The Goddess of Tepito
Mexico City appears to be the hub of the Santa Muerte
cult, with ten shrines. These include one shrine at 12 Alfarería Street (between Mineros Street and Panaderos Street), a shrine at the corner of Matamoros and Peralvillo Streets, another at Villa de Guadalupe in the Plaza del Peregrino, a fourth at 16 Canarias Street, another shrine at 352 Retrograbados Street in Colonia 20 de Noviembre, and a sixth at the Parrish of the Suffering and Sanctuary of Santa Muerte
at 35 Bravo Street, Colonia Morelos.
There are reportedly at least four shrines at other locations in the city
and 120 altars where her figure is venerated.
Within Mexico City itself, these shrines are concentrated within one particular neighborhood: Tepito. Tepito is not just any neighborhood, however. Also known as Tepis, Tepiscoloya, and Tepistock, Tepito is without doubt the most infamous barrio
in Mexico. Its tough reputation dates back to pre-Hispanic times. The neighborhood market is the black market – knockoff goods, drugs, and weapons are sold openly on the street. The police are seen as unable to control the crime.
Indeed, it is in the poverty and desperation that her cult seems to thrive.
Thus, the very heart of the cult is a place associated with poverty, crime, and defiance.Santa Muerte
is not limited to Tepito, however. There are at least 35 different locations in Mexico where Santa Muerte
is venerated and where her skeletal figure is paraded. There are also twelve locations where Santa Muerte
pilgrimages take place.
Increasingly, the cult is appearing along the border, where it seems to have reached almost every town.
Such a spread, from the heart of Mexico City to various border communities, conveniently coincides with the routes of illegal immigration and drug trafficking. The Lord of the Rings
The Santa Muerte
cult appears to have little, if any, official organization. However, one personality is at the forefront of the cult. Monsignor David Romo Guillén, 47, AKA the Lord of the Rings (El Señor de los Anillos
) is the Archbishop and Primate of the so-called Mexican-U.S. Catholic Apostolic Traditional Church (Católica Apostólica Tradicional México-USA AKA la Iglesia Católica Tradicionalista Mex-USA
). Romo is a married father of five and a veteran of the Mexican Air Force, in which he claims to have served as an administrator. He is also the self-professed leader and guardian of the Santa Muerte
cult. Since 2002, he has been leading masses at the National Sanctuary of Santa Muerte
, located at Bravo 35 in the in Venustian Carranza delegation. Romo now boasts an attendance of 200-300 parishioners, mostly youths, at each mass. Many of these youths dress up in costumes for the occasion.
The masses are held at midnight.
“Approximately 80 or 90 people [visit] daily, coming with their families, alone, or with companions. Likewise, we have an attendance of 200 or 300 persons twice weekly,” states Romo.
He estimates that there are one million followers of Santa Muerte
Romo is also an ardent defender of the cult. When José Guadalupe Martín Rábago, head of the Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM) (Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano
), and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera described the Santa Muerte
Cult as Satanic, Romo filed a defamation complaint before the Public Ministry (Ministerio Público
). Martín stated that he would request the Interior Secretariat (SEGOB) (Secretaría de Gobernación
), headed by Interior Secretary (Secretario de Gobernación
) Santiago Creel Miranda, to review the process of religious registration. Romo then stated that the devotion to Santa Muerte
was not different from devotion to saints in other churches. He argued that Santa Muerte
was a tool for evangelizing people in the marginalized sectors of society just as the Virgin of Guadalupe was a vehicle for converting Native Americans. At the time, SEGOB refused to intervene.
In April 2005, however, despite a marches and protests by Santa Muerte
adherents the previous month, SEGOB concluded in a 25-page resolution that the Santa Muerte
Cult did not meet the qualifications for a religion and removed the Mexican-U.S. Catholic Apostolic Traditional Church from the list of recognized religions, citing theological doctrine dating back as far as the Council of Trent. Romo issued a call for Santa Muerte
devotees to vote against Secretary Creel’s party, the National Action Party (PAN) (Partido Acción Nacional
), and Creel himself in the 2006 Mexican Presidential Elections. Romo also began a series of meetings with Mexico City magistrates to promote social development and community service projects that would be undertaken by Santa Muerte
adherents under the a new blanket organization, the National Association of Altars and Sanctuaries of Santa Muerte
(Asociación Nacional de Altares y Santuarios de la
Santa Muerte), which is effectively replacing the Mexican-U.S. Catholic Apostolic Traditional Church. The organization includes 100 of the 120 altars that display Santa Muerte
in Mexico City.
