"Holy" Snail-Sipping Doesn't Sit Well With Authorities - NBC 6 South Florida

"Holy" Snail-Sipping Doesn't Sit Well With Authorities

South Florida religious leader's peculiar ritual has him in trouble

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    WAIALUA, HI - MAY 18: A Giant African Snail, native to east Africa, eats vegetation on the Kealea hiking trail May 18, 2004 in Waialua, Hawaii. The Invasive species of snail, also found in parts of Asia, has been known to eat up to 500 different types of plant life, destroying much of the native Hawaiian snail species' habitats. USDA health officials have seized several of the species from Wisconsin classrooms and have started a national search for the creatures as they can spread meningitis trough their mucous. (Photo by Phil Mislinski/Getty Images)

    Religious persecution is nothing new, but drinking snail juice as part of your beliefs is a bit of a stretch.

    But ask Charles L. Stewart, of Hialeah, and he'll tell you his practice of drinking the slimy creatures' juices in healing rituals is legit.

    "I did not invent this. It's something that is part of our religion," Stewart told the Miami Herald. "It's not something meant to hurt anybody."

    But state and federal authorities claim otherwise. They raided Stewart's house in January, claiming he was illegally smuggling the Giant African Snails into the country after they received complaints that his "ritual" was making people sick.

    Though no charges have been filed, several agencies are investigating the case and Stewart could be hit with smuggling or customs violation charges.

    Stewart, 48, practices an African religion called Ifa Orisha, which is apparently closely related to Santeria. He admitted his beliefs are a bit peculiar and shouldn't be confused with the slightly more mainstream Santeria.

    "What I practice is somewhat different, and that's what caused the backlash against me," he told the Herald.

    The snail healing involves cutting the snails open and pouring the raw mucus into the mouths of his followers. The snails Stewart used grow to a rather large 10 inches.

    Like other non-native species, the snails can wreak havoc on the South Florida ecosystem, and authorities want residents to report any sightings of them.