Santa Muerte and Godfather Endoque Saved Me From Armed Robbers

Comandante Pantera

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.

El Padrino Jonathan Legaria Vargas, Mi Niña y el Milagro, by Jeronimo Santiago

Queridos Hermanos d Fé, Quiero compartirles un Hecho Q m sucedio el dia d Hoy. En el Trayecto d mi casa hacia el medico se subieron Asaltar 4 individuos el Autobus c/ Armas d fuego donde venia su Servidor despojando d sus pertenencias a cada uno d los pasajeros. Al llegar el Asaltante ami lugar ‘pense en mi Niña Blanca y en El Padrino Jonathan Legaria Vargas ‘el pantera’,diciendo: Q se haga su voluntad y no la mia’ En ese momento el Asaltante se acerco ami y c/ Asombro y Temor fijo su mirada al costado izquierdo d mi rostro retrociendo y sin pedirme nada. Continuo asaltando ala demas gente pero siempre volteando a verme. Dando Yo por hecho Q ami lado se hizo presente ‘ El Padrino Jonathan Legaria Vargas y Mi Niña. ”Gracias Padrino X estar Siempre ami lado. Hoy mismo asisti al Templo agradeciendo la proteccion Q m dieron Mi Niña y El Padrino Endoque. Teniendo la fortuna d igual manera d ver y platicar muy agusto c/ la Madrina Enriqueta Vargas la cual le Agradesco mucho sus Palabras y su Atencion.

Who decides when the Reapress comes?

Recently Dr. Andrew Chesnut asked an intriguing question in regards to the efficacy of Santa Muerte:

“Who, if anyone, decides the hour that Santa Muerte, the Reapress comes for our souls?”

Robin Artisson, a writer on the subjects of folklore, supernaturalism, spiritual ecology, and pre-modern British Witchcraft, responded with his thoughts on her tradition. As a Professional Counselor, and a devotee of Santa Muerte for the past three years, Artisson’s insights into her tradition provide a beautiful counterpoint to the mediated facade of ‘narco-saint’ that has become so prevalent in the news:

La Madrina - Santa MuerteThe easy answer (and I’m sure the answer most would give) would be “god”, but since I don’t hold to the monotheistic worldview, I can’t say that. I would say that She decides, or, alternatively, that she responds to what deeper forces determine. There’s a very complicated system of cause-and-effect, a powerful causal web comprised of many layers of force, relationships and circumstances that stand behind any event. This includes our births, and our deaths.

I have a hard time imagining that any being “controls” this mighty web of things, but I can imagine powerful other-than-human entities being very aware of this web, and intelligently responding to events within it, in line with some sense of compassion or wisdom on their part.

In this way, I can theorize that perhaps the dark, nameless and vast matrix of causal reality itself may bring about our deaths, and that Santa Muerte is a compassionate responder to souls in the grip of that experience. I can go further; I can say that I *feel* that she is somehow even more involved in some way- that she herself has some relationship to that vast and dark causal system of power. But this begins to move her rapidly into a realm of hyper-apotheosis, and one must be careful with that, before I end up just being a “Santa Muerte Monotheist.” I won’t exchange one over-simplification for another, no matter how devoted I am to someone.

I mean, let’s face it- she’s a miracle worker, not just a compassionate first responder to souls in the crisis of death. So, she has some kind of deeper influence over the weaving of events in everyday life. I must say, I suspect these things are well outside of the range of mortal understanding, or at least sufficiently far outside to be rarely discovered.

Her power to create tangible and needed outcomes in everyday life actually leads me to join the camp of people who believe her to be a Pre-Columbian native Goddess of the Underworld. Almost universally, underworld cults in every culture (which includes the Ancestor-cult) are the “go-to” places for badly needed things, and the place that everyone has recourse to because everyone has Ancestors or dead family who can still maintain some benevolence for them in life. This includes outsiders to society, criminals, and whatnot. The Underworld cults, or chthonic cults of Ancestors, are generally paralleled with the more forbidden works of sorcerers that may or may not be socially acceptable. There’s a natural magic to this idea of relating to the dead. The dead are vast in number, and believed to be capable of affecting the world in many ways, for good or ill. In times of desperation, sacrifices to the darkest, deepest powers are called for.

