U.S. Bishops Denounce Santa Muerte


(Photo: Russell Contreras/AP Photo) 

Russell Contreras reporting for AP News provides context for an important new development in the Roman Catholic church’s official condemnation of Santa Muerte’s devotional tradition. U.S. Bishops have, for the first time, come out with an official statement on their position that Santa Muerte is not considered compatible with Catholic values – coming at a tense time for U.S./Mexico relations this is a development that deserves careful observation due to Saint Death’s position as the patroness of the America’s most marginalized and vulnerable populations:

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. (AP) — Bishops in the United States are denouncing the skeleton folk saint known as La Santa Muerte — a figure Roman Catholic leaders in Mexico routinely have attacked for the deity’s connection to violence and the illicit drug trade.


Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester, El Paso Bishop Mark Seitz, and San Angelo Bishop Michael Sis in Texas joined their counterparts in Mexico last week in urging Catholics to avoid honoring the folk saint and called her “antithetical” to the teachings of Jesus.

“She’s not a saint. There is nothing good that can come out of praying to her,” Wester said. “We have a lot of saints who represent the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is an aberration.”

The denouncement comes after Ciudad Juarez Bishop Jose Guadalupe Torres Campos attacked La Santa Muerte, which means Holy Death, in a recent newspaper interview and urged parishioners not to join this “cult.” A number of Catholic officials in Mexico have condemned the folk saint, but bishops in the U.S. have largely been silent on the skeleton image.

Popular in Mexico, and sometimes linked to some drug cartels, La Santa Muerte in recent years has found a robust and diverse following north of the border: immigrant small business owners, artists, gay activists and the poor, among others — many of them non-Latinos and not all involved with organized religion.

Clad in a black nun’s robe and holding a scythe in one hand, Santa Muerte appeals to people seeking all manner of otherworldly help: from fending off wrongdoing and carrying out vengeance to stopping lovers from cheating and landing better jobs. Others seek her protection for their drug shipments and to ward off law enforcement.

Devotees often use Catholic prayers and set up shrines in her honor. The saint is especially popular among Mexican-American Catholics, rivaling that of St. Jude and La Virgen de Guadalupe as a favorite for miracle requests, even as the Catholic Church in Mexico denounces Santa Muerte as satanic.

Her image has been used on prayer cards citing vengeance and protection, which are sometimes found at scenes of massacred bodies and on drug shipments.

But Sis called La Santa Muerte “spiritually dangerous,” adding that there is no link to Catholicism. “It should be completely avoided. It is a perversion of devotion to the saints,” Sis said.

Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” and the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University, said the condemnation of La Santa Muerte echoes what both the Vatican and Mexican bishops have been saying for years now.

“Given the Church in Mexico has been condemning devotion to Santa Muerte on a weekly basis over the past five years, I’m actually surprised it’s taken so long for an American bishop to publicly denounce veneration of the Mexican folk saint,” Chesnut said.

He said Santa Muerte is now the fasting growing new religious movement in North America and throughout the Americas, with the US having the second-largest population of devotees after Mexico.


Follow Russell Contreras on Twitter at http://twitter.com/russcontreras . His work can be found at http://bigstory.ap.org/content/russell-contreras.

Santa Muerte as Religious Resistance – Reflections of a Devotee

The following post from the Devoted to Death Facebook group provides a powerful perspective on current events from a U.S. devotee of Santa Muerte. In this piece Robin Artisson reflects on some of the extreme political changes occurring and what place Saint Death may have in helping to focus these issues for those pushed to the margins by what is happening:

20161219_140830I’m just having this strange, as-of-yet unformed idea working its way through my mind. Obviously, I’m in the United States and watching the system of the country crumble, under the hand of a madman who only got into the office of the president 10 days ago.

But this madman is more than just a large child and bully and more than just very ignorant. He has launched racist, defamatory, and unjust attacks against the people of Mexico, and Latino people as a whole. He is working a ridiculous and insulting plan to create a stupid “wall” across the US-Mexico border.

No man who ever sat in the oval office has ever been more of a foe to the ordinary people, the common people, the poor or underprivileged people, of this setting. Even if just through ignorance, no man has ever been this blatantly reckless, clearly controlled by larger, darker, evil forces (largely in the form of white nationalists and special money interests that he stacked his cabinet with.)

