Sunday, February 20, 2011

Obscene Promises

or The Palo of Jersey
Spider Circus,
Gros Bon Ange of the witch-doctor Ryan Valentine,
detail from 'the White Devils'

Don’t cry too hard for the Paleros in Jersey.  This is how it is after the tower falls and they are better equipped to deal with the subtleties of the Passaic’s currents than the fuzz.  Really that’s what this is all about.  Back around the turn of the millennium the carcasses of chickens starting showing up on the shores of the Passaic in Jersey, all of them murdered in a cold and calculated fashion.  It goes that way sometimes, I am no expert in Palo but sometimes you don’t want to keep the meat of a sacrificial offering (especially in the case of bad sickness, most of the old hoodoo also recommend that the remains are disposed of at the banks of a river if possible). 

Despite what some may regard as a great denigration unto chickens, that’s not really the reason the cops have it in for the Paleros.  The cops have it in for them because they are working sorcerers and these days a working sorcerer is probably not working with the cops.  For the most part, peddling anything other than show tricks can be twisted up into a criminal offence if the Prosecution is really determined.  Sorcery by its very nature cannot really be protected under the aegis of religious freedom, nor should any sorcerer worth their salt desire it to be.  Yet because much of the work of sorcery in general is devotional and fetishistic (traditionally, religious modes of thought) these aspects don’t make good fuel for a prosecution.  Prosecution requires demonstrable criminal intent.

That’s where it gets tricky for the Palero, bokor and hoodoo alike.  Though the western establishment might erroneously equate religious and sorcerous devotion, the sorcerer does not.  There is no formal religious hierarchy to sustain these men and women, this is true of all of the ‘Creole’ spiritualities.  Even the pious and devoted houngans and mambos of Haitian Vodou must first gather to themselves a congregation before they might tend it and I am willing to wager once again that that’s the way it should be.  Therein lay the risk however, for when the Palero offers legitimate sorcerous influence in exchange for money they are taking their first step out from beneath the protection of religious law.  Most often the nature of the work itself carries the sorcerer away from the watchful eye of the establishment.

Occasionally (sometimes frequently, depending on the specialties of the individual) however, the sorcerer is brought into direct contact with the secular powers.  Being contracted for assistance in legal proceedings or to protect an individual from conventional law enforcement are both common examples of work that will carry the sorcerer that much farther away from the protection of religious law.  The Paleros scattered about Jersey have inflamed the obvious conflicts between the sorcerer and the legal establishment by being outrageously good at what they do, a degree of consternation on the part of the authorities can be forgiven.  I for one, am not terribly worried over this latest brew-haw (its like the 5th time in ten years), the Palo are notoriously effective when it comes to influencing legal proceedings.  If they choose to deal with this latest challenge through some conventional secular means I’ll obviously support them but I’m not exactly holding my breath.  That’s not how I would deal with it and I very much doubt it’s how they will either.       

I will address a few things though, for my fellow mercenaries.  The playing field has changed a bit in the last decade or so.  Based on the most recent base psychological profile (2006) from the FBI for a ‘ritual criminal’, only ritual fetish demonstrably used as a sympathetic conduit for violence or degradation (mangled dolls for instance) can be reliably used to demonstrate mental imbalance in a N. American court.  If the sorcerer has used any sort of physical link in the crafting of such a fetish (hair, nails, etc.) especially if they have done so without the express permission of the individual in whose likeness the simulacrum was made then the prosecution can demonstrate that the sorcerer is imbalanced with possibly violent tendencies.  If any of the ritual fetish are killing tools and have been used (blood or hair left on the fetish) then the sorcerer will almost definitely be treated as a possibly violent offender.  

