Santa Muerte in Mexico. As one of the most popular Mexican saints, Saint Death’s role is not uniquely linked to death, but life as well.
Santa Muerte is a female saint widely followed in Mexico. She is, however, not an official saint within the Roman Catholic Church, and is rather a popular cult, associated with healing and care for you in the afterlife. Her figure also appears to some extent in the US – due to the large influx in Mexican immigration – and other countries in Central America.
The image of Santa Muerte is a female skeleton wearing a cloak or robe and clutching a scythe or blade. The robe is any color – in fact the only thing that remains constant is the skeleton face. The cult is believed to originate from the colonial era, when ancient indigenous practices were changed by the forced conversion to Catholicism.
For many years, Santa Muerte was a largely taboo concept within Mexico – it was only used by women desperate for help with their cheating husbands. It was in 2001, when a Santa Muerte follower established a public shrine to the saint in Mexico City that people really began to take notice, and she became an important component of people’s spiritual and religious lives.
Santa Muerte – or Saint Death in English – is especially popular in those areas of Mexico heavily damaged by crime. Devotees of the figure pray at homemade altars in the hope that she will grant their wishes: which normally include evading law enforcement, helping with their drug addictions, or simply advice about how to cope with such deprivation.
The saint is also considered the protector of the Mexican LGBT community – which, particularly in rural areas, is outcast from society. Many LGBT-identifying people pray to Santa Muerte for security from attacks, disease, as well as assistance in their pursuit of love. This is one of such examples where she is not solely linked to death – but rather increasing quality of life, too.
Besides her official name, she is affectionately called a handful of nicknames, such as Skinny Lady, White Sister, Godmother or Pretty Girl – names that evoke a gentler and most compassionate image than Santa Muerte.
The general lack of official acceptance of Santa Muerte means devotees are free to perform any ritual they wish. A common way to petition the saint is with a candle – frequently color-coded according to the type of wish sought. For instance, requests to do with love and romance are made with a red candle. With these candles they then tell Santa Muerte what it is they need or want.
In May 2013, the Vatican officially declared it blasphemous, declaring that those worshipping the figure were causing a “degeneration of religion”.