Santa Muerte is at it again in the small Texas border-town of San Benito. Two nights ago drivers on a rural road came across a white Santa Muerte statue planted in the middle of the road, on top of the yellow dividing line. At least one passerby believed they heard noises being emitted from the statue, so they dutifully reported it to local police. Afraid the statute, which appears to be no taller than 2 feet, might contain an explosive device, the city sent out a bomb squad to investigate. Go to local news report here.
No IED, or any other explosive device was found at the scene, and in the process the nocturnal effigy was smashed to pieces. Once again the local media turned to a well known anthropologist in the region, Dr. Tony Zavaleta, who was very quick to opine that the statue had probably been placed in the middle of the road as part of a some sinister sorcery. Watch him here. In our next post David Metcalfe will analyze both this bizarre incident and the previous cemetery controversy in San Benito involving Dr. Zavaleta and me. Click here for the cemetery story.
While Santa Muerte has become a permanent newsmaker, she received an extraordinary amount of coverage over the past couple weeks. The biggest story, by far, was one that Italian journalist Ludavico Laccino and I teamed up for on a series of Mexican cartel hitwomen who had adopted the nom de guerre of “Flaca” (often spelled as “Flaka”), which means Skinny Girl, and of course is one of Santa Muerte’s most common monikers. The appeal of a female saint of death to women who kill for a living couldn’t be stronger. Read more about the case here.
One of the most surreal stories I’ve come across in my six years of research on Santa Muerte suprisingly comes from Costa Rica. A couple weeks ago a doctoral student in art history contacted me inquiring about the use of human bones in Santa Muerte statues. I told him that it’s rare, but seems to be more common among devotees of the Argentine skeleton saint, San La Muerte. The day after receiving his email, I came across a surreal article in the Costa Rican press on a Santa Muerte statue with real human hands, skin and all, which two men had been driving through the streets of San Jose on the way to a rural location. I did a double-take when I realized this had happened in Costa Rica and not Mexico. While Saint Death is a regular in the Guatemalan, Salvadoran, and Honduran press, her appearance in Costa Rican media is very rare. The reporter speculates that the fleshy hands were obtained from a local cemetery and associates the Bony Lady with narcos. For more details go here.
Here on the pages of SkeletonSaint we’ve given extensive coverage to the wave of altar desecrations in Mexico. Those who’ve read my book, Devoted to Death, know that it was the bulldozing of some 40 shrines on the U.S.- Mexico border that first sparked my interest in the saint of death. Since then, there hasn’t been another act of mass destruction, but every other week or so the local press in Mexico reports on the destruction of a publically accessible shrine, some of which are on private property and others not. In a country where some 100,000 have lost their lives in the interminable drug war, the investigation of such property crimes is a very low priority so the perpetrators of the shrine desecrations remain anonymous. Given the Mexican Church’s frequent and loud condemnations of Santa Muerte as satanic, it’s possible that at least some of the perpetrators are Christians offended by her public presence. The latest leveling of a shrine was carried out with machetes and shovels in the northern state of Coahuila. More details found here.
Since the visual aspect of Santa Muere devotion is so important, I thought a a short documentary would make a nice complement to my written work. Over the past months I teamed up with my VCU colleagues, producer Molly Ransone and editor Max Schlikenmeyer of the Virginia Commonwealth University Alt Lab. Check out our short doc Santa Muerte: The Skeleton Saint. I hope to collaborate on a full-length documentary in the near future.
On Wednesday a number of residents of the town of Buenos Aires, located about twenty miles north of the county seat of Cosoleacaque in the Mexican state of Veracruz, detained three suspected witches and handed them over to Veracruz State Police. It was the burning of Santa Muerte candles by the three suspects in the middle of the town soccer field that caught the attention of residents. The alleged witches are Nicolas Martinez Cruz of Oteapan, Moses Torres Jimenez and his mother, Bertha Jimenez, both from the town of San Pedro Martir. A mob of residents took the suspects to the police station, along with their Santa Muerte candles and others fluids with which they apparently performed their witchcraft.
The police chief stated that it was a few courageous men who had detained the alleged witches. Upon interrogation at the police station, the three said they had been paid 300 pesos to perform witchcraft against the police chief and his secretary. They were also taken to a cemetery where they had apparently stored other items for spellcasting next to a grave.