The irony in this conflict is that the very forces that initially sought to stamp out the cult seem to have had no effect on the numbers of people participating in it. However, the legal action has generated a large amount of press attention, which has offered legitimacy to Romo. Although there has been no historic guidance or central organization for the Santa Muerte
cult, a sense of unity and order may be in the process of being established. Romo, who seems to have been little more than a leader of a local group, may become the effective leader.Santa Muerte Witnesses Violent Crimes
In 2004, the Santa Muerte
shrine itself was the scene of a violent crime. Eber Lazcano Cortes AKA El Eber, 23, of Tepito, considered himself to be an expert knife-fighter, having killed two people with a knife and injured a Federal Investigative Agency (AFI) (Agencia Federal de Investigaciones
) officer in Colonia Morelos. He purportedly learned knife fighting during a three-year sentence at the Northern Prison, where he claims he had to “kill to survive.” On 20 October 2004, Lacanzo, who had been making a living by washing cars, got into an argument with another car-washer, by the name of David. David’s brother-in-law, Pedro Vélez Ledezma, tried to calm things down, but Lazcano turned on him. At that point, some of Vélez’ relatives got involved and beat up Lazcano. Lazcano left, but came back with four friends, chased Vélez down, and, while his friends held him by the neck, Lazcano stabbed Vélez in the chest, killing him, in front of the Santa Muerte
Chapel. On 14 November 2004, Federal District Preventive Police (Policías preventivos del Distrito Federal
) officers tracked down Lazcano and arrested him for homicide.
This is not the only time that Santa Muerte
has witnessed crime in front of her chapel. On 13 May 2005, unknown assailants in a grey Jeep Grand Cherokee chased a stolen white Audi driven by Oscar Alberto Garcia Angels AKA El Asesino [the Assassin], 25 and Oscar Adrian Gamboa Solis, 23, leaders of the gang Los Sapos
, as well as another gang member named Raquel, 23. The chase occurred between Miguel Dominguez Street and Ferrocarril de Cintura Street in Tepito. During the pursuit, the occupants of the Jeep fired shots at the Audi. The Audi stopped at the Santa Muerte
Chapel, where the Jeep’s occupants got out of their vehicle and continued firing, hitting Gamboa, in the head and chest and Garcia and Raquel in the neck. All three survived, but Raquel was later declared brain dead. Gamboa had been wanted for murder. The victims were allegedly involved in the killing of a rival cocaine trafficker; the attack was part of an ongoing gang war.
In both of these cases, a chase led to the Santa Muerte
Chapel, where the crimes occurred. In the first case, it is unclear whether the victim fled to the Santa Muerte
shrine, whether the perpetrator chose the shrine as the place to commit the crime, or whether it was the coincidental end of the chase. In the second case, it appears that the victims, themselves criminals, deliberately went to the shrine – perhaps to seek protection or asylum, or at least a fortified position. This seems likely, considering the context of Santa Muerte
worship, which has an “unspoken rule that at Santa Muerte
’s shrine, worshippers pray in safety by day and by night….”
According to Mexican author Homero Aridjis, “Santa Muerte
not only protects (the criminals) from betrayal and ambush, but also can be an agent in their favor against enemies, causing them harm, or death.” She is a “virgin saint in the religion of crime.”
Aridjis’ recent novel, Santa Muerte
, is a fictionalization of what he alleges are actual events. In it, he states that he first discovered the cult while attending a party attended by drug traffickers and corrupt government officials in the 1990s. He became fascinated with the cult, researched it, and wrote the novel.
