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La Santisima Muerte

April 12th, 2009 § 14 comments

santamuerte_xolagrafikLA SANTA MUERTE is threatening Jesus Christ. And she don’t mess. Those who champion Mister Christ are lashing back. Or perhaps we might say the Mexican Oligarchy is acting like terrorists and destroying symbols that are dear to groups of people who frustrate them. However you word it, the People are under seige on more than one front.

I’ve written a few things here about Felipe Calderón (FeCal) and his misguided US-prompted War on the Cartels. That’s a very big story, with a lot of capillaries that run off of it and touch other parts of the world and México’s history, too. And there are many points of view one can travel while mapping those histories. For now, let’s take one branch down Nuevo Laredo way.

President Felipe Calderon has launched an army assault on Mexico’s drug gangs, but the increased firepower has failed to contain the violence, with some 6,300 people killed last year.

In 2007, gunmen from the powerful Gulf Cartel handcuffed three men and shot them dead at a Santa Muerte altar in Nuevo Laredo, leaving lit candles, flowers and a taunting message for rivals.

Ah, La Santa Muerte. She is the refuge for those who are judged everywhere else and find no shelter until they find her. She is a favorite of Narcos, and many others who live on the margins of society, you see.

For decades, thousands in some of Mexico’s poorest neighborhoods have prayed to Santa Muerte for life-saving miracles. Or death to enemies. Mexican authorities have linked Santa Muerte’s devotees to prostitution, drugs, kidnappings and homicides.

“Linked” her? Interesting. Fingerprints? DNA? Is she peeking out from the background of crime scene polaroids? Forgive me, just seemed an odd phrase.

We know she will have many enemies when her disciples are these sorts of people. And as she promises to love them all equally—quite Christlike of her—she is dearly revered by them.

Either way, the Mexican army has launched an offensive against this icon, bulldozing 30 shrines built to Santa Muerte in Nuevo Laredo and Tijuana just last month. What was their excuse for this sacrilege? Apparently they were “built without the proper licenses.”

But wait, is it really sacrilege? Nope. Turns out bulldozing or otherwise smashing to pieces the shrines dedicated to Santa Muerte is not only State-sanctioned, but Church-sanctioned, too. After all, Doña Sebastiana (or Lady Sebastienne) is an offense against the very idea that Christ was resurrected. She is, the Catholic Church will tell you, a pagan figure, and officially has condemned any observance of La Santisima Muerte (The Most Holy Death) as “devil worship.”

That’s pretty strong. But when it comes to México, and when the Catholic Church begins condemning pagan icons in México, we do have to remember that this is how the very first holy oppressors appeared to the Indians back in the early 1500s. With a GOD that demanded their other gods die, and the destruction of their written histories…and so on.

mictlantecuhtlixolagrafik

Mictlantecuhtli, the Aztec God of Death. Some connect Mictlantecuhtli to La Santa Muerte

Clearly, those demands and that destruction has not stopped. And apparently, the people are still not subjugated to a conquest begun almost 500 years ago. Which is why this post is in a category called “The Long War on the Indigenous.”

Santa Muerte’s precise origins are a matter of debate. Some experts say its roots lie with Aztec spiritual rituals that mixed with Catholicism during Spanish colonial rule. What is clear, however, is that Santa Muerte developed a large following only in the last quarter century among Mexicans who had become disillusioned with the dominant Church and, in particular, the ability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty. Residents of crime-tossed neighborhoods like Mexico City’s Tepito began revering Santa Muerte more than Jesus Christ, experts say. Some of its devotees eventually split from the Catholic church and began vying for control of Catholic buildings. That’s when Mexico’s Catholic church declared it a cult.

Santa Muerte: The New God in Town, Time

And so the particulars are a little clearer. If your idol has let you down, and in the face of that, demands too much in hard times you create another idol in your own image. One that only asks for devotion and judges not.

“All you have to do is believe and ask and she delivers,” Sanchez said. “The Santa Muerte does not discriminate.”

As La Santa Muerte requires no middle man to collect her tithing and better yet, delivers on the prayers sent her way, she begins to replace the former idol. And you and I know this will never do. Dios Mio! Was the Inquisition for nothing, then???

Yet another instance today where huge entrenched powers see their grip slipping away as the People take it on themselves to remedy longstanding ills. It is still not in these entrenched powers’ interest to cure the People’s ails at their core, but instead to patch them over or repress them and continue to shore up their own power with flimsy lines justifying the oppression. This behavior is wreaking untold damage from the US to Somalia and I’m sure in many, many other places. These are patterns that repeat.

