Albuquerque makes national headlines for the weirdest things. On Wednesday, March 24, the Washington Post ran a report on the giraffe carcass improperly disposed of in the dumpster behind the Rio Grande Zoo. Around the same time, the story of a woman accused of stabbing and killing a man in the Foothills hit the big time.
And that's surprising. From a cold-hearted journalist's perspective, a local murder is not national news. People are killed in this country all the time.
Spot the buzzwords in the following headline that shoved this story into the broader spotlight. From CBS: "Wiccan Woman Charged With Murder, Stabbed Victim With Ceremonial Knife, Say Cops."
Wicca sells papers, according to Oz, an ordained Wiccan high priestess. She began teaching classes in Albuquerque in 1979 and says she was one of the first people to start a pagan community here. Her work evolved into the Children's Astral Sanctuary of Healing Earth Wisdom (CASHEW) and the Southwest Earth Festivals Association, but she points out there are several other pagan communities in the 505 these days.
"It's still OK to put it as a headline in the newspaper: Wiccan Murderer, Wiccan Stabber, Wiccan Commits Crime. You don't see: Baptist Robs 7-Eleven or Mormon Rapist."
Oz, an ordained Wiccan high priestess
She doesn't know anything about Angela Sanford, the " Wiccan follower" (as KRQE reported) who's been charged in the stabbing death of Joel Leyva. "I have not heard of her," says Oz. "I do not know anyone who heard of her. A couple people I talked to said they have not seen her at any of the larger events." But, she acknowledges, practitioners are frequently solitary.
Still, the only real law in Wicca is about "harming none," Oz says, "and about always using your energy positively." Reports have implied that Sanford took Leyva to the Foothills to celebrate a ritual for spring. Albuquerque police said it was solstice. Sanford said it was Beltane. Oz says the murder happened during equinox.
There's a lot of ignorance on display in this case, she adds. "The police are so poorly informed and made statements that were so wrong. They're trying to see what the crime had to do with a holiday. I thought we convinced police decades ago that our holidays don't have anything to do with human sacrifice."
In the '80s and '90s, Oz and CASHEW did work to educate people. They made booklets of information to explain the religion to police and the general public. "People associate Wicca with devil worship. We have no concept of the devil at all. We are absolutely not Satanists. Wiccans will not allow Satanists to join our organizations."
But it's the last religion, she says, that’s acceptable to demonize. "It's still OK to put it as a headline in the newspaper: Wiccan Murderer, Wiccan Stabber, Wiccan Commits Crime. You don't see: Baptist Robs 7-Eleven or Mormon Rapist."
The demonic spin is a holdover from a European media blitz centuries ago. "This is the religion of our ancestors," Oz says. During the conversion of Europe to Christianity, people were told that the old religion was evil devil worship. "What's amazing, is that it was so successful, people today still believe it."