Despite their hopes, in both of the above cases, Santa Muerte
’s shrine did not provide protection. However, other devotees claim that she has afforded them sanctuary. Salvador Cuellar, a 33-year-old mechanic, claims to have been threatened by people who wanted to kill him. Once he invoked Santa Muerte
, this changed. “I believe in the Virgin and other saints,” said Cuellar. “But the one who has helped me more is the Santa Muerte.” Prisoners Pray to Santa Muerte
Convicted criminals also pray to Santa Muerte
for help and protection. Eduardo Martinez, 22, was recently released from the Eastern Prison in the Federal District, where he had served two years during his trial for armed robbery. When he was down to four months remaining on his sentence, guards found “a 45 cm piece of iron in the shape of a knife” in his cell. Martinez, understanding that the punishment for possession of a contraband weapon was a sentence extension of six months, prayed to Santa Muerte
, “I asked not to be given more time because I only had four months left. I said to her that I would offer her my skin, and that was going to be the first tattoo that there would be on my skin. Then, after five days, she freed me and I did not have any more punishment – I was totally acquitted. For me, it was a miracle.” His acquittal was not simply acquittal from the contraband possession charge – he seems to have been acquitted of the robbery for which he had been convicted. The authorities apologized. However, this was not his only charge. He also called upon Santa Muerte
for assistance in another trial on a similar charge. He offered to abstain from drugs for two years and light two candles to Santa Muerte
in each of her chapels. He credited her with two miracles, stating, “The Lord Jesus Christ is my only savior and the Virgin is his mother, but the only one certain is Santa Muerte
Martínez is not alone in such sentiments. On 12 October 2003, 41 convicted drug traffickers, murderers, thieves, and rapists were granted early release from the Federal District’s East Prison (Reclusorio Oriente
) for good behavior. One of those released was Jesús González Ochoa, 26, of Peralvillo and Libertad Streets, in Tepito. González had five previous convictions for robbing passersby. Unlike his fellow parolees, González had no one present to greet him. His family was unaware of, or uninterested in, his release. He had no money, but he kissed an amulet of Santa Muerte
that he kept next to his heart. A stranger gave him 50 pesos to pay his way home. He used it to buy beer, stating, “Now, yes, I am free.”The Skeleton in the Family Closet Was Santa Muerte
Some Santa Muerte
practitioners have taken their worship to the extreme. On 19 May 1999, Preventive Police arrested Inocencio García López, along with his wife, Luisa Martínez Aguilar, and his two sons, Raúl Paulino Martínez Aguilar and Raúl Ramírez Aguilar, for the murder of José Trinidad Silva Leyva and the wounding of Alfredo Lugos Olmedo in the city center of Tlaxiaco, Oaxaca, as part of an ongoing dispute. García was sentenced to 38 years incarceration; his wife and sons were each sentenced two 32½ years. In October 2004, García committed suicide by hanging himself in his cell. In a suicide note, he left financial information to cover the cost of his burial. He also accused his wife of having an affair with another prisoner and blamed this for his suicide. On the back of a photograph of his wife, taken when she was pregnant, he accused her of being culpable in the death of a certain Francisco Barragán Moreno. He also wrote a prayer to Santa Muerte
, asking her to be with him in his suicide.
García’s case is not the only one of a suicide linked to Santa Muerte
. Javier Hernández Pacheco, a devotee of Santa Muerte
, hanged himself from a tree in his patio while his four-year-old son watched. The suicide occurred on 13 July 2005, when his wife, Lilia Esperanza Murillo Santiago, left him and their four-year-old son, Didier Hernández Murillo, at their home in Colonia Leandor Valle in the municipality of Kanasín, Yucatán, while she went shopping for groceries. After returning home, she realized that she had forgotten something. She asked her husband to take Didier inside while she returned to the store to buy a soft drink. When she returned later, she saw her son standing in the doorway. He told her that his father was hanging in the patio. When she entered, she found her husband hanging from the clothesline. According to the boy, his father had asked him to wait in his room while he prayed to his Godmother [Madrina