“It isn’t fair to repress our faith just because there are some narcos who believe in La Santisima too,” Isidro Pastrana, a middle-aged cook and cross-dresser, said as he walked along with a papier-mache scythe in his hand. “Our faith is much bigger than them.”

More numerous than drug lords and other underworld operators are the devotees drawn from the vast numbers of Mexicans living on the edge of personal disaster and on the fringes of legality. They ask the Santa Muerte for protection and for favours, at least in part, because they have no faith in the institutions around them.

Men such as Sergio Hernandez, a 24-year-old toilet cleaner, who insists he was falsely accused of car stealing last year, but doesn’t believe his innocence has anything to do with the freedom he enjoys today.

He recalled during the Palm Sunday march: “I really thought I was going to have to spend a few years in prison, but I appealed to the holy Santa Muerte and when the verdict came they let me go. These are the kind of things that really make you believe in her.”

Mexican ‘Saint Death’ cult members protest at destruction of shrines

Of course, in reaction to the desecration of La Santa Muerte’s capillas, Mexicanos are taking to the streets in number. That’s just the way la gente roll.

Worshipers of the cult figure plan to march through Mexico City later on Good Friday in the latest of a series of protests after soldiers and police bulldozed elaborate roadside shrines to the death saint near the northern border with Texas. …

“We are doing these marches because there has been a lot of aggression from the government … It seems like they are fighting a holy war,” said 52-year-old vendor Ernesto Hernandez at a protest last week.

Mmmhm.

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§ 14 Responses to La Santisima Muerte"

  • Rafael says:

    “Cult members”. That sound ominous. Creepy crawlers dudes from the underworld wrecking havoc in the world above.

    Seriously, don’t these people know that is is going to backfire, big time?

  • I’m surprised I haven’t heard more about this in my hood where la santisima muerte is in every botanica window.

    This reminds me a little of when Santa barbara was decanonized by the Catholic Church in the late 60’s because her story was “myth” when many say it had to do with her synchronization with the orisha Chango and the strong devotion of his/her followers.

    Pero coño smashing santos? People need to watch their espaldas when they mess with the santos and muertos.

  • nezua says:

    Rafa, they don’t seem to learn these things. As Mala warns…bad idea…

  • I am pretty sure that in various places, La Santisima Muerte was partially morphed into Our Lady of Sorrows–and yes, I admit I can’t prove it. But I am on the case! One of my favorite subjects is how pagan female idols were reinterpreted as the Blessed Mother, and therefore are manifestations of her. (Just like Oliver Cromwell always said they were!) This means they were too beloved to destroy or give up, so they were “done over”–but if you examine and study them, you can see the vestiges.

    Another possibility: a modern-merging with Our Lady of Perpetual Help (icon) who is very popular in the Philippines… note herethe small archangels that are showing Jesus apparitions of His death. One is holding a cross and the other a spear. Jesus is frightened, so runs to His mother for “help”–and runs so fast, His shoe falls off. As a child, I was fascinated by it! (I can’t think of another icon or presentation that includes supernatural figures signifying death.)

    The Black Madonna of Czestochowa was mauled by invaders in the 1400s and the resulting scratches on her face were left intact. Later, people assumed these manifestations of violence were part of the original. So, as “protector of Poland” it was understood that this protection would come at a high price, and during Soviet occupation, was taken as instructive. I think the similarity here is also striking, that she leads people through oppressive times. The fact that she is black, underscored this dramatically to the people of Poland, such as a certain ex-pope who liked her a whole bunch.

    I can definitely see elements of the St Raphael and St Jude cults (both of which I have some experience in)–enmeshed in the Santa Muerte movement!

    Thanks for a great post. I eat this stuff for breakfast.

  • nezua says:

    fascinating. yes, i found many interesting things along these lines while writing my kids book on egypt. studying horus and all that…

    gracias for dropping all la historia! and the post is my pleasure. :)

  • Also, I am trying to figure out how those little “day of the dead” figures (I have one with a flower in her hair, dancing!) are related to La Santisima Muerte–I am thinking they are like the old Irish fairies, who were also considered to be dead people (not necessarily the cute, charming pixies of Hallmark greeting cards).

    The modern fad of skulls printed on everything, is the pop-culture manifestation of the “day of the dead” fairie-people, I think. Can’t prove that either. (But yes, I do sit around trying to figure out this stuff. :P )

    PS: Check out the BANSHEE–which was also strikingly similar to La Santisima Muerte in her cultural position.

