Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte (Spanish: [ˈnwestra seˈɲora ðe la ˈsanta ˈmweɾte]; Our Lady of the Holy Death), shortened to Santa Muerte, is an unsanctioned saint of death in folk Mexican religion. She acts similarly to Death of European mythology, collecting the souls of the dead and deciding when people die. Unlike Death, however, she is worshipped and loved, with many shrines dedicated to her. She is celebrated, as death is seen as a transition rather than a loss of life. She personifies this transition, and many Mexicans see her as benevolent. She is associated with healing, well-being, and safety in the afterlife. She is often depicted carrying a scythe or a globe.
Relation to the Catholic Church
As an unsanctioned "Saint," the Catholic Church has condemned Santa Muerte worship as blasphemous and satanic. Many Catholics say that Santa Muerte is a false idol. Even though Santa Muerte is actively discouraged by the Catholic Church, some still give offerings to Santa Muerte in secret. In some cases, this has caused worshippers of Santa Muerte to leave the Catholic Church and start their own churches in her honor.
Santa Muerte is said to have evolved from the fusing of Spanish Catholic mythology and indigenous Mexican paganism. In Europe, Death and other personifications of death have been worshipped in times of great wars or epidemics when many lives were lost. The Aztecs worshipped Mictecacihuatl, a female skeleton that personified death. These indigenous beliefs fused with European Christianity with time and changed, creating folk religions such as the cult of Santa Muerte. The fusion of traditional Mexican beliefs and Christianity can also be seen during Día de Muertos, or Day of the Dead, when Mexicans celebrate the lives of those who have passed. Some worshippers of Santa Muerte remain Catholic, while others create separate churches to worship the "Saint."
Shrines to Santa Muerte often include gifts to the "Saint," such as flowers, fruits, incense, candies, coins, candles, and alcoholic beverages. Santa Muerte is supposedly very powerful and grants many favours and miracles. She is often invoked as a saint of the night and a few of those that work dangerous jobs at night worship her for protection. Figures of Santa Muerte are often made to pray to, and the colours of her robes differ depending on the reason for invocation. White robes represent cleansing and purity. Red robes represent love and passion. Gold robes represent money, success, and prosperity. Green robes represent justice and legal matters. Amber robes represent health. Black robes represent protection from black magic. Shrines can be found in hospitals, homes, religious stores, and cathedrals. Her image is often invoked during gay marriages, as she is seen as a protector of those outcast by society, including the LGBTQ community. According to Professor Andrew Chesnut from the Virginia Commonwealth University, the cult of Santa Muerte is the single fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.
Santa Muerte is popularly worshipped by those associated with the illegal drug trade, and the cult is popular within many prison systems. Drug houses have also been found with shrines to Santa Muerte. In 2012, eight people were arrested for performing human sacrifice in her honour. Many cartels paint themselves as messiahs for Santa Muerte, giving their foot soldiers religious reasons to follow them.
In popular culture
- A shrine to Santa Muerte appears in S3 Ep1 of Breaking Bad.
- Santa Muerte appears in S2 Ep6 of Fear the Walking Dead.
- The fictional Santa Blanca cartel worships Santa Muerte in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands.
- Santa Muerte is the wife of Xibalba in The Book of Life.