]. Didier went to his room but, hearing strange sounds from the patio, looked outside to see his father hang himself. Lilia stated that her husband had been acting strangely recently; she attributed his suicide to his Santa Muerte
Both of these suicides stand out as examples of how Santa Muerte
can enable activities that are otherwise socially unacceptable. Since suicide is completely unacceptable in Christianity, no Catholic saint could be called upon for a blessing in such an act. With Santa Meurte
, these individuals were able to find a spiritual being who would allow – and therefore possibly enable – their deaths. Such reasoning is easily transferable to other sinful and probably illegal acts.Criminals Carry Accoutrements of Santa Muerte
If Santa Muerte
is associated with one crime in particular, it seems to be kidnapping. An example of this occurred on 22 March 2005, when personnel from office of the Assistant Attorney General for Specialized Investigations into Organized Crime (SIEDO) (Subprocuraduría de Investigación Especializada en Delincuencia Organizada
) and AFI in the Colonia La Nopalera, Iztapalapa Delegation, Mexico City, arrested six individuals that were allegedly involved in the kidnapping of a minor in Morelos. Among those arrested was businessman Francisco Miguel Cerqueda López AKA El Mickey, 33. Cerqueda was a resident of the San Rafael Atlixco Habitation Unit, Building B-9, Suite 101, in Colonia Zapotitlán, Tláhuac Delegation, Mexico City. He was identified as the gang’s leader. Also arrested was businessman Cruz Ramírez Sánchez AKA El Cruz, 28. Ramírez resided at 23 Arnulfo R. Gómez Street, in Colonia Caracol. He allegedly made telephone calls to victims’ families. Another arrested member of the gang was businessman Víctor Manuel Pérez Ibarra AKA El Chino, 32. He resided at Hidalgo Unit No. 10, Building 3-C, Suite 303, in the Azcapotzalco Delegation. Pérez guarded the victims. He also maintained a safe house at 5890 Tláhuac Avenue, in Colonia La Nopalera, Tláhuac Delegation. A fourth member of the gang was businessman Marcos Martínez Ruiz AKA El Tala, 29. He lived at 106 Ramos Millán Sur Street, in the Iztacalco Delegation. Like Pérez, Martínez guarded victims. He also directly participated in the kidnappings. The fifth arrested gang member was Gerardo de la Torre Guizado AKA El Gerad, 30, a blue-collar worker of an unspecified trade from 20 Galicia Street, in Colonia Cerro de la Estrella, Iztapalapa Delegation. He also guarded the victims. The final arrested member of the gang was janitor José Luis Palma Bermejo AKA El Pelón, 27. Palma lived at an unnumbered residence at Mar de las Crisis Street and Montes Apeninos Street, in Colonia Selene, Tláhuac Delegation. Palma was responsible for casing the victims. While carrying out the arrests, the agents also seized a red, 1993 Chevrolet Hunter pickup without license plates that was registered to Liliana Hernández Martínez, a grey Chevrolet Astro SUV without license plates, A 9mm Glock pistol with registration number MN656, 93 9mm rounds, $(USD) 73,740.00 cash, eight cellular telephones of various brands, and six identification credentials.
At one point, the operation was nearly interrupted by Federal District SSP officers. The Office of the Federal Attorney General (PGR) (Procuraduria General de la Republica
) initially blamed the mistake on poor inter-agency coordination
and began an investigation. SIEDO personnel interrogated 70 Preventive Police (Policías Preventivos
) Officers from the Federal District Public Safety Office (SSPDF) (Secretaría de Seguridad Pública del Distrito Federal
). SIEDO was concerned about whether police had been providing protection to drug trafficking and kidnapping gangs, leading to conflict between the agencies.
The arrest report filed by the PGR included photographs of the arrestees. Most of these are standard mug shots with the word detenido
[arrested] superimposed, which is frequently the procedure of the PGR Internet site. One of these photos shows a tattoo on Perez’ left shoulder blade, covering most of it. The tattoo is a large image of Death, covered in a shawl or hood, brandishing a scythe in what appears to be a threatening manner. Although the resolution is poor, it appears that there is a halo or crown around the head of Death, suggesting that it is very likely Santa Muerte
. Other photos in the report show tattoos on Martinez and Ramirez. The images are of too low a resolution to be certain, but the tattoo on the upper left side of Martinez’ chest may also be a figure of Death holding a scythe.
