Our Lady of Holy Death
Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte
Close-up of a Santa Muerte statue south of Nuevo Laredo, Tamaulipas
Other namesLady of Shadows, Lady of the Night, White Lady, Black Lady, Skinny Lady, Bony Lady, Mictēcacihuātl (Lady of the Dead)
AffiliationA wide variety of powers including love, prosperity, good health, fortune, healing, safe passage, protection against witchcraft, protection against assaults, protection against gun violence, protection against violent death
ArtifactsGlobe, scale of justice, hourglass, oil lamp
SymbolHuman female skeleton clad in a robe
RegionPrimarily Central America, Mexico, the (primarily Southwestern) United States, and to a lesser extent across the Americas and Europe.
FestivalsAugust 15, November 2, and many public shrines celebrate the date of their founding

Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte (Spanish: [ˈnwestɾa seˈɲoɾa ðe la ˈsanta ˈmweɾte]; Spanish for Our Lady of Holy Death), often shortened to Santa Muerte, is a new religious movement, female deity, and folk saint in Mexican folk Catholicism and Neopaganism.[1][2]: 296–297  A personification of death, she is associated with healing, protection, and safe delivery to the afterlife by her devotees.[3] Despite condemnation by the Catholic Church,[4] and more recently Evangelical pastors,[5] her cult has become increasingly prominent since the turn of the 21st century.[6]

Santa Muerte almost always appears as a female skeletal figure, clad in a long robe and holding one or more objects, usually a scythe and a globe.[7] Her robe can be of any color, as more specific images of the figure vary widely from devotee to devotee and according to the ritual being performed or the petition being made.[8]

Her present day following was first reported in Mexico by American anthropologists in the 1940s and was an occult practice until the early 2000s. Most prayers and other rituals have been traditionally performed privately at home.[9] Since the beginning of the 21st century, worship has become more public, starting in Mexico City after a believer named Enriqueta Romero founded her famous Mexico City shrine in 2001.[9][10][11] The number of believers in Santa Muerte has grown over the past two decades, to an estimated 12 million followers who are concentrated in Mexico, Central America, and the United States and with smaller numbers of followers across the Americas and Europe. Santa Muerte has two similar male counterparts in Latin America, the skeletal folk saints San La Muerte of Argentina and Paraguay and Rey Pascual of Guatemala and Chiapas, Mexico.[11] According to R. Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D. in Latin American history and professor of religious studies, Santa Muerte is at the center of the single fastest-growing new religious movement in the world.[12]


Devotees praying to Santa Muerte, Mexico.

Santa Muerte can be translated into English as either "Saint Death" or "Holy Death", although the professor of religious studies R. Andrew Chesnut believes that the former is a more accurate translation because it "better reveals" her identity as a folk saint.[13][14][15] A variant of this is Santísima Muerte, which is translated as "Most Holy Death" or "Most Saintly Death",[13] and devotees often call her Santisma Muerte during their rituals.[16]

Santa Muerte is also known by a wide variety of other monikers: the Skinny Lady (La Flaquita or La Flaca),[17] the Bony Lady (la Huesuda),[17] the White Girl (la Niña Blanca),[18] the White Sister (la Hermana Blanca),[13] the Pretty Girl (la Niña Bonita),[19] the Powerful Lady (la Dama Poderosa),[19] the Godmother (la Madrina),[18] Señora de las Sombras ("Lady of Shadows"), Señora Blanca ("White Lady"), Señora Negra ("Black Lady"), Niña Santa ("Holy Girl"), Santa Sebastiana ("Saint Sebastienne", i.e. "Holy Sebastian") or Doña Bella Sebastiana ("Beautiful Lady Sebastienne").[20]


Mictēcacihuātl (or Mictlancihuatl) the skeletal Aztec goddess of death.

Main articles: Mesoamerican religion and Pre-Columbian Mexico

Further information: Population history of indigenous peoples of the Americas and Spanish colonization of the Americas

After the Spanish conquest of the Aztec Empire, the worship of death diminished but was never eradicated.[21] Judith Katia Perdigón Castañeda has found references dating to 18th-century Mexico. According to one account, recorded in the annals of the Spanish Inquisition, Chichimecs in central Mexico tied up a skeletal figure, whom they addressed as "Santa Muerte," and threatened it with lashings if it did not perform miracles or grant their wishes.[22] Another syncretism between pre-Columbian and Christian beliefs involving death can be seen in Day of the Dead commemorations. During these commemorations, many Mexicans flock to cemeteries to sing and pray for friends and family members who have died. Children partake in the festivities by eating chocolate or candy in the shape of skulls.[23] Perdigón Castañeda, Thompson, Kingsbury,[24] and Chesnut have countered the argument that Santa Muerte's origins are not Indigenous proposed by Malvido, Lomnitz, and Kristensen; stating that Santa Muerte's origins derive from authentic Indigenous beliefs. For Malvido this stems from Indigenist discourse originating in the 1930s. Nevertheless, through ethnoarchaeological researches by Kingsbury and Chesnut as well as archival work by Perdigón Castañeda, proof has been established that there are clear links between pre-Columbian death deity worship and Santa Muerte supplication. As Kingsbury has pointed out, to deny the Indigenous roots of Santa Muerte is to promote neo-colonialism and the denial of Indigenous influences and cultures as important still in the current context[citation needed].

