Friday, January 27, 2012

Latin American High Weirdness: The Cults V

In part four of this series I began examining the life and times of the serial killer, drug smuggler, and some times psychic, Adolfo Constanzo. The Cuban-American Constanzo founded a cult in Mexico in the mid-1980s that quickly attracted Mexican celebrities, drug smugglers and even police officers. By the late 1980s Constanzo had thrown in with the Hernandez drug cartel of Matamoros, where human sacrifice became a regular feature of Constanzo's cult. Interestingly, one of Constanzo's chief recruiting tools for his blood cult was apparently the 1987 horror film The Believers, starring Martin Sheen.
"...gang members told police that they were initiated into the religious ways of the cult through repeated viewings of the movie, The Believers.

"Young Serafin Hernandez Garcia told authorities it was his favorite film.

"There were startling similarities between Constanzo's gang and the evil cult portrayed in The Believers. Most significantly, both groups practiced human sacrifice to attain protection and power from the gods...

"Many video stores along the border said they could barely keep the film in stock once its cult connection was announced. 'You'd think it was a new release, but it came out three years ago,' said one dismayed video store employee...

"Not all video stores joined in the bonanza, however. Once word was out, a leading Texas chain store removed The Believers from the shelves of their video section. Officials said the move was made because the company felt it wasn't right to profit from the nauseating slaughter in Matamoros..."
(Hell Ranch, Clifford L. Linedecker, pgs. 95-96)

The obsession Constanzo's cult had with The Believers is very interesting. While not immensely popular during its initial release it is now considered something of a forgotten classic. The film concerns a police psychiatrist (Sheen) who becomes involved in a series of child murders occurring in New York City. The children are killed in a highly ritualistic fashion and it is soon revealed that a cult with high society connections (including ties to the police) is behind the killings.

More and more I can't help but feel that this film is significant on several levels beyond its connection to the Constanzo cult. In a truly creepy synch, one of the cult leaders is also the head of a prominent children's charity which seemingly is used to recruit victims for the cult's sacrifices. I couldn't help but being reminded of Jerry Sandusky and the whole Penn State sex scandal upon rewatching this film recently. The film's star, Martin Sheen, was in another film, Apocolypse Now, which I attach great esoteric significance too. I've written on it before here.

Sheen in Apocalypse Now

Even more significantly, The Believers was written my Mark Frost, who would go on to create the legendary TV series Twin Peaks with maverick filmmaker David Lynch. Regular readers of this blog know that I consider Twin Peaks one of the finest accounts of magick to ever be released. I've written heavily on the TV series here, the viewing of which I compared to an initiation into an occult society. Previously I had credited Lynch with much of the esoterica that made its way into Peaks but in light of Frost's work on The Believers I may have to revise my opinion a bit. Frost's script demonstrates both an accurate depiction of occult rites in addition to compelling links between the occult and high society.

Mark Frost

Were these VIP links part of the appeal the film had amongst Constanzo's followers? And what of the occult sacrifices of children which have darkly dogged the Constanzo cult since their saga began to break in the newspapers? Perhaps the highly realistic depictions of Afro-Carribean religious practices were the sole appeal, as mainstream sources have contended. Whatever the case, there is clearly more to the Constanzo cult than even the tabloids would acknowledge. For the rest of this piece I shall examine some of the more curious aspects the Constanzo cult.

We will start with Constanzo's religion. He is in many instances in the blogosphere (and even by researchers such as David McGowan and Michael Newton) described as a Satanists. His mother and other family members have sworn up and down that Constanzo was nothing but a good Catholic boy. Many have claimed that he practiced Santeria.
"Santeria in its present form was first practiced around 2500 B.C. in what is now known as Nigeria, on the banks of expansive Niger River. It was then that Yoruba tribesmen first developed the nature religion that allowed mortals to approach the gods through worship of natural objects such as shells, feathers, and herbs.

"Santeria -Spanish for 'worship of saints' -spread to the New World in the 1500s when slaves brought captured black Africans to the Southern United States, and the Caribbean as an inexpensive source of manual labor.

"The Africans had no choice but to work for their new masters, but they didn't really abandon their old gods. Ordered to adopt the white man's religion, many of them outwardly complied and, to their masters, seemed to have adopted Catholicism and its saints. But among themselves, the slaves learned to identify each of the saints with one of their own African gods. So when they were seen by owners apparently praying to a small clay image of Saint Lazarus, for instance, they may instead have been petitioning the ancient Yoruba god and patron of the sick, Babalu-'Aye'. Or is they were kneeling before an image of Christ on the cross, they may have been seeking communion with Oloru'n-Orofi, the Creator Himself.