In December 2004, Public Safety personnel conducted an operation at the intersection of Paseo de las Cañadas and Aztecas Streets in the Monraz housing estate in Guadalajara, Jalisco. The officers arrested José Gil Caro Quintero AKA José Luis Reyes Hernández, José Belem Mendoza Flores AKA José Delem Mendoza Flores, Francisco Rodríguez Ayala AKA Franciso Rodríguez Ayala, Paul Villa Araujo AKA Julio César Lazcano Salazar, and Óscar Meza Alvarado on drug trafficking charges. The five suspects were allegedly core members of the gang Los Norteños
, which operated in Jalisco, Morelos, and Veracruz. At the time of their arrests, the alleged gang members were traveling aboard two vehicles: A black, armored 2002 BMW X5 with electric locks and door handles and a gray, 2005 Volvo XC90. At the scene, the arresting officers seized four Kenwood portable radios, a magazine pouch, four magazines, 22 7.62 caliber rounds, a Colt .22, a .45 and two .38 Specials. One of the .38 Specials was encrusted with a Santa Muerte
figure in gold and gems.
Julio César Cortazar, 26, and Jorge Oswaldo González Barra, 20, boarded a passenger bus at the intersection of Avenida de Tlalpan and Periférico, on the edge of the Tlalpan delegation of Mexico City, in February 2004. One of them drew a Titan .25 caliber pistol and demanded the passengers surrender their valuables. The two took the money, struck the driver, threatened the passengers, and fled the scene. One of the passengers flagged down nearby Federal Preventive Police (PFP) (Policía Federal Preventiva
) officers, who pursued César and González to the intersection of Moctezuma and Fuentes streets, in the Toriello Guerra colonia
. One of the suspects fired at the police officers with the pistol multiple times, but the officers managed to arrest the two. The police officers found cash, valuables, and identification belonging to the bus passengers. Both of the suspects exhibited tattoos of Santa Muerte
on various parts of their bodies. They also wore rings and were carrying votive jewelry (dijes
) depicting the Santa Muerte
.Santa Muerte Has Following in Major Criminal Organizations
It is not mere street thugs who are practitioners of the Santa Muerte
cult. At least two incidents associated with Osiel Cárdenas Guillén’s powerful Gulf Cartel have been crowned by the presence of Santa Muerte
paraphernalia. The first incident occurred on 09 April 2001, when the Mexican Army raided a mansion in a Tamaulipas village. The residence belonged to Gilberto García Mena AKA El June, a Gulf Cartel cell leader who was fascinated by the mysterious and who mutilated his enemies. The soldiers arrested García when they found him hiding in a secret, underground chamber in the house. While searching the property, the agents discovered a hut in his garden, which served as a chapel. Inside, they found a stature of Santa Muerte surrounded by candles and offerings that García had given in hopes of power and protection.
More recently, in August 2004, Mexican Army personnel raided a house located at 510 Montañas Rocallosas Street and Montes Cárpatos Street, in the Lomas de Virreyes colonia
, a residential area of Mexico City. The house had been used by members of the Gulf Cartel as a laboratory to process cocaine before shipping the drug to Tamaulipas [and, presumably, on to the U.S.]. They had been renting the house for at least three months. There, amid posters of bikini-clad and nude women, computers, and various bottles of liquor, was an altar with several amulets to St. Jude as well as an amulet to Santa Muerte
A singular incident involving a Gulf Cartel member who happened to be a devotee of Santa Muerte
would be interest but of little real concern. The appearance of cult items in separate incidents, one near the U.S. border and one in Mexico City, three years apart suggests that the cult may pervade the cartel.
In addition to the major drug cartels, the cult also seems to have reached the infamous Latin American youth gangs. On 27 March 2005, Milenio
journalist Juan Dios Garcia Davish published an interview with Carlos Eduardo Pavon AKA El Cuervo, a Honduran citizen and a leader of the gang Mara Salvatrucha
AKA MS-13. At the time of the interview, Pavon was incarcerated in the Tapachula State Prison in Tapachula, Chiapas. He had been arrested in December 2003. During the interview, Pavon accused the news media of publishing lies about Mara Salvatrucha
. While carrying a wallet with the image of Santa Muerte, Pavon denied apparent allegations that his gang is Satanic, stating, “You are not satanic just because you leave a couple of candles lit. We only believe in God. No one else, not even in Our Lady of Guadalupe.” However, Pavon then laughed at the interviewer. He later revealed the tattoos on his back, which included a large “MS13”, male and female clown faces, the words “Satanic Member”, and a skeletal hand of death.
