Police running scared from drug gangs in one of Mexico’s deadliest cities are using bizarre rituals involving animal sacrifice and spirit tattoos to seek protection from raging violence on the U.S. border.
In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California.
Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets.
Army raids on homes of police working for cartels have found ornately adorned Santeria-type altars covered with statues and skulls stuffed with money paying homage to gods and spirits.
“We all know that guns and body armour are useless against the cartels because they are well-armed and can attack any time. But this is something we can believe in, that really works,” said a Tijuana-based policeman called Daniel.
Small groups of police in the city started turning to strange rituals about 18 months ago, a practice spotted when municipal cleaners found a trail of dead chickens on beaches.
Priests and police say the animal sacrifices release life to rejuvenate spirits that will shield officers against hitmen. They believe the effects are intensified on full moon nights.
Many police see a need to shield themselves from witchcraft used by drug gangs who mix Caribbean black magic and occultism from southern Mexico using things like human bones, dead bats and snake fangs to curse enemies and unleash evil spirits.
The rituals are carried out by sometimes shadowy Mexicans who have menial day jobs and are priests by night. They claim to be trained in Voodoo, Santeria and other religions from time spent in the Caribbean and in Mexican towns like Catemaco, a centre for witchcraft on the Gulf of Mexico.
Police have the quiet support of their superiors.