By Harry Stevens
Beyond Belief: Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte
Photo credit: Beverly Stevens & Maurice Marcellin (Wikipedia)
The author recommends readers pray before reading this article:
St. Michael the Archangel, defend us in battle.
Be our defense against the wickedness and snares of the Devil.
May God rebuke him, we humbly pray,
and do thou, O Prince of the heavenly hosts,
by the power of God, thrust into hell Satan,
and all the evil spirits, who prowl about the world
seeking the ruin of souls.
Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte or, colloquially, ‘Santa Muerte’ (Spanish for ‘Holy Death’ or ‘Sacred Death’), is a female folk ‘saint’ primarily venerated in Mexico and the Southwestern United States.
Santa Muerte has surpassed St Jude Thaddeus as number two in popularity in Mexico, second only to Our Lady of Guadalupe. Experts report anywhere from 6 to 12 million devotees of this personification of death. In a Mexico rife with ruthless drug gangs, she is associated with healing, protection, vengeance, and matters of the heart.
Magic, incantations & witchcraft
Santa Muerte’s devotees burn votive candles whose colors denote the type of request: red for love, black to protect drug dealers (also used in black magic and witchcraft), brown for wisdom, white for gratitude, green for crime and justice, gold for monetary affairs, and purple for healing.
Magic and witchcraft are often intertwined with Santa Muerte. Followers often address Santa Muerte with and elaborate ceremonies. It seems there is a mixture of offerings, prayers, incantations, use of oils, plants, and candles following a ritual. A teacher or shaman usually leads the way to the unitiated.
Additionally, Santa Muerte jewelry is worn for protection, clearly an imitation of the Catholic practice of wearing a Miraculous or St Benedict Medal.
Santa Muerte’s Big Business: In a culture increasingly devoted to materialism, it is unsurprising that Santa Muerte is big business for many small shops; some report half their profits are from selling Santa Muerte products.
In a Mexico filled with factories of every description, decals, statues, votive candles, oils, incense, amulets, bracelets, medallions, prayer cards, potions, powders, and books are produced for an avid cult public
The Catholic Church vs Santa Muerte
The cult of Santa Muerte has been condemned by the Vatican and the Mexican Catholic Church; on May 8, 2013 Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, president of the Vatican’s Pontifical Council for Culture made what amounts to the Catholic Church’s first public statement regarding the cult:
“It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; it’s a blasphemy against religion.”
Nevertheless, the cult is firmly entrenched within a sub-culture of Mexico, as well as in Los Angeles and other border towns. The Church’s condemnation seems to have little effect on the cult’s devotees, who apparently either don’t know or don’t care about Rome’s edict.
Why Santa Muerte?
There are some who believe that this devotion goes back to the Aztec cultural figure, Mictecacihuati, the lady of death.
The Santa Muerte cult seems to have become entrenched in Mexican pop culture around 2001, primarily among working class females. Now, it has spilled over into the military and the police, as shamans ‘bless’ their weapons and ammunition. Today, there are devotees among all classes of Mexicans, research has shown.
Santa Muerte’s nicknames: the White Girl (la Niña Blanca) , Skinny Lady (la flaquita), the Bony Lady (la Huesuda), the White Sister (la Hermana Blanca), the Pretty Girl (la Niña Bonita), the Powerful Lady (la Dama Poderosa), the Godmother (la Madrina), Señora de las Sombras (“Lady of the Shadows”), Señora Blanca (“White Lady”), Señora Negra (“Black Lady”), Niña Santa (“Holy Girl”), Santa Sebastiana (St. Sebastienne) or Doña Bella Sebastiana (“Our Beautiful Lady Sebastienne”) and La Flaca (“The Skinny Woman”).
Santa Muerte and the United States
The cult of Santa Muerte has now moved into the United States, and not just border towns. Professor Andrew Chestnut reports tens of thousands of followers in the U.S. cities such as Chicago, Richmond, Washington D.C., and New York.
But compared to the Catholic Church in Mexico, the official reaction in the U.S. is mostly either non-existent or muted. The U. S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not issued an official position on this relatively new phenomenon in the country.
Andrew Chesnut discusses his book “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint.”
To have millions of people devoted to such a non-entity, there is something amiss. It is nothing less than diabolical, and very reminiscent of the pre-Christian death cult which held the ancient Aztecs in its grip.
Our Lady of Guadalupe stamped out one serpent in 1531. Catholics — and not just Mexicans — must pray to our Lady of Guadalupe for her intercession against this new evil:
Our Lady of Guadalupe,
make intercession for holy Church,
protect the sovereign Pontiff,
help all those who invoke you in their necessities,
and since you are the ever Virgin Mary
and Mother of the true God,
obtain for us from your most holy Son
the grace of keeping our faith,
of sweet hope in the midst of the bitterness of life
of burning charity, and the precious gift
of final perseverance. Amen