by Sophia diGregorio
Sophia diGregorio is the author of The Grimoire of Santa Muerte: Spells and Rituals of Most Holy Death, the Unofficial Saint of Mexico
Santa Muerte or Holy Death Death is believed by some to be a representation of an ancient Aztec goddess called Mictecacihuatl, the Lady of the Dead. Although, this origin is disputed by other researchers who point to a long history of death goddesses throughout Mexico and in Western Europe, as well. She may be a little bit of both. It is highly improbable that she has any relationship to the spirits of Afro-caribbean traditions as some have suggested because there is historically really no substantial African influence in Mexico.
Santa Muerte was practically unknown until a few years ago. According to one account, her influence grew in Tepito, which is a neighborhood in Mexico City that the police were unable to control. She is sometimes described as a “narco-saint” and is associated in the minds of law enforcement agencies with the drug trade. But, her significance and popularity is much broader than that.
Santa Muerte is not necessarily associated with crime, but she might be characterized as a spirit of defiance, which has grown out of the injustices perpetrated by the government and law enforcement agencies on good, hard-working Mexican people. The police and the organized criminal class is intertwined in Mexico (just as they are in many large cities in the U.S.).
Los Zetas, the infamous drug traffickers said to be responsible for a great deal of violence in Mexico, was formed by police officers. In cities like Juarez, it is estimated by some that 1/3 of the police department is comprised of members of drug cartels. In other parts of Mexico, the police engage in the human trafficking of people from Guatemala and El Salvador. Sporadically, there are reports of good townspeople fighting the police to rescue the victims.
So, you can see that, at least in some places in Mexico, if you have been victimized by criminals, the police and the legal system may not be the best place to turn for help.
In past centuries, the Catholic Church has stood between criminal governments and the people, but the Catholic Church in Mexico has failed to meet the needs of many Mexicans either physically or spiritually.
Because of this, Santa Muerte has become a refuge for those who need protection from criminals of both the common and police classes.
In circumstances of oppression like this, witchcraft always grows darker and stronger. Such is the case with the Santa Muerte.
Her popularity is, also, growing in parts of the U.S. where people face similar injustices and dangers from the same two classes of people.
In most representations of Santa Muerte, she is depicted as a skeleton wearing a hood and holding a scythe like the grim reaper. The scythe and her deathly appearance symbolize her power over life and death. Essentially, she is the spirit of death and probably a combination of several such spirits from both Mexico and southwestern Europe.
Because of her thin, skeletal image, she is sometimes called “la Nina Blanca” (the white lady or girl) or “la nina flaca” (“the skinny girl”). She is quietly referred to by many as, “mi amiga” (my friend).
Commonly, she holds the earth in her hands as a representation of her earthly powers. Sometimes she stands on it, similar to some depictions of Our Lady of Guadalupe. In some depictions, she seems to be holding what looks like a crystal ball, however, in other representations it is clearly the earth with the various continents she holds in her hand.
She often holds the scales of justice. This is reminiscent of the Egyptian goddess Maat, who represents law, order, balance and justice. One of Santa Muerte’s most important functions is to mete out justice in instances where crimes and criminals would otherwise go unpunished.
Frequently, she is depicted with one or two owls either perched at her feet or behind her shoulders. The owl has associations with witchcraft in Mexico, Europe and around the world. In Mexico, it is believed by some that witches can turn into owls and there are many reports of human-looking owls (Lechuzas) flying in the air along the Rio Grande and all the way from Monterrey, Mexico to northern Texas. Furthermore, the owl is regarded as a bad omen in Mexico and to hear an owl hooting is seen as a sign that death is nearby.
As further evidence of Santa Muerte’s connection to other goddesses of death in Western Europe and earlier civilizations, the owl is associated with Hecate, the Greek goddess of the Underworld and Minerva or Athena the Roman goddess of Wisdom. The Akkadian goddess Ishtar, who is depicted with owl-like claws and wings, is accompanied by two owls, one on either side of her.
Less often, we see Santa Muerte depicted with a black cat, which is among her chief pets. Cats are associated with both good and bad fortune and with protection, however, they are often considered an omen of bad luck in Mexico.
Santa Muerte statues used primarily for success in business and finances are usually painted gold and she is depicted with golden coins.
Sometimes she carries an oil lamp to light the way. The light is, also, a symbol of illumination and always a symbol of Luciferian rebellion and the willful desire to obtain the knowledge of the gods.
She is, also, often pictured with caskets, skeletons, skulls and horseshoes.
The horseshoe is an ancient symbol with many different meanings. In this instance it may be associated not only with good fortune and protection, but with the crescent moon because Santa Muerte is similar to other goddesses from the Mediterranean. Our Lady of Guadalupe is, also, frequently depicted with a crescent moon.
