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Also known as: La Madrina (“The Godmother”); La Comadre (“The Other Mother”); Querida Muerte (“Beloved Death”); Santa Muerte (“Saint Death”); La Flaquita (“The Skinny Girl”)
La Santa Muerte, also known as Santisima Muerte, is the beloved goddess of death whose origins date back to the pre-Hispanic period of Mexico. The Mexicans knew her under another name: MICTECACIHUATL “Lady of the Land of the Dead”; another spelling could be MICTLANTECIHUATL, it was believed to protect souls residing in the dark underworld. Mistress of MICTLANTECAHTLI Lord of the Land of Mictlan of the dead Dark Lord.
La Santissima Muerte, “Blessed Death,” or “The Most Holy Death,” is the goddess in the form of a skeleton. She is a spirit of death, but she is also Death itself, the Grim Reaper in sometimes glamorous robes but holding her hourglass and scythe nonetheless. La Santissima Muerte is loved and feared. La Santissima Muerte began her ascent to popularity in her modern form in approximately the 1950s or early 1960s but she also falls squarely into an ancient Latin American tradition of venerating sacred bones. Who is La Santissima Muerte?
- • She may be a modern manifestation of the Aztec deity, Mictlancihuatl, “Lady of Death.”
- • She may be a Mexican manifestation of the European Grim Reaper.
- • She may be a spirit who appeared in a dream to a nineteenth-century brujo (shaman, sorcerer) in Veracruz, identifying herself and demanding veneration.
- • She may be all or any combination of the above.
La Santissima Muerte is beloved precisely because many feel comfortable asking her for anything, including requests that other saints or spirits will automatically reject either because they are not in harmony with Church doctrine or because they are clearly not ethical. La Santissima Muerte is not petitioned lightly or casually; after all, you are literally conjuring death. It is dangerous to invoke her, but she can do everything, has access to all knowledge, and fears nothing. (After all, she is Death.) La Santissima Muerte is petitioned for matters of life and death:
- • She protects those in life-threatening situations or occupations, including those who work with scary people or who must come into close proximity to them.
- • Santissima Muerte is invoked for anything having to do with death, for instance mercy killings or suicides. She may be petitioned for a quick, painless, happy death.
- • She may be petitioned for assistance with the dead and with the ancestral realm. La Santissima Muerte can obtain information from beyond and can banish ghosts.
- • La Santisima Muerte is particularly popular amongst prostitutes, fortune-tellers, psychics, and magical practitioners of all kinds.
- • She is traditionally petitioned by women seeking the return of errant husbands or lovers.
- • She is invoked by women to make men behave.
La Santissima Muerte is sometimes confused with Doña Sebastiana, another skeleton saint traditionally venerated by penitential brotherhoods in New Mexico. Doña Sebastiana’s traditional iconic image is a female skeleton standing in a wagon, reminiscent of the Breton psychopomp Ankou.
The holiday was moved by Spanish priests to coincide with All Saints’ Eve, a vain attempt by the church to convert this holy day into a Christian holiday. The Day of the Dead nevertheless retains its ancient roots in honoring the Lady of the Land of the Dead. It is said that the old gods are not dead but sleeping and can be awakened by faith and prayer. Mictecacihuatl and his lord Mictlantecahtli both received offerings of blood from the Mexican who demanded them in exchange for a favorable or peaceful death when the time came to die. According to tradition, to receive a favorable spell by making an offering, one must have the right hand covered in blood to ensure the favor of Lord Mictlantecahtli. As blood offerings were considered of the utmost importance, the color red became intimately associated with the Lord of the Land of the Dead, and by extension the color is attributed to his mistress due to her connection to her Lord. It is important to note that Mictlantecahtli and his mistress Mictecacihuatl both lived in total darkness.
Although there is no specific reason why the goddess of death gained so much popularity, one theory is that she survived post-conquest times thanks to her role as protector and very important role in the celebration of dia de los muertos.
A holiday dear to the heart and soul of every Mexican who loves his ancestors and venerates his ancient ancestors and the deities they once revered.
It is said that the old gods did not die simply forgotten but that they are waiting to be awakened by the fire of the faithful, I believe this is true for Mictecacihuatl. The Lady of the Dead did not suffer the same fate as the Virgin of Guadalupe who was originally a Mexican goddess known as Tonantzin (Goddess of the Moon & softer aspect of Coatlicue) did not suffer the anger of the missionaries who tried to Christianize Tonantzin by declaring that she was the Virgin Mary in their native image who had come to lead the pagans to Christ. Mictecacihutal has retained its true appearance, although its image has changed by syncretism as in its present form, the Santa Muerte.
