Monday, August 24, 2009

Santa Muerte, the Cult of Death and the Drug Wars in Mexico

You can see many when walking along the curious shops of Avenida Juarez in Juarez, Mexico. They come in all sizes and materials, from crude plaster to refined gold, from small pewter crudely made figurines to golden and gaudy pendants from thick necklaces. In all of its forms and sizes the figure remains basically the same, a skeleton dressed in a black robe a sickle with a long handled held in one of the bony hands. It is basically the equivalent of the Grim Ripper in American lore, with the void eye sockets of the skull peering in macabre fashion from inside the hood. There is one for any price range and they may include pamphlets or booklets with prayers dedicated to the grim figure. This is the "Santa Muerte" or "The Holy Death". Yet the name does not express the traditional Catholic concept of dying a "good" or "holy" death by being ready to meet the creator through a good life and receiving the Catholic sacraments during the final hour. No, the concept of this figure is that of Saint for those many that raise prayers to it and expect favors and protection. Perhaps a better translation would be "Saint Death".

Saint Death has a wide and devout following in Mexico, most of all in the northern border cities. But to say that this personage is identified with other traditional Catholic Saints is a mistake. Of course the official Catholic doctrine is that only God is to be worshiped. Saints receive reverence as exemplary people who led a Christian life. The Church says that prayers can be directed to these Saints for intercession. Any miracles or "favors" are the work of God and not the Saint. But Saint Death is, clearly, not a Catholic Saint. The Church has condemned the cult of the sinister "Saint". But this does not discourage millions of Mexicans who pray, ask for help, seek protection, elevate curses and offer sacrifice to the Santa Muerte.

Devotees of this grim character offer "gifts" to the figure. Most offer tobacco, a smoking a cigar spreading the smoke towards the image, some offer alcohol or even food or money. The figurine is either kept in a household "altar" or wore as a pendant on a neck chain or both. Candles are lit, incense is burnt and prayers said to ask the grim character to attract a lover, get a job, protection from death or misfortune. The prayers are usually adorned with Christian words, but the true element is pagan, asking this figure for favors and protection. The prayers can also be curses, directed against enemies, gang rivals, and former lovers. These curses can ask for vengeance, for constant unrest for the victim, even for death. Clearly no Christian Saint is going to intercede for such horrible prayers.

Some sociologist, anthropologist or enthusiasts of Mexican native mythologies (many very hostile to Christianity and to the Catholic Church) see the Santa Muerte as a reinvention of the Aztec gods and goddesses. Some of the most enthusiastic apologists of the practice declare this a "people" religion in opposition to the Christian deity and to Christ. In truth the cult of the Santa Muerte is syncretistic since it uses Christian imagery and words, similar to the Voodoo cult.

The cult is widespread and in the last few years has been adopted and propagated by drug traffickers. The Santa Muerte has become a cultural and religious expression of the most violent. With drug money the Santa Muerte has now even chapels where the idol is worshiped. And not only the gang members worship there but also their families and many other people not even related to the gangs who have also adopted this strange "Saint" who in reality is a pagan god of the most dark kind.

What is revealing is that the Santa Muerte cult rise coincided with the increase in violence in the Mexican side of the border with the U.S. We can say that the cult to the dark idol took off almost simultaneously with the drug violence. This violence has reached the most horrific levels of cruelty and wantonness. Since late 2006 to date more than 15,000 people have died in Mexico in the drug wars. Ciudad Juarez, the eye of the storm in this horrific wave of lawlessness has left anywhere from 1,500 to 2,000 victims in 2008 and this year looks to be even more bloody. Is the emergence of the worship of "Death" and the horrific violence coincidence?

Santa Muerte has a faithful following of millions in Mexico, most of all in the northern Mexican states and in cities like Juarez that are plagued by violence, murder and lawlessness. But who is the Santa Muerte? Death of course is nothing. It is the lack of life. Spiritual death is the condemnation of the soul to eternal separation from God a conscious form that negates life. Death came into the world through sin and in the last days, according to Sacred Scripture, death will be vanquished and thrown into the fiery lake with Satan and the Antichrist. So in effect the devotees of Death are worshiping an empty idol. Death cannot offer anything but only the negation of life. Praying to the "Santa Muerte" is like praying to a shadow or a void, it is trusting in something that is nothing and will be nothing. Faith in death is faith in that which lacks life and can offer only corruption, darkness, emptiness and hopelessness.

But who is really behind this macabre idol? The actual statue or figurine of course means nothing; it is mute and blind and cannot do anything in itself. But there is a dark spiritual power behind the worship of this thing. It is the power of the prince of this world and his minions. It is the power of hate, murder and violence. A power that despises all that is human, good and godly. It is the power of the destroyer of life who in his rage seduces people to worship this false idol and captures them in the web of evil that it produces. Santa Muerte is Satan. And we can see his horrible work in the thousands of murders and slaughter that have bloodied Mexico, in the degradation of young people who become cold blooded killers and embrace a life of sin. Santa Muerte offers sex, power, money, drugs. But of course because this is the work of the Devil and he is a liar and a murderer from the beginning, the "benefits" the idol are also a lie and a trap for those who follow it.

As Christians we need to pray to the one and only true provider of all that is good. To God through His Son Jesus Christ in the power of the Holy Spirit, we need to reject to worship of this horrible idol. We need to direct our young and our families and all those who we know to never pick up such horrible practice and if they have taken it up, to abandon it immediately. Those who have these idols in their houses or possession need to destroy them, and renounce this superstition. As we said, the actual physical idol has no power, but putting our faith on this dark spirit is a rebellion against God.

Ciudad Juarez and many other cities in Mexico are the grip of a spiritual chokehold. We need to pray so that the spiritual powers that have brought the violence leave. We need to dedicate our lives and our families to the good, to Christ. Family by family is how the battle is won. Our weapons are not bullets but prayer. Our alternative should not be hate, violence and empty lawlessness but love according to the love of Christ.

Dear Lord Jesus forgive us our sins, restore our holiness and show us the way of truth. Help us reject the evil idol known as Santa Muerte and free our nation and cities from this instrument of the Enemy. In particular we pray for Ciudad Juarez, that the violence and wickedness brought by the unseen spiritual realities of the evil one may be driven away by the prayers of the faithful, here on earth and in heaven. We pray for our youth who have been corrupted by the influence of Satan. May your Holy Angles protect us and may your Holy Spirit drive to repentance those who are trapped in the circle of violence and murder. Dear Jesus Christ, Only Son of the Father, be the King of Ciudad Juarez and Mexico and vanquish this idol in chains to hell where it belongs.


1 comment:

BHG said...

Saw your comments on the Anglican nuns and was moved to read your blog. This one rang a bell--when I worked in South Florida there was Santeria--mixtures of voodoo and Catholicism. Sometimes the line blurs, badly. I came into faith from the perspective of Medical Examiner--sometimes it is hard to see the good when one spends so much time amidst the mire. It must be so in Ciudad Juarez, hence the aberration of Santa Muerte. Still, I love the Catholic faith and I am enriched by seeing how others come to it, view it, live it. Your post was interesting--I look forward to following your blog.