Click here for the article in Spanish. Translated from the Spanish by Andrew Chesnut
En los ultimos dias Enriqueta Vargas Ortiz del Templo de Tultitlan, Estado de Mexico, ha hecho unas declaraciones importantes sobre su papel de lideresa del cutlo de la Santa Muerte en Mexico. La “Madrina” Vargas dice:
A MIS NUEVOS AMIGOS: YO SOY ENRIQUETA VARGAS ORTIZ, MADRE DEL “PANTERA” FUNDADOR DEL TEMPLO DE LA SANTA MUERTE MAS GRANDE DEL MUNDO, NO ESTOY POR LUCRO, NO SOY BRUJA, NO HAGO TRABAJOS NEGROS. MUCHOS DE USTEDES ME HAN PREGUNTADO QUE SI HAGO ESTO, QUE SI HAGO LO OTRO, ETC. LES AYUDO SI ASI LO REQUIEREN ORANDO Y PIDIENDO A MI SANTA MUERTE PARA QUE LOS AYUDE, LES ACONSEJO COMO PEDIRLE O QUE PUEDEN HACER PARA HACERSE UNA LIMPIA O ARMONIZARSE. SIN EMBARGO MUCHOS DE USTEDES HAN SIDO GROSEROS Y OFENSIVOS CONMIGO, YO HE SIDO PRUDENTE Y PACIENTE, NO SE SI QUIEREN QUE YO PIERDA LA PACIENCIA O SON ASI PORQUE ES LA EDUCACION QUE LES HAN DADO. DISCULPENME SI NO ESTOY EN EL MOMENTO EN QUE USTEDES REQUIEREN QUE ESTE. YO SOY AMA DE CASA, ATIENDO A LOS DEVOTOS QUE ACUDEN AL TEMPLO, ATIENDO A LOS CIENTOS DE FIELES QUE ME LLAMAN POR TELEFONO, VOY A LOS PROGRAMAS DE RADIO EN LOS QUE ESTOY CON CASA GRIMORIO Y OTROS PROYECTOS MAS QUE SE ESTAN REALIZANDO, ESTOY PENDIENTE DE LOS TRABAJOS QUE SE ESTAN REALIZANDO EN EL TEMPLO CON LOS NICHOS, CON LOS BAÑOS, ETC. CONTESTO CUANTO MENSAJE TENGO AQUI EN EL FACE, EN EL WHATSAPP O CORREO, VOY AL PENAL A DAR ORACION Y A OTROS LUGARES DONDE ME LO REQUIEREN. PERO NO SE VALE QUE ME EXIJAN POR ALGO QUE NO ESTOY COBRANDO UN SOLO QUINTO Y TAMBIEN COMPRENDAN QUE SON MUCHOS LOS QUE NECESITAN AYUDA REAL Y NO “CAPRICHOS”. ASI QUE LES DIGO DE UNA VEZ: HOY VOY HACER 2 LECTURAS DE CARTAS POR LAS CUALES NO ESTOY COBRANDO, PERO NO MAS PREGUNTAS NI NECEDADES OK! LOS MILAGROS PARA QUE LES VAYA BIEN EN EL TRABAJO O PARA QUE VUELVA UN AMOR, LOS DEBEMOS REALIZAR NOSOTROS Y NO TIENEN IMPORTANCIA ANTE UNA ENFERMEDAD GRAVE O EL DOLOR DE PERDER A UN SER QUERIDO, O QUE ESTA PRIVADO DE SU LIBERTAD O DESAPARECIDO, ¡¡¡ESO SI ES IMPORTANTE!!! AAAHH!!! Y NO ME PIDAN NI UNA LECTURA MAS, PORQUE ESTOY CANSADA Y UN POCO MAL DE SALUD, LO HAGO POR CUMPLIR CON MI PALABRA Y HASTA AHI.
