DEATH HAS NEVER LOOKED SO BEAUTIFUL
Thinking of committing murder, armed robbery, massive drug deals, or just a small handful of petty infractions?
Now, you don't want to get caught, do you? Well, there's a little Mexican lady that may want to help you out, but it'll cost you your soul.
Her name is Santa Muerte, or as we gringos call her, Saint Death. She is also known by the names "Señora de las Sombras" (Lady of the Shadows), "Señora Blanca" (White Lady), "Señora Negra" (Black Lady), "Niña Santa" (Holy Girl), or "La Flaca" (The Skinny Lady).
She is supposed to be death personified, but to many thieves, and policemen alike, she is an autonomous spiritual force, and an anthropomorphic demiurge, whose grace can be bought with a sacrifice. Literally, a saint, though the Catholic Church has a bone or two to pick with that.
It's not known when, and precisely where, her worship began, but it is believed that her unorthodox canonization began sometime during the clash of cultures that was Spanish Catholicism steamrolling over indigenous Mesoamerican and Aztec beliefs. Though the priests tried, the local's cult of death was suppressed, but never eliminated, hence Mexico's Day of the Dead celebration in October.
Though her worship began as a way for aboriginal peoples to fit their old gods into the conqueror's religion, similar to Cuba's Santería or Haiti's Vodou. Only, in Mexico, many of the old gods were forgotten of, and the worship of new saints flourished. Where Santa Muerte's origin came from Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecacihuatl, the lord and lady of Mictlan (the realm of the dead), her image, besides dealing in death, has nothing in common with the pagan duo today. Also, while she is revered and worshiped in all social classes, she is mainly seen as a saint by cops and robbers.
Sometime in the 50s, large groups of drug cartels were found to have St. Death dolls, or altars to the skeletal princess in their dens of iniquity. Police were quick to pick up on the fact that the ne'er-do-wells were asking for help in never doing well. This led to the cops worshipping the same bitch goddess, so as not to be killed by the scum who previously ask her for favors.
Much of the cult's practitioners gathered in secret until the late 19th Century, when Mexican artist José Guadalupe Posada created a nonreligious art figure, which he named Catrina. She was meant to be satirical piece aimed at upper-class opulence and wastefulness, but what many of the peasants saw wasn't simply a skeleton dressed in fancy threads, but an ever-reoccurring archetype of death. Without knowing it, Posada set the blueprint for much of the future saint's imagery.
Looking very similar to Mexico's patron saint, the Virgin Mary of Guadalupe, she is a skeletal figure, draped in a light blue robe, often carrying a scythe in her right hand, and a globe in the left. On altars, she normally appears alone, or sometimes with her husband, the patron saint of narcotic trafficking, Jesús Melverde, or standing in front of "El Niño de las Suertes" (The Child of Fortune), which is a baby Jesus whose head rests on a skull.
Anthropologists are unsure as to whether Santa Muerte's next step into the public spotlight was in the 1940s or 1960s, but somewhere around that time, more and more people began the public adoration of one of the Catholic Churches biggest headaches in Mexico. It is believed she has at least two million followers today.
In the Colonia Doctores barrio of the Cuauhtémoc borough of Mexico's capital city, remains her first known public shrine. On Dr. Vertiz Street, located in an auto chop-shop behind a wall of glass, is a six-foot figure of Our Lady of Shady Miracles, standing next to her husband, Jesús Malverde. The second known shrine was erected on Matamoros Street near the Paseo de la Reforma. Her most popular, and currently well-known, shrine is the Sanctuary of La Santísima Muerte in the Tepito barrio, where worshipper Enriqueta Romero Romero decided to keep her shrine outdoors, and since then, over 5000 people visit every November 1st (her day of worship) to pray the rosary there.
Praise to, and favors from, Santa Muerte are to be given (and asked for) once a month, at the stroke of midnight. Many have their own altar at home, though just as many visit the open-air shrines found in their neighborhoods. Prayers are said aloud or quietly, and after admiration is given, or blessing are asked for, a sacrifice is to be made, preferably of marijuana or cocaine, but sweet cakes and candy will do, as will flowers, chicken, chocolate or coffee. Rather than incense, marijuana is burnt, and alcohol is consumed as a purification ritual. After which you can go out, and slaughter the natives, or run coke across the border until you run out of fuel, cuz the cops can't stop you. Unless, the cops are asking her for gifts, too, then you're fucked.
All was well, and - like the pre-Vedic goddess Kali - Santa Muerte's mouth was stained crimson as Mexico's gutters streamed rivers of blood into the city's underground. That is, until the Catholic Church came wagging its finger.
In the early part of this new century, the Pope drew a line in the sand. He certainly wasn't going to take shit from some upstart religion based on death, started by some poor folk in the slums. I mean, sure their religion began the same way, but this one worships a girl!
Forty altars around Mexico City, and another 400 all around the country? "This is blasphemy!" they surely thought, or "This is serious competition." Either way, the Church has been dealing in, and with, death for nearly 2000 years, and, sadly, in the age of advertising, sex sells. Besides a half-naked guy on a stick, and charges of pedophilia, what's so sexy about the Catholic Church? They don't have much to go on, so they're sticking with what they know: death. With what they probably viewed as some uppity cunt muscling in on their original turf, they had to put their foot down.
It was all for naught, as of this year, there are fifteen legally sanctioned groups in the U.S. (mostly in New York and California), who worship St. Death, including Los Angeles' Temple of Santa Muerte, so it looks like there's no stopping the death-loving whore anytime soon.
What else is there to do Mr. Benedit XVI, but roll her a joint, crack a cold one, and give glory to that beautiful bare skull?
I lift your name on high, sweet death, even though, just like everyone else, I'm going to die anyway.