If Santa Muerte is, indeed, the Queen of the Underworld, the Queen of those who are in the darkness beyond this world, this would give her enormous power to shape worldly events.

In the same manner that the mainstream “God” is thought to be served by angels or saints that can do his bidding, any powerful spiritual entity will have some kind of influence over lesser beings that can just as well act as their messengers or workers. The Queen of the dead would have a legion of the dead that she could send forth for any purpose.

And since time immemorial, it is precisely these mysteries- of death, the ground that receives the dead, and the underworld- that people have held in deepest regard, in deepest dread and respect. And they didn’t just respect these things out of a sense of mortality (though that was one aspect of it, I’m sure.) They respected or dreaded these things because they were real, close, sensual, intimate, and effective. These things are entwined in everyday life, in everyday events. Death is always close.

For more information on Robin Artisson’s work, please visit him at –

If you are on FaceBook, and want to join in on the discussion yourself, please Click Here to head over to the Devoted to Death group.

Reflections on the First Academic Conference on Santa Muerte


Despite the fact that over 90% of Santa Muerte devotees live in Mexico and the U.S., the first ever academic conference  dedicated exclusively to the skeleton saint was held in Europe, at the University of Groningen, in the Netherlands, on 11/21/14. Europeans have taken a particular interest in the growth of devotion to Saint Death partly because of the historical link to their own Grim Reaper or Reapress (la Parca) in the case of Spain.  Reflecting the increasing  globalization of the Americas’ fastest growing new religious movement,  the scholars presenting on Santa Muerte hailed from many different countries, including Mexico, the U.S., Germany, Denmark,  Spain and the UK.

In accord with the overarching theme of my book, Devoted to Death  I spoke to the international audience of the multifaceted identity of Saint Death and of some of the latest trends, such as her growth beyond Mexico and Mexican immigrants in the U.S.. Given both media and now academic portrayal of Santa Muerte as a narco-saint, I tried to highlight her other roles, such as curandera (healer) and love sorceress.  And of course, I emphasized the point that it is the Bony Lady’s reputation as the fastest and most efficacious miracle-worker on the Mexican landscape that propels her unparalleled growth.

If there was an overarching theme at the conference, although unintentional, it was a polarization of perspectives. On the one hand, several colleagues, who haven’t done extensive field research, attempted to explain the rise of devotion to Santa Muerte as a function of larger socioeconomic and political forces, such as extreme narco-violence and the failed Mexican state. Focusing on “cultures of illegality” Mexican scholar Jose Carlos Aguiar was the presenter who most explicitly linked the Bony Lady to drug violence. Dr. Aguiar stressed her role as patroness of narcos, especially of the Zetas Cartel. The voices of actual devotees were completely silent in his presentation.

Also presenting a macro-level analysis was German scholar who comes to the subject from an urban studies angle. Though she hasn’t done fieldwork beyond taking stunning photos at Dona Queta’s famous shrine in Tepito, Anne Huffschmid also linked the Bony Lady to narco-violence, but cast her more as protectress of its victims as opposed to patroness of its perpetrators.  Both she and Dr. Laura Roush of the Colegio de Michoacan were the presenters who most explicitly linked the rise of St. Death to the climate of economic and political insecurity engendered by the failures of the Mexican state. Both academics counted among several who mentioned the case of the missing 43 Mexican college students and the lightning rod that it has become for anti-government protests nationwide.