I view Mexico as a kind of sacred place to Santa Muerte, her true homeland, though I comprehend that her power extends to wherever there is life. I view this madman’s treatment of Mexico and Mexicans, of Latino people, and of all people anywhere who weren’t lucky enough to be born into a rich family, to be a great spiritual crime- a crime in the making, and manifesting daily. I know that it can and will get worse.

At what point does this involve Santa Muerte? I believe it already does, of course, but at what point do those who are her friends, her faithful, her worshipers, the people who love her, recognize that the current president of the United States represents, in human form, every single authoritarian injustice that was ever leveled at common people, and the essence of every gringo condescension that has ever been leveled at the nation “South of the Border?” People on both sides of the “border” stand to suffer from this, very much. And I suspect people south of the border even more so, in some ways.

Santa Muerte is the protector of the downtrodden, the outsiders, the people who must live below and outside of the “law.” She is the power that protects the powerless from the haughty arrogance of human lords. Is it possible, would it be possible, for the beginning of a spiritual resistance to the Trump administration, unified behind the power of Santa Muerte?

I’m sure that more than a few of Santa Muerte’s people have prayed dearly to her to halt and blunt the boundless power to harm that is wielded by this wicked administration. But can an even more “organized” movement of those who pray to the Godmother rise up, specifically to target the Trump administration with ceaseless petitions, gifts and requests to The Bony Lady, to shield this world and all its peoples from the dangers that loom so clearly and presently?

Trump has run on an authoritarian platform of “law and order” which is another way of saying that the poorest need to be menaced in the name of making society seem safer. Who stands to suffer the most from such a thing? And who stands to gain the most? We all know.

What would this spiritual counter-movement I’m talking about look like? How could it be accomplished, in a formal-yet-informal way, owing to the organic nature of Santa Muerte’s devotions, and her devoted? How could the word be spread?

Could one day a month be chosen for all who wish to be part of this spiritual crusade to put just 15 minutes or half an hour aside for prayers, novenas, intentions, offerings, specifically devoted to hindering the Trump Administration and all of its acts, by the power of Holy Saint Death?

I believe in two things, very strongly. The first is the power of Santa Muerte. The second is the power of hundreds of thousands of people- or more- coming together, united in intention and in belief, with a powerful helper like Santa Muerte. I really believe- and I cannot really explain how I believe it so- that this could make a real difference.

I can’t shake the feeling. People on both sides of the border, people in every place where Santa Muerte’s generosity and protectiveness and faithfulness has spread- all at once, all at the same time, asking for her help against this present darkness.

And where else will we ever find such a large group of people as we who love and respect and adore Santa Muerte, who are so unified in devotion to the ideals embodied in her holy skeletal image? We are all that a spiritual counter-push needs- we are all prepared, already. We just have to decide, spread the word, agree, and then act- and we already pray to Her and give offerings. We’re 90% of the way ready.

Saint Death holds the world in her hands. But an existential threat to the health of countless bodies and souls such as we’ve not really seen before has appeared out of the folly Trumpistas. No matter how bad leaders have been before, one quite like this has never been seen. I feel like the great throng of Santa Muerte’s following may contain the best possible place to look for a rapid and unthinkably powerful spiritual counter to him and those who work to control Trump or help him in his horrific policy decisions.

This FB group, Devoted to Death,  connects to 730 people, the vast majority of which are already Santa Muertistas. Through them, countless thousands of other connections can be made, and then thousands more. Every single thing we need is right before us. Can we bring it all together? Or was my weird feeling and idea just that? A weird thing that fades away eventually?

Robin Artisson is a writer on the subjects of folklore, supernaturalism, spiritual ecology, and pre-modern British witchcraft. For more information on his work, visit him here.

Featured photograph by Fabiola Chesnut, Chair of Foreign Languages and Fine Arts, Huguenot High School.

O Quinto Aniversário da Santa Muerte do México

Por meses tenho esperado pela 15ª aniversário do altar da Santa Muerte, de Enriqueta Romero, no conhecido bairro de Tepito, situado na Cidade do México. A Dona Queta, como é conhecida carinhosamente, lançou, sem premeditar, o movimento religioso que mais cresce nas Américas. E tudo isso simplesmente ao colocar sua estátua de esqueleto – de tamanho real – na calçada de frente da sua casa, no dia de Halloween de 2001.


