Santa Muerte: She’s Not Judgmental

(Christine Zenino)

By Jessica Torres

The Bronx Journal Staff Reporter

There are those who believe in good and those who believe in evil.

In religions such as Catholicism, where there is a God and a Devil, good and evil exist. The primary religion in Mexico is Catholicism, like in many Spanish-speaking countries, yet, there are some Mexicans who believe that there is a “saint” outside that faith that is more receptive to their prayers.

She cares for them without discriminating by profession, social class, or sexual orientation. She will aid them in their times of need. She is the “Santa Muerte” translated in English as the “Holy Death” or “Saint Death.”

Santa Muerte, as the name suggests, looks much like the grim reaper. She is a skeleton, draped in a tunic, that carries various objects and each symbolizes what she can offer to those who request help: a scythe, a world, a scale, an hourglass, an owl, and a lamp.

Today’s Santa Muerte worshipers are not just found in Mexico. Martin Gonzales is a 25-year-old Mexican bartender who lives in New York. Gonzales is someone who believes his life has been “protected” by the Santa Muerte. He first heard of her when he enrolled in the Mexican Army and his friend gave him an amulet. “It is said that when you’re given a pendant of the Santa Muerte, it is good luck,” says Gonzales.

Martin Gonzales

Amulets, candles, books, pocket images and religious objects are sold in stores called botanicas. Fermin Perez Romero is a 42-year-old botanica owner.  He sells statuary of saints and icons. He is familiar with Santa Muerte and her followers. “What I know about Santa Muerte is that she has been created by God, ” Perez says. “Her job is to guide us towards God on the last day of our existence.”

Santa Muerte is often assumed to be an evil entity, says Perez, but Santa Muerte is a servant for those who need her. “People ask her for good things, as well as for bad things,” Perez says. “It depends on the person and not on Santa Muerte.”

“Believers come not only from Mexico,” he says, “there are a lot of Dominicans and a few Puerto Ricans that are taking her into consideration. They ask for protection and other favors.” Followers of Santa Muerte usually identify themselves as Catholics and believe that Santa Muerte is just another saint they can rely on, he says. “Some people believe in both,” Perez says. “They have La Virgen de Guadalupe and Santa Muerte. Yet, those who know a little about Santa Muerte know to never place them in the same altar. She (Santa Muerte) is very jealous, she doesn’t like to share her altar with other saints.”

Fermin Perez Romero

The interest in Santa Muerte has grown in the past five to six years. There have been various books, films and articles that document the history of the saint, also known as Señora de Sombras (Lady of Shadows), Señora Blanca (The White Lady), and La Flaca (the Skinny Lady), among other names.

“El Libro de la Santa Muerte” (The Book of the Saint Death) by Oriana Velasquez offers guidance for those who desire to worship her. It describes the origin of the cult, the purpose of the objects she carries, along with prayers and rituals followers can perform.

According to Velasquez’s book, the saint appeared in the early 18th century, but did not become popular until 1965, first in Hidalgo, Mexico, and later in cities such as Guerrero, Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Campeche, Morelos, Nuevo Leon, Chihuahua and Mexico City, where the cult grew. The first chapel of Santa Muerte was built in the Mexico City neighborhood of Tepito, today known for its very open worship of the saint.

(Christine Zenino)

Martin Gonzales believes that Santa Muerte has safeguarded his life at least once when he was in the Army and out with friends. “It was late,” he says. “We were walking and someone else we knew walked behind us. There were two roads, one with light and one dark. I told them that we had to go through the other side (dark) and that I had a strange feeling. But they didn’t believe me. I forced them to go to the other pathway. The guy who walked behind us went through the lighted pathway. As the roads continued, they reunited. When we looked back, we saw two men running and the guy who walked behind us was on the floor dead. They had just robbed him,” says Gonzales. “Whenever I had a bad feeling I would feel something in my chest where the pendant was.”

Laura Palomeque

Santa Muerte is known for being accepting and an enforcer of justice. But she is also known to be vengeful. Followers understand this. Laura Palomeque is a housewife who defends Santa Muerte and doesn’t understand the negative connotations surrounding the saint. Palomeque says that people will often pledge offerings to the saint, but won’t deliver and then blame the saint for their misfortunes. “For example, us women, if we like that guy, we ask for a hook up with him and if she helps, we believe in her,” says Palomeque. “Just like with the Virgin (Mary). You will be glad that she helped you get what you asked for.”

The Catholic Church does not believe that Santa Muerte is an actual saint. “Death is not a skeleton,” says Father Antonio Palacios, pastor of the St. Anselm parish in the Bronx. “When the Church speaks about death and of the holy death, it doesn’t speak of it as a Saint Death, but a step. It’s a step forward to the eternal life.”

