Saturday, January 7, 2012

Santa Muerte (Saint Death)

One of my favorite blogs, Mystic Politics, has a brief item about "Santa Muerte" the Saint of Death.
"While tens of thousands of Mexicans have lost their lives in the ongoing drug war, millions more have become devoted to death. Saint Death (Santa Muerte) is a skeletal folk saint whose cult has proliferated on both sides of the border over the past decade. The Grim Reapress (she's a female figure) has rapidly become one of the most popular and powerful saints on both the Mexican and American religious landscapes. Although condemned as satanic by both Catholic and Protestant churches, she appeals to millions of Mexicans and Latin American immigrants in the U.S. on the basis of her reputedly awesome supernatural powers. ~ sources: Huffington Post

Santa Muerte, or The Grim Reapress, is a folk image/entity/icon. As such,like many folk images, she is outlawed by authorities and institutions. Since Saint Death is a protectress of the criminal and the murderous, her images, as well as conspicuous homages to her, are quashed:
The current administration of Felipe Calderon has even declared her religious enemy number one of the Mexican state. In March 2009, the Mexican Army bulldozed dozens of her roadside shrines in the border cities of Tijuana, Nuevo Laredo and Matamoros. But providing protection to narcos is just one of Saint Death's multiple roles. She is also a supernatural healer, love doctor, money-maker, lawyer and angel of death. ~ source: R. Andrew Chestnut,Huffington Post.
'La Catrina' by Rodolfo Cartas
The duality is interesting too: adopted by the criminals, the outsiders, but also by another type of outsider: those needing help in every day matters concerning money, illness, love, the law...and, death, which gets us all. It's interesting the saint is a female. R. Andrew Chestnut, author of the Huffington Post article that Mystic Politics links to, addresses this:
No introduction to Saint Death would be complete without consideration of one of her most unique characteristics -- her gender identity. While folk saints abound in the Americas, and other supernatural skeletons work miracles in Guatemala and Argentina, Santa Muerte stands alone as the sole female saint of death from Chile to Canada. Her asexual skeletal form contains no hint of femaleness. Rather it is her attire and, to a lesser extent, her hair that define the saint as female. Devotees and manufacturers of mass produced images of the Bony Lady usually dress her as a nun, the Virgin, a bride or queen.
(I wonder about Catrina, the famous Day of the Dead skeletal figure -- is she as common/popular? It's not quite the same meaning, from my limited understanding; Day of the Dead, while maybe morbid to some of us gringos, isn't a negative celebration, and it doesn't share the same context as Saint Death. While both are female images, both are of the people, and both are vilified by authorities, they aren't the same.)

Another post I found: Pagan Spirits: Santa Muerte -Saint Death with comparisons to other female dieties of death, including, to my surprise, the Virgin of Guadalupe, who one doesn't usually think of in this context:
The Virgin of Guadalupe’s indigenous antecedent is Tonatzin, the Moon Goddess, a milder aspect of Coaticue. Coaticue was the Lady of the Serpent Skirt, the creator-goddess who gave birth to all the deities and to earthly life as well. At death, she swallowed living things back into her body. She was also goddess of the moon and stars. She wore a necklace of skulls (like India’s Kali) and, as her name implies, a skirt of serpents. She is sometimes depicted as wearing a skirt made from the penises of her sacrificial victims.

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