Antes do culto vir à tona, a Santa Muerte era venerada de forma clandestina, para evitar repreensão e uma possível perseguição por parte dos Católicos e Protestantes. A Santa folclórica mexicana era tão desconhecida, que nem mesmo os meus sogros de 86 anos conheciam. Eles moram a vida toda no estado de Michoacán, mas só souberam sobre o assunto através da minha pesquisa.


Eu conheci a Dona Queta pela primeira vez, no verão de 2009, quando eu apenas tinha iniciado a minha pesquisa sobre a figura da Santa Muerte. Tendo feito a maior parte da pesquisa anterior no Brasil, eu não tinha como saber como seria recebido como um pesquisador americano no bairro mais infame da Cidade do México, conhecido pelos conflitos de gangue e de contrabando.


No entanto, a minha preocupação foi embora quando a Dona Queta me recebeu com tanta generosidade no seu altar e na sua casa, me oferecendo total acesso aos devotos que se aproximavam todo tempo durante o dia. Eu acabei fazendo a maior parte da minha pesquisa no seu histórico altar, especialmente através das entrevistas com os Santa Muertistas.


Chegar aos 72 anos no bairro de Tepito é um grande feito, ainda mais se o câncer ataca. A madrinha da Santa Muerte recentemente venceu o câncer de garganta, e ela acredita ter sido graças aos poderes de cura tanto da Virgem de Guadalupe como da Santa Muerte.


Apesar disso, foi a própria morte que veio ao encontro de seu amado marido de muitos anos, o Rey, fato que a levou a cancelar a celebração de aniversário de 15 anos que aconteceria no dia 31 de outubro de 2016. Em junho deste ano, o Rey e o irmão de Dona Queta foram vítimas de um atentado e assassinados, em plena luz do dia, por sicários que andavam em uma motocicleta. Ambos foram atingidos pelas balas dos assassinos, sendo que Rey sucumbiu às feridas, mas o cunhado de Enriqueta sobreviveu. Escrevi sobre o trágico incidente aqui.


Apesar da celebração não ocorrer, uma grande quantidade de devotos chegou para prestar tributo e respeito à pioneira da Santa Muerte, no dia de Halloween e no dia primeiro de novembro. Meus colaboradores no filme “La Flaca” (veja o trailer aqui) – um longa-metragem sobre o culto à Santa Muerte, em Nova York -, os co-diretores Thiago Zanato e Adriana Barbosa, estiveram em Tepito, no último Halloween, ao lado do fotógrafo Marco Antonio Ferreira e o guia local e antropólogo Mario Puga. Thiago descreve o que viu…


Chegamos em Tepito um dia antes de que a Enriqueta Romero fizesse o esperado rosário mensal, no dia de Finados, ou como conhecido no México: El Día de Muertos. Ouvimos que se esperava a chegada de muitas pessoas ao altar nesse dia. Era a nossa primeira vez em Tepito e não tínhamos ideia se a Enriqueta iria falar com a gente.


Tepito é conhecido por ser um dos bairros mais barra pesada na Cidade do México, então achamos que seria necessário ir com um guia, e encontramos o Mario. Fomos informados diversas vezes de que a Enriqueta não estaria na sua casa por conta do trágico assassinato do seu marido alguns meses antes, mas decidimos ir de qualquer jeito.


Depois de andar pelas ruas de Tepito – seguindo o roteiro cultural de Mario -, chegamos à casa da Enriqueta e, para nossa surpresa, ela estava bem na porta. Ela nos recebeu de braços abertos e conversamos por algumas horas. Ficamos surpresos de como ela foi aberta e calorosa, especialmente após a morte violenta do seu marido.


Conversamos sobre religião, a Santeria, a morte, o filme que estamos fazendo sobre Arely Vazquez – a pioneira do culto da Santa em Muerte em Nova York, e que inclusive é uma amiga próxima dela -, sobre a pesquisa de Andrew Chesnut.  Ela comentou também sobre não ter planos de estar no dia seguinte quando muitas pessoas chegariam até a sua porta para a celebração.


As pessoas então começaram a chegar, e eu e Marco Antonio começamos a fotografar. Tinha comida sendo distribuída, comprimentos entre as pessoas e a maioria dos devotos gostava de posar para as fotos com as imagens da Santa Muerte que carregavam. Nosso guia nos lembrava a toda hora de tomar cuidado pois era um lugar perigoso e que deveríamos sair em breve, por precaução.