One of the appeals of Santa Muerte is that she does not judge individuals with alternative lifestyles. This is a point that devotees such as Enriqueta Romero, one of the pioneers and first to have a chapel for Santa Muerte, make in their defense of the saint. “We’re all born with something bad,” Romero says in “El Libro de la Santa Muerte.” That is why people go to Santa Muerte in search of protection and care without any reprehension due to their lifestyle.”

Father Antonio

Father Antonio responds that the Catholic Church is open to all, with some conditions. “Everyone in the Catholic Church is welcomed, but is not welcome to bring something without theological foundation…things that have nothing to do with the church, but diabolic things.”

Father Antonio has little sympathy for Santa Muerte worshipers or their life choices. “They are people who are not the light of the Christian lifestyle, a life of faith,” he says. “They are people who live like animals, taking advantage of everything they can, having no limits, just getting an external happiness, physical, momentarily.”

The Catholic Church doesn’t have a saint dedicated to death. Those who believe in Saint Death, says Antonio, “don’t tend to be people who are cultured or have studied.” He adds, “They are people who utilize it to find hope in their lives because they don’t see any other. It exists for them but it doesn’t exist. Saints are the ones who have lived their faith, people who have been honest, charitable, who have been role models. They lived it and have been made sanctified, being like him, imitating him, with a lot of prayer in service with others, not to others.”

Despite the Catholic Church’s objections, Palomeque, like many other followers, see Sante Muerte as another saint. “Just because she doesn’t have a halo and has no skin on her face, doesn’t mean she’s bad,” says Palomeque.

(Christine Zenino)

13 Responses to Santa Muerte: She’s Not Judgmental

  1. Angel January 10, 2012 at 5:52 am

    It is a lie and a myth that she helps criminals. Her spirit inhabits the statues but when people ask for evil deeds she leaves and the demons enter. The criminals think they are working with her but are not.

    Reply
  2. lowridergirl March 1, 2012 at 7:24 pm

    I love Santa Muerte with all my heart, when I feel her presence I also feel warmth and love. I am just starting to learn about her but I am happy to get to know her. I feel sorry for the people who are closed off, they will never know the great mysteries of life looking at the world with their eyes closed. I dont like the fact that they put us into one category, how do they know what we are like without getting to know where we come from. This is disrespectful to both Santa Muerte and God :>

    Reply
  3. Earl Lee April 27, 2012 at 7:37 am

    Because of its connection to Santa Muerte

    I think you might be interested:

    Park Street Press/Inner Traditions is bringing out my book From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead, and this book will, I believe, change our understanding of the origins of Christianity and related ways of worshiping the Spirits of the Dead.

    From the Bodies of the Gods: Psychoactive Plants and the Cults of the Dead

    • Explores ancient practices of producing sacred hallucinogenic foods and oils from the bodies of the dead for ritual consumption and religious anointing

    • Explains how these practices are deeply embedded in the symbolism, theology, and sacraments of modern religion, specifically Christianity and the Eucharist

    • Documents the rites of Cults of the Dead from the prehistoric Minoans on Crete to the ancient Egyptians, Greeks, and Hebrews to early and medieval Christian sects such as the Cathars and modern religious movements in Latin America

    Here is a link to the IT website:

    http://store.innertraditions.com/isbn/978-1-59477-458-4

    It includes an excerpt from the book.

    Reply
  4. Sarah June 4, 2012 at 6:41 am

    I love my flakita…she has protected me as will as god.. Idk why,yall be juging her..if you just dont like to here about her dont get in websites about her…(holly death)..people that juge her you dint hve the rights tooo.because every body has their own belifes…so respect..if you want to be respected …:)

    Reply
  5. UK July 16, 2012 at 9:27 am

    SANTA MURERTE,WHAT CAN YOU ASK HER FOR & WHAT CAN YOU NOT ASK HER FOR ,EG.TO GET RID OF A PERSON ON THIS EARTH PLANE ,TAKE THEM TO THE SPIRT WORLD CAN THAT BE ASKED

    Reply
  6. Medusa777 September 2, 2012 at 1:55 pm

    The Catholics shows an executed Christ on the Cross. The Pope carriers this image with him. They have the audacity to criticize this Lady. I’m a Moor, I’ve visited a Botantica store, I saw this Lady on the counter by herself, I asked who is she, the Latina Sistah told me she is Santa Muerte, people ask her for blessings.” I saw many dollar bills all over her. The Sistah said that she is very jealous. I said “I will respectfully move on.” Now I am curious about her she’s been on my mind lately. I’m going to learn more about her with an open mind. Blessings!

