Jun 22, 2022 I Nick Redfern

When a Monster Might Not Really be a Monster: Cryptozoology and Religion Come Together

The island of Puerto Rico is home to a number of different religions, one of them being Santeria – that is also practiced throughout much of the rest of the Caribbean. Its origins, however, can be found in the traditions of the Yoruba people of the Federal Republic of Nigeria, West Africa. While those that adhere to the teachings of Santeria believe in the existence of one, overall god, they also believe there are numerous sub-gods too, which are collectively known as the Orishas. Those that are initiated into the religion – and which are known as Santeros – are required to go through a week-long process of purification, one which involves the application of both herbs and water to carefully and completely cleanse the body. Not only that, a great deal of time and effort is expended by the Santeros when it comes to the appeasement of their many and varied sub-deities. One way in which this has been achieved (but far less so today) is by animal sacrifice - and, specifically, the killing of chickens and goats, which just happen to be the most favored delicacies of Puerto Rico’s most famous and mysterious animal: the Chupacabra. There is a very good reason why I mention this, as will soon become clear. Santeria has a long history on Puerto Rico: it took much of its inspiration from Nigerian slaves shipped over to the island in the 18th century. As for the matter of animal sacrifice, this was typically carried out by a Santero who was well-versed in the many and varied intricacies of the religion. The reasons for such sacrifices were numerous and included a desire for physical well-being, riches, and good fortune. Just like each and every paranormal pact, this one came at a price: money, of course.   

(Nick Redfern) Welcome to the island of Puerto Rico...and maybe to a few Chupacabras

A Santero would rub the skin of a paying client with the body of the animal that was to be imminently sacrificed. Doing so, the followers of Santeria believed, transferred whatever ailed the person – or whatever they desire – into the body of the animal. The sacrificing of the animal was an act designed to ensure the wish reaches the Orishas, who granted them whatever it was that the person in question required. Sometimes, the corpse of the animal was destroyed; on other occasions it was eaten. As for the blood, it was served in a large vessel that is then offered to the gods. Santeria has an offshoot known variously as Mayombe, Palo, or Palo Mayombe, but which, for the sake of ease, I will refer to as Palo. Its rituals – of supposedly being able to grant wealth, health and power – are essentially identical to those of regular Santeria. But not always: while on Puerto Rico in May 2007 I was able to hook up with a man named Sal, who knew a great deal about the dark world of Palo and who told me a profoundly disturbing story. 

Sal said there existed on Puerto Rico what can only be described as a rogue form of Palo, one that was far removed from its conventional, original form, and which practiced highly controversial rituals. The group, he added, was one that pretty much no-one in the regular Santeria community knew about or was linked to. The rituals of the group typically revolved around the sacrifice of chickens, goats and peacocks. According to Sal, the group began its deadly activities in late 1994, or maybe early 1995, and was focused on providing a unique service, in return for a great deal of money: a guarantee of power and wealth. This was, without doubt, very similar to the world of the Santeros, except for one thing. Sal said that many of the people who had sold their souls to this Palo offshoot were nothing less than major, household names: famous actors, politicians, musicians, authors, and even – he claimed – certain figures in the world of royalty.

(Nick Redfern) Mysteries of creatures and religion

Some of the rituals, Sal said, were held in a large and spacious house, one that was owned by a rich and influential figure in the equally rich and influential area of Condado, which is situated in Santurce, a district of San Juan. Other rituals were supposedly undertaken, in somewhat dicey fashion, deep in the heart of the El Yunque rain forest. As well as sacrifices and the dishing up of dead bodies to ancient deities, wild, alcohol- and cocaine-fueled orgies were the name of the game, too. It’s all very reminiscent of the Tom Cruise-Nicole Kidman movie of 1999, Eyes Wide Shut. As for the chupacabra connection to the story, Sal claimed that while the group was not responsible, per se, for creating the legend of the beast, the members most definitely exploited it to their great advantage and to the absolute hilt. By that, he meant – and particularly in relation to the events in El Yunque – when the group was busy killing chickens and goats in the rain forest, and then draining their blood and offering it up to the gods, it made a great deal of sense for them to spread tales of a chupacabra or several on the loose [italics mine]. By doing so, their controversial actions remained buried under a mass of tales of an animal-killing, blood-drinking creature that might not actually exist – or that actually might. Hmm. Is it possible that Cryptozoologists have been duped? That the blood-driven Chupacabra was created to hide blood-driven secret societies?