Mas nos sentimos bem e bem-vindos pela Enriqueta, então decidimos ficar e acompanhar os outros devotos que não paravam de chegar. Algumas horas depois começou a ficar muito cheio ao redor do altar e a Enriqueta saiu para acelerar as pessoas que ali ficavam, pois começava a se formar uma fila enorme fora da sua casa.


Ela, então, nos tomou pelo braço e nos levou para dentro da sua casa, ao seu altar pessoal e nos mostrou enquanto conversávamos. Ela nos disse que podíamos tirar o quanto de fotos desejávamos, mas com a condição de que elas fossem só nossas e que nunca as mostrássemos para ninguém – nunca! Ficamos tocados pelas coisas que ela nos disse nesse momento. 

Percebemos, assim, que existe algo muito profundo que acontece nesse lugar, no meio de um bairro tão perigoso, por causa dela e dos devotos que ali se aproximam. Partimos de Tepito nos sentindo agraciados e inspirados para terminar o filme.

Texto por Dr. Andrew Chesnut e Thiago Zanato, com tradução por Thiago Zanato e fotos por Marco Antonio Ferreira e Thiago Zanato.

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House of Holy Death – The Santa Muerte Shrine of Michoacan

The Santa Muerte shrine in the tiny Michoacan town of Santa Ana Chapitiro is one of the most impressive in Mexico and a testament to the dynamism of the fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.

Built by a recently deceased devotee from Mexico City, it contains hundreds of exquisite handcrafted images of the skeleton saint. Some of the statuettes and portraits of the White Girl reflect the influence of the local Purepecha, the largest indigenous group in Michoacan, who successfully resisted Aztec efforts to conquer them.

Devotees come from all over Mexico and the United States to leave offerings of thanksgiving and also to ask the saint of death for all kinds of favors but usually those relating to health, wealth and love.

In late September of every year the proprietors of the shrine hold an annual feast over three days in which devotees come from both countries to celebrate their devotion to the Bony Lady. I took the photos below during a visit in late December, 2016.

Andrew Chesnut


¿Es Santa Muerte – el Nuevo Movimiento Religioso de más rápido crecimiento en las Américas – Institucionalizando?

Tanto las fotos como la traduccion del ingles fueron realizadas por la Dra. Fabiola Chesnut, Jefa del Departamento de Lenguas Extranjeras y Bellas Artes de la Escuela Secundaria Huguenot, Richmond, Virginia, y nativa de Morelia, Michoacán. Texto por el Dr. Andrew Chesnut.

El día 28/12/16 asistí a la celebración del 9º aniversario de la fundación del Templo Santa Muerte Internacional en el barrio bravo de Tultitlán.Fundada por Jonathan Legaria Vargas, también conocido como Comandante Pantera, el mayor complejo de templos de Santa Muerte, es ahora dirigido por su madre, Enriqueta Vargas, que fue la anfitriona de las fiestas.

El Comandante Pantera fue asesinado por sicarios que dispararon unas 200 balas en su Cadillac Escalade mientras conducía a casa despues su programa nocturno de Santa Muerte en julio de 2008. Recientemente se convirtió en el primer santo auxiliar de la Flaquita con sus bustos y estatuillas disponibles para compra en Tultitlan.

Su madre, Enriqueta Vargas, ha demostrado ser una líder natural, habiendo incorporado en SMI (Santa Muerte Internacional) otros 12 santuarios y templos. Ya sabía que se había expandido a Nueva York, Brighton, Reino Unido, Dallas y Atlanta, pero en la fiesta de aniversario anunció unas nuevas afiliaciones en Costa Rica y Colombia.

En el ámbito de la investigación, finalmente pude conocer a Lucino Morales, el ex-Profesor Sisyphus, fundador del primer templo de Santa Muerte en los Estados Unidos, en la Avenida Melrose, en Los Ángeles. Había hecho varios intentos fallidos para conocerlo en la Ciudad de los Ángeles, así que estaba feliz de poder conversar con él durante la fiesta.

Estaba allí como invitado de honor y para formar una alianza con Enriqueta Vargas con el objetivo de denunciar a los charlatanes y obtener el reconocimiento legal en México. Desde 2005, ninguna organización religiosa que incluya la veneración de Santa Muerte será reconocida legalmente por el gobierno federal en México. Los devotos, por supuesto, ven esto como una discriminación religiosa inconstitucional diseñada por la Iglesia Católica en México, que sigue siendo una de las más influyentes en el mundo.

