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.
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.
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.