Satanists On The Prince’s Land

Daily Express (28th August, 2006)

On a balmy, late summer afternoon it seems like a strange place to do business with the Devil.

Middle-aged ramblers huddle around an ice-cream van, picknickers snooze on the close-cropped grass and children cluster around pot-bellied ponies for the obligatory holiday snaps.

Yet when night falls here on Dartmoor, that last great wilderness of southern England, some visitors clearly have a sinister purpose.

In recent weeks a series of satanic ceremonies have taken place on the vast 69,000-acre Dartmoor estate owned by the Duchy of Cornwall, the royal Trust which pays Prince Charles his Ł14 million annual income.

Sheep have been sadistically slaughtered; necks broken; eyes, tongues and sex organs often gouged or cut out. It is possible some were still alive as the mutilations took place.

Police have reports of a crude stone altar, possibly bloodstained, next to a wooden stake and a roughly-built den has been found near the scene of an attack.

On one occasion sheep carcasses were laid in the shape of a seven-pointed star, a symbol closely linked to the notorious Victorian occultist Aleister Crowley, once described as ‘the wickedest man in the world’.

More recently the animals have been left in lines, their heads grotesquely twisted as though looking back through nearby gates or field entrances.

Most bizarrely of all, these sacrificial rituals appear to be triggered by phases of the moon.

Duchy officials are aware of the livestock attacks but insist there is no evidence that the organisation is itself being targeted - even though Prince Charles is the future head of the Church of England.

A spokeswoman said: 'Our land agent at Princetown is aware of these incidents.

'We own land in the area which has common grazing rights. But we don't think our own tenants have lost sheep.

'We don’t feel this is something on which we want to comment but we would urge anyone with information to contact the police.'

However hill farmers on Dartmoor say the Prince takes a keen interest in their affairs. ‘He’ll have been informed of this, that’s certain.‘ said one.

Almost all the rituals have occurred three miles west of Princetown between Sampford Spiney, Merrivale, and the picturesque market town of Tavistock, Devon.

The area includes one of Dartmoor’s most important Bronze Age sites – the Merrivale stone circle and ritual complex – which local folklore describes as the ‘Gateway of the Dead’.

Other legends mention a sadistic witch called Vixiana who lived on Vixen Tor – one of Dartmoor’s best known granite outcrops. She is said to have conjured up dense fogs to lure travellers off the old trans-moor path between Tavistock and Princetown and into a deep bog.

Once trapped she would disperse the fog, allowing a good view of her hapless victims’ death struggles as they were inexorably sucked into the stinking depths.

In Britain’s increasingly urban society the idea of devil-worshippers dancing around Prince Charles’ Dartmoor manor at night seems risible - even if the sheep killings themselves are unsettling.

Yet we live in an age bombarded by the doctrine of new cults and religions, where mysticism is embraced by the vulnerable and where the Royal Navy is happy to set aside special on-board worshipping arrangements for serving Satanists.

The truth is that, as a nation, we remain fascinated by long-forgotten ancient customs – practices which once defined rural communities.

Nowhere is this better illustrated than in the hugely celebrated 1970s cult film The Wicker Man – the remake of which opens in London next week (Sept 1st).

The original screenplay tells the story of a policeman (Edward Woodward) who travels to a remote Scottish island to investigate a child’s disappearance. To his horror he discovers he has been lured to face his own, terrible, sacrificial death.

Inevitably, the Dartmoor sheep killings have attracted competing conspiracy theories. One farmer told me that special forces troops involved in night exercises were to blame. Another has heard rumours of similar livestock attacks, attributed to aliens, in the US.

While this is all good stuff for the coach party guides and bar-room gossips it cuts little ice with the Devon and Cornwall Constabulary. Officers insist they are keeping an open mind and have ruled nothing out.

However they cannot ignore the link between discovery of maimed sheep carcasses and phases of the moon, particularly full and new moons. Neither is this lost on those living in remote parts of the moor.

One farmer, who has had 12 sheep killed in four separate attacks, said: ‘We’re getting very scared. There’s no question about it.

‘If these people can kill and mutilate sheep what might they do to us. We’re pretty isolated and you do wonder who is out on the moor at night.’

The farmer, who would not be identified for fear of reprisals, added: ‘We’ve done our research and we suspect this is an occult group.