Alrededor de 500 devotos, con un gran contingente del estado de Veracruz, asistieron a la animada celebración, que incluyó oraciones, música techno y comida y bebida para todos. Lo que realmente me impactó fue el tema neo-azteca que predominó en muchos de los murales e imágenes de la Flaquita. Lo más impresionante es que Enriqueta Vargas estaba vestida como una reina azteca. Lo unico que le faltaba para llevarla a Mictecacihautl, la diosa de la muerte azteca, era una pintura esquelética.

Más que cualquier otro prominente líder de la Santa Muerte, Enriqueta Vargas ha optado por destacar la supuesta herencia azteca del santo esqueletico. Santa Muerte como la última encarnación de Mictecacihuatl compagina con la expresión hegemónica del nacionalismo mexicano que exalta el pasado azteca y maya mientras rechaza la influencia española.

Vargas también reemplazó al desacreditado ex líder, David Romo, como portavoz principal del movimiento religioso creciente en las Américas, que incluye la defensa bragada de las condenas católicas al culto emitidas casi semanalmente en México

Hasta ahora, el distanciamiento del catolicismo es mucho más evidente en la iconografía de la santa muerte que en las oraciones y la liturgia, que continúan dependiendo de las formas católicas de culto.

El desacoplamiento completo de las formas católicas de culto es una tarea difícil en un país que alberga a la segunda población católica más grande del mundo y sigue siendo uno de los paises menos diversos religiosamente en las Américas, con el 81% de los mexicanos que siguen reclamando identidad católica.

Mi socio de investigación David Metcalfe y yo hemos estado en las trincheras con la presentación de informes y el análisis del crecimiento de SMI, mientras que muchos otros han permanecido miopicamente enfocados en el santuario histórico en Tepito.

En una reciente conferencia sobre la Santa Muerte en la Universidad de Groningen (Holanda) me sorprendió que ninguno de mis colegas académicos habia oído hablar de Enriqueta Vargas o SMI!

Como jefa de Santa Muerte Internacional, Enriqueta Vargas esta lidereando el primer intento serio de institucionalizar el movimiento religioso que sólo se hizo público hace 15 años.

Aquellos con un interés en nuevos movimientos religiosos harían bien en observar a SMI, la organización pionera del movimiento devocional más dinámico de haber surgido en el panorama religioso mundial en las últimas dos décadas.



Is the Fastest Growing New Religious Movement in the Americas – Santa Muerte – Institutionalizing?