Statues of Santa Muerte commonly have a cavity in the bottom filled with amulets, seeds or other representations of her power
The colors, altar cloths, candles and other dressings used to honor Santa Muerte and to facilitate magical working differs slightly from those used by most modern witches in the U.S. and England. In some ways, they seem closer to the color associations of Buddhism and Hinduism.
Gold, red and black are probably the most commonly seen colors.
Gold or golden yellow is for money, success and financial concerns
Red is for matters of love, romance and protection, especially from the Evil Eye
Black is for total protection from enemies, hexing and revenge
White and bone-color are for peace and harmony in the home and among neighbors
Blue is for increased mental powers and concentration
Green is used in matters pertaining to the law, courts and justice
Amber is used for healing and releasing habits and addictions
Purple is, also, used for health and healing
Santa Muerte is typically approached like any Catholic saint. Unlike other saints her powers are not limited and she does not pass judgment on you or your needs or desires. People often giver her a special altar, which becomes a place of power over time as you work with her.
Once you are used to working with her, you can ask her to lend her power to any of your spells. She is extremely versatile and will be able to help you with all your needs. Simply, tailor your candles and other dressings for her altar, accordingly.
In the U.S., you may have difficulty finding Santa Muerte articles unless you live in Texas or the southwest. If you are fortunate enough to have a Mexican grocery store near you, you may find Santa Muerte candles, scapulars, pendants and other articles sold along with images of other saints. Most Mexican tiendas, also, keep dried herbs, incense and magical powders on hand.
If you would like to keep the power of Santa Muerte with you, always, you can use the following ceremony to consecrate a pendant to her to create a talisman.
You will need the following:
A statue of Santa Muerte (a prayer card or even an image of her printed from the computer)
Red Ribbon or Cord
A glass of fresh, clean water
A Santa Muerte pendant (you may substitute a skull, skeleton or grim reaper)
A red or black cotton handkerchief
Santa Muerte Money Spell
Cleanse the pendant and chain by rubbing it with a little alcohol. Then, allow it to dry.
This consecration ceremony takes place over the course of 3 nights. So, place two marks on the candle to divide it into three sections.
If you are using a prayer card or paper image of Santa Muerte, place it under the candle holder on your altar. Place the glass of water near the candle. Water is the most basic offering to the spirit. You may, also, bread, candy, fruit or some other small offering to her in a little bowl.
On a Tuesday or Thursday night during a Full Moon, light the candle and pray to Santa Muerte, asking for her protection while holding the pendant in your hand, as follows:
“Most Holy Death, I ask that through this image you will cover me with the cloak of your protection, that you always take care of me and guide me through all snares and dangers. Give me your blessing so that I never lack the things I need. Give me strength, health, prosperity and protection. [Add any other petition.]”
You may use a different prayer, the above is only an example. In fact, the words and actions in this consecration are less important than your own energy. There are a lot of prayers to Holy Death, but there is no standard prayer. Many people like to begin and end with a recitation of The Our Father, but this is not a requirement. The best thing you can do is really speak from your heart and make a connection with the spirit of Santa Muerte. Whatever wording you use, ask for her protection to be granted to you through the pendant.
When you have finished your prayer. fold the pendant and cord up into the handkerchief and place it on or in front of the Santa Muerte statue. If you are using an card or paper image, place the handkerchief in front of the candle. Allow it to burn down to the first notch. Then, snuff out the candle and take the handkerchief and place it in the bottom of a drawer.
On the second night, retrieve the handkerchief with the pendant from the drawer and repeat this procedure. It is not necessary to cleanse the pendant, again, as long as no one else touches it. When the candle as burned to the second notch, snuff it out. Place the handkerchief in the drawer.
On the third night, repeat this procedure, allowing the candle to burn down completely. Now, the pendant is ready to wear.
Whenever you need help, touch the medal and ask Santa Muerte to be with you.
Some practitioners repeat this ritual every three months to maintain its power.
The Judeo-Christian god demands worship and his followers consider themselves his servants. By contrast, Santa Muerte serves the people. She doesn’t take anything from the people; she doesn’t demand service and she doesn’t pass judgment or punish. She only gives protection and power to those who have no other advocate and no other recourse.
Santa Muerte is a Mexican saint, but her devotion is truly a gift from Mexico to the world!
In January 2013, a new book in English, The Grimoire of Santa Muerte: Spells and Rituals of Most Holy Death, the Unofficial Saint of Mexico is the first book especially for American (and English-speaking) devotees of Santa Muerte. There have been numerous books in Spanish from Mexican presses written for Mexican audiences, but few in English written especially for people who are not as familiar with Mexican culture and Catholicism. This book was written by an American Santa Muerte devotee and lover of Mexican history, culture and language especially for non-Spanish speakers.
It contains information about Santa Muerte, her history and legends. It shows how to construct an altar for her, how to consecrate it and it gives prayers, spells and rituals for obtaining the assistance of Santa Muerte for love, protection, prosperity, healing and all of the necessities of life.