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Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint

Updated on August 23, 2017
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Nightcat is a practicing witch who loves to write about Wicca and many of the Gods and Goddesses she’s had the pleasure to encounter.

Holy Death

There are few books out there for English readers about Santa Muerte that don't sound like a trip into the Twilight Zone. Just a rough glance at Amazon excepts could leave confused readers thinking the saint transforms herself into monsters, can fly, or has something to do with UFOs. Most writers obviously not taking Santa Muerte or those who love her seriously, and earning the title of gringo or gringa (foreigner, English-speaker) in spades.

But having grown up practicing what many researchers such as author R. Andrew Chestnut would call folk Catholicism, I understand the practices he seems to find primitive and downright foolish. To be clear the man doesn't believe in her as a real being any more than he believes in the tooth fairy, nor does he see the religion as valid spirituality, but a pack of hucksters fleecing the gullible sheep. I've never met the vengeful, petty monster he describes in this book and sincerely hope not to.

Please Note: These are my own personal views, and no offense is meant to practitioners of any religion. I am not an expert on Santa Muerte nor do I make any foolish claims of owning her. But as I am showing you respect, please return the favor. Santa Muerte is like a mother to me, so be respectful or as your own mother most likely told you: If you can't say something nice...

Oh, all photos are of my own altars, but the intro photo is a scan of my own copy. If you own the rights to anything used herein and want something removed please contact me. Like the colorful format? I'm using as many of her colors as possible to show you what a happy saint she truly is.

Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint

I both loved and hated this book by turns, and sadly the bad outweighs the good, but hopefully any practicing pagan or Catholic for that matter will get enough information on her main colors of brown, white, red, black, purple, gold, green and blue to be able to light candles and petition her if they so wish.

I want to make it very clear that that although it is true that those who sell drugs ask her for protection or to remove enemies, just as many law enforcement officers wear patches of the Skinny Lady (la Flaquita). Had he actually talked to any real practitioners he'd have a much more balanced view, for example, of her black aspect and readers who adore her may not like seeing the negative references in films and books. But haters are gonna hate, OK? Let them wallow.

Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint
Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint

Something a lot of people won't understand is the cultural acceptance of death. Chesnut mentions that children in Mexico think nothing of playing at the feet of her statue, but I'm fairly sure it depends on how they were raised.

There is a very real danger of over-romanticizing Mexican culture here. He mentions after all active Protestants and attacks on Santa Muerte and her shrines by the Catholic Church. I think children raised by those types of families would run screaming in terror from the Pretty Girl ( la Nina Bonita), having been told she is the devil himself.

I was raised not to fear death, to see death as almost a sister according to the lives of various saints the Church approved of, so I find nothing frightening about her. The church already has an official Angel of Death, well more than one, St. Michael and St. Gabriel both being given the title among others.

Overall he may have started with good intent, but you get the strong sense that he wants everyone to like him. so in one chapter she seems sweet and saintly and in the next she sounds downright Satanic. If he had just picked a side and stuck with it I'd have liked it better. And his subsequent interviews where he claims to be an expert and only speaks about her among drug dealers or the uneducated is inane at best.

I'm a white woman with a B.A. and I like her just fine.

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Bendita Tu Luz

You know a saint has arrived when she has songs dedicated to her. This song wasn't written specifically for her so far as I know, but this loving tribute shows how those who adore her use what they have on hand.

Santa Muerte Items

Statues, incense, jewelry and more. I honestly urge you to surf on over to eBay and check out all the wonderful goods you can order direct from Mexico, because helping out the country she originates from is a wonderful thing, though I can't promise the sellers themselves love her as a saint.

Check under 'Santa Muerte' or 'Holy Death' Saint Death brings up a much smaller return.

Señora Blanca - White Lady

She certainly looks the part of her white robes here. Peaceful, cool, as if she finds something really funny at the moment. Check out the too cute for words owls she has as companions. You'll also notice Christian symbols like the cross and a dove for the Holy Spirit, and a triangle that may be for the Holy Trinity.

Her name of Senora Blanca or White Lady is a play on the fact that as a skeleton she is white. It can also refer to her robes, but it is a respectful, loving name. Santa Muerte when wearing white is a protectress, a healer, a hex smasher. She can also bring wealth and prosperity in these robes as well.

I want readers to keep something in mind. Petitioners will usually promise a statue in exchange for something they need, then buy it when the santa has fulfilled her end of the bargain. They might also buy one as an act of devotion or love. There is nothing wrong with saying something like: "Santa Muerte if you bless me with a new job, extra money, etc. I will get you a new statue."

Catholics of course tend to break down, fall in love with a statue of our beloved saint and buy it without asking for a thing. As one of the founders of her modern movement Enriqueta Romero Romero would say, we do it out of love.

I'd also like to point out that Catholics do not worship statues. The statue is there to help us talk to the saint, that's all.

Folk Saint and Folk Catholicism

Folk saint- Any saint worked with by people not officially approved by the Church, often springing from local or cultural sources, like Santa Muerte. Church reaction can be anything from acceptance to condemnation depending on the local priest and how he views the saint himself.

