Over the past month, a bevy of rooster and goat carcasses have mysteriously appeared--usually on Tuesday mornings--along the railroad tracks in Southeast Portland. Several religion and Caribbean experts consulted by the Mercury all believe that the animals are likely the remainders of voodoo (properly spelled vodou) rituals.
"Vodou has such an evil reputation," explained Camilla Mortensen, a graduate student at the University of Oregon who is studying the centuries-old religion. "It really is a family-based religion for healing," she added. Unlike the popular vengeful image of dolls and hexes, in actual practice believers try to summon ancestral spirits to help with various problems, from failing health to career guidance.
Offerings from chocolates to animal souls are made to entice favors from ancestral spirits, said Mortensen. She went on to explain that, if this is indeed vodou, most likely the sacrifices have been made for a spirit known as Gedy, a powerful force for helping families through sicknesses and death, who likes sheep and goats.
"Like prayers to saints, sacrifices and offerings bring spirits down and keep them happy," explained Mortensen.
Each of the carcasses found last Tuesday in Southeast Portland was enclosed in a burlap or plastic bag. Oddly, within each bag were included seven pennies. Late last week, another three roosters were discovered further down the tracks; each had a seven of clubs playing card alongside it. Seven has various significances, usually to bring luck, in the religion of Santaria--a derivation of vodou. Experts also indicated the importance that sacrifices left at crossroads or pathways, such as railroad tracks, may indicate a wish for some sort of transition--out of sickness or for some change in fortunes.
Blending eastern African beliefs with Christianity, vodou has evolved from eighteenth-century slave colonies of Cuba and Haiti. Until recently, the religion in the United States has concentrated in the region spanning from New Orleans to Florida, where Cuban, Haitian and Creole populations are highest.
In Haiti, vodou is practiced openly with public churches and alters in homes. In the communist state of Cuba and in the culturally intemperate U.S., though, the religion is largely hidden, secretly practiced in homes and in covert sites. Such anonymity has secluded the religion from a unifying institution or doctrine.
"Each group is idiosyncratic," explained Mortensen. She continued to explain that it is an ever-evolving belief system that incorporates various quirks. When Star Wars first became popular in the late seventies, for examples, many altars began to include Darth Vader figurines because the character typified many attributes of the spirit Gedy. "Particularly in a place like Portland where folks are from so many different regions," said Mortensen, "they add, subtract and change things."
In the past five years, the Haitian population in Portland has swelled from a scattering of families to a loosely organized community of 1,000 after church groups and governmental organizations began helping refugees resettle in the Pacific Northwest after fleeing their chaotic home island state. The Cuban population in Portland has steadily grown over the past forty years to roughly 5,000.
Mortensen quickly adds that--if vodou at all--the discovered carcasses could also be from some bastardized version of the religion. "You have other people who practice what they think vodou is," she said. "It is dangerous because they act on the little they know or think they know."
So far, there are no conclusive leads for who may be conducting these ceremonies. Portland Police Bureau has assigned a detective to the case, but the investigation has no leads.