DEVOTOS DE LA SANTA MUERTE: NO ME GUSTA QUE ME UTILICEN PARA ESTAFARLOS A USTEDES. HE DEJADO DE ACEPTAR CIENTOS DE SOLICITUDES DE AMISTAD PORQUE MUCHOS CHICOS SALEN “CON MUY POQUITA ROPA” O A VECES NADA, OTROS SOLO LO HACEN PARA ATACAR MI CULTO Y OTROS MAS SON GENTES DE ALGUNOS “INOMBRABLES” (NO DIGO NOMBRES PORQUE NO LES VOY A DAR PUBLICIDAD NI SIQUIERA MALA) QUE ME ATACAN POR ORDENES DE ESTOS Y AHORA VEO QUE HAY ALGUNOS QUE SOLICITAN MI AMISTAD PARA SACARLES DINERO ¿FULANA DE TAL PORQUE UTILIZAS MI NOMBRE PARA OBTENER UN BENEFICIO ECONOMICO? ¿DE DONDE SALES QUE SABES HACER TRABAJOS DE AMARRE O BRUJERIA O ETC? ¡CARAJO! VOY A TENER QUE PONER EN LAS MANOS DE MI SANTA MUERTE A TODOS LOS PASADOS DE VIVOS, ES MAS, DESDE AHORITA LES DIGO ¡¡¡QUE MI SANTA MUERTE LES CIERRE TODOS SUS CAMINOS A PARTIR DE ESTE MOMENTO Y NO HAYA BRUJO, CHAMAN O SANTERO QUE SE LOS ABRA, HASTA QUE APRENDAN A SER CORRECTOS CON LA GENTE!!! AAAHH Y ESO VA TAMBIEN PARA OTRAS MUJERCITAS QUE SE PASARON DE VIVAS Y SE QUIEREN SEGUIR PASANDO DE LISTAS
El Templo de la Santa Muerte de Tultitlan is quickly becoming one of the most stable and well developed devotional centers associated with Saint Death. The temple’s proprietress, Enriqueta Vargas, recently traveled to New York City to meet with Queens shrine holder Arley Vazquez, marking one of the first cross country meetings of high profile devotees. Even more powerfully, Enriqueta’s son, Jonathan Legaria Vargas, who was murdered in 2008 has become the first person sanctified as an intercessor in his own right within the tradition (Click Here to read more on Jonathan’s sanctification.) More than anywhere else El Templo de la Santa Muerte shows signs of Saint Death’s devotions separating distinctly from it’s foundations within folk Catholicism.
Although not unique to Vargas’ congregation, the practice of holding marriage ceremonies at the temple is another sign of these developments. The following slide show contains images of a recent ceremony courtesy of Enriqueta’s FaceBook page:
A grisly triple murder in which the victims were found hacked to death with machetes in a shack with two large Santa Muerte altars has the Mexican press speculating that this another case of human sacrifice to the skeletal folk saint. Many of the details are sketchy at this point, but what is known is that two men and one woman were found butchered in pools of blood in one of the the poorest barrios of Coatzacoalcos, a gritty industrial city in the lush state of Veracruz. Law enforcement agents from municipal, state and federal agencies swarmed on the humble dwelling and removed the bodies within hours.
Since police refused to talk to the press, reporters on the scene interviwed neighbors, some of whom alleged the victims were a family of “express-kidnappers” who preyed on Central American migrants passing through town. That the notorious train “the beast” rolls down tracks just yards away from the shack lends some plausibility to the allegation. Other neighbors claimed the victims were narcos who had been killed and sacrificed to Santa Muere in a payback operation. At this time it’s unknown if the victims actually lived in dwelling in which they were found dead, and whether they were killed there or at another location.
There have been quite a few alleged cases of human sacrifice to Saint Death over the years, but few have been thoroughly investigated and proved.This chilling case from 2012 remains the best documented and most obvious one from Mexico and Guatemala, where almost all have occurred, click here for story.The great majority of Santa Muerte devotees view human sacrifice as an abomination of their faith, but a tiny minority of mostly hardened criminals believe the skeleton saint, like her putative Aztec ancestors, demands blood sacrifice.
Additional information, including graphic images can be found here and here.
One of Santa Muerte’s most important roles is that of protectress. And in a Mexico plagued by so much crime and violence, the demand for supernatural protection is greater than ever. Every day hundreds of thousand of devotees invoke the Powerful Lady’s protective powers to shield them from the myriad dangers of the streets of Mexico. Devotee Jeronimo Santiago recounts his own recent experience of an armed robbery on a Mexico City bus:
Dear Brothers and Sisters in the Faith,
I’d like to share with you something that happened to me today. On my way to the doctor, four guys got on the bus and started robbing all the passengers at gunpoint. When one of the assailants came over to me, I thought about my White Girl and Godfather Jonathan Legaria Vargas “el Pantera” and said “may your will be done, and not my own.” At that moment one of the assailants came closer to me and stared at me with fear and fright and then backed away without robbing me.They continued robbing everyone else on the bus while they kept turning around to look at me, knowing for a fact that the Godfather Jonatkan Legaria Vargas and my Girl (Santa Muerte) were present at my side. Thank you, Godfather, for always being at my side.Today I came to the temple to give thanks for the protection granted to me by my Girl and Godfather Endoque. I was fortunate to be able to talk with Godmother Enriqueta Vargas, who I thank so much for her words and attention.