Though the FBI and other secular enforcement agencies internationally will not violate religious law by attempting to prosecute animal sacrifice, they do still consider its practice by solo individuals a key marker for pathological violence. Any ritual work involving the public display of animal remains (among the Creole traditions most fetish are left somewhere they can be seen, or placed where their influence is desired) will be perceived as a physical threat and you will be promptly declared a violent criminal.  The instance of a goat’s tongue nailed to a tree outside a Jersey courthouse is an excellent example, no one could explain how it got there and no one took credit for it but it was nonetheless immediately construed as a death threat (and not the sorcerous attempt to silence a legal rival which it obviously was). Things to think about.  Sometimes the renegade nature of the act itself will assure its success and I wholeheartedly enjoy the renegade nature of contemporary sorcery but only a fool does not familiarize themselves with their rivals weapons.

Currently, it is not against the law to own human remains in the States (since the proliferation of the cults of Los Muertos and Palo a movement has begun to press for a rewrite of these laws in America) even if those remains are stolen, as long as the conditions they are kept under are sanitary and the items are not used as a means of psychological abuse or intimidation. (Your not allowed to just have human remains because you like them in Canada so technically its not legal, but for the purposes of art, spirituality or medicine donated remains can be used but not bought and sold).  The Palo, los Muertos and the Red and Black Schools of Vodou all greatly value human remains for their talismanic properties.  It is not impossible to procure human remains legally (as it is so often held) but it is difficult and tremendously expensive and so the proliferation of los Muertos and the Palo in N. America has led to a brisk and illegal black market trade in human remains.  Possession of remains of any sort will raise the eyebrow of the establishment and you will most definitely be treated as a dangerous suspect should they be found in your possession (this is obviously compounded if they are shown to be stolen) though you cannot be charged for this alone.

Don’t charge your clients up front when it can be avoided.  If you only accept full payment for services rendered it is a lot harder for you to be prosecuted for extortion, fraud or confidence scams.  An individual who provides payment upon the successful completion of a service cannot easily claim to have been extorted, taking money upfront for magical services can make an individual much more vulnerable to prosecution.  One of the very best reasons the cops in Jersey haven’t been able to make anything stick to the Paleros in the last ten years is that they don’t have any unsatisfied customers and that remains the best defense to this day.  Know your region, if you’re going to charge upfront for some services then educate yourself as to the point at which the cash value of a perceived fraud has moved you from petty to major criminal charges.

If you own a shop or botanica of any sort then learn the difference between a criminal raid and an inspection by your local municipal enforcement agencies.  In most places in N. America any storefront selling herbs, incense or holistic medicines can come under the investigation of local food and drug agencies.  You are legally obligated to co-operate with a municipal inspection of any kind unless you are requested to give up confidential information.  My advice to shop owners is to get a digital camera and keep it around.  When inspected, film everything.

If cops or vans have arrived with the enforcement agents, then you are about to be subjected to a criminal raid and seizure.  In this case, you are not obligated to help in any way or to answer any questions and unless you are personally under arrest your movements cannot legally be restricted.  Once again, if this occurs say nothing (you will save your lawyer the trouble of having all of that testimony struck as inadmissible and yourself a tidy sum in legal fees) and film everything.  Enforcement agents will not like the camera but as I mentioned above your movements cannot be legally restricted unless you are personally under arrest.  Any criminal raid also requires a warrant, read it carefully and if the enforcement agents violate its conditions at any point, film it.  Any representative of any agency not mentioned in the warrant can be forced from private property and should be immediately asked to leave.  Did I mention film it?

There are always local vagaries when it comes to the application of secular law and a sorcerer with a successful private practice would do well to familiarize themselves with them.  The FBI methods for profiling repeat criminals hold in Canada as well as the States and they represent a good model for how to attract the wrong kind of attention.  In some cases though, like the law in the States and the cults of the Palo and Los Muertos some degree of rivalry should really just be expected.

As for the latest installment in the ongoing drama of the Paleros vs. the Jersey PD, I suspect the Paleros will once again make good on their obscene promises because they are working sorcerers and making good on obscene promises is what we do for a living.

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