In contrast to the Day of the Dead, overt veneration of Santa Muerte remained clandestine until the early 2000s. When it went public in sporadic occurrences, reaction was often harsh, and included the desecration of shrines and altars.[22] At the beginning of the 20th century, José Guadalupe Posada created a similar, but secular figure by the name of Catrina, a female skeleton dressed in fancy clothing of the period.[9] Posada began to evoke the idea that the universality of death generated a fundamental equality amongst all human beings. His paintings of skeletons in daily life and that La Catrina were meant to represent the arbitrary and violent nature of an unequal society.[25]

Modern artists began to reestablish Posada's styles as a national artistic objective to push the limits of upper-class tastes; an example of Posada's influence is Diego Rivera's mural painting Dream of a Sunday Afternoon in the Alameda Central, which features La Catrina. The image of the skeleton and the Day of the Dead ritual that used to be held underground became commercialized and domesticated. The skeletal images became that of folklore, encapsulating Posada's viewpoint that death is an equalizer.[25]

Skeletons were clad in extravagant dresses with braids in their hair, altering the image of Posada's original La Catrina. As opposed to being the political message Posada intended, the skeletons of equality became skeletal images which were appealing to tourists and the national folkloric Mexican identity.[25]

One of José Guadalupe Posada's Catrina engravings (1910–1913).

Veneration of Santa Muerte was documented in the 1940s in working-class neighborhoods in Mexico City such as Tepito.[26] At present Santa Muerte can be found throughout Mexico and also across the United States and Central America.[22] There are videos, websites, and music composed in honor of this folk saint.[9] The New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte first came to widespread popular attention in Mexico in August 1998, when police arrested notorious gangster Daniel Arizmendi López and discovered a shrine to the saint in his home. Widely reported in the press, this discovery inspired the common association between Santa Muerte, violence, and criminality in Mexican popular consciousness.[27]

Since 2001, there has been "meteoric growth" in Santa Muerte belief, largely due to her reputation for performing miracles.[28] Worship has been made up of roughly 12 million adherents, with the great majority of devotees concentrated in Mexico, the US, and Central America. In the late 2000s, the founder of Mexico's first Santa Muerte church, David Romo, estimated that there were around 5 million devotees in Mexico, constituting approximately 5% of the country's population.[29]

By the late 2000s, Santa Muerte had become Mexico's second-most popular saint, after Saint Jude,[30] and had come to rival the country's "national patroness", the Virgin of Guadalupe.[19] The meteoric rise of this New Religious Movement has engendered considerable controversy. In March 2009 the Mexican army demolished 40 roadside shrines near the U.S. border.[30] Circa 2005, the New Religious Movement was brought to the United States by Mexican and Central American immigrants, and by 2012 had tens of thousands of followers throughout the country, primarily in cities with large Mexican and Mexican-American populations.[31] As of 2016-2017, devotion to Santa Muerte is the fastest-growing new religious movements in the world, with an estimated 12 million followers,[32] and the single fastest-growing new religious movement in the Americas.[6] The COVID-19 pandemic saw further growth in the New Religious Movement as many believed that she would protect them against the virus.[33]

Attributes and iconography

White Santa Muerte.

Santa Muerte is a personification of death.[34] Unlike other Latin American folk saints, Santa Muerte is not, herself, seen as a dead human being.[34] She is associated with healing, protection, financial wellbeing, and assurance of a path to the afterlife.[16]

Although there are other death saints in Latin America, such as San La Muerte, Santa Muerte is the only female saint of death in the Americas.[16] Iconographically, Santa Muerte is a skeleton dressed in female clothes or a shroud, and carrying both a scythe and a globe.[34][21] Santa Muerte is distinguished as female not by her skeletal form but rather by her attire and hair. The latter was introduced by a believer named Enriqueta Romero.[28]

The two most common objects that Santa Muerte holds in her hands are a globe and a scythe. Her scythe reflects her origins as the Grim Reaper (la Parca of medieval Spain),[22] and can represent the moment of death, when it is said to cut a silver thread. The scythe can symbolize the cutting of negative energies or influences. As a harvesting tool, a scythe may also symbolize hope and prosperity.[8] The scythe has a long handle, indicating that it can reach anywhere. The globe represents Death's vast power and dominion over the earth,[21] and may be seen as a kind of a tomb to which we all return.[8]

Other objects associated with Santa Muerte include scales, an hourglass, an owl, and an oil lamp.[8] The scales allude to equity, justice, and impartiality, as well as divine will.[21] An hourglass indicates the time of life on earth and also the belief that death is not the end, as the hourglass can be inverted to start over.[21] The hourglass denotes Santa Muerte's relationship with time as well as with the worlds above and below. It also symbolizes patience. An owl symbolizes her ability to navigate the darkness and her wisdom; the owl is also said to act as a messenger.[35] A lamp symbolizes intelligence and spirit, to light the way through the darkness of ignorance and doubt.[8] owls in particular are associated with Mesoamerican death deities such as Mictlantecuhtli and seen as evidence of continuity of death worship into Santa Muerte.[36] Some followers of Santa Muerte believe that she is jealous and that her image should not be placed next to those of other saints or deities, or there will be consequences.[23]

Many artists, particularly Mexican-American artists, have worked with Santa Muerte's image. One of the images considered to be the most controversial in Mexico is the fusion of Santa Muerte and the Virgin of Guadalupe, into what is sometimes known as GuadaMuerte. This image has been very polemical for many Mexicans as it features Santa Muerte dressed like the Virgin of Guaalupe, in blue veil with stars on it, red dress, with a fiery yellow halo behind her head and often in a praying pose. It has, according to news sources, been so upsetting to the Catholic Church that Santa Muerte leaders in Mexico have advised against its use, while in the Santa Muerte community some leaders and devotees are angered that their powerful, formidable folk saint would be conflated with a completely separate entity and suffering female figure, the Virgin of Guadalupe, as the practices are different on many levels.[37][38]


Rituals associated with Santa Muerte

Figurines of Santa Muerte for sale in Sonora Market, Mexico City.

