Tuesday, May 04, 2010

Stuff: Praying to death.

National Geographic has a great online article on the
rise of the Cult of Saint Death, a homegrown saint that Mexico's faithful have developed as a defense against the increasingly mad times they live in. A sort of female Grim Reaper figure, she's the "guardian of the most defenseless and worst of sinners."

Unknown to most Mexicans until recently, this death figure resembles medieval representations of the grim reaper but is fundamentally different from the playful skeletons displayed on Day of the Dead—the day when Mexicans' departed loved ones return to share with the living a few hours of feasting and remembrance. Her altars can now be found all over Mexico, on street corners and in the homes of the poor. Women and men alike are her followers. In the heart of Mexico City, in a neighborhood that has always been raucous and defiant, Enriqueta Romero leads a prayer session in honor of the skeleton every first of the month. Simultaneously flinty, foulmouthed, and motherly, Romero was among the first and the most effective propagandizers of a cult that some believe got its start in towns along the Gulf of Mexico but now covers a wide territory up and down the country. In California and Central America as well, young people light candles in La Santa Muerte's honor and tattoo her image on their skin in sizes small to extra large. A few years ago the Interior Ministry revoked its registration of La Santa Muerte as a legitimate religion, to no effect. Newsstands sell instructional videos showing how to pray to the saint, and even chic intellectuals are beginning to say that the cult is muy auténtico.

The article goes on to say that she's one of several new or reinvigorated saint-cults. Drug dealers worship Jesús Malverde, known as El Rey Guei de Sinaloa, a narco-trafficker who died in the first decade of the 20th century and has since become a folk hero and unholy saint. For the more traditionally minded, the cult of St. Jude Thaddeus, Catholic saint of desperate causes, is experiencing a vigorous revival.

The phenom of narco-saints is not just a Mexican thing. The article points out that members of the infamous Medellín cartel in Colombia are "famously devoted to St. Jude."


zoe said...

wow! this is right up my alley! thanks a bunch!!

and if you can believe it, my verification is "chant"

Chris 'Frog Queen' Davis said...

Very cool, thanks for the info, definately going to look into this further.


Pauline said...

The Santa Muerte cult reminds me somewhat of the cult of Saint Expedite in voudon and particularly New Orleans hoodoo. There is, of course, no Catholic saint named Expedite, but his image and prayer are used extensively by voudonists.

CRwM said...


Was there ever a pirate saint? Or, like Jesús Malverde, some guy who was the pirate folk patron?

Pauline said...

Wow; good question! Regionally yes - like Koxinga in Taiwan and Laffite in Louisiana - but that's more of a Robin Hood kind of thing than true saint or patron. I'm going to dig in to this one and see what I can come up with. Stay tuned...

zoe said...

hmmm...i think my comment didn't post.

the city of sale (') was, from 1000s-1600s, considered a city of saints (sufi). there was a really famous saint, called "the doctor" (at-tabib), who was said to be able to make the seas calm, and his tomb became a pilgrimage site for pirates, who eventually took him as their patron saint. somewhere in the middle of the 1600s, sale itself became a pirate haven, and pirates set up their own republic there, which thrived.
the saint's full name was sidi ahmed ibn ashir.