Santa Muerte

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Close-up of a Santa Muerte south of Nuevo Laredo, Mexico

Santa Muerte (Saint Death), also known as La Santísima Muerte (Most Holy Death) and Doña Sebastiana (Lady Sebastienne), is a religious figure who receives petitions for love, luck, and protection. Saint Death is often depicted as a skeleton dressed in a white tunic or sometimes in a wedding gown. Santa Muerte is associated with the cult of the same name. Santa Muerte is widely believed to be a Narco-Cult.

Although the Catholic Church has denounced the worship of Lady Sebastienne as a pagan tradition contrary to the Christian belief of Christ defeating death, many people view her as a saint worthy of veneration. Santa Muerte is venerated by a wide variety of people from many different backgrounds. Often, those who pray to this figure are seeking the recovery of health, stolen items, or kidnapped family members.


[edit] Appearance

This Saint is frequently dressed as a grim reaper with a scythe and scales (the scales may be reminiscent of St. Michael). She may also be dressed in a long, white satin gown with a golden crown (Muerte, and its related Romance words, has a feminine gender). In this form, many devotees view her as a variation of the Virgin Mary.

Santa Muerte Blanca

Grim Reaper statues are made in red, white, green and black – for love, luck, financial success and protection. Offerings to Santa Muerte include roses, marijuana, cigarettes, fruit, candy and tequila. Public shrines to Saint Death are adorned with red roses, cigars, and bottles of tequila, and Santa Muerte candles burn in her honor. Throughout Mexico, and in parts of the United States (especially in Mexican immigrant communities), Santa Muerte prayer cards, polichinels, medals, and candles are made and sold to the public.[1] The Santa Muerte is often patronized by drug traffickers, kidnappers, other criminals, or by people who live in neighborhoods plagued by violence. Many of the shrines dedicated to La Santísima Muerte that are located along highways in northern Mexico were funded by drug traffickers.[2]

[edit] Destruction of shrines near the border

On March 24, 2009 Mexican authorities dismantled 30 capillas dedicated to Santa Muerte in Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana in response to their strong association with drug trafficking and at the request of local residents.[3] José Manuel Valenzuela Arce, a researcher at the Colegio de la Frontera Norte, a Tijuana-based think tank commented, "Destroying these chapels is not going to do anything to diminish crime... someone who's going to commit a crime could just as easily go to a Catholic church as a Santa Muerte shrine, or go nowhere at all.”[4]

[edit] The leader of Santa Muerte Calls for Crusade

In March of 2009, David Romo Guillen, leader of the Saint Death organization reportedly called for a “holy war” against the Catholic Church after the Mexican Army destroyed some of its places of worship which were suspected to be criminal hideouts, especially in the northern part of the country, including one shrine to Santa Muerte in Tijuana, Mexico's drug trafficking, prostitution and murder capital. As a result of the call to the Crusade, Father Hugo Valdemar, spokesman for the Archdiocese of Mexico City, has issued a warning about the “terrorist” nature of the call for a “holy war” against the Catholic Church by the leader of followers of Santa Muerte. Since then, small groups of Santa Muerte followers have come out of the Tepito slum in full force, parading effigies of skeletons in tunics around Mexico City neighborhoods.

[edit] Origins

Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec god of death.

One resource[citation needed] indicates that the cult of Santa Muerte originated from ancient witchcraft in the state of Veracruz; however, other research[citation needed] inclines one to question if Santa Muerte is in reality much older. Santa Muerte may have her or his roots in pre-Christian beliefs of the Aztec Native Americans who worshiped a similar figure by the name of Mictlantecuhtli, the god of death, along with his wife, Mictecacihuatl[citation needed].

Similar to other cultures around the world, pre-Christian deities in Mexico are sometimes syncretized as pseudo-saints. On the other hand, in Spanish she is typically referred to as "la Santa Muerte," strictly speaking meaning "the holy death" rather than "Saint Death," which would correspond to "Santa Muerte," with no preceding article. Thus Santa Muerte may simply represent a reinterpretation by folk religion of the traditional and orthodox Roman Catholic practice of prayer to receive a blessed death in a state of grace.[5]

More recent anthropological research has traced the origins of the narco-cult of Saint Death to the early 1940s in Mexico City's crowded neighborhoods. It is there where Lady Sebastienne is worshipped as a proxy to violence and drug trafficking, according to Felipe Solis, professor of Anthropological Sciences in Mexico City. Every Halloween night, the followers of the effigy of La Niña Blanca organize parties with mariachi music, food and beverage to thank the figure for petitions that have been granted. It is widely known that The White Girl first saw the light of day in the sun drenched streets of Tepito, a violent and poverty-stricken slum in Mexico City.

"This cult has to do with the critical situation that the country (Mexico) is going through", said Solis in reference to the wave of drug-related violence that has been rattling Mexico over the past few years, where rival drug cartels fight over profitable smuggling routes into the United States.

The study further found evidence that the cult worship of "La Niña Blanca" ("The White Girl") - as Santa Muerte is also known to her followers - "does not require ethics, because there is no trade off of good deeds in exchange for super natural favors from the worshipped image. Rather, Lady Sebastienne is offered bribes in exchange for favors. The former might include commonplace San La Muerte offerings, such as tequila, red crosses, marijuana, beer, cigarettes and even cigars. From a theological and eschatological perspective, the study further found that "the cult has no relation to Christianity or any other religion, but rather with drug trafficking, prostitution and murder"

Lady Sebastienne is worshipped alongside Jesus Malverde, the protector of drug traffickers.

Her prayers, orations, and novenas contain the Trinity and worship of Yahweh. While some view Santa Muerte as a figure of black magic, others view her as a saint worthy of veneration. Santa Muerte is revered by the Iglesia Católica Tradicionalista mexicana-estadounidense (Spanish for "Traditionalist Mexican-American Catholic Church"), a church unrelated to the Roman Catholic church.

[edit] See also

[edit] References

  1. ^ Saint Death comes to Chicago, The Chicago Tribune, May 26, 2008, accessed May 27, 2008.
  2. ^ [NPR World News report by Lisa Mullens "Saint of Death draws followers in Mexico" (4:00) March 2, 2009" reported by Lorrine Mattlock
  3. ^ [1]
  4. ^ Dibble, Sandra (29 March 2009), "New front in war on drug gangs", San Diego Union Tribune,, retrieved on 29 March 2009 
  5. ^ "Santa Muerte: The New God in Town", Time magazine, Oct. 16, 2007, accessed May 28, 2008.

[edit] External links

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