Rituals dedicated to Santa Muerte include processions and prayers with the aim of having a miracle granted.[10] Some believers of Santa Muerte remain members of the Catholic Church,[20] while others are cutting ties with the Catholic Church and founding independent Santa Muerte churches and temples.[39] Santa Muerte altars generally contain one or multiple images of the saint, generally surrounded by any or all of the following: cigarettes, flowers, fruit, incense, water, alcoholic beverages, coins, candies and candles.[21][10] Tobacco is also used for personal cleansing and for cleansing statues of Santa Muerte [40]

According to popular belief, Santa Muerte is very powerful and is reputed to grant many miracles. Her images are treated as holy and can grant miracles in return for the faith of the believer. As Señora de la Noche ("Lady of the Night"), she is often invoked by those exposed to the dangers of working at night, such as taxi drivers, bar owners, police, soldiers, and sex workers. As such, devotees believe she can protect against assaults, accidents, gun violence, and all types of violent death.[41]

Red Santa Muerte.

Her effigies are dressed differently depending on what is being requested. Usually, her vestments are differently colored robes, but it is also common for the effigies to be dressed as a bride (for those seeking a husband)[21] or in European medieval nun's garments similar to female Catholic saints.[9] The colors of Santa Muerte's votive candles and vestments are associated with the type of petitions made.[42]

White is the most common color and symbolizes gratitude, purity, or the cleansing of negative influences. Red is for love, lust and passion. It can also signify emotional stability. The color gold signifies economic power, success, money, and prosperity. Green symbolizes justice, legal matters, or unity with loved ones. Amber or dark yellow indicates health. Images with this color can be seen in rehabilitation centers, especially those for drug addiction and alcoholism.[43] Black represents total protection against black magic or sorcery, or conversely negative magic or for force directed against rivals and enemies. Blue candles and images of the saint indicate wisdom, which is favored by students and those in education. Brown is used to invoke spirits from beyond while purple, like yellow, usually symbolizes health.[42] More recently black, purple, yellow and white candles have been used by devotees to supplicate Santa Muerte for healing of and protection from coronavirus as documented by Kingsbury and Chesnut, the leading researchers on Santa Muerte.[44] Other more recent colors include silver, transparent and red with black gown Santa Muerte which are used for particular petitions [45]

Devotees may present her with a polychrome seven-color candle, which Chesnut believed was adopted from the seven powers candle of Santería, a syncretic Afro-Cuban faith brought to Mexico by Cuban migrants.[46] Here the seven colors are gold, silver, copper, blue, purple, red, and green.[21][8] In addition to the candles and vestments, each devotee adorns their own image in their own way, using U.S. dollars, gold coins, jewelry, and other items.[10]

Santa Muerte has no official annual feast day but November 2, Day of the Dead, appears to be becoming the favored date. Many larger shrines and temples hold annual celebrations on the date of their founding. The most prominent is November 1, when the believer Enriqueta Romero celebrates her at her historic Tepito shrine where the famous effigy is dressed as a bride.[20] Others celebrate her day on August 15.[21]

Places of worship

A believer touching the glass of the first public shrine to Santa Muerte, Tepito, Mexico City.

According to Chesnut, the New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte is "generally informal and unorganized".[19] Since worship of this folk saint has been, and to a large extent still is, clandestine, most rituals are performed at altars in the homes of devotees.[9] Recently public shrines have been mushrooming across Mexico. The one on Dr. Vertiz Street in Colonia Doctores is unique in Mexico City because it features statues of Jesús Malverde and Saint Jude along with Santa Muerte. Another public shrine is in a small park on Matamoros Street very close to Paseo de la Reforma.[22]

Shrines can also be found in the back of all kinds of stores and gas stations. As veneration of Santa Muerte becomes more accepted, stores specializing in religious articles, such as botánicas, are carrying more and more paraphernalia related to her worship. Historian R. Andrew Chesnut has discovered that many botanicas in both Mexico and the U.S. are kept in business by sales of Santa Muerte paraphernalia, with numerous shops earning up to half of their profits on Santa Muerte items.[35] This is true even of stores in very well known locations such as Pasaje Catedral behind the Mexico City Cathedral, which is mostly dedicated to stores selling Catholic liturgical items. Her image is a staple in esoterica shops.[10]

There are those who now call themselves Santa Muerte priests or priestesses, such as Jackeline Rodríguez in Monterrey. She maintains a shop in Mercado Juárez in Monterrey, where tarot readers, curanderos, herbal healers, and sorcerers can also be found.[47]

Shrine of the Most Holy Death

The raising of Santa Muerte images during a service for Santa Muerte in Tepito, Mexico City.

