County police say an occult ritual involving animal corpses that was performed on Halloween night in Ellicott City appears to have been the work of "self-styled satanists," rather than an organized satanic cult.
The bodies of two raccoons, two cats, a rabbit and a groundhog -- five of which had been arranged in a circle on the points of a painted pentagram -- were found Thursday morning on an open field behind Centennial Lane Elementary School.
A note found underneath the groundhog, which was positioned in the center of the pentagram, contained in backwards cursive handwriting the phrase, "It is Satan's power which gives us strength/The Anti-Christ is rising. Praise be to him."
Although a ritualistic ceremony appears to have been performed with the animals, four of which had been killed by blows to the head within the previous 12 hours, police say it does not appear a satanic cult group is responsible.
"If this was a full-blown satanic cult, they wouldn't be doing this on an open field behind an elementary school," said John D. Paparazzo, a county police expert on satanic practices. "Ritualistic things were done here, but the true cults usually practice within the privacy of their own homes."
The ritual performed at the school was one of a textbook variety, Paparazzo said. The backward writing on the note, the pentangular pattern, and the references to the antichrist are well-known symbols of devil worship, according to Paparazzo.
In almost all cases, satanic rituals performed in an open area turn out to be the work of teen-agers looking to experiment with the occult, Paparrazo said.
"Typically, these are people we refer to as 'self-styled satanists,' who know a little bit about the subject and are trying to practice it," Paparazzo said. "It's very bizarre stuff and every now and then, someone decides to try it."
The practice of satanic worship is not a crime since it is protected under the constitutional provisions for religious freedom. Police, however, are investigating the Halloween incident as a crime of cruelty to animals.
Two of the animals appeared to have been recent road kills, while the other four were killed after being struck in the head with some type of blunt object. The animals were found at 9 a.m. about 15 feet from a pathway near the school's playing field.
County animal control officials are examining the injuries to the animals. Police say that an incision was found on the rabbit, although it is not known whether blood letting -- a common practice in satanic worship -- was attempted by the ritual performer.
The satanic incident is the second to be reported to county police this year. The other incident, on Feb. 5, involved satanic messages painted in an abandoned Ellicott City house in the 4600 block of Dorsey Hall Drive.
Friedel U. Warner, principal at Centennial Lane Elementary School, said no plans are in the works to talk to students about the incident, which she said has not been the focus of any alarm at the school.
"It's better to say nothing at all because it just alarms the kids, especially with the recent events," Warner said. Controversy recently emerged in county schools when two parents objected that a book on demonic hexes and another about a girl befriending the devil were available in school libraries.
Police spokesman Gary L. Gardner said no suspects have been identified in the Halloween incident.
"It could be anyone -- learning about this stuff is as simple as going to the library," Gardner said. "There are plenty of books available in any library that will show you how to perform the rituals."