Although Santa Muerte is not a Pagan figure at all, this increasingly popular symbol of death is attracting some degree of notice among the Pagan community. Why? Because if you’re part of a Pagan path that honors the cycle of life, death, and rebirth, then deities of death and the underworld from a variety of other cultures and religions are worth discussing.
Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, has been in the news lately because of her association with Mexican drug cartels. In a Huffington Post article from January 2013, Professor of Religious Studies R. Andrew Chesnut says of Santa Muerte, “Media coverage, especially TV news, has overwhelmingly portrayed her as a sinister narco-saint, many Americans perceive her as a malicious figure at best and satanic at worst.”
You can read more of Dr. Chesnut's information on Santa Muerte at a website he runs with researcher David Metcalfe at Most Holy Death.
Typically associated with criminals, smugglers and Mexican street gangs, the cult of Santa Muerte has seen a meteoric rise in popularity over the past decade or so. Although her worship is typically done secretly, icons of Santa Muerte appear all over the place in Spanish-speaking areas of the United States, and in Mexico itself. Interestingly, while non-Mexican Americans have one perception of her, it seems that Santa Muerte is more than just a skeletal incarnation of Death.
In fact, many law-abiding citizens pay homage to Santa Muerte, in a paradoxical blend of Spanish Catholicism and Central American folk magic. National Geographic reporter Alma Guillermoprieto wrote in 2010, “After all the friends you thought you had have forgotten your very name, and you're left, as the Mexican saying goes, without even a dog to bark at you. This miracle worker, this guardian of the most defenseless and worst of sinners, is La Santa Muerte, Holy Death. She is only one among several otherworldly figures Mexicans have been turning to as their country has been overwhelmed by every possible difficulty—drought, an outbreak of swine flu followed closely by the collapse of tourism, the depletion of the reserves of oil that are the main export, an economic meltdown, and above all, the wretched gift of the drug trade and its highly publicized and gruesome violence.”
In this role, Santa Muerte appears almost as a protector saint, although one who will exact a high price indeed if promises are not kept.
Many Hispanic marketas sell candles and statues of Santa Muerte all over the United States.