower court judges are going to rule against a SCOTUS ruling?

Now, for the big lie. I recognize one of those pictures from about five years ago. I can’t remember where I saw it, but I saw it, and I used google images to try to find its source on the internet. Unfortunately, I failed. Now there are two other pictures there that I’ll admit I’ve never seen before – but the one of the men pulling the dog apart by its legs and ropes, that’s not an image you would see and forget. I can’t prove they’re using someone else’s picture from another place and time because I can’t find the original, but because of my past with ARM, I know they are not beyond misrepresenting their photographs to evoke the emotions they feel they need.

They need you to be upset with us so they can generate more cash. The very last sentence of each post asks for your support, and sends you to their webpage where you can offer your “support.” It reads, “Please support these and other undercover operations at [their website].” And that takes you to a page with a really big DONATE button.

People: I’m against animal cruelty. I love dogs. I love cats. I love horses. It breaks my heart that anyone would hurt a companion animal. With that said, I eat. You eat. We all eat. Life feeds on life. Yes, I sacrifice animals: chickens, roosters, rams, goats, guinea hens, and pigs. But unless I’ve used those animals in a cleansing ceremony to save a human life, I clean, skin, pluck, quarter, and cook. And if you haven’t tasted fresh meat (that stuff in the grocery store is kind of old by the time it gets to you), you haven’t eaten. It’s delicious.

So focus on what is important: animal cruelty. If you support ARM, demand facts. Demand documentation. There’s so much out there about what we do and what we don’t. You don’t need to sensationalize or lie about us. Not everyone is going to like what we do. But right now your emotions are being played to – and you’re being taken to a ride.

This weekend I’m having a barbecue. I’m serving barbecue chicken and pork. And wouldn’t you know it – this is all meat that was first sacrificed to the orishas. They eat; we eat. If you’re in my neighborhood, feel free to stop by for a real down-home, made from scratch meal.


Ochani Lele