Narco-Saints: Santa Muerte

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.

More to explorer


  1. ” in some areas the hidden Catholic populations hide their statues of the Virgin in plain sight, as a locally acceptable goddess”

    There are a number of frescoes of Christ as Orpheus in the catacombs and elsewhere.

  2. We do put a statue of St. Joseph in the window of the house for sale. The house sold in a week. The promise is to honor Saint Joseph in you new home. Prayers to Mary Immaculate sold the other house while we were praying that very day. One more house to sell and another to buy with the help of Mary Immaculate and Saint Joseph.

  3. ” in some areas the hidden Catholic populations hide their statues of the Virgin in plain sight, as a locally acceptable goddess”
    The Blessed Virgin Mary sublimated herself to God from the very first moment of her existence. This means that Mary offers all up to God in the same manner that Jesus Christ does. Any misbegotten worship offered to Mary is brought by her to God immediately. Mary does not accept any worship because Mary has impeccable integrity, wisdom and grace.

  4. Mary de Voe-
    The local Catholic store back in Washington would dang near require you to sign a form saying you were NOT going to bury poor Saint Joe upside down in the yard of the house you wanted to sell!

    We put Joe in our window, too– since Elf was also gone ahead to Texas, it reminded me to pray for him.

  5. Almost 20 years ago, I had a striking dream about an angel of death.
    I was in the Holy Land, and there were a number of elderly Israelis lined up to wait for a bus. Suddenly, a van lurched around the corner and crashed near them; chemicals leaked out of the van. In my dream I knew that these chemicals were individually fairly benign, but when combined they would give off a poisonous gas (think ammonia and bleach combining to give off chlorine gas, but worse); I also understood that this had been a botched, if still dangerous, terrorist attack against the people waiting in line. Strangely enough, I was not much worried about my own safety nor that of the people lined up for the bus, but I was very concerned about a little girl I saw playing near the site of the crash. I went to warn her away, but she told me not to worry: just as Michael is the angel assigned to protect the Jewish people, she was the angel assigned to take them to their eternal destinations. It was then that I noticed that she had been glowing bright white all along — I had been seeing it, but somehow had failed to notice it. I also got the strong impression that if I were to touch her, it would burn me, not because she was hot, but because she was colder than liquid nitrogen. Finally, I understood that she had no business with me, because I am not Jewish, and that although she was not evil, it would be unthinkable to be flippant with her or ask her questions that were none of my business (such as where she was taking those people). I was not afraid she would hurt me, but she had a sort of royal authority about her, and impertinence toward her Is. Not. Shown.

    A year or so after this dream, I mentioned to a Jewish friend (after making sure he would not take this the wrong way) that I had had a very strange dream in which I saw the Jewish Angel of Death. His response still gives me shivers: “What did she look like?” Before the dream I had assumed that either there was just one Angel of Death, or maybe that our Guardian Angels are our personal Angels of Death; the idea of one per nation, though resonant with Scripture, had never occurred to me, much less the idea of the angel taking female form. (By the way, I also realized the inspiration for her appearance: the girl in red in Schindler’s List.)

    Understand that I am not claiming this dream was a vision or anything like that. For all that, it is very suggestive of some possibilities that I have no grounds to dismiss.

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