Santa Muerte: Facts and Practices Behind the Saint of Death

Published June 2, 2021
Santa Muerte

People have been fascinated by death for centuries, and for those living in Mexico, the Bony Lady, Santa Muerte, has become a beloved figure representing death. There's a lot of debate surrounding her origins and her modern practitioners, but one thing remains constant - Santa Muerte isn't going anywhere anytime soon.

Historic Representations of Santa Muerte

Given her name, there's a common misconception that Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte - Santa Muerte for short - is actually connected to the Catholic canon. In reality, she's a folk figure with greater ties to Indigenous spiritualism than to Catholic sainthood. Toying the line between supernatural figure and religious icon, scholars have come to associate Santa Muerte as being an adaptation of the Aztec goddess of death, Mictecacihuatl. In the wake of colonial religious inquisitions and violence, Santa Muerte's typical Spanish garb and European accoutrements show this interplay between the indigenous spiritualism and European religious sentiments battling with each other at the time having manifested in this unique female figure.

Santa Muerte's Appearance and Purpose

Santa Muerte appears as a skeletal figure, dressed in the colorful and delicate garb of historic Spanish descent, holding a scythe and a globe or set of scales in her hands. No matter how jarring her appearance might be, she's a comforting figure to many people in Mexican communities and the surrounding areas. She stands as a guide to the afterlife, and also a mystic who can deliver people from death using her healing capabilities.

The Cult of Santa Muerte

Often referred to as the Cult of Santa Muerte by the media, the impassioned followers who devote their time to praying to Santa Muerte began coalescing in the past few decades. Unfortunately, Santa Muerte has gotten a reputation for being the patron saint of drug dealers; however, her followers are much more varied than that. While there is proof that people involved in the drug trade do revere Santa Muerte as their chosen saint, many people with other professions look to her in times of stress, in need of healing and solace when a loved one has passed.

Similarly, this fear of the Cult of Santa Muerte and its connection to the Mexican drug cartel speaks more towards global concerns over the drug trade than it does this mythic icon. In order for the media to appear anti-drug, they also have to demonize the Cult of Santa Muerte, and this demonization isolates rural Mexican followers who find real solace in supporting her.

A statue of Santa Muerte in Mexico City.

Santa Muerte and the Catholic Church

The Catholic Church isn't known for its historic tolerance, and it certainly doesn't tolerate Santa Muerte and her followers. Presumably, much of the Church's frustration with Santa Muerte stems from the cultural perception that she is an actual Catholic saint - as her name suggests. To the leadership of the Catholic Church, this undermines the canonization process and the veneration of their chosen saints.

In fact, the Vatican went so far as publicly denouncing the goddess of death in a statement released in 2013. According to BBC News, the President of the Vatican's Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, stated that "[the Cult of Santa Muerte] is not religion just because its dressed up like religion; it's blasphemy against religion."

Dia de Los Muertos and Santa Muerte

Dia de Los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, is a well-known Mexican annual holiday which seeks to honor the dead and invite them onto the land of the living. Although not officially connected to the Day of the Dead, many of Santa Muerte's followers have adopted the day within their spiritual calendar as an unofficial holiday to feast in the goddess of death's honor.

Participants seen dressed as the dead while holding a Mexico flag during the parade

Worshipping Santa Muerte Yourself

All religious figures since humans have been worshiping have been known to require some type of dedicated devotion or action done in their name before they will accept any requests pertaining to their goodwill. Whether these practices come through prayer, sacrifice, altars, or spellwork, there is a tangible nature to worshipping any entity. You must first show respect to these folklore gods and goddesses before you can ask anything of them.

Santa Muerte's followers look to her to help accomplish many tasks, such as being blessed with love, money, employment, health, and so on. Take a look at some of the things that you should consider when you're looking to make contact with Santa Muerte:

  • You must perform any rituals, prayers, or altar worship in darkness or at night, since this is when Santa Muerte is at her strongest.
  • If you want to use spellwork to connect with Santa Muerte, make sure that you have an experienced spellcaster nearby so that you complete your spell safely.
  • You can dedicate a pair of rosary beads to the goddess of death and pray on them throughout the day.
  • Since she has roots in both pagan and Catholic worship, you can light candles in her honor at the start or end of every day.
  • If you're in the area, you can visit a temple dedicated to Santa Muerte and pay your homage there.

Death Can Be Celebrated in Life

Given the significant western cultural taboo surrounding death, it isn't surprising that many people are wary of Santa Muerte and her followers. However, she stands as a vestige of a myriad of past religious practices and offers her guidance and protection to those who ask. So, if you're feeling a little lost and want someone to guide your way, light a candle for Santa Muerte - because death can be celebrated even in life.

Santa Muerte: Facts and Practices Behind the Saint of Death