The establishment of the first public shrine to the image began to change how Santa Muerte was venerated. The veneration has grown rapidly since then, and others have put their images on public display, as well.[9] In 2001, Enriqueta Romero built a shrine for a life-sized statue of Santa Muerte in her home in Mexico City, visible from the street. The shrine does not hold Catholic masses or occult rites, but people come here to pray and to leave offerings to the image.[20] The effigy is dressed in garbs of different colors depending on the season, with the Romero family changing the dress every first Monday of the month. This statue of the saint features large quantities of jewelry on her neck and arms, which are pinned to her clothing. It is surrounded by offerings left to it, including: flowers, fruits (especially apples), candles, toys, money, notes of thanks for prayers granted, cigarettes, and alcoholic beverages that surround it.[20]

Enriqueta Romero considers herself the chaplain of the shrine, a role she says she inherited from her aunt, who began the practice in the family in 1962.[20] The shrine is located on 12 Alfarería Street in Tepito, Colonia Morelos. For many, this Santa Muerte is the patron saint of Tepito.[26] The house also contains a shop that sells amulets, bracelets, medallions, books, images, and other items; the most popular item sold there is votive candles.[10]

On the first day of every month Enriqueta Romero or one of her assistants lead prayers and the recitation of the Santa Muerte rosary, which lasts for about an hour and is based on the Catholic rosary.[10][35] On the first of November the anniversary of the Tepito Santa Muerte shrine erected by Enriqueta Romero is celebrated. This Santa Muerte is dressed as a bride and wears hundreds of pieces of gold jewelry given by the faithful to show gratitude for miracles granted, or to ask for one.[26]

The celebration officially begins at the stroke of midnight of November 1. Thousands of faithful turn out to pray the rosary. For purification, marijuana smoke is used instead of incense, which is traditionally used for purification by Catholics. Food such as cake, chicken with mole, hot chocolate, coffee, and atole are served during the celebrations, which features performances by mariachis and marimba bands.[26]

Votive candles

Santa Muerte votive candles at a grocery store in suburban Washington, D.C.

Santa Muerte is a multifaceted saint, with various symbolic meanings and her devotees can call upon her for a wide range of reasons. In herbal shops and markets one can find a plethora of Santa Muerte paraphernalia like the votive candles that have her image on the front and in a color representative of its purpose. On the back of the candles are prayers associated with the color's meaning and may sometimes come with additional prayer cards.[48] Color symbolism is central to devotion and ritual. There are three main colors associated with Santa Muerte: red, white, and black.[49]

The candles are placed on altars and devotees turn to specific colored candles depending on their circumstance. Some keep the full range of colored candles while others focus on one aspect of Santa Muerte's spirit. Santa Muerte is called upon for matters of the heart, health, money, wisdom, and justice. There is the brown candle of wisdom, the white candle of gratitude and consecration, the black candle for protection and vengeance, the red candle of love, lust and passion, the gold candle for monetary affairs, the green candle for crime and justice, the purple candle for healing.[50]

The black votive candle is lit for prayer in order to invoke La Flaca's protection and vengeance. It is associated with "black magic" and witchcraft. It is not regularly seen at devotional sites, and is usually kept and lit in the privacy of one's home. To avert from calling upon official Catholic saints for illegal purpose, some drug traffickers will light Santa Muerte's black candle to ensure protection of shipments of drugs across the border.[50] Nevertheless, black candles may also be used for more benign activities such as reversing spells, as well as all forms of protection and removing energetic blockages.[49]

Black candles are presented to Santa Muerte's altars that drug traffickers used to ensure protection from violence of rival gangs as well as ensure harm to their enemies in gangs and law enforcement. As the drug war in Mexico has escalated, Santa Muerte's veneration by drug bosses has increased and her image is seen again and again in various drug safe houses. Ironically, the military and police officers that are employed to dismantle the White Lady's shrines make up a large portion of her devotees. Furthermore, even though her presence in the drug world is becoming routine, the sale of black candles pales in comparison to top selling white, red, and gold candles.[51]

One of Santa Muerte's more popular uses is in matters of the heart. The red candle that symbolizes love, lust, and passion is helpful in various situations having to do with love. Her initial main purpose was in love magic during the colonial era in Mexico, which derived from the love magic being brought over from Spain. The Spanish Grim Reapress fused with the indigenous conceptualizations of death are at the root of La Flaca's existence, in so that the use of love magic in Europe and that of pre-Columbian times that was also merging during colonization may have established the saint as a supernatural love doctor.[48]

The majority of anthropological references to Santa Muerte between the 1940s and 1980s cite her roles as a lover sorceress.[52] The candle can be lit for Santa Muerte to attract a certain lover and ensure their love. In contrast though, the red candle can be prayed to for help in ending a bad relationship in order to start another one. These love miracles require specific rituals to increase their love doctors power. The rituals require several ingredients including red roses and rose water for passion, binding stick to unite the lovers, cinnamon for prosperity, and several others depending on the specific ritual.[52]

In the United States

A Santa Muerte garden altar in Richmond in California's San Francisco Bay Area.

The New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte was established in the United States c. 2005, brought to the country by Mexican and Central American immigrants .[53] American scholar of religious studies Andrew Chesnut suggests that there were tens of thousands of devotees in the U.S. by 2012.[54] Devotion to Santa Muerte is primarily visible in cities with large Mexican and Mexican-American populations, such as New York City, Chicago, Houston, San Antonio, Tucson, and Los Angeles.[23][14] There are fifteen religious groups dedicated to her in Los Angeles alone,[21] which include the Temple of Santa Muerte on Melrose Avenue in East Hollywood.[55]

In many places across the US her popularity has spread beyond Hispanic communites. For instance, the Santisima Muerte Chapel of Perpetual Pilgrimage is maintained by a woman of Danish descent, while the New Orleans Chapel of the Santisima Muerte was founded in 2012 by a Non-Hispanic White devotee.[56][57]