All photos were taken by Fabiola Chesnut, Chair of Foreign Languages and Fine Arts at Huguenot High School, Richmond, Virginia, and native of Morelia, Michoacan.20161228_123519On 12/28/16 I attended the 9th anniversary celebration of the founding of Templo Santa Muerte Internacional in the gritty Mexico City suburb of Tultitlan.20161228_123802Founded by Jonathan Legaria Vargas, aka Comandante Pantera, the world’s largest Santa Muerte temple complex is now run by his mother, Enriqueta Vargas, who hosted the festivities.20161228_123920Comandante Pantera was murdered by hitmen who pumped some 200 bullets into his Cadiallac Escalade while driving home from his late-night Santa Muerte radio show in July, 2008. He recently became the first auxiliary saint to the Bony Lady with his busts and statuettes available for purchase in Tultitlan.20161228_124204His mother, Enriqueta Vargas has proved to be a natural leader, having incorporated some 12 other shrines and temples into SMI (Santa Muerte Internacional). I already knew she had expanded to New York City, Brighton, UK, Dallas and Atlanta, but at the anniversary party she announced new affiliates in Costa Rica and Colombia.20161228_124723On the research front, I was finally able to meet Lucino Morales, the former Profesor Sisyphus, founder of the first Santa Muerte temple in the U.S., on Melrose Avenue in Los Angeles. I had made several unsuccessful attempts to meet him in the City of Angels so was happy to be able to talk with him at length at the fiesta.20161228_124805He was there as a guest of honor and to form an alliance with Enriqueta Vargas aimed at calling out Santa Muertistas viewed as charlatans and at gaining legal recognition in Mexico. Since 2005, no religious organization that includes veneration of Santa Muerte will be granted legal recognition by the federal government in Mexico.20161228_125832Devotees, of course, view this as unconstitutional religious discrimination engineered by the Catholic Church in Mexico, which is still one of the most influential in the world.20161228_12594720161228_125957About 5oo devotees, with a large contingent from the state of Veracruz, attended the spirited celebration, which included prayers, diatribes, techno music and food and drink for all. 20161228_130127What really struck me was the Neo-Aztec theme predominating in many of the murals and images of the Bony Lady. Most impressively, Enriqueta Vargas herself was dressed as an Aztec queen. All that was missing to take her for Mictecacihautl, the Aztec death goddess, was skeletal face paint.20161228_130710More than any other prominent Santa Muerte leader, Enriqueta Vargas has chosen to stress the putative Aztec heritage of the skeleton saint. Santa Muerte as the latest incarnation of Mictecacihuatl jibes with the hegemonic expression of Mexican nationalism which exalts the Aztec and Mayan past while rejecting Spanish influence.20161228_131231Vargas has also replaced disgraced former top leader, David Romo, as the leading spokesperson for the fasting growing new religious movement in the Americas, which includes energetic defense from Catholic condemnations of the cult issued almost on a weekly basis in Mexico.20161228_131247So far the distancing from Catholicism is much more apparent in the iconography of the death saint than in prayers and liturgy, which continue to be predicated on Catholic forms of worship.20161228_131752Complete decoupling from Catholics forms of worship is a tall order in a country that is home the world’s second largest Catholic population and still one of the least religiously diverse in the Americas with 81% of Mexicans still claiming Catholic identity.20161228_131906My research partner David Metcalfe and I have been on the front lines of reporting and analyzing the growth of SMI while many others  myopically remained fixated on the historic shrine in Tepito.20161228_133337At a recent conference on Saint Death at the University of Groningen I was shocked that none of my academic colleagues had never heard of either Enriqueta Vargas or SMI!20161228_133436As head of SMI, Enriqueta Vargas is leading the first serious attempt at institutionalizing a religious movement that has only been public for 15 years. 20161228_13363020161228_134657Those with an interest in new religious movements would do well to keep an eye on SMI, the trailblazing organization of the most dynamic devotional movement to burst on the global religious landscape in the past 2 decades.20161228_14041220161228_142318_00120161228_14244420161228_14301320161228_14332620161228_14564420161228_145908_00120161228_14593520161228_15000520161228_17265020161228_174010

Santa Muerte Internacional Expands to Dallas and Atlanta



A key element to Santa Muerte’s rise on the global stage has been her tradition’s distinct lack of central coordination. The power of her skeletal iconography to emerge among devotees of all walks of life has allowed her to move from the backwoods to the barrios of Mexico and from the streets to the highest levels of power. She has captured the hearts of millions around the world, and she’s done it without a propaganda office or a building fund – but all of that is starting to change with the global growth of Santa Muerte Internacional, the Tultitlan-based organization, on the gritty outskirts of Mexico City, led by pioneering devotee Enriqueta Vargas.

The death of Vargas’ son, Jonathan (aka Comandante Pantera), launched her on the path to become one of the leading figures in the centralization of Santa Muerte’s devotional tradition – with a prison outreach program, weekly prayer services, exorcisms and a global network of shrines that have come under the organizational label of SMI. Other pioneering devotees like Arely Vasquez in Queens, New York, and Michael Caleigh in the United Kingdom have joined SMI, helping it to become an important driver in the development of Santa Muerte’s public tradition. This week it has been announced that two more devotional leaders have joined SMI – Alicia Garcia in Atlanta, Georgia, and Selena Hernandez in Dallas, Texas – making SMI the only public organization associated with the skeleton saint to now have a presence in multiple countries around the world.

In contrast to the devotional norms at Enriqueta Romero’s historic shrine in Teptio, which are more anchored in folk Catholicism, SMI offers devotees a range of ritual services. Weddings, baptisms and now even funeral services are conducted on regular basis at the Tultitlan temple and at many of its affiliates. Resentful of both Catholic and Protestant denunciations of her mushrooming religious movement, Enriqueta Vargas stresses Santa Muerte’s indigenous roots, with many depictions of the skeleton saint as Mictecacihuatl, the Aztec goddess of the underworld.

Another important innovation at SMI is the “canonization” of Comandante Pantera (See The First Saint of Santa Muerte,) the founder of the Tultitlan temple as the first auxiliary saint to Santa Muerte. Some devotees ask the slain devotional pioneer to intercede with the Bony Lady on their behalf. We will continue track this fascinating new development in the fastest growing new religious movement in the Western Hemisphere.


David Metcalfe and Andrew Chesnut