"The clandestine Santeria ceremonies helped homesick and frightened slaves maintain a strong bond with an Africa thousands of miles away. Gradually, the religion based on old Yoruba beliefs, with a strong meld of Catholicism, spread through the islands, Central and South America. The religion flourished in the New World, and although it maintained many of its secret ways, it gradually moved into the open; today it is widely practiced alongside Catholicism in the islands and in Latin America. Santeria established an especially strong foothold in Cuba and in Brazil, where, in slightly different form, it is known as Macumba, or Umbanda. And increasingly, worship of the old Yoruba gods has moved onto mainland North America and is growing in popularity among Hispanics, blacks, and Anglos.

"Practitioners of Santeria, called Santeros, worship a bewildering array of deities, called Orishas, who are represented in their dual role as Catholic saints and ancient African gods. They can be summoned for help during times of need or crisis. Santeros maintain that the orishas are extremely powerful, and each control specific aspects of life, such as purity,  employment, health -and death."
(Hell Ranch, Clifford L. Linedecker, pgs. 91-92)

Palo Mayombe is the other chief religion Constanzo is thought to have practiced. It is generally described as the dark side of Santeria.
"Described by experts as an evil black-magic flip side of Santeria, Palo Mayombe is a religion who disciples call for help from Catholic saints, ancient African spirit gods and the tortured souls of the enslaved dead. It has its roots in the impenetrable jungles of the African Congo, and like Santeria, its practice was melded with Catholicism by slaves after reaching the New World.

"Some santeros keep two altars in their house -one for Santeria and one for Palo Mayombe. Their approach to natural magic is similar, but there are vast differences between the two beliefs. Santeria reputedly offers its gods the blood of animal sacrifices killed quickly and humanely, while the animal and human sacrifices offered during some Palo Mayombe rituals are deliberately tortured and horribly mutilated, Pain and fear are powerful elements of the rites.

"Sometimes the blood of the sacrificial victim is consumed by participants in ceremonies, acts occasionally followed by other vile forms of necrophilia and cannibalism. Parts of victims are boiled in black n'gangas -similar to the crimson-tinged cauldrons found in the ceremonial hut on the Santa Elena Ranch. Palo Mayombe cultists believe that the spirits of the victims will become trapped in the cauldrons and enslaved, to be called on for protection or to carry out evil. Some Palo Mayombe practitioners prefer that brain tissue be left in skulls used in the obscene acts of necromancy so that the agonized spirits they have summoned can think and act more intelligently."
(ibid, pgs. 96-97)

Constanzo also seemingly added aspects of Mexican folk magic and rituals of the Aztecs to his belief system. Many of his victims were found with their hearts ritualistically removed in a fashion similar to how the Aztecs were thought to remove them, for instance. Is it also possible that the Sirius/Sothis religion that I've chronicled before here and here also influenced Constanzo's belief system?

Probably the two chief advocates of the so-called Sirius tradition are Robert K.G. Temple, an Oriental Studies and Sanskrit major from the University of Pennsylvania and fellow the Royal Astronomical Society, and Kenneth Grant, the former head of the Typhonian Order and Aleister Crowley disciple. Unlikely bedfellows indeed, yet both presented compelling theories of a cult whose belief system revolved around the star Sirius and that has existed in some form or other since at least ancient Sumeria. Temple built his theory off of the traditions of the Dogon people while Grant's was based upon the occult traditions Crowley taught him. Both theories held Africa to be a kind of repository of occult traditions.


I'll allow the great Robert Anton Wilson to sum up Temple's theory:
"Temple claimed  that Earth had been visited by an advanced race from a planet in the system of the double star, Sirius, around 4500 B.C. Temple based this assertion on the fact that definite and specific knowledge of the Sirius system can be found in the mythology of the Babylonians, the Egyptians, and some surviving African tribes -knowledge which modern astronomy  has only rediscovered with the fantastically delicate instruments of the last two decades...