As in Mexico, some elements of the Catholic Church in the United States are trying to combat Santa Muerte worship, especially in Texas, New Mexico, and Chicago particularly.[23][14][58][59] Compared to the Catholic Church in Mexico, the official reaction in the U.S. is muted. The U.S. Conference of Catholic Bishops has not issued an official position on this, the fastest growing New Religious Movement in the country and in the entire world.[14] Opposition to the veneration of Santa Muerte took a violent turn in late January, 2013, when one or more vandals smashed a statue of the folk saint, which had appeared in the San Benito, Texas, municipal cemetery earlier that month.[60]


Santa Muerte

The New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte is present in all social classes of Mexican society, although the majority of devotees are either underemployed workers or from the urban working class.[15][61] Most are young people, in their teens, twenties, or thirties, and are also mostly female.[15][53] A large following developed among Mexicans who are disillusioned with the dominant, institutional Catholic Church and, in particular, with the inability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty and violence.[14][15]

Devotion is based mostly among people with scarce resources, excluded from the formal market economy, as well as the judicial and educational systems, primarily in the inner cities and the very rural areas.[21] Devotion to Santa Muerte is viewed as a "cult of crisis" by some scholars. Devotion to the skeleton saint has expanded rapidly during economic and social hardships, which tend to affect the working classes more.[15] Santa Muerte tends to attract those in extremely difficult or hopeless situations but also appeals to smaller sectors of middle class professionals and even the affluent.[9][42] Some of her most devoted followers are those who commit petty crimes, often committed out of desperation, such as sex workers and petty thieves.[15][21]

The worship of Santa Muerte also attracts those who are not inclined to seek the traditional Catholic Church for spiritual solace, as it is part of the Mexican establishment; many followers of Santa Muerte live on the margins of the law or outside it entirely.[15] Many street vendors, taxi drivers, vendors of counterfeit merchandise, street people, sex workers, pickpockets, drug traffickers, and gang members who follow the Mexican folk saint are not practicing Catholics or Protestants.[15][21]

In essence they have created their own New Religious Movement that reflects their realities, hardships, identity, and practices, especially since it speaks to the violence and struggles for life that many of these people face.[15][21] Conversely, both police forces and the military in Mexico can be counted among the faithful who ask for blessings on their weapons and ammunition.[21]

While worship is largely based in poor neighborhoods, Santa Muerte is also venerated in affluent areas such as Mexico City's Condesa and Coyoacán districts.[62] However, negative media coverage of the worship and condemnation by the Catholic Church in Mexico and certain Protestant denominations have influenced public perception of the cult of Santa Muerte. With the exception of some artists and politicians, some of whom perform rituals secretly, those in higher socioeconomic strata look upon the veneration with distaste as a form of superstition.[9]

Association with the LGBTQ+ community

Further information: LGBT-affirming Christian denominations

See also: LGBT-affirming religious groups

Santa Muerte is also revered and seen as a saint and protector of the lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and queer (LGBTQ+) communities in Mexico,[15][63][64][65][66] since LGBTQ+ people are considered and treated as outcasts by the Catholic Church, evangelical churches, and Mexican society at large.[15][63] Many LGBTQ+ people ask her for protection from violence, hatred, disease, and to help them in their search for love. Her intercession is commonly invoked in same-sex marriage ceremonies performed in Mexico.[67][68] The Iglesia Católica Tradicional México-Estados Unidos, also known as the Church of Santa Muerte, recognizes gay marriage and performs religious wedding ceremonies for homosexual couples.[69][70][71][72]

Association with criminality

A man blowing smoke onto a miniature image of Santa Muerte.

In the Mexican and U.S. press, devotion to Santa Muerte is often associated with violence, criminality, and the illegal drug trade.[73] She is a popular religious figure in prisons, both among inmates and staff, and shrines dedicated to her can be found in many cells.[74][62][75]

Altars with images of Santa Muerte have been found in many drug safe houses in both Mexico and the United States.[21] Among Santa Muerte's more infamous devotees are kidnapper Daniel Arizmendi López, known as El Mochaorejas, and Gilberto García Mena, one of the bosses of the Gulf Cartel.[62][75] In March 2012, the Sonora State Investigative Police announced that they had arrested eight people for murder for allegedly having performed a human sacrifice of a woman and two ten-year-old boys to Santa Muerte (see: Silvia Meraz).[76]

In December 2010, the self-proclaimed Santa Muerte bishop David Romo was arrested on charges of managing funds of a kidnapping gang linked to a cartel. He continues to lead his church from his prison cell. Drug lords, like that of La Familia Michoacana cartel, take advantage of "gangster foot soldiers'" vulnerability and enforced religious obedience to establish a sacred meaning to their cause that would keep their soldiers disciplined.[77]

Opposition and persecution

Santa Muerte statues alongside other items of Mexican veneration (Jesus, Mary) on sale at a shop on Broadway in downtown Los Angeles.