At the opposite pole was Danish scholar Regnar Kristensen, who has been studying the saint of death during the past 12 years. Ignoring the larger Mexican body politic, Dr. Kristensen focused on the importance of the family unit as the basis for both devotion and growth. An anthropologist, Kristensen squarely locates Santa Muerte within Mexican folk Catholicism and sees much more continuity than novelty in her devotional practices. In fact, the only significant novelty that the Danish academic sees in veneration of her is intimacy. He argued that devotees bring her into their families where she is treated in a more intimate and tender manner than other saints, of both the Catholic and folk varieties. While he has done more extensive fieldwork than other scholars, it has been conducted exclusively in Mexico City, with a sharp focus on Dona Queta’s shrine and her extended network of devotees. Mexican anthropologist Aguiar, who is from Guadalajara, criticized Kristensen for his “narrow focus” on the Tepito shrine and Mexico City.

Overall, the conference was a mixed bag for me. On one hand, I was thrilled to be in the company of the small group of international scholars who have published journal articles and books chapters on the White Girl. On the other hand, I felt frustrated by the overarching tendency to divorce Santa Muerte from her religious context. Above all, devotion to Saint Death is a matter of religion in which followers, pray to, give thanks and venerate a supernatural figure whom they regard as an omniscient and almost omnipotent miracle-worker. Too many of the presenters, perhaps reflecting highly secularized Western Europe, adhered to the Marxist view of religion as an epiphenomenon of the sociopolitical phenomenon. In other words, they regarded the meteoric rise of this new religious movement as a function of the dysfunctional Mexican state and the ongoing narco-violence.

I myself in Devoted to Death situated the proliferation of cult within these macro contexts because there is an undeniable dialectic between religion and society in which they exert mutual influence on each other. What I categorically reject, however, is a reductionist approach that posits the rapid growth of the cult as a mere function of hyper-violence and socio-political insecurity. No doubt, devotion to Santa Muerte has proliferated during a time of great death and dying, at least 80,000 since 2006, but to view the Mexican killing fields as the main reason for her growth is myopic. If Santa Muerte has become the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas it’s because of her reputation as the quickest and most efficacious miracle worker. Her 7 Powers votive candle, made of 7 different colors, best captures the appeal of the multitasking Mexican folk saint who can work miracles on multiple fronts.

Dr. Andrew Chesnut to Speak on Santa Muerte at Death Salon SF

Dr. Andrew Chesnut, author of the pioneering book on the Bony Lady, Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint  will be speaking on Santa Muerte at Death Salon San Francisco, on Saturday, October 11, 2014.

He will join an all-star cast of artists, academics and literati who explore the cultures of death from diverse perspectives. Megan Rosenbloom, Elizabeth Harper, Annetta Black, Sarah Troop, Caitlin Doughty, and Paul Koudounaris, among others, will share their cutting-edge work with both the immortals and mortals of the City by the Bay. Click here for more information.

devoted to death

Upcoming Dr. Andrew Chesnut lecture at the Morbid Anatomy Museum

Dia de los MuertosOn Friday, October 24th, join Dr. Andrew Chesnut at the Morbid Anatomy Museum in Brooklyn, New York for an unforgettable Dia de los Muertos celebration!

From the Morbid Anatomy Museum invitation:

“Please join us for our annual Morbid Anatomy Day of the Dead/Dia de los Muertos costume party! This year we will welcome back the ghosts of the dead in the tradition of our favorite holiday-–the Mexican Dia de los Muertos or Day of the Dead–-with a mini-lecture by Dr. Andrew Chestnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, The Skeleton Saint,” Calavera Makeup by Jane Rose, tequila, music, sugar skulls, our beloved La Catrina, exotic tunes by DJ in Residence Friese Undine, a Day of the Dead Altar honoring the late film director Luis Bunuel, a Mexican Food Truck and, as always, an opportunity to strike a mortal blow to our beautiful piñata of Lady Death herself! There will also be, as always, the opportunity to don-–and admire other!–-amazing Day of the Dead-themed costumes, pan de muerte, and more.”

Click Here for more information!

Image: From The Richard Harris Collection