The Santa Muerte and its different forms
It is believed that the veneration of the Santa Muerte in its current form really took hold in Hidalgo Mexico around 1965, in its modern form the Santa Muerte is a syncretic image retaining her powers and attributes as Mictecacihuatl the lady of the dead; a protector of souls and children. She now bears an almost sinister grim reaper image, borrowed from European necromantic traditions that influenced Mexico. In addition, she bears images or icons that designate or identify her as Mictecacihuatl, such as the owl that is often depicted in the Santa Muerte statues. The owl is one of the animals associated with Mictlantecahtli, the Lord of the Dead, whose mistress Mictecacihuatl was, a very strong image in Mexican culture to this day. Some statues depict the Santa Muerte as a grim reaper with the scythe holding scales and a crystal ball, others she only carries the scales and a crystal ball. Another interesting note, she is sometimes depicted in art as holding a globe representing her power in other depictions: she is holding a skull, and then of course there is the hourglass.
Another name people use for her is “La Catrina”, which is her classic image in José Guadalupe Posada’s Dia de los Muertos art, which depicts her as a high society skeleton woman.
This is why some of his death stories feature syncretic themes such as a connection between the Devil and Death; both are syncretic forms of old Mexican deities: the Devil is the black Tezcatlipoca and Death is Mictecacihuatl the Lady of the Dead.
The magic of the death goddess
As in ancient times Mexico made sacrifices to the Lord and Lady of the Dead in order to receive a peaceful death, this tradition was passed down from generation to generation and grew into a myriad of requests. The basic request is always for a peaceful death, but the Santa Muerte can be requested for almost any human need. There are rituals for prosperity, success in business, justice (trial), protection from evil, protection from enemies, purification/spiritual healing, attraction of a lover, return of lost love, domination, even curses against enemies, reversal of curses to name a few. There are baths herbs made in his name for spiritual cleansing, spiritual healing, good fortune, baths to open his paths to success. Amulets are made in her name for various needs and oils are also made in her name. The Santa Muerte has a full system of magic, which is rare because many traditions assign special requests to different saints that the Santa Muerte can grant to all. There are very few popular saints who have this power; the sacred lady is one of those rare deities. which is rare because many traditions assign special requests to different saints that the Santa Muerte can grant to all. There are very few popular saints who have this power; the sacred lady is one of those rare deities. which is rare because many traditions assign special requests to different saints that the Santa Muerte can grant to all. There are very few popular saints who have this power; the sacred lady is one of those rare deities.
There seems to be a focus on identifying the Santa Muerte as being worshiped primarily by drug traffickers, smugglers, prostitutes and gangsters. This image is widely promoted by Catholic leaders in Mexico who want to give her a bad image, although it is true that these people revere her; these people do not form the majority. Remember that worshipers come in all shapes and sizes and come from all walks of life.
Manifestation: La Santissima Muerte manifests as a robed, sometimes crowned, skeleton.
Iconography: La Santissima Muerte is traditionally represented by a very distinctive image (the Grim Reaper bedecked in finery), but if one wished to work with her without resorting to a literal figurative image, she is easily represented by a miniature coffin or grave digger’s tools. Some use a skull to represent her or even a skull and crossbones flag.
Sacred sites: La Santissima Muerte has at least one dozen shrines in Mexico City, the epicenter of her veneration, plus innumerable public and private shrines elsewhere. A traditional offering involves vowing to light a pair of candles at a set number of her shrines.
La Santissima Muerte and her traditional images are easily available. Statues are color-coded:
- • Dressed in black, she is petitioned for protection and revenge.
- • Dressed in red, petitions are incorporated into love spells.
- • Dressed in white, she is petitioned for good fortune, to break bad luck, and for healing.
- • Dressed in yellow or gold, she is invoked for economic success.
Color-coordinated candles may be lit to reinforce requests and spells.
Attributes: Scythe, scales, crystal ball, hourglass
Spirit allies: Santissima Muerte generally resents having to share altar space but because she is hard to handle, it’s traditional to invoke her simultaneously with powerful but benevolent spirits like Saints Anthony or Elena or Archangel Michael so they’ll keep her in line if necessary. They are complementary spirits: she tolerates them and will allow their images to be placed on or near her altar.
Offerings: Bread, water, incense, candles, prayers and veneration, a tattoo of her image, candy, fruit, flowers (usually white roses: her flowers must always be fresh, not withered), rum, sherry, tequila, whisky, shiny red apples, chocolate, sugar skulls. Cigars and cigarettes are traditionally lit and the smoke blown over her image.