Since the mid-20th century and throughout the 21st century, the New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte and her devotees have been regularly discriminated, ostracized, and socially excluded both by the Catholic Church and various evangelical-Pentecostal Protestant churches in Mexico and the rest of Central America.[78][79][80][81]

The Catholic Church has condemned devotion to Santa Muerte in Mexico and Latin America as blasphemous and satanic,[23] calling it a "degeneration of religion".[82] When Pope Francis visited Mexico in 2016, he repudiated Santa Muerte on his first full day in the country, condemning Santa Muerte as a dangerous symbol of narco-culture.[83]

Latin American Protestant churches have condemned it too, as black magic and trickery.[9] Mexico's Catholic Church has accused Santa Muerte devotees—many of whom were baptized in the Catholic religion despite the difference of belief and the fact that Santa Muerte churches and temples have instituted a separate baptism practice—of having turned to devil-worship.[14]

Catholic priests regularly chastise parishioners, telling them that death is not a person but rather a phase of life.[9] However, the Church stops short of labeling such followers as heretics, instead accusing them of heterodoxy.[84] Other reasons the Mexican Catholic Church has officially condemned the worship of Santa Muerte is that most of her rites are modeled after Catholic liturgy,[21] and some Santa Muerte devotees eventually split from the Catholic Church and began vying for control of church buildings.[14]

Despite the many attempts by the Catholic Church and Protestant churches to undermine the devotion to Santa Muerte in Mexico and elsewhere, along with the religious discrimination and accusations towards her followers, the New Religious Movement of Santa Muerte has enjoyed meteoric growth and spread across the American continent since the early 2000s, and is considered by one of the leading academic experts, Andrew Chesnut, to be the single fastest-growing new religious movement in the world.[12]

