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Santa Muerte


Mexico sees spike in death cult, demonic possession, exorcisms

“One cleric who regularly performs exorcisms, Pastor Hugo Alvarez, attributes the rise of demonic possessions to increased dabbling in the occult, including black magic, Santeria, witchcraft, sorcery, Satanism and especially the cult of Santa Muerte. Alvarez, author of Deliverance: A Ministry for the Church, said that ‘Santa Muerte is one of the trickiest and most dangerous practices, since they present a saint, but there’s a demon behind it. Satan’s greatest deceit is making people believe he doesn’t exist,’ he said… In his visit to Mexico last February, Pope Francis denounced the devotion to Santa Muerte, telling the Mexican bishops that he was particularly concerned about ‘those many persons who, seduced by the empty power of the world, praise illusions and embrace their macabre symbols to commercialize death.’ … The President of the Pontifical Council for Culture, Cardinal Gianfranco Ravasi, has also condemned the cult of the skeleton saint as ‘sinister and infernal’ and called for both Church and society to mobilize against devotion to Saint Death. ‘It’s not religion just because it’s dressed up like religion; it’s a blasphemy against religion,’ he said. ‘Everyone is needed to put the brakes on this phenomenon, including families, churches and society in its totality,” Ravasi said, adding that the Santa Muerte cult ‘is the celebration of devastation and of hell.’” (13 Breitbart News, 09/29/16) [IT 8.1]

The cult of Santa Muerte, which centers on a Halloween-type shrouded skeleton and was originally popular among criminals and people living on the fringes of society, is now almost mainstream, “reincarnated in pretty robes of white gauze, pink silk, shimmering velvet, and bright sequins.” At the Santa Muerte shrine in downtown Mexico City, people recite traditional rosaries, and “young men crawl on their knees for blocks cradling the holy skeleton in their arms. Instead of lighting incense, they exhale smoke from marijuana cigarettes for the Muerte to inhale.” A Vatican official recently called Santa Muerte, which has no hierarchy or structure, “a blasphemy against religion”; he gives it special attention because it borrows a great deal from traditional church ritual, even though followers still see themselves as devout Catholics. The Vatican official’s statement is not an official condemnation: “it may be that Rome is anxious not to alienate millions of practicing believers who might worship a different kind of saint on the side.” (National Geographic News, 5/12/13) [IT 4.3 2013]

Statues of the skeletal Santa Muerte first appeared in Ciudad Juarez, Mexico in 2009, when drug-related violence began to devastate the town and people started to look to her for protection. The Mexican Catholic Church denounces Santa Muerte as a cult. According to Santa Muerte priestess Yolanda Salazar, “people pray for protection, but also health, and for love.” On a visit, Salazar’s sanctuary in the city displayed 100 various-sized statues of Santa Muerte as 25 worshippers ate and danced to mariachi music. Her weekly prayer vigil draws a congregation similar in size to one for a Catholic mass. Members of the drug cartels have long been Santa Muerte followers; they make offerings in return for protection in their illegal activities. Salazar says that even police go to Santa Muerte for protection. (NBC Latino, 12/31/12) [IT 4.1 2013]

In December in Mexico, D.F., David Romo Guillén was arrested. He was the leader of a group called Iglesia Católica Tradicional (Traditional Catholic Church), the sect that spreads the cult of la Santa Muerte (Holy Death). According to the courts, Romo was arrested along with other people who formed part of the group dedicated to kidnapping and bribery. The District Attorney for Mexico City confirms that, among other evidence, Romo took the ransom money from a kidnapping in cash from his bank account and took it to the National Sanctuary of the Holy Death. He used a false name and handled a large sum of money received from these criminal activities. [IT 3.3 2012]

On the 14th of July, a Mexican courthouse condemned the leader of the Holy Death Cult, David Romero Guillén, to 66 years in prison, and to pay a considerable amount in fines for robbery, kidnapping, and extortion. There were other judgments of 12 years’ incarceration against the leader of the Church of the Holy Death for electoral crimes. [IT 3.3 2012]

Eight people have been arrested in the state of Sonora, Mexico for allegedly killing two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman in ritual sacrifices conducted by the cult of La Santa Muerte. The victims’ blood is said to have been poured around an altar to the saint. Among those arrested was Martin Barron Lopez, the priest of Santa Muerte. (Telegraph, 3/31/12) [IT 3.1 2012]

Culto a la Santa Muerte. Toward the end of March in the city of Narcozari (Sonora, Mexico), the bodies of a 10-year-old boy and a 55-year-old woman were both found after the individuals had disappeared in recent years. Some days later, the police arrested eight members of a family as the authors of the crime. The family members confessed that they killed both victims as a blood offering in a ritual to the Santa Muerte. Three children and one adolescent were present during the ritualistic killings. [IT 3.1 2012]

Mexican authorities have arrested David Romo, a leader of Santa Muerte (Saint Death), the fast-growing underground cult that has for years been a headache both for the government and the Roman Catholic Church. Some—the marginalized, impoverished, and sometimes-criminal element, including drug-traffickers—have become followers of Santa Muerte in reaction to rising violence in the country. Drug traffickers and prison gangs ask Santa Muerte for protection as they commit crimes. Romo, a self-appointed bishop of Santa Muerte, is accused of operating a kidnapping ring and laundering the ransoms though his personal bank account. When prosecutors brought him before TV cameras as they read out the charges, he shouted that he’d been tortured and that his arrest was politically motivated. Some Santa Muerte proponents say Romero has excessively commercialized the cult’s practices. Eva Aridjis, who’s film La Santa Muerte was released in 2007, says not everyone who worships Santa Muerte is a criminal. “What I encountered was many sick people or people who were in danger of dying or lived in dangerous environments. Drug addicts and prostitutes, but also policemen and taxi-drivers.” Santa Muerte mixes pre-Colombian indigenous practice and African customs with elements of Catholicism. The government removed Santa Muerte from the list of officially recognized religious organizations in 2007. (Los Angeles Times, 1/5/11) [IT 2.1 2011]


Santa Muerte (“Holy Death”) is a female folk saint, popular among Mexico’s “poor and “criminal classes” and linked to narcotics trafficking. But Santa Muerte in Southern California, whose supplicants include a cross-section of the immigrant community, has a mild New Age flavor and seems relatively benign. Followers, many of whom consider themselves Catholics, talk less about death than about cleansing the spirit and developing inner strength. “It’s sort of like the Virgin for people on the edge,” said Patricia A. Polk, a folklorist and curator of UCLA’s Fowler Museum. One preacher, who provides shamanistic services in person or over the phone, says: “Years ago, they used this for witchcraft to get certain things . . .Now it is more about religion . . . health, prayer. . . People come for their jobs, for good luck at the casinos, or for problems with a husband or wife. . . [and] because they feel alone.” [csr 8.3 2009)