'Tis the season for - animal sacrifice.

So says a local animal-cruelty agent who believes that the Afro-Caribbean practice of Santeria is responsible for the sacrifice of a beheaded goat and two chickens found in Greenmount Cemetery within the past several days.

The dead animals were slaughtered in the cemetery using a makeshift altar surrounded by candles and pennies, said George Bengal, director of investigations for the Pennsylvania Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals.

"This is the time of year," in the weeks around Christmas, "for a lot of religious sacrifices," including satanic rituals, Bengal said.

Muslims also practice animal sacrifice this time of year, he said.

This occurs during the holiday of Eid al-Adha, a ritual commemorating the biblical story of God providing a ram for Abraham to kill instead of sacrificing his own son, according to various accounts.

Bengal said that authorities are still investigating but that he does not believe that the apparent ritual sacrifice of five beheaded goats found in Pennypack Park two weeks ago is related to the slaughters at Greenmount Cemetery, which is in the city's Hunting Park section.

A jogger found two of the goats on Dec. 3 in Pennypack Park propped against a tree, Bengal said. Three more goats were found in the park the next day. Their heads were beside them.

All the goats had been drained of their blood and spray-painted, Bengal said.

On Sunday a headless goat and rooster were found in Greenmount Cemetery, the rooster hanging from a tree and the goat left in the road.

A beheaded rooster was found hanging from a tree Monday, Bengal said. There was a bloody plate and knife nearby.

The slaughters in the cemetery were unusual because they are believed to have occurred right there, Bengal said.

"Usually, they do it in a house, then bag up the remains," he said. The heads were wrapped in bandanas.

Santeria evolved from religious beliefs brought by slaves to the Caribbean from Africa and influenced by the Catholicism of their captors. It is prevalent in Cuba. *