In the interview, Pavon was not defending and commenting about himself. He was speaking about his gang cell and, probably, the Mara Salvatrucha
as a whole. He used the word “we” when denying Satanic practices, implying that many or all of the gang members were accused of following allegedly Satanic rites – in this case, Santa Muerte
. His denials were obviously facetious, however, because of his tattoo that plainly stated, “Satanic Member.” This is also probably the only case of a direct link between Santa Muerte
practice and Satanism.
Perhaps the most infamous case involving Santa Muerte occurred on 18 August 1998. Agents of Mexico State’s Attorney General’s Office (PGJE) (Procuraduría General de Justicia del Estado de México
), in coordination with personnel from the Anti-Terrorism Team and Center for Political Investigations and National Security (GAT-CISEN) (Grupo Antiterrorismo y Centro de Investigaciones Políticas y Seguridad Nacional
) and the Federal Attorney General’s (PGR) (Procuraduría General de la Republica
) Anti-Organized Crime Unit (Unidad Contra el Crimen Organizado
), conducted operations in the municipalities of Tultepec and Naucalpan in Mexico State. During the operations, the officers arrested Daniel Arizmendi López AKA El Mochaorejas as well as members of his gang, including Rafael Arturo Dicante Rosales, Juan Ramón Frutos Aguilar, Ernesto Mendoza, Miguel Armando Morgan Hernández, Rafael Noguez Yañez, Raymundo Jiménez Hernández, Dulce Paz Vanegas, and Flor Camelia Vanegas Martínez.
Arizmendi was one of the most notorious and brutal kidnappers in Mexican history. He and his gang kidnapped 24 people, holding them for ransom while sending ransom notes to victims’ family members along with the victims’ severed ears, thereby receiving payments totaling over $(USD) 40 million.
During the operation, the arresting officers found Arizmendi hiding in his bathroom, where they also found an altar to Santa Muerte.
Arizmendi asked the arresting officers for permission to take the statue with him; they granted the request. He took the statue with him when he was remanded to the La Palma Maximum Security Prison.
Officers later learned that part of the gang’s routine was to offer supplications to Santa Muerte. Santa Muerte on the U.S. Border
Illegal migrants have been praying to Santa Muerte
, carrying images of Santa Muerte
in their clothing and giving thanks to her for their crossing.
It is through these illegal migrants that Santa Muerte
seems to be spreading to the U.S.
The spread of the cult across the border was predicted by Homero Aridjis.
In some ways, Santa Muerte
is a logical choice of patron for would-be illegal migrants. Crossing the border is often dangerous, simply because of the terrain, and illegal migrants must consider the risk of death when preparing for their journeys. Furthermore, illegal migrants frequently come under the criminal influence if not guidance of human smugglers and drug traffickers. Finally, the action itself is by definition a crime, an action for which a person might not expect a traditional saint to offer protection.
Some criminals seem to treat Santa Muerte
with a respect that they do not extend to other religious figures. According to the Mexican newspaper La Cronica
, in the late 1990s, the family of Eugenio Hernández Vara financed the construction of a chapel to the Virgin of Guadalupe. The chapel was built eight kilometers from the town of Anáhuac, on the side of the highway leading to Nuevo Laredo. Hernández’ family had the chapel built to serve the pilgrims who frequently travel the road. The chapel was also used by local farmers, who used the chapel to pray for rain and good crops. Located nearby was an altar dedicated to Santa Muerte
, who is believed to be venerated by drug traffickers that also use the road. In April 2004, unknown vandals destroyed the Chapel of the Virgin of Guadalupe. However, they left the Santa Muerte
altar in pristine condition.