"...Temple's evidence... could be interpreted to indicate the arrival of people from Sirius who had come here in a physical space ship around 4500 B.C. According to Temple, information about this had been passed on through various initiatory orders in the ancient Mediterranean and in Africa to the present time..."
(The Cosmic Trigger, pg. 9-10)
Much of Crowley's occult system revolved around his encounter with a being he dubbed Aiwaz, a being he closely associated with Sirius. He believed that others had been contacted by Aiwaz over the centuries and thus the traditions of Sirius had spread through out the world via the worship of Aiwaz.
"In ancient Egypt, the first anthropomorphic representation to succeed the long procession of zoomorphic deities, was that of Besz, or Vesz, the dwarf god. Albert Churchward notes that 'up to the time of Ptah, or Besz, the human likeness was not given to any god or goddess, and Atum-Horus, or Amen, the son of Ptah, is the earliest divinity in perfect human form.'

"The representation of Besz, based upon the anatomical peculiarities of a pygmy race of Nilotic origin, is the first effort ever made by man to mould his god in his own image, thus supporting the overwhelming evidence that the human race emerged from lower forms of life in the equatorial regions of Africa. Upon later fanning out, the race gradually swarmed northward along the Nile valley and thence to Mesopotamia where the first colony was founded. This was Sumer, and the dwarf god, Besz, Vesz, or Vass, was probably the original for of Ai-wass; Besz, or Betch, equates with Bitch. Bast, Bastard and Beast."
(The Magical Revival, Kenneth Grant, pg. 57)


I've speculated that the ancient goddess cults revolved around Sirius worship before here. Santeria and Palo Mayombe, the two belief systems of which the bulk of Constanzo's magical practices were based around, both derived from Africa and both were very ancient belief systems. Is it possible that parts of the Sirius tradition were incorporated into these belief systems long ago? I do not know enough about either religion to answer definitively either way to that question. However, I have chronicled the overlap between Freemasonry and Haitian Vodou before here, so perhaps there are ties between Santeria and Palo Mayombe and even more ancient occult traditions. It may even be that Santeria and Palo Mayombe represent the Sirius tradition in its rawest incarnation.

As I noted in part IV of this series, the first major ritual slaying attributed to the Constanzo cult was the killing of the Calzada family, one of the prime drug cartels in Mexico at the time. Constanzo sacrificed several prominent members on Walpurgis Night, one of the chief holidays in northern and central European paganism. Is this further evidence that a more ancient occult tradition, possibly one tied to Sirius, influenced Constanzo's cult? This is the only overt evidence that I've found linking Constanzo's practices to European occultism, but I can't help but feel there are much deeper connections.

Walpurgis Night

As to the Constanzo cult itself, it was a strikingly American institution, especially in the higher levels. Of course there was the Miami-born Constanzo himself, as well as several other key followers that hailed from the U.S.
"Though downplayed in most press reports, the Matamoros cult was largely an American entity. Its leader was Adolfo Constanzo, a Cuban-American born in Miami, Florida and raised in Miami and San Juan, Puerto Rico. Its 'high priestess' was Sara Aldrete, an honor student at Southmost, Texas College in Brownsville. One of the cult's top lieutenants, Serafin Hernandez Garcia, also lived in Brownsville and attended Southmost -as a law enforcement major. Serafin's grandfather was the owner of Rancho Santa Elena, where the cult performed its ritual sacrifices and buried many of its victims. Another cult member, drug baron Elio Hernandez Riveria, also hailed from Brownsville. Yet another lived in Weslaco, Texas."
(Programmed to Kill, David McGowan, pgs. 88-89)
I can't help but be reminded of the Peoples Temple and Jonestown when considering the perception of Constanzo's cult. While they are generally regarded as an Mexican entity in many accounts of the cult, their genesis and leadership was clearly from north of the border. The Peoples Temple was dominated by African-Americans yet the hierarchy was predominately white. The tragedy that was Jonestown unfolded in Guyana, South America, yet it was a tragedy largely involving Americans.

Many of the cult members displayed bizarre, detached behavior. In many cases they were described as emotionless -robotic, even. This was especially true of Elio Hernandez and other cult members who were arrested in the initial wave around Rancho Santa Elena.
"...None of the gang members seemed the least bit concerned. It was the damnedest thing, as if they had been arrested for a traffic ticket. Elio had actually laughed at his interrogators. 'You can't keep me here,' he had declared with complete conviction. 'Soon, I'll be gone.'

" 'They weren't worried at all,' Benitez recalled later. 'They thought we couldn't hurt them. They though they were protected.'