    Reply
  7. muneća September 13, 2012 at 12:23 pm

    yo tengo 11 anos y nunca le eh tenido miedo a la santa muerte yo la quiero tener de corazón para el bien no para el mal pero una señora muy amiga de mi mama que es como mi segunda mama dise que tengo que aprender mas de ella yo la voy a amar y querer de corazón voy a poner su licor y su agua con sus canicas y le voy a poner su fruta y sus veladoras indicando sus colores porfavor ayudenme para apreneder mas de ella y se los voy a agradecer de TODO AMOR Y CORAZÓN

    Reply
  8. J.R. October 1, 2012 at 6:57 pm

    I have been studying up on this very powerful Saint, because in my research, I see that Death is a very powerful source of Divine Peace & Alchemical Transformation…!

    Its only in a world & culture ruled by the human ego that one is TRAINED to fear the very Power that can free us from all sorts of self-imposed limitations and fears…fears that limit our capability to realize the divine infinite potential that dwells within us!

    It has been said that if you fall in love with Death, then life is a breeze, because you fear nothing anymore…! Veneration of La Santa Muerte yields a great way for one to do just that…!

    Ave Santa Muerte…

    Reply
  9. Chris January 24, 2013 at 7:35 pm

    I love la Santisima Muerte. She has helped me and I appreciate her in so many ways. Ive barely started to pray to her but I can see that she really is milagrosa. I love you nina blanca and I want to be devoted to you forever!!

    Reply
  10. Chris b May 21, 2013 at 8:46 pm

    I love la santa muerte I have my ring right now inside my incence burner. I am letting her enjoy some rose senting. My ring is my alter I lay it down along with food and drinks and stuff. I am white and from mississippi. I am a redneck and I accept lasanta muerte as a official saint. She came into my life I was buying candles from cheap charleys.. And found a white candle I bought it then saw what I thought was the grim reaper… I was scared of it so I looked into it. she called to me and I am proud to of answered back. I have only used her for positive things. My religion catholic. I dont care if the church reckonizes her are not. If they keep hating I will denounce my faith and go to a non denominational church. And do my worship there I am not a member of lady death cult I dont guess but I believe in her and trust her. I love her!!

    Reply
  11. Chris b May 21, 2013 at 8:52 pm

    Praise la santisma muerte. May the roman catholic church accept her as a saint. We should create a petition are something. Thank you jesus for bringing la santisma muerte into my life now I am not so scared to die any more. Death is something we should all be able to accept. Thank you lady death la santisma muerte.

    Reply
  12. Michael Adam Reale January 23, 2014 at 9:18 am

    Being a non-Catholic, I find it difficult to understand the Roman Catholic Church’s position on many things but condemning Santa Muerte is something that they should not do (in my opinion). The cult of Santa Muerte should be embraced by the Catholic Church and the R.C. Church can control the tone of the conversation regarding Santa Muerta. Her cult is no different than other cults of the various saints.

    I recall seeing a religious card that belonged to my great-grandmother that had an image of Santa Agata. She was dressed in robes and rings on every finger and necklaces and jewels and money. Grandmom told me that people would ask Santa Agata for favors and that when granted they would place jewels or money or some other offering in thanksgiving to the Saint. How is this different?

    Among the Portuguese there is a devotion to Our Lady of Good Death. In old Goa (Portuguese influenced) India there is a Cathedral of Our Lady of Good Death. In Brazil there is a religious order with the same name. Santa Muerta simply means HOLY DEATH. What is wrong with wanting a holy death?

    I like the idea of Mexico’s Día de los Muertos, the cult of the very non-judgmental (as the good author stated) Santa Muerta and other things that help us all cope with the fact that death is the great equalizer. We have La Angel de Meurte who, according to the book of Exodus, killed all the first born of Egypt.

    What draws me to exploring more about Santa Muerta is that she is the patroness of the LGBTQIA Community. According to the article in Wikipedia: “Santa Muerte is also seen as a protector of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender communities in Mexico, since many are considered to be outcast from society. Many LGBT people ask her for protection from violence, hatred, disease, and to help them in search of love. Her intercession is commonly invoked in same-sex marriage ceremonies performed in Mexico. The Iglesia Católica Tradicional México-Estados Unidos, also known as the Church of Saint Death, recognizes gay marriage and performs religious wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples.”

    Personally, I am going to explore more about this very interesting and compelling Saint. I say: “Viva Santa Muerte!” for watching over the LGBTQIA community. She has done more for our community than the Roman Catholic Church has. Death is something that we all face, we all have to deal with. Putting a face on her and dressing her up makes it easier to come to terms with our own mortality. Thank you Jessica Torres for writing this excellent and non-biased piece.

    Reply
  13. Michael Adam Reale January 24, 2014 at 4:27 pm

    I found a clip on Vimeo that explains the cult of Santa Muerte andhow she has been a huge help to LGBTQIA individuals. An excellent clip by Faith in the Five Boroughs.

    http://vimeo.com/m/64688747

    Reply

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