The motive for the shrine desecration is unknown. It may have been perpetrated by Santa Muerte
devotees. It may also have been a random act of vandalism. If the latter is the case, the fact that Santa Muerte
was left untouched is a telling indicator of the nature of the cult. Unlike the Virgin of Guadalupe, who represents forgiveness, Santa Muerte
is an entity associated with, among other things, revenge. The vandals may have feared incurring a curse or, at least, the vengeance of the drug traffickers and smugglers who adore Santa Muerte
The location of the shrine is also telling. Anáhuac is not a major metropolitan area but it is located on one of only three major highways leading into Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas. Nuevo Laredo is one of the most notorious cities on the U.S. border. It is situated across the border from Laredo, Texas, which is the starting point of Interstate 35 – the major north-south corridor leading into the United States. This geography makes it a natural chokepoint for overland shipping between the two countries, a fact evinced by a high-volume of truck traffic through the Nuevo Laredo Ports of Entry. Consequently, it is a strategic location for smuggling, which contributes to the high-levels of crime and violence in the region. The Santa Muerte
shrine is, therefore, conveniently situated to serve the needs of smugglers and other criminals about to cross the border. It is also a convenient location for smugglers to offer dedications of thanksgiving after crossing into Mexico.The Patron Saint of Crime
People give numerous reasons for giving offerings to Santa Muerte
. Some still consider themselves Catholic. Some say that they are disillusioned with traditional Catholicism. Others say that Santa Muerte
has granted miracles and favors that other saints have not.
Still others claim that they find Santa Muerte
more welcoming because she does not distinguish between good and evil practitioners.
Increasingly, many of the devotees of Santa Muerte are being described as ordinary, working-class people, rather than the criminals with which the cult has traditionally been associated. Among those would be taxi driver Mario Juarez, claiming that Santa Muerte offered “a little more protection” in rough neighborhoods.
Carmen González Hernández, a grandmother from Tepito, prayed to Santa Muerte
for help raising her grandchildren, whose father was in prison. Hayde Solís Cárdenas, prayed to Santa Muerte for help running her business after her son left, abandoning her grandson with her. She worked with loan sharks and smugglers, selling stolen tennis shoes.
Isiel Alvarado, a welder, prayed to Santa Muerte
for delivering his brother from prison. Subway janitor Maria Carrillo, prayed to Santa Muerte
for help raising her four grandchildren, abandoned by their mother, who ran away. At the ages of seven and nine, respectively, Marisa Adriana Ruiz and Carla Patricia Reyes prayed to Santa Muerte
for the release of their fathers from prison. Gonzalo Urbano prayed to Santa Muerte because he believed she restored his son’s vision.
Although not all of these individuals are criminals themselves, it would be misleading to describe them as independent of crime. In most cases, they are still people whose lives are touched, if not dominated by crime. Although not crimes of their own, the crimes are committed by family members, neighbors, or people with whom they interact daily. Conclusion
Because its practitioners do not seem to seek any spiritual enlightenment, simply favors and rewards, the cult of Santa Muerte
is probably best described as not so much a religion as an esoteric practice wrapped in the trappings of a religious movement. Although it may have been around for a considerable time, it appears to have been spreading more rapidly, particularly within the last decade. Efforts to truncate its growth may actually be encouraging it. It has historically been diffused but is becoming increasingly organized, especially in Mexico City.
Tepito has been and will likely continue to be the center of the organized cult. It is growing throughout other parts of Mexico, particularly at the U.S border. It appears to command respect and have considerable influence upon its practitioners.
The Santa Muerte
cult is anti-establishment and appears to glorify criminal behavior. Although not all members of the cult are criminals, all live an existence that is dominated by crime. The cult seems to be linked closely to prisons, prisoners, and family members of prisoners. It is also associated with at least two organized criminal groups – the Gulf Cartel and the Mara Salvatrucha
. Although it does not appear that most practitioners would commit crimes on behalf of the cult, some criminals might use it as an impetus to commit a crime or to increase the scale and violence of their crimes. Furthermore, because of the inherent danger in crime, the invocation of death itself as patron has a manifest appeal.
The website of a Santa Muerte
practitioner describes the Santa Muerte
as, “a symbol that identifies people who live between the legal and the illegal, but it can also be found in high levels of society.”
It is a veritable embodiment of the sense of dissatisfaction, exclusion, isolation, and despair among the marginalized in Mexican society. As long as these appear to be conditions of life in Mexico and Latin America and among Latin American communities in the U.S., the cult of Santa Muerte
will almost certainly continue to prosper.
Source -- http://fmso.leavenworth.army.mil/documents/Santa-Muerte/santa-muerte.htm