"It took a while to convince them otherwise."
(Buried Secrets, pgs. 30-31)
One of the most vicious of the Matamoros cultists, 'Little' Serafin Hernandez Garcia, was especially unnerving to the police.
"The interrogation of Little Serafin took five hours. As they listened, the agents sometimes crossed themselves. Some of them had wondered why their superstitious commandante kept strings of garlic, religious candles, amulets, and other charms of good luck in his office. Now they were glad to have them as they listened to young Hernandez's tale unfold.

"They had heard of black magic all their lives. Now they were seeing it work:

"A man with no soul.

"And Little Serafin did seem cold, without feeling, without any idea that what he had done was morally monstrous."
(ibid, pgs. 34-35)
In the case of Sara Aldrete, there was even evidence of a split personality.
"But investigators with the Mexico City attorney's office were unsure how to take Sara's confession because the accused 'godmother' of the cult had begun to show disturbing signs of a split personality. As the days wore on, three separate personas became evident -one for the police, one for the television cameras and a third that emerged when she talked to herself.

"U.S. Customs Service Agent Oran Neck told a reporter with the Houston Chronicle just days after Sara's arrest that she had lost touch with reality. He said that she was demonstrating a dual personality..."
(Hell Ranch, Clifford L. Linedecker, pg. 142)

Sara Aldrete

Like both Charles Manson and Jim Jones before him, Constanzo used sex as a key tool in controlling members. As I noted in part four of this series, Constanzo's primary objective in seducing Sara Aldrete was seemingly to gain control over Elio Hernandez, who had been obsessed over Aldrete for some time before either met Constanzo. Later on he forced Aldrete to have sexual relations with Hernandez to ensure the latter's loyalty to the cult. In general, Constanzo seems to have only sought out sexual relations with women when there was some benefit to his cult to be had. Control was also a big factor in his relations with men.
"He flew First Class, drove Lincoln continentals, gold Mercedes and sports cars, and wore diamond, sapphire, and ruby rings on every finger of both hands and gold necklaces around his neck. He purchased expensive jewelry and clothes for his lovers from the best stores, and twice in Brownsville he bought the same boyfriend $10,000 worth of elegant clothing in shopping sprees. He took them on trips to famous vacation resorts at Acapulco and Las Hadas. He wrote them poetry and love letters, filled with passionate promises of unending fidelity, then in a few months discarded them for new lovers. He was a social butterfly, and he was always the dominate member in his romantic relationships just as he was in business matters. Even after breakups, his cast off lovers remained mesmerized by his charm and charisma. And gradually he put together a following of lovers, ex-lovers and other privileged middle or upper-class young men who were personally devoted to him as they were to acquiring riches from the lucrative drug trade."
(ibid, pg. 28)
Its interesting that Constanzo, like both Manson and Jones, always assumed the dominate position in intercourse with men. All three seemed to have used sex with other men as a means of humiliating them and cementing control over them. Constanzo was also found of sodomizing his male victims before sacrificing them. Dominance and manipulation were the driving factors in virtually all of his sexual relations.

I've found no evidence that Constanzo was engaged in pedophilia, but it would not be out of character. Constanzo became sexually active in Miami's gay community when still a teenager and may have engaged in sex relations with much older men then. Later on, in Mexico, he seems to have primarily have sought very young men for lovers. Omar Orea, Constanzo's 'wife,' was barely 18 when he was seduced by Constanzo.

Omar (left) and Constanzo

In general, Constanzo's ties to children (or lack therefore of) have drawn much speculation. Perhaps most disturbing of all the accusations against the cult were those of child sacrifice.
"As the investigation proceeded, reports on the case grew more disturbing. Police reported finding blood-spattered altars in the homes of many of the suspected cultists, and Mexico City newspapers openly speculated that human infants had been ritually sacrificed by the group. Some reporters opined that babies might even have been bred specifically for that purpose. Michael Newton has reported that from 1987-1989, there were seventy-four unsolved ritual homicides in Mexico City; fourteen of those victims were infants."
(Programmed to Kill, David McGowan, pg. 91)
I'll remind the reader that various members of Constanzo's cult were obsessed with The Believers, a horror film revolving around a blood cult active in New York City. The plot revolves around a series of child sacrifices that the cult engages in to secure prosperity. Did Constanzo's followers possibly engage in similar rites to secure their lucrative drug trade? We shall likely never no.

And here I shall wrap things up for now. In next week's installment I shall finish up on Constanzo with several more mysterious ties between the Godfather of Matamoros and Charles Manson and Jim Jones. Stay tuned.

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