See also


  1. ^ Chesnut, R. Andrew (2016). "Healed by Death: Santa Muerte, the Curandera". In Hunt, Stephen J. (ed.). Handbook of Global Contemporary Christianity: Movements, Institutions, and Allegiance. Brill Handbooks on Contemporary Religion. Vol. 12. Leiden: Brill Publishers. pp. 336–353. doi:10.1163/9789004310780_017. ISBN 978-90-04-26539-4. ISSN 1874-6691.
  2. ^ Flores Martos, Juan Antonio (2007). "La Santísima Muerte en Veracruz, México: Vidas Descarnadas y Práticas Encarnadas". In Flores Martos, Juan Antonio; González, Luisa Abad (eds.). Etnografías de la muerte y las culturas en América Latina (in Spanish). Cuenca: Ediciones de la Universidad de Castilla–La Mancha. pp. 273–304. ISBN 978-84-8427-578-7.
  3. ^ Chesnut 2018, pp. 6–7.
  4. ^ Kingsbury and Chesnut 2019, The Church's life-and-death struggle with Santa Muerte, The Catholic Herald
  5. ^ Kingsbury and Chesnut 2020, Colonizing Death -American Evangelist Crusades Against Santa Muerte at Landmark Shrine in Tepito, Global Catholic Review
  6. ^ a b Chesnut, R. Andrew (26 October 2017). Santa Muerte: The Fastest Growing New Religious Movement in the Americas (Speech). Lecture. Portland, Oregon: University of Portland. Archived from the original on 7 February 2021. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  7. ^ "Los Angeles believers in La Santa Muerte say they aren't a cult | The Madeleine Brand Show | 89.3 KPCC". 2012-01-10. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  8. ^ a b c d e f Velazquez, Oriana (2007). El libro de la Santa Muerte [The book of Santa Muerte] (in Spanish). Mexico City: Editores Mexicanos Unidos, S.A. pp. 13–18. ISBN 978-968-15-2040-3.
  9. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Garma, Carlos (2009-04-10). "El culto a la Santa Muerte" [The cult of Santa Muerte]. El Universal (in Spanish). Mexico City. Archived from the original on 3 July 2015. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  10. ^ a b c d e f g Villarreal, Hector (2009-04-05). "La Guerra Santa de la Santa Muerte" [The Holy War of Santa Muerte]. Milenio semana (in Spanish). Mexico City: Milenio. Archived from the original on 2009-10-16. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  11. ^ a b Chesnut 2018, pp. 26–50.
  12. ^ a b , R. Andrew, Santa Muerte: El Movimiento Religioso de Más Rápido Crecimiento en el Mundo, Amazon, 2023. |url=https://www.amazon.com/Muerte-Movimiento-Religioso-Crecimiento-Spanish/dp/B0C47NL6SB/ref=sr_1_4?qid=1704480562&refinements=p_27%3AAndrew+Chesnut&s=books&sr=1-4%7C
  13. ^ a b c Chesnut 2018, p. 7.
  14. ^ a b c d e f g Gray, Steven (2007-10-16). "Santa Muerte: The New God in Town". Time.com. Chicago: Time. Archived from the original on October 31, 2007. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  15. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k Lorentzen, Lois Ann (2016). Pellegrini, Anna; Vaggione, Juan Marco (eds.). "Santa Muerte: Saint of the Dispossessed, Enemy of Church and State". Emisférica. Vol. 13, no. 1. New York City: Hemispheric Institute of Performance and Politics. Archived from the original on 30 July 2019. Retrieved 14 August 2021.
  16. ^ a b c Chesnut 2017, p. 7.
  17. ^ a b Chesnut 2018, p. 3.
  18. ^ a b Chesnut 2018, p. 5.
  19. ^ a b c d Chesnut 2018, p. 8.
  20. ^ a b c d e f Velazquez, Oriana (2007). El libro de la Santa Muerte [The book of Santa Muerte] (in Spanish). Mexico City: Editores Mexicanos Unidos, S.A. pp. 7–9. ISBN 978-968-15-2040-3.
  21. ^ a b c d e f g h i j k l m n o p q Araujo Peña, Sandra Alejandro; Barbosa Ramírez Marisela; Galván Falcón Susana; García Ortiz Aurea; Uribe Ordaz Carlos. "El culto a la Santa Muerte: un estudio descriptivo" [The Santa Muerte Cult:A descriptive study]. Revista Psichologia (in Spanish). Mexico City: Universidad de Londres. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  22. ^ a b c d e Chesnut 2017, pp. 26–50.
  23. ^ a b c d e Ramirez, Margaret. "'Saint Death' comes to Chicago". Chicago Tribune. Chicago. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  24. ^ Kingsbury, Kate; Chesnut, R. Andrew (2021). "Syncretic Santa Muerte: Holy Death and Religious Bricolage". Religions. 12 (3): 220. doi:10.3390/rel12030220.
  25. ^ a b c Fragoso, Perla (2011). "De la "calavera domada" a la subversión santificada. La Santa Muerte, un nuevo imaginario religioso en México" (PDF). Universidad Autonoma Metropolitana Unidad Azcapotzalco. Retrieved March 15, 2021.
  26. ^ a b c d "La Santa Muerte de Tepito cumple seis años" [The Santa Muerte of Tepito turns six] (in Spanish). Mexico City: Radio Trece. Archived from the original on 2009-02-06. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  27. ^ Chesnut 2017, pp. 15–16.
  28. ^ a b Chesnut 2017, p. 8.
  29. ^ Chesnut 2017, pp. 8–9.
  30. ^ a b Chesnut 2017, p. 4.
  31. ^ Chesnut 2017, pp. 9–11.
  32. ^ Chesnut, R. Andrew (6 October 2015). "Mexico's Top Two Santa Muerte Leaders Finally Meet". HuffPost. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  33. ^ Brogan, Mary Kate (26 August 2022). "Scholar says Santa Muerte, 'the newest plague saint,' has been a beacon of hope during COVID-19". VCU News. Retrieved 2023-01-06.
  34. ^ a b c Chesnut 2017, p. 6.
  35. ^ a b c Chesnut 2017, pp. 50–97.
  36. ^ "Mictlantecuhtli, Aztec God of Death – Mexico Unexplained". 9 December 2019.
  37. ^ https://wrldrels.org/wp-content/uploads/2016/02/Interview-with-R.-Andrew-Chesnut.pdf[bare URL PDF]
  38. ^ Lara, Bravo; Estela, Blanca (December 2013). "Bajo tu manto nos acogemos: Devotos a la Santa Muerte en la zona metropolitana de Guadalajara". Nueva Antropología. 26 (79): 11–28.
  39. ^ "The Rise of Santa Muerte Worship and Demon Exorcism in Mexico – VICE – United States". 28 September 2016. Retrieved 4 December 2016.
  40. ^ Cressida Stone, "Secrets of Santa Muerte", 2020, Weiser Press
  41. ^ Velazquez, Oriana (2007). El libro de la Santa Muerte [The book of Santa Muerte] (in Spanish). Mexico City: Editores Mexicanos Unidos, S.A. pp. 11–12. ISBN 978-968-15-2040-3.
  42. ^ a b c "World Religions & Spirituality | Cronica De La Santa Muerte". Has.vcu.edu. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  43. ^ Chesnut 201, pp. 147–175.
  44. ^ Kingsbury, Kate; Chesnut, R. Andrew (September 2020). "Holy Death in the Time of Coronavirus: Santa Muerte, the Salubrious Saint". International Journal of Latin American Religions. Nature Public Health Emergency Collection. University of Toronto Press. 4 (1): 194–217. doi:10.1007/s41603-020-00110-6. ISSN 2509-9965. PMC 7485595. S2CID 221656092.