  • Blue Kansas says:

    Religion is the opiate of the masses. In the end, it will be the right hand of tyranny. Certainly, the old religion of which Mictecihuatl was in the pantheon helped serve the ruling class in Tenochtitlán.

    Having said that, though, the modern-day Catholic opposition to the la Santísima Muerte is just another manifestation of class struggle.

  • SeetA says:

    nobody is perfect and there are many imperfect souls(sinners & criminals) who attend churches for forgiveness or healing. soo, why doesn’t the mexican government destroy catholic churches? because it’s all about MONEY BABY and creating a diversion and perhaps trying to appear civilized in the eyes of USA or the global nation!!! i could be wrong but this is how i feel.

  • Unkown Sando says:

    So What Christianity has A lot Of Religions And Beliefs that does Not Agree now La Santa Muerte are a other excuse. To separate people and to keep them Ignorant. Now you Say that La Santa Muerte Is Bad
    , but if you compare to Blood Trusty Religion Christianity. That Has Been Slaughtering People beliefs Over
    A millions of Year and don’t forget The Nazi with the Jewish. As A Mexican People in Mexico have to worry about a other thing than La Santa Muerte.
    Cops Use La Santa Muerte as well So Keep Your Facts Strait
    And leave My beliefs. Its Against Christ ,no it’s not

    • nezua says:

      There may be a language issue getting in the way here…plus I’m pretty sarcastic in this post when I talk about Christ. But I want to be clear: I am not against La Santa Muerte, and I do not think either the idea, the icon, or the people who believe in her are bad. In fact I agree that people are being divided and that the slurs and the actions against La Santa Muerte are a tool of an oppressive government, un mal gobierno. Nos vemos…

  • jackie strassbach says:

    All I know is Santisma Meurte attracted me and I asked her for help with something that no one will help with. No court will touch, the police and LE will not help. All I see is the corruption of government as the enemy of the people and unless your rich you do not get justice with the broken legal system. the USA gov uses and abuses the people and especially central american people and I am a Gringo. I pray to her for help and I feel something. I do not know much but i know that Paleros and santeros are fakes and theives, Never trust them especially.

  • Earl Lee says:

    Because of the 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.

  • Gomez says:

    Ahaganla con toda confianza La Santa Muerte nunca Falla., Dia 1. Oracion a Santa Muerte (5dias)- Concordia confio plenamente en tu fuerza y en tu poder para alcanzar mi deseo. Rezo De Dias Para Atraer A Una Persona. Dia UNO Bajo tu manto bendito Santa Muerte dejo esta peticion, has de resuardarla de las miradas ajenas, en ti pongo toda mi fe y devcion, para que MGA venga hasta mi con gran sumision. Levanta tu brazo poderoso contra aquel que se oponga, MGA tiene que hacerme feliz, en su mente ha de tener presente mi rostro, y en su corazon guardara siempre mi recuerdo, su boca solo podra mencionar mi nombre, y sus brazos me aguardaran con impaciencia. Dia Dos. El Buho que a tus pies descansa, de mis palabras ha de ser mensajero, su vuelo sera siempre certero y a ha de traer a mi casa. Ante tu fuerza Santa Muerte nada es imposible por tu mano el arbol se dobla y el hierro se despedaza, pon en la mente de MGA mi imagen,y que solo al tenerme a su lado encuentre la calma. Dia Tres. En tu mano derecha lievas el reloj de la vida, haz que MGA se decida rendido hasta mis brazos, que tu podar infinto forme los lazos para que MGA sea feliz entre mis brazos. Con esta ya son tres noches que ante tu figura rezo, lleva con tu poder mis palabras de embeleso, para que me busque y me desee por la fuerza de tu esencia. Dia Cuatro. Que a parti de este momento MGA solo a mi lado este contento, que la distancia que nos separe sea su tormento,y mi ausencia su desvelo. Ayudame a entrar en su pensamiento, que no se resista l la fuerza que a mi la arrastra,ha de comprender que yo deseo sea dichoso, mientras su vida y su dicha conmigo comparta. Dia Cinco orta noche que vengo a verte, Oh Señora Santa Muerte concedeme la fuerza para cambiar mi suerte y que el amor entre MGA y yo sea el mas fuerte. No pido una esclavo de mis deseos, Tampoco una siervo que a mi voz sucumba, quiero el amor de MGA y ante mi peticion cualquier barrera se derrumba. CONCEDIDO todas sus peticiones ofrezcale a Santa Muerte, una veladora roja y un ramo de rosas rojas como agradecimiento.

  • Hey — I see you are not hacked any more, congratulations! And happy Oct 31, Nov 1 and Nov 2!

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