Saint of Death? Santa Muerte

Have you heard of the Saint of Death or Santa Muerte in Spanish? She is an unofficial Catholic saint represented by a skeleton! Her popularity is booming in Mexico and now roadside shops are selling her votive candles and statues in America. She is NOT a saint that is recognized by the Catholic church. In fact, her growing popularity is in contrast to traditional Mexican culture which has been super Catholic.

When I lived in Los Angeles, I was surprised at how much the Mexicans honored Guadalupe, the Mexican version of Mary. It was common to see her on T-shirts, car decals and little souvenirs. Santa Muerte started with drug dealers and gang members paying homage to her. She is called a narco saint. Some people leave cigarettes and beer as offerings in front of Santa Muerte shrines and smoke weed! Drug gangs pray to her before moving shipments of drugs up to the U.S., for safe passage. I heard about her because a local murder suspect has her named tattooed across his face (maybe this is a gang thing).

According to Wikipedia, she is also popular with groups of people who feel disenfranchised by the conservative Catholic church, like the LGBTQ community and the poor in dangerous neighborhoods. In Mexico, threats of violence are still common against gay people so they pray to her for protection. In her protective stance, she is given a black robe to wear. She also has healing powers. She looks like the Grim Reaper (her nicknames are the Grim Reaperess and the Bony Lady) and carries a scythe. In her other hand, she holds the world/a globe.

There are other religions who honor “scary” figures like this, such as Hindus with the goddess of destruction called Kali. Native American cultures like the Aztecs and the Hopi have gods of the underworld. Ancient Egyptians had prominent death gods like Anubis, the dog-human hybrid. But Catholics never had one.

Santa Muerte is often prayed to for money. Some people will take the scythe out of her hand and put in a rolled up dollar bill. Followers will build a shrine to her in their homes and present her with offerings, like food and drinks. She has one big shrine built by followers in Mexico City, who hold a procession for her every year. Thousands of people come!

Some Mexican Catholics pray to her like any other saint; some think she is evil and avoid her. Of course, a skeleton saint fits in with the Mexican Day of the Dead symbolism (skulls and skeletons). This Mexican holiday is for remembering dead relatives/visiting graves.

It’s interesting that in these dark times, people are praying to dark figures in hopes of a powerful intervention. In some ways, a Saint of Death fits into our current culture/climate more than the “sweet” and virginal saints do. Wikipedia says most of Santa Muerte’s followers are young Mexican women living in bad neighborhoods who want protection from violence and more money. The older, traditional folks stick with Guadalupe and Jesus.

Would you pray to the Saint of Death? I am scared to!

 

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