Many of Mexico's poorest Catholics count themselves among the devotees of a skeletal woman saint called La Santa Muerte, or the Saint of Death. It is bad fortune for the faithful that another sub-group of Mexican Catholics have followed them to the altar: members of Mexico's notorious drug cartels who have been known to construct private shrines to "the white lady" in their mansions. Now the government of Mexico has begun destroying public Santa Muerte shrines—more than thirty of them—as an act of psychological warfare in their battle against the cartels.
There is no word on how the narcos are taking it, but the people are protesting. As a Religion Dispatches report makes clear: Santa Muerte’s followers are mostly salt-of-the-earth types—the kind of people already in up to their eyeballs in the violence of a war for which they bear no responsibility:
Shrines can be found in Mexico City and Tijuana, as well as almost every town on the Mexican border. Devotees leave offerings of flowers, fruit, tequila, rum, and tobacco. Immigrants crossing the border illegally have been found with icons of the saint. While no one is certain where the movement originated, some have speculated that Vatican II deprived Mexican Catholics of devotional practices, causing new traditions to be invented. Others believe Santa Muerte is the product of hybridity: a Catholicized incarnation of Mictecacíhuatl, the Aztec queen of the underworld. A book entitled El libro de la Santa Muerte contains novenas to the saint as well as hechizos (spells) invoking her aid. Police in Oaxaca purchase packets containing “dust” of Santa Muerta to hang in their cars.
The Walker Art Center in Minneapolis recently screened a documentary about the followers of the Saint of Death, here’s a peek:
Source: Religion Dispatches