The Santa Muerte: The Origins, History, and Secrets of the Mexican Folk Saint by Gustavo Vázquez Lozano & Charles River (Charles River Editors, 2016)
This is a very short, but informative booklet about the Mexican folk saint who has worked her way up north along with the immigrant communities she represents. The authors are to be commended for furnishing detailed and thoughtful explanation of what “Saint Death” means to the people who invoke her on a daily basis. The tradition of Santa Muerte stretches back a long way to the beginnings of the last century in Mexico and beyond to the 19th.
There is already a small chapel for her in New Orleans that holds regular services. Early in the year, I was able to observe a prayer service to Santa Muerte in the New York City area over the Internet. It’s not easy to find statues of this saint, as she’s not recognized by the official Roman Catholic Church.
In my case, I needed to go to several Botanica’s in Latin neighborhoods to find the right one. If you’ve never been in one of these places, it can be an experience. They are charm and fortune stores that sell statues of the saints, figurines and books on how to increase your luck. The proprietors can help you if you’re polite, even if you don’t speak Spanish. In the back room, an older woman reads fortunes for her clients and dispenses advice.
The book furnishes a good description of this saint:
“What then is the Santa Muerte movement? As a practice, it has borrowed extensively from Catholicism, Santeria and even New Age, depending on the leader of the moment and the region, from Central America to Chicago. In the variety most similar to Catholicism, people find images of the skeleton dressed in a green robe with stars and golden borders, with rays of light coming out of her head: a negative image of the Virgin of Guadalupe. “It’s our little mother, our skinny, she always takes care of us,” says an anonymous woman who refers to Santa Muerte in the same way Mexican Catholics refer to The Virgin. Although fleshless, Santa Muerte is, without a doubt, a female figure (in the Spanish language, “death” is a feminine noun).”
Friends of mine who have relatives south of the border me that Santa Muerte continues to be popular in the Mexican heartland. Although you won’t see mini-shrines set-up to her in the United States on street corners, this is a popular form of dedication below the border.
She accepts all and refuses none, which is part of her appeal. This book lets us see how.
“…the cult has existed since at least sixty years ago. During that time, the country has experienced two economic crises (in the 70’s and 80’s) much more severe than the current one, as well as episodes of repression, political violence (in 1968) and urban guerrilla (in the first half of the 70’s). What is different today?….”