Santa Muerte, patron saint of criminals, outcasts, homosexuals, and sex workers— provides comfort and favors for those who pray to her. Or bring her things. Or blow marijuana smoke on her for her to enjoy. An amalgamation of Catholicism, secular influences and Mesoamerican traditions including the Mayan gods of death, she invokes Eros as well as Thanatos, Mary, spanish sorceresses and the parodic Calavera Catrina— who in turn evokes the candy skull imagery of the Day of the Dead.
Due to her syncretistic nature, the figure exists outside the Catholic church and caters to an underworld of religious expression. Though she has never been canonized or recognized as a saint by the church, she has been worshipped in some neighborhoods of Mexico since the 1940’s, and has gained popularity among criminals. She has found a stronghold of followers in Mexico’s brutal prisons, where inmates tattoo her image on themselves and pray to her for comfort or favors. Recently a handful of “leaders” of the cult were charged with running a kidnapping ring, and her association in ritualistic killings has led Cardinal Ravasi to speak out against the figure as “infernal”.
If by infernal you mean awesome.
The figure has been used in spells and hexes, which isn’t illegal, but the figure’s afiiliation with crime has led military officials to call her places of worship “narcoshrines”. Mexican government officials, as well as at least one fearful individual, have destroyed her icons. In Nuevo Laredo, the government bulldozed the shrines, sparking protests during Holy Week. In one bizarre case, the figure was found in a cemetery in what appeared to be a death spell. The cemetery personnel, rather than destroying the figure, left it there for the owner to retrieve. Instead, a vandal smashed the idol to bits. Antibacterial wipes were found at the scene, as if the actor hadn’t wanted to touch the object, or wanted to wipe its ghastly power off immediately.
Though the cult stands in direct opposition to the teachings of the church, only one man, the aforementioned Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, had the unenviable task of speaking out against the most hardcore saint out of Catholicism since Roman times. The election of one man to voice his opinion was a careful calculation to avoid estranging followers of the cult. An official condemnation might have pushed practitioners away from the church entirely; so, they took the more cautious tactic of permitting an official to voice his opinion instead. One practitioner, when advised that the church might frown upon the cult, responded They can just go ahead and do that, but have you seen how empty their churches are?”
- Death Cult Criticizes Other Death Cult as ‘Degeneration of Religion’ (patheos.com)
- Saints and Uncontrolled Decompression
- All my posts are about killing but I am a nice person, I swear.
- Spreading Knowledge: Santa Muerte as Religion (sexinamericas.wordpress.com)