  45. ^ see Cressida Stone, "Secrets of Santa Muerte: A Guide to the Prayers, Rituals and Hexes", 2020 Weiser Press
  46. ^ Chesnut 2017, pp. 19–20, 26.
  47. ^ Harden Cooper, Ricardo (2008-02-14). "Vende bien aquí la Santa Muerte" [Santa Muerte sells well here]. El Porvenir (in Spanish). Mexico City. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  48. ^ a b Thompson, John (Winter 1998). "Santísma Muerte: Origin and Development of a Mexican Occult Image". Journal of the Southwest. 40 (4).
  49. ^ a b Kingsbury, Kate and Chesnut, R. Andrew 2019, Mexican Folk Saint Santa Muerte – The Fastest Growing New Religious Movement in the West
  50. ^ a b Chesnut 2017, pp. 3–27.
  51. ^ Chesnut 2017, pp. 102–103.
  52. ^ a b Chesnut 2017, pp. 133–147, 175–192.
  53. ^ a b Chesnut 2017, p. 13.
  54. ^ Chesnut 2018, p. 11.
  55. ^ "Templo a la Santa Muerte". Archived from the original on 2009-05-22. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  56. ^ "Santisima Muerte Chapel of Perpetual Pilgrimage". Retrieved 2011-05-15.
  57. ^ "The New Orleans Chapel of the Santisima Muerte". Retrieved 2014-03-05.
  58. ^ Martin, Michelle (2012-02-19). "Our Lady of Guadalupe battles 'Holy Death' for devotion of Mexican faithful". Our Sunday Visitor. Archived from the original on 2012-02-17.
  59. ^ Lorentzen, Lois Ann (2009-05-28). "Holy Death on the US/Mexico Border". The University of Chicago Divinity School.
  60. ^ Rodriguez, Michael; Jimenez, Francisco E. (2013-01-25). Q&A – Occult experts weigh in on Saint Death's 'desecration'. San Benito News, 25 January 2013. Retrieved from https://news.yahoo.com/q-occult-experts-weigh-saint-015947105.html.
  61. ^ Chesnut 2017, pp. 11–12.
  62. ^ a b c Pacheco Colín, Ricardo. "El culto a la Santa Muerte pasa de Tepito a Coyoacán y la Condesa" [The Santa Muerte cult moves from Tepito to Coyoacan and Condesa]. La Cronica de Hoy (in Spanish). Mexico City. Retrieved 2009-10-07.
  63. ^ a b Bárcenas Barajas, Karina (September–December 2019). "Apropiaciones LGBT de la religiosidad popular" (PDF). Desacatos: Revista de Ciencias Sociales (in Spanish). Mexico City: Centro de Investigaciones y Estudios Superiores en Antropología Social (CIESAS). 61: 98–113. doi:10.29340/61.2135 (inactive 31 January 2024). ISSN 2448-5144. Retrieved 16 June 2021.((cite journal)): CS1 maint: DOI inactive as of January 2024 (link)
  64. ^ Woodman, Stephen (31 March 2017). "How a skeleton folk saint of death took off with Mexican transgender women". USA Today. ISSN 0734-7456. Archived from the original on 10 October 2019. Retrieved 17 November 2021.
  65. ^ Villarreal, Daniel (6 April 2019). "Bishops tell Catholics to stop worshipping this unofficial LGBTQ-friendly saint of death: Even though "La Santa Muerte" is not a Church-sanctioned saint, millions of people still revere her". LGBTQ Nation. San Francisco. Archived from the original on 7 April 2019. Retrieved 16 June 2021.
  66. ^ "Archives". outinthebay.com. Out In The Bay. 2012. Archived from the original on 2012-04-24.
  67. ^ "Iglesia de Santa Muerte casa a gays". El Universal – Sociedad. 2010-03-03. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  68. ^ (México) Sociedad–Salud > Area: Asuntos sociales. "La Iglesia de Santa Muerte mexicana celebró su primera boda gay y prevé 9 más". ABC.es – Noticias Agencias. Retrieved 2013-02-09.((cite web)): CS1 maint: multiple names: authors list (link)
  69. ^ "La Nueva Iglesia De La Santa Muerte Permite Bodas Gay". Los21.com. 2012-01-24. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  70. ^ "La Santa Muerte celebra "bodas homosexuales" en México - México y Tradición" (in Spanish). Mexicoytradicion.over-blog.org. 2010-06-02. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  71. ^ "Culto a la santa muerte casará a gays". Tendenciagay.com. 2010-01-11. Retrieved 2013-02-09.
  72. ^ "Mexico's Holy Death Church Will Conduct Gay Weddings". Latin American Herald Tribune. 2010-01-07.
  73. ^ Chesnut 2017, pp. 10, 14.
  74. ^ Chesnut 2018, pp. 14–15.
  75. ^ a b Chesnut, R. Andrew; Borealis, Sarah (2012-02-20). Santa Muerte – Cronica de la Santa Muerte – Santa Muerte Timeline. World Religions & Spirituality Project VCU, Virginia Commonwealth University, 20 January 2012. Retrieved from http://www.has.vcu.edu/wrs/profiles/SantaMuerte.htm.
  76. ^ "Officials: 3 killed as human sacrifices in Mexico". CNN.com. CNN. 2012-03-30. Archived from the original on 2012-04-02. Retrieved 2012-04-03.
  77. ^ Grillo, Ioan (2011). El Narco. Bloomsbury Press.
  78. ^ Chesnut, R. Andrew; Yllescas, Jorge Adrián (2018). "Santa Muerte". In Blancarte, Roberto (ed.). Diccionario de Religiones en América Latina (in Spanish). Mexico City: El Colegio de México/Fondo de Cultura Económica. pp. 573–585. ISBN 978-607-628-389-9.
  79. ^ Bromley, David G. (June 2016). Chesnut, R. Andrew; Metcalfe, David (eds.). "Santa Muerte as Emerging Dangerous Religion?". Religions. Basel: MDPI. 7 (6: 'Death in the New World: The Rise of Santa Muerte'): 65. doi:10.3390/rel7060065. eISSN 2077-1444.
  80. ^ Gaytán Alcalá, Felipe (January–June 2008). "Santa entre los Malditos: Culto a La Santa Muerte en el México del siglo XXI". LiminaR: Estudios Sociales y Humanísticos (in Spanish). Tuxtla Gutiérrez: Centro de Estudios Superiores de México y Centroamérica (CESMECA) – Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas. 6 (1): 40–51. doi:10.29043/liminar.v6i1.265. eISSN 2007-8900. ISSN 1665-8027. S2CID 142525950.
  81. ^ Perdigón Castañeda, Judith K. (January–June 2008). "Una relación simbiótica entre La Santa Muerte y El Niño de las Suertes". LiminaR: Estudios Sociales y Humanísticos (in Spanish). Tuxtla Gutiérrez: Centro de Estudios Superiores de México y Centroamérica (CESMECA) - Universidad de Ciencias y Artes de Chiapas. 6 (1): 52–70. doi:10.29043/liminar.v6i1.266. eISSN 2007-8900. ISSN 1665-8027. S2CID 143388890.
  82. ^ "Vatican declares Mexican Death Saint blasphemous". Bbc.co.uk. 2013-05-09. Retrieved 2013-12-05.
  83. ^ Kingsbury, Kate and Chesnut, R. Andrew 2019 The Church's life-and-death struggle with Santa Muerte
  84. ^ Garcia Meza, Daniel (2008-11-01). "La "Niña blanca" mejor conocida como La Santa Muerte" [The White Girl, better known as Santa Muerte]. El Siglo de Torreón (in Spanish). Torreon, Mexico. Retrieved 2009-10-07.


Academic books

Academic journals

Monographs, grimoires, and essays