In the very best cases a priest would oppose something he felt was evil, in the worst cases a priest would oppose any folk saint leading money away from church coffers. As Santa Muerte is not an official saint the church itself makes no profits from her shrines, rosaries and the like.

Sometimes when the Church defrocks old saints they fall to the status of folk saints. People are told to stop praying to them, and any miracles contributed to the former saints are labeled heresy or the work of the devil.

Needless to say many people keep beloved saints, especially when that saint is their patron, or special lifetime companion.

Folk Catholicism- Any practice, that strictly speaking, does not take place in a Catholic Church, or without a priest present. These can include Church-approved activities like praying to Saints (not in the same way you pray to God, obviously), lighting candles, observing feast days in private, and giving gifts to a saint.

But it also includes folk tales about the saints, saints the Church does not or no longer approves of, practices such as buying statues of Saint Joseph upside down to sell a house, faith healing, prayer cards, rosaries to folk saints, and what some would call magic or faith healing.

Folk Catholicism always has a local flavor, or one of the family. So the practices my Polish mother handed down to me from my grandmother would be folk Catholicism, but anthropologists would include such separate religions as Vodoun, Santeria, and serving Santa Muerte all under this term.

Saint Death - Mexico

I can't afford to even ride the bus, so I feel a kinship to my brothers and sisters here who are lucky enough to visit her shrine. I know what it is like to love her enough to figure you can go without other things to bring her something nice. I spent this week's grocery money on things like statues and prayer cards from Mexico so I can feel my pretty lady near me and welcome my mentor properly.

Who is Santa Muerte?

She is literally Death personified. Seen as a saint in her own right, she can therefore be asked to do favors for the petitioner. She is unusual because as her seven main colors show, she can do anything she sets her mind to, including being a lawyer or defense of the downtrodden, healing, bringing wealth, jobs, or love. The lovely Santa Muerte can also grant wisdom, return lost lovers, or humble those who have wronged the person appealing to her.

While that might sound scary it is fairly standard as requests to saints go, plenty of prayers to St. Michael asking him to release his sword of vengeance. It is never done in a bad way, just under the assumption that the person causing problems MUST be bad, therefore God won't mind if that particular saint goes Old Testament avenging angel on them.

She is also rare in that she loves everyone, and is the patroness of everyone on the planet so long as they choose her. Gays, drug users, prostitutes, drug dealers even kidnappers find shelter with the non-judgemental saint, who is described at one point as holding the hand of one addict in jail as she does drugs.

She is even offered drugs and alcohol, but again, because that is all the addict has and they willingly share with her. But she also shelters priests, mothers, children, babies, anyone and everyone, for as Death she makes us all equal in the end.

Readers should note it is her kind and loving attitude that makes her all-encompassing. She simply loves everyone on the planet, and will never judge or shun a person. You know, the way God, being love, is supposed to be?

La Santi­sima Muerte/Holy Death

Some of her more unusual myths. I just want to give you an unbiased view and show you how she is worked with. Her modern 'cult' is roughly only a decade old at least as far as being public. But remember she goes back much further. Remember too the people who are mentioned here are not evil, just forgotten by society. Santa Muerte like any loving mother welcomes all with open arms. Yes, including pagans!

Ten things You didn't know about Santa Muerte

  1. She is not the Christian devil. If anything she has strong Mexican roots dating back to the Aztec underworld Goddess Mictecacihuatl who ruled with her husband Mictlantecuhtli.

  2. She did pick up some aspects, such as her appearance from the Spanish friars bringing in the statues of the Grim Reaperess (la Parca), but would have been seen as a skeleton or wearing a skull or having a skull on a woman's body long before that.

  3. She dates well before the modern era, but founders of her modern movement make her seem to be a more recent saint.

  4. Santa Muerte is often addressed as godmother (Madrina) or mother (Madre) and treated like any beloved family member.

  5. It is hard to explain, but yes, there is a difference between statues of her and the traditional Grim Reaper. Usually it is her symbols, robe color, or sweeter face.

  6. Those who adore her can easily find traditional items like candles, prayer cards, rosaries, and books, but also items like perfumes (for her), powders and the like.

  7. Her traditional symbols include the scythe (protection, clearing obstacles), the owl (death, wisdom), and scales (justice, leveler of souls).

  8. She is not an orisha. Worship of Santa Muerte has nothing to do with Santeria, even if there are parallels between the two systems. Main differences are that Santeria is a religion in it's own right with African origins and that in general Santa Muerte and other folk saints show no interest in possessing followers. Santeria practitioners can certainly include her if they desire, but she isn't a replacement or double of Iku or Oya.

  9. Death has appeared as a saint or folk hero the world over, and Santa Muerte like many of those appearances is friendly, cheerful and loving.