‘Apart from the appalling nature of the killings there are other pointers, such as co-ordination with full and new moons

‘We believe this is a cult linked to the Roman god Janus, the god of gateways. Dead sheep are often left in front of a gate - their heads twisted back as though looking through it.’

He said one carcass inspected by a vet suggested that the animal was still alive as one of its eyes was removed, although a post mortem examination was inconclusive.

In early Roman mythology Janus is portrayed with two faces, representing sun and moon, looking in opposite directions. He was worshipped as a god of gates, doorways, beginnings and endings and also symbolised change or transitions.

One of his main temples, in Rome, had double doors known as ‘The Gates of War’ at its main entrance. According to the historian Plutarch they were kept open in times of war and closed when the Empire was at piece. Plutarch dryly observed that they were rarely closed.

Most of the Dartmoor rituals have occurred within walking distance of the Pork Hill car park, a five minute drive from Princetown.

The area is some 12 miles from Dartmoor’s ‘celebrity corner’ around Chagford, where stars such as Noel Edmonds, Ade Edmondson, Jennifer Saunders, Lenny Henry, Dawn French and Peter de Savary own country homes.

Police say the first occult-style killings occurred on January 2nd last year when seven sheep, including two owned by farmer Chris Cole, were strangled and arranged in the shape of a seven-pointed star. The first new moon of the year occurred a week later.

On October 17th 2005, the night of a full moon, a further six were slaughtered and their eyeballs removed.

Vets later confirmed that the mutilation was not the work of birds.

Over the last two months there have been three separate attacks all close to the Pork Hill car park.

These occurred on or around July 25th, a new moon, when three sheep were killed; July 11th, a full moon, two killed and June 25th, a new moon, when a further three were killed.

RSPCA inspectors are also investigating reports that a sheep found dead two weeks ago (Aug 13th) eight miles south on Borringdon Hill had what seemed to be a half-moon symbol carved into its flesh.

Mr Cole, 49, who owns land at Sampford Spiney, said: ‘We don’t know who is behind this and where it might lead. It’s really unnerving.

‘I’ve lost two sheep but what really baffles me is how they were caught. They are nervous animals, easily spooked.

‘You can’t just run around and grab them. Even if you somehow caught one – and it would take several experienced livestock handlers - the rest would be out of sight.

‘People talk of nets or tranquiliser darts being used but we really have no idea.’

Princetown neighbourhood beat officer PC David Pickles said the attacks were being treated as ‘criminal damage with a ritual motive.’

He has received reports of a makeshift altar and what appeared to be a hand-built den near the scene of one attack. Frustratingly, it was broken up by a farmer before he could see it.

‘We always keep an open mind but there does seem to be a ritualistic element to all this’ he said.

‘We have no knowledge of any cults operating in this area, nor any idea who is responsible. But someone, somewhere knows what’s going on.

'The attacks have all taken place close to the Pork Hill car park and whoever is responsible may be using that as a base. If anyone has sen lights or suspicious activity there at night I would like to speak to them.

'One farmer found a rough shelter with what appeared to be a kind of altar - three stones laid in a Fleur-de-Lys pattern - and a wooden stake nearby. There were possibly blood stains on one stone.

A spokeswoman for the RSPCA said; ‘It has been suggested to us that these cruel attacks on animals are linked to the Occult. Whatever the motive it is totally unacceptable.

‘This is not our area of expertise but it must be quite a spectacle, well organised and involving at least two people.

‘We desperately need information on those responsible.’

The Pagan Federation has moved quickly to distance itself from the incidents. ‘No normal pagan is going to be involved with the ritual killing of animals,’ said a spokesman.

‘There may be people who belong to extreme groups who worship the devil and they may engage in these activities. But it has nothing to do with paganism.’

Peter Young, landlord of the Dartmoor Inn at Merrivale, said he occasionally catered for pagan weddings performed at the nearby stone circle.

‘The slaughter of these sheep is something altogether different and rather sinister.’ he said. ‘People are nervous.’

The Ven. Mike Edson, spokesman on the Occult for the Church of England’s Exeter Diocese, said he had heard ‘anecdotal rumours’ of black magic activity on Dartmoor.

‘The Church has no information on a Janus cult,’ he said. ‘All I know is that Janus is the God of the Gate.

‘This is a nasty business and the people responsible clearly need spiritual, if not mental, help.’

As dusk falls on Dartmoor tonight, few will argue with that.