It was in the mid-1990s that the phenomenon of the chupacabra exploded all across Puerto Rico. So far as can be determined, the menacing creature first surfaced in March 1995. That was when numerous animals were found slaughtered in the towns of Morovis (located in central Puerto Rico) and Orocovis, which is situated within the aforementioned La Cordillera Central mountain range. Locals were plunged into states of near-hysteria by the attacks, which reportedly left animals dead, with strange marks on their necks, and a distinct lack of blood in their corpses. Since many of the early attacks were on goats, the term, “chupacabra,” was created. It means, in Spanish, goat-sucker. Vampires were on the loose; monstrous vampires. Reports of strange killings soon began to surface from other parts of the island. The creatures were clearly on the move. The death-rate increased even more. The population was on edge and the media had something new and sensational to report on. It was a turbulent and strange time.

But, what, exactly, was responsible for all the killings? Yes, there were plenty of dead animals but, unfortunately, there was no solid, eyewitness testimony relative to the killers themselves. That is, until August 1995, when a woman named Madelyne Tolentino - who lived in Canovanas, which is close to the northeast coast of Puerto Rico - changed everything. Tolentino’s description of the creature she encountered, close to her mother’s home, was disturbing, to say the very least. It was a description eagerly embraced by the island’s media and by investigators of monsters and mysteries.

(Nick Redfern) The Chupacabra: A Legend?

Tolentino told journalists and researchers that the creature was around three feet in height, bipedal, ran in a weird, hopping fashion, had large black eyes, bony fingers on each hand, overly long arms and legs, and a kind of feathery line running down its back. Or, it appeared to Tolentino to be a feathery line: a young boy employed by Tolentino’s husband claimed that he saw the beast up close and personal and maintained that the feathers were, in reality, sharp spines. The boy also said that the creature possessed a mouthful of vicious-looking fangs. Not only did the people know of the chupacabra and its predations, they also now knew what it looked like: something straight out of their worst nightmares.

As the years progressed, so did the attacks. And what was, for a while, a mystery of purely Puerto Rican proportions, very soon became global. Within twelve months of the chupacabra surfacing in Puerto Rico it did likewise in Mexico. Then, as the 1990s came to a close, the focus was on Brazil: blood-drained farm animals were found strewn across Sorocaba, Sao Paulo. Just a few months later, Chile was hit hard by the beast, which reportedly killed not dozens, but hundreds of animals. Texas became a favorite haunt of the chupacabra in 2004. Even Russia got in on the act in the 2000s. The chupacabra was no longer just a mystery. It was a veritable planetary phenomenon. But, what is the truth of the creatures? Are we really dealing with a deadly group of blood-sucking monsters, ones that have now spread across the world, killing and violating as they see fit? Or, could the answers be found in the domains of the occult, the paranormal, and the supernatural? Something very much like that happened during the Cold War with a man named Edward Lansdale, a military officer who created a monster on the Phlippines that never really existed. But, that in a way, did exist.

Nick Redfern

Nick Redfern works full time as a writer, lecturer, and journalist. He writes about a wide range of unsolved mysteries, including Bigfoot, UFOs, the Loch Ness Monster, alien encounters, and government conspiracies. Nick has written 41 books, writes for Mysterious Universe and has appeared on numerous television shows on the The History Channel, National Geographic Channel and SyFy Channel.

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