OKAY FINE, WE’LL SOLVE CATTLE MUTILATIONS, IF YOU INSIST
A few months back the Discovery show “Expedition X” emailed us asking about, of all things, cattle mutilations.
“Expedition X” is a paranormal investigation-tinged reality show, and Oregon ranchers apparently told them Satanists are killing their cows. Which is only true to the degree that I will gladly pay you Tuesday for a hamburger today.
So our own Simone Lasher gave the producers an interview clearing Satan of suspected vaccacide. But when the episode finally aired this week we found that Simone, much like the cow’s soft tissue, was cut out in the end.
That’s a letdown, but these things happen. Even so, if Oregon ranchers want to know who’s really behind “cattle mutilations,” we can still tell them. In fact we’d be happy to crack this case once and for all. The real culprits are quite obvious:
It’s the ranchers.
According to sociologists’ Margaret Gilliam and Robert Balch, this problem, much like economic depression, obsessive Star Wars misogyny, and Earth Shoes, has its roots in the 70s.
Their 1991 essay Devil Worship In Montana holds that “beginning in the fall of 1973, law enforcement in Kansas began receiving reports that cattle were found dead with their udders and genitals cut off, said to have been removed with ‘surgical precision,'” which was presumably quite a jarring contrast to the usual calls about whether their refrigerator was running.
Before long, ranchers in other states were also having a cow about mysterious cattle deaths. “In some, the blood appeared to be drained from the carcasses,” Gilliam and Beach write. Sound spooky, gang, let’s split up and search for clues.
“Speculation about the perpetrators included UFOs, Bigfoot, and government scientists, but the most common story was Satan worshippers,” the pair continue. Sure, play right into Bigfoot’s hands why don’t you.
Though we had not yet crossed the fateful meridian into Satanic Panic, American culture already had Beelzebub on the brain in the early ’70s. In the mode of TV, think of it as perhaps a pilot episode for the real thing.
Books like walking hallucination Hal Lindsey’s Satan Is Alive & Well On Planet Earth and “ex-Satanist” Mike Warnke’s faked absurdobiography The Satan Seller primed evangelicals to believe in a hidden conspiracy of evil behind every hitching post.
Old Anton LaVey was riling up headlines with his Halloween horns and nudie shows, although in truth Rosemary’s Baby did more to fix the devil firmly in America’s heated imagination, prompting imitators like Touch of Satan and The Mephisto Waltz.
And the Manson murders in ’69 sent square America’s fears of youth counterculture over the moon, after which new religious movements became synonymous with the fear of “cults” in suburban culture.
“Accusations of brainwashing by cult became social weapons,” the editors of the book The Satanism Scare write of the period, and thus “cults [were] the most despised group in America.”
Few vilified groups actually matched any definition of a cult, nor did most people even know such definitions anyway, but it hardly mattered. So when it came to the slaughterhouse jive, of course devil worshipers took the rap for “cattle mutilations”; how could it be any other way?
You’ve no doubt anticipated the twist: Satanists didn’t do it. They couldn’t, because there was no “it.” With one critical exception we’ll get to in a minute, cattle mutilations don’t happen.
Federal investigation throughout the 70s and 80s found that supposedly mutilated cattle were in fact just dead cows. And much like your hopes for the finale to “Supernatural,” they died in entirely normal and expected ways.
“Mutilations were caused by predators such as coyotes,” the ’91 paper discloses, and “examinations of the incisions debunked the hypothesis that knives or razors were used.”
Forensics isn’t a key job skill in ranching, so ranchers weren’t that great at identifying the supposed “surgical precision” of the bite wounds. A shame nobody asked the coyotes first and saved a lot of taxpayer dollars.
Organs like udders and genitalia were gone not because cultists extracted them for occult purposes but because they’re soft tissue that varmints eat first. Similarly, blood was not “drained” from carcasses, it simply settled, dried out, or decomposed, which are pretty much the only things blood can do in a carcass.
Sociologist Jeffrey Victor’s 1993 book Satanic Panic explains that forensic surveys concluded that natural causes such as disease, predation, toxic vegetation, and snakebite killed the livestock.
None of the snakes so much as wore black hooded robes or chanted reverse Latin while doing the deed.
Be that as it may, Victor writes that even after publication of these findings some people just plain refused to believe it, because OF COURSE THEY FUCKING DID ARE YOU NEW HERE OR SOMETHING?
So these stories still pop up, both in reality TV and in reality reality. But the truth is that ranchers themselves are behind “cattle mutilations,” in that they both invented and perpetuate the legend pretty much singlehandedly.
And they have also, every now and then, engineered the real thing too. See if this last revelation from Victor’s Satanic Panic rings any cowbells: “In a few cases, mutilations may have been carried out by pranksters” (usually on already-dead cows) in response to the rumors.
See, once you create a myth and spread it around, eventually someone somewhere takes a shine to it and, perhaps, tries it out.
Usually this is harmless (if sometimes stupid), because most people are harmless (if sometimes stupid). But if you keep it up long enough, sooner or later…well, it feels like the cows really have enough problems already, don’t you think?
And of course, such non-copycats may believe they can commit the acts with impunity, imagining that everyone will just blame the Satanists.
Well, the Discovery thing didn’t work out, but earlier this month we got an email from MEL Magazine asking us to weigh in on an even more critical issue:
It’s good to be needed.