This isn’t going to be as polished as I wanted, but I’ve been “gonna” get this going for over a year so I better get started. New to the Conspiracies and Catholicism series, I present: Narco Saints. A narco-saint is a supposed saint with a following among the American drug cartels, especially in Mexico; may be a legitimate folk-saint or a recognized saint, but is used in a distinctly non-Catholic manner, either praying for illicit goals or for magic.
About this time of year you’ve probably seen a lot of Day of the Dead type skeletons, in every form from rather adorable (paging Coco, and the source of the picture I used to illustrate this, The Book of Life) to stuff that’s more horror-movie-style. Among them, you may have seen that look like a female Grim Reaper, or even the Virgin Mary (usually not Our Lady of Guadalupe) repainted into a skeletal form.
That would be because that frequently is what they are— repainted Virgin statues. Not actually an inherently bad thing, there, either– a statue is just a statue, doing anything to it only matters if there’s actually a bad intent since there’s no direct harm done; in some areas the hidden Catholic populations hide their statues of the Virgin in plain sight, as a locally acceptable goddess. I can even see picturing holy death as a woman extremely comforting for those women who have lost children.
Modern practices around Santa Murete is three broad flavors; things like the Angel of Death (which allows you to address a prayer to a holy soul but avoids creating or assigning a name); and the two darker verisons of folk-magic (similar to burying a Saint Joseph statue upside down to sell your house, it’s not physically harmful, just corrupting) and flat-out satanic.
(Warning, that site specializes in translating Spanish language reports on the Cartels; it has a lot of really, really nasty stuff, such as photographs of the corpses they’ll put out with messages. Some of the translators are actually pretty pro-cartel, too, so please just be CAREFUL.)
Now, obviously, talking to “Holy Death” same way you’d talk to the Archangel Michael isn’t a bad thing, same way you can talk to your guardian angel, or ask for your late grandmother’s intercession even when she hasn’t been canonized.
The darker versions tend to be of the more harmless “make an offering and you’re sure to get exactly what you wanted” or “it’s OK to pray for an inherent evil if the statue looks a certain way, or you do a certain thing” form, sort of like holy chain-letters; some supporters even think that’s the great thing, it’s a “self-contained system of magic”.
The homicidally dark are, thanks be, pretty dang rare and seem to be strongly tied to both (neo)Aztec practices and the cartels instilling fear. Also, don’t discount the “they’re just freaking crazy and latched on to it” angle for some of the serial killer types that are especially bloody. I’m not even going to link to any other news stories about it, because they’re bleepin’ horrifying; just think “inspired by the Aztecs” and you’re close enough.
The Aztec angle is, frankly, a mess; there is a lot of conflicting information floating around online and in popular tradition– such as the Bony Lady being Mictecacihuatl (consort/queen to the Aztec version of Hades, Mictlantecuhtli). Some of the traditions currently in the Day of the Dead are believed to hail back the month-long celebration she led, which is possible– Catholicism is hardly opposed to memorials to the dead, and such things would be prime for baptism into All Saint’s and All Soul’s. But that hardly makes them bad, any more than a human is bad for needing a baptism.