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Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte part1

Or, colloquially, Santa Muerte (Spanish for Our Lady of the Holy Death), is a female folk saint venerated primarily in Mexico and the Southwestern United States. A personification of death, she is associated with healing, protection, and safe delivery to the afterlife by her devotees. Despite opposition by the Catholic Church, her cult arose from popular Mexican folk belief, a syncretism between indigenous Mesoamerican and Spanish Catholic beliefs and practices. Since the pre-Columbian era Mexican culture has maintained a certain reverence towards death, which can be seen in the widespread commemoration of the syncretic Day of the Dead. Elements of that celebration include the use of skeletons to remind people of their mortality. The worship is condemned by the Catholic Church in Mexico as invalid, but it is firmly entrenched among Mexico's lower working classes and various elements of society deemed as "outcasts".

Santa Muerte generally appears as a female skeletal figure, clad in a long robe and holding one or more objects, usually a scythe and a globe. Her robe can be of any color, as more specific images of the figure vary widely from devotee to devotee and according to the rite being performed or the petition being made. As the worship of Santa Muerte was clandestine until the 20th century, most prayers and other rites have been traditionally performed privately in the home. However, since the beginning of the 21st century, worship has become more public, especially in Mexico City after Enriqueta Romero initiated her famous Mexico City shrine in 2001. The number of believers in Santa Muerte has grown over the past ten to twenty years, to several million followers in Mexico, the United States, and parts of Central America. Santa Muerte has similar male counterparts in the Americas, such as the skeletal folk saints San La Muerte of Argentina and Rey Pascual of Guatemala.

Attributes and iconography

Santa Muerte is a personification of death, although unlike other folk saints like Niño Fidencio and Pedro Batista is not seen as a dead human being herself. To her devotees, she is associated with healing, protection, and ensuring a path to the afterlife. Although there are other death saints in Latin America, such as Argentina's San La Muerte, Santa Muerte is the only female saint of death in either South or North America. Some devotees consider Santa Muerte to be an eighth archangel. Still some other followers, albeit a minority, believe that Santa Muerte is not a saint, since she has traits of jealousy and granting evil requests. These same followers, however, state that she is not Satanic either, but merely a fallen angel in purgatory trying to win back God's favor, and that is the reason she grants so many miracles.
Iconographically, Santa Muerte is a female adaptation of the Grim Reaper, typically being depicted as a skeletal figure wearing a shroud and carrying both a scythe and a globe. Santa Muerte is marked out as female not by her figure but by her attire and hair; the latter was introduced by Enriquetta Romero. However, there are many variations on the color of the cloak, and on what Santa Muerte holds in her hands. Interpretations of the color of her robe and accoutrements vary as well. Images of Santa Muerte range from mass-produced articles sold in shops throughout Mexico and the U.S. to handcrafted effigies. Sizes vary immensely from small images held in one hand to those requiring a pickup truck to transport them. Some people even have the image tattooed on their bodies.
The two most common objects that Santa Muerte holds in her hands are a scythe and a globe. The scythe can symbolize the cutting of negative energies or influences. Also, as a harvesting tool, it can symbolize hope and prosperity. Moreover, her scythe, which reflects her origins as the Grim Reapress ("la Parca" of medieval Spain), can represent the moment of death, when it is said to cut a silver thread. The scythe has a long handle, indicating that it can reach anywhere. The globe represents Death's dominion over the earth, and can be seen as a kind of a tomb to which we all return. Having the world in her hand also symbolizes vast power.
Other objects that can appear with an image of Santa Muerte include scales, an hourglass, an owl, and an oil lamp. The scales allude to equity, justice, and impartiality, as well as divine will. An hourglass indicates the time of life on earth. It also represents the belief that death is not the end, but rather the beginning of something new, as the hourglass can be turned to start over. The hourglass denotes Santa Muerte's relationship with time as well as with the worlds above and below. It also symbolizes patience. An owl symbolizes her ability to navigate the darkness and her wisdom. The owl is also said to act as a messenger. A lamp symbolizes intelligence and spirit, to light the way through the darkness of ignorance and doubt.
Often, Santa Muerte stands near statues of Catholic images of Jesus Christ, the Virgin of Guadalupe, St. Peter, St. Jude, or St. Lazarus. In the north of Mexico, Santa Muerte is venerated alongside Jesús Malverde, with altars containing both frequently found in drug busts. However, some warn that Santa Muerte is very jealous and that her image should not be placed next to Catholic saints or there will be consequences.


Rites dedicated to Santa Muerte are predicated on Catholic ones, including processions and prayers with the aim of gaining a favor. Many believers in Santa Muerte are self-professed Catholics, who invoke the name of God the Father, Christ, the Holy Virgin, and St. Michael the Archangel in their petitions to Santa Muerte. Altars contain an image of Santa Muerte, generally surrounded by any or all of the following: cigarettes; flowers; fruit; incense; water; alcoholic beverages; coins; candies; and candles. According to popular belief, Santa Muerte is very powerful and is reputed to grant many favors. These images, like those of Catholic saints, are treated as holy and can give favors in return for the faith of the believer, with miracles playing a vital role. In many ways, Santa Muerte acts like Catholic saints. As Señora de la Noche ("Lady of the Night"), she is often invoked by those exposed to the dangers of working at night, such as taxi drivers, mariachi players, bar owners, police, soldiers, and prostitutes. As such, devotees believe she can protect against assaults, accidents, gun violence, and all types of violent death. The image is dressed differently depending on what is being requested. Usually, the vestments of the image are differently colored robes, but it is also common for the image to be dressed as a bride (for those seeking a husband) or even in a colonial-era nun's habit. The colors of Saint Death votive candles and vestments are associated with the type of petitions made. White is the most common color and can symbolize gratitude, purity, or the cleansing of negative influences. Red is for love and passion. It can also signal emotional stability. The color gold signifies economic power, success, money, and prosperity. Green symbolizes justice, legal matters, or unity with loved ones. Amber or dark yellow indicates health. Images with this color can be seen in rehabilitation centers, especially those for drug addiction and alcoholism. Black represents total protection against black magic or sorcery, or conversely negative magic or for force directed against rivals and enemies. Blue candles and images of the saint indicate wisdom, which is favored by students and those in education. It can also be used to petition for health. Brown is used to invoke spirits from beyond while purple, like yellow, usually symbolizes health. In many cases, devotees present her with a polychrome seven-color candle, which Chesnut believed was probably adopted from the seven powers candle of Santería, a syncretic faith brought to Mexico by Cuban migrants. Here the seven colors are gold, silver, copper, blue, purple, red, and green. In addition to the candles and vestments, each devotee adorns his or her own image in his or her own way, using U.S. dollars, gold coins, jewelry, and other items.

Santa Muerte also has a "saint's day", which varies from shrine to shrine. The most prominent is November 1, when Enriqueta Romero celebrates hers at her historic Tepito shrine where the famous effigy is dressed as a bride.  Others celebrate her day on August 15.

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