  10. She is not vengeful! This is where Santeria horror stories of female orisha have started to make inroads. Despite tales to the contrary, she is not a home wrecker. Heck, she was originally and still is the champion of wronged women with faithless or abusive husbands. She will not strike you down in her most holy wrath for not dancing endless attendance on her either.

A reading from the book

Keep in mind that the same man saying that leaders in the Santa Muerte community are only hucksters making money is also making money off of Santa Muerte. Lovely, that. What mostly makes me angry is the arrogant assumption in the book that if he does not share a belief it is foolish.

Five Quick Tips

  1. Relax! Although he makes her sound rather frightening and demanding in the latter half of the book, Santa Muerte will not strike you dead for not being able to do the impossible. Fresh flowers are fine if you live near a meadow and are traditional, but silk or paper will do just as well.

  2. She will take substitutions. I've used regular white candles since ordering a whole box with her image on it is financial overkill for me right now, and she was quite content with water and Coke being offered as it was the best I had and I don't drink.

  3. She's fond of sweets, chocolate, anything you would find in traditional Mexican cookery, but she'll settle for what you have or nothing at all if you can't afford it. Her traditional drinks are water or any traditional alcohol crafted in Mexico.

  4. Throwing money at her by way of pure gold or money-covered statues does not mean she will therefore grant you instant wealth. She's certainly earned something this fine if she has cured your terminal cancer, or prevented a house fire or rape, but please don't think she needs gold, OK? She is Death what is she going to do with money, anyhow?

  5. Anything we do is as much a gift to the saints as what we place on the altars. So if the Virgin of Guadalupe can so richly reward a man for faith and a pious life, so too can Santa Muerte reward those who keep her in their hearts and do good deeds.

Saint Death (La Santa Muerte) trailer

Obviously I see her as a loving mother, but not everyone agress. Still this is a wonderful film. In case you are wondering why she has so many statues, I can only say it is a Catholic thing. We don't have one rosary, we have twenty. We don't have one statue of the Virgin Mary, we have sixteen. Because the love in our hearts is so great that we have to do something to show our beloved how we feel. That and like anyone in love we like to gaze on the face of our beloved, and no I don't mean that in a romantic sense either, though Santa Muerte would be the one saint who wouldn't turn you away if you did.

Her Main Colors Include

Amber or Dark Yellow: Health, breaking addictions

Blue: Wisdom, good health

Black: Protection from black magic, repel violence, hex smasher

Green: Justice

Red: Return an unfaithful lover, romantic love, fidelity, balance emotions

White: Purity, healing, hex smasher, thankfulness

Gold: Wealth, power, good fortune

Brown: Invoke spirits, balance, foundations

Purple: Healing

She also favors silver, grey, pink and orange among other colors. Please Note: As the uses are so new, nothing is set in stone, if a different color feels right, or a different use works, go for it! My beautiful mama requested gold and white for her kitchen altar where she can keep a watchful eye on a creep who walks around the neighborhood and harasses women.

Señora de las Sombras - Lady of the Shadows

Mi madre was laughing when I opened the box for this statue today for good reason. I had ordered her in rainbow robes (her do everything robe) but the listing said red in the title. Well I open the box and out comes my beautiful madrina in black robes so she can protect me from the neighborhood creep.

You will notice she does not look pleased here. But who do you call on for protection? The cuddly granny who wouldn't say 'boo' or the battle ax who swings a mean right hook? I thought so.

It is a little hard to tell, but this statue is a foot tall. Robed in black, Santa Muerte rides to the defense of those who love her, her protective scythe at the ready. Many prayers ask her to shelter the petitioner in her robes or with the blade of her scythe, or in the case of wearing black robes to go on the offensive, and destroy black magic.

Black is the color she wears to protect, to smash hexes, to ward off evil magic. Yes, people do use her for negative ends, or try to, but people also show up at funerals with signs claiming God hates various people too.

Loving the statue? You can see my review HERE.

Enjoyed meeting Santa Muerte?

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    • Nightcat profile image
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      Nightcat 3 years ago

      @grannysage: I love that book and story, grannysage! She is such a sweet and beautiful girl that I had to get my two cents worth in. I don't want people thinking she is the scary monster he presents.

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      grannysage 3 years ago

      Oh this was lovely. I loved meeting Santa Muerte. The folklore behind her reminds me of a story in the book Women Who Runs With the Wolves of the Skeleton Woman which is an Inuit story. Clarissa Pinkola Estes states, "She is also called Lady Death, and as such, she is the Life/Death/Life nature in one of her many guises. In this form, Lady Death is not a disease, but a deity."

    • Nightcat profile image
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      Nightcat 4 years ago

      @siobhanryan: Thank you so very much, siobhanryan! It was my offering to her. Thanks for the visit, hugs! :)

    • siobhanryan profile image

      siobhanryan 4 years ago

      Blessed-unusual-intriguing and superb lens

    • Nightcat profile image
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      Nightcat 4 years ago

      @anonymous: At least somebody cared! Thanks Uma, huggles! :)

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      anonymous 4 years ago

      Beautiful, uplifting and inspiring thank you so much Nightcat.