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Nuestra Señora de la Santa Muerte part3

Sociology of the cult

The cult of Santa Muerte is present throughout the strata of Mexican society, although the majority of devotees are from the urban working class. Most are young people, aged in their teens, twenties, or thirties, and are also mostly female. A large following developed among Mexicans who are disillusioned with the dominant, institutional Catholic Church and, in particular, with the inability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty. The phenomenon is based among people with scarce resources, excluded from the formal market economy, as well as the judicial and educational systems, primarily in the inner cities and the very rural areas. Devotion to Santa Muerte is what anthropologists call a "cult of crisis". Devotion to the image peaks during economic and social hardships, which tend to affect the working classes more. Santa Muerte tends to attract those in extremely difficult or hopeless situations but also appeals to smaller sectors of middle class professionals and even the affluent. Some of her most devoted followers are those individuals associated with petty economic crimes, committed often out of desperation; such as prostitutes, pickpockets and thieves.

The worship of Santa Muerte also attracts those who are not inclined to seek the traditional Catholic Church for spiritual solace, as it is part of the "legitimate" sector of society. Many followers of Santa Muerte live on the margins of the law or outside it entirely. Many street vendors, taxi drivers, vendors of pirated merchandise, street people, prostitutes, pickpockets, petty drug traffickersand gang members are not practicing Catholics or Protestants, but neither are they atheists. In essence, they have created their own new religion that reflects their realities, identity, and practices, especially since it speaks to the violence and struggles for life that many of these people face. Conversely, however, both police and military in Mexico can be counted among the faithful who ask for blessings on their weapons and ammunition. While worship is largely based in poor neighborhoods, Santa Muerte is also venerated in affluent areas such as Mexico City'sCondesa and Coyoacán districts. However, negative media coverage of the worship and condemnation by the Catholic Church in Mexico and certain Protestant denominations have influenced public perception of the cult of Saint Death. With the exception of some artists and politicians, some of whom perform rituals secretly, those in higher socioeconomic strata look upon the veneration with distaste as a form of superstition.

Association with criminality
In the Mexican and U.S. press, the Santa Muerte cult is often associated with violence, criminality, and the illegal drug trade. She is a popular deity in prisons, both among inmates and staff, and shrines dedicated to her can be found in many cells. The majority of believers are poor people who are not necessarily criminals, but the public belief in her by several drug traffickers and small numbers of other petty criminals has indirectly associated her with crime, especially low-level organized crime. In Mexico, authorities have linked the worship of Santa Muerte to prostitution, drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling, and homicides. Criminals, among her most fervent believers, are likely to pray to her for successful completion of a job as well as escaping from the police or jail. In the north of Mexico, she is venerated along with Jesús Malverde, the so-called "Saint of Drug Traffickers". Malverde's following is strong, especially in his hometown of Sinaloa, but the symbol of Santa Muerte is much more aggressive. Altars with images of Santa Muerte have been found in many drug houses in both Mexico and the United States. Among Santa Muerte's more famous devotees are kidnapper Daniel Arizmendi López, known as El Mochaorejas, and Gilberto García Mena, one of the bosses of the Gulf Cartel. In March 2012, the Sonora State Investigative Police announced that they had arrested eight people for murder for allegedly having performed a human sacrifice of a woman and two ten year old boys to Santa Muerte (see: Silvia Meraz). In December 2010, the self-acclaimed bishop David Romo was arrested on charges of banking funds of a kidnapping gang linked to a cartel. He continues to lead his sect from his prison, but it is unfeasible for Romo or anyone else to gain dominance over the Santa Muerte cult. Her faith is spreading rapidly and "organically" from town to town, so that is easy to become a preacher or messianic figure. Drug lords, like that of La Familia Cartel, take advantage of "gangster foot soldiers'" vulnerability and enforced religious obedience to establish a holy meaning to their cause that would keep their soldiers disciplined.

Popular culture
  • In "Criminal Minds", Season 5, Episode 19, the Santa Muerte is mentioned several times, and was even shown as a painting on a barn.
  • In Breaking Bad a scene depicted two Mexican Cartel hit men crawling to a statue of Santa Muerte to pray for assistance in their mission to kill Walter White.
  • In American Horror Story: Coven, Sarah Paulson's name card in the opening sequence shows Santa Muerte, also known as the Lady of the Seven Powers, to foreshadow that Cordelia would perform the seven wonders and become the next supreme in the season finale.
  • In Paranormal Activity: The Marked Ones, the apartment is decorated with various Santa Muerte statues.
  • In The Book of Life, a variation of her, referred to simply as La Muerte", appears as a supporting protagonist, voiced by Kate del Castillo.
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