Santa Muerte: My Search for the Bony Lady (Courtesy of Morbid Anatomy Library)

New York Times bestselling author Tony Hurley helped bring La Nina Blanca to The Morbid Anatomy Library in Brooklyn, New York after an introduction to Santa Muerte during a recent book tour. As the creator of the ghostgirl series and the new Blessed Trilogy, Hurley’s work focuses on contemporary explorations of traditional ideas, making her a valued voice of discovery for those new to their meeting with La Huesuda:

“While in Mexico recently for a book tour, I visited a market in Guadalajara where I encountered a skeletal figure, robed, with long black hair holding a scythe and globe standing in a shop window. A Grim Reapstress of sorts, standing shoulder to shoulder with statues of Jesus, St. Jude and The Virgin of Guadalupe. I’d been doing research into the lives of the saints and martyrs, but here was one I’d never come across. Many revered as saints and martyrs were regarded as misfits and people that actively sought death, however, none actually embodied death as far as I’d ever heard.

She goes, I was told, by many names — Lady Of Shadows. Holy Girl. Lady of the Night. The Skinny Lady. Santa Sebastiana, the female equivalent of St. Sebastian, known also for symbolizing a holy death. Frowned upon by the Church and the upper classes, worshiped secretly for centuries by the working classes, Santa Muerte had become the Patron saint of ‘outcasts’ and the downtrodden, invoked privately by many living alternative lifestyles: gay, transgender, bi-sexual, and even criminal ones – drug traffickers, pickpockets and prostitutes among others – on the fringe of mainstream society, who seek her favor and protection.”

Although many are looking for a single tradition, devotion to Santa Muerte emerges from a confluence of inspirational sources that give Her a surprisingly amorphous hagiography. During Hurley’s journey she had the opportunity to encounter one aspect of La Flaca’s Mysteries when she spoke with Martin George, editor of Devocion a la Santa Muerte magazine, and a leader devotional leader in Mexico City who is helping to define the tradition:

“Our first stop was the Mercado de San Juan, or as the locals call it, Taiwan de Dios, market in Guadalajara, where clumps of herbs hung low from the ceiling, and bare light bulbs dangled over statues of Santa Muerte effigies. Special oils, incense, and candles promising romance, money, health, erections, and everything in between were offered for sale.

Next, we were taken to the town of Tepito, outside of Mexico City, the center or Santa Muerte worship in Mexico, by Martin George, a self-professed spiritual leader of Santa Muerte, who explained to us that Santa Muerte is a mixture of Aztec beliefs (including men symbolizing life and women symbolizing death) and traditional Catholicism that the Spanish brought over during the Conquest. He led us to a life-size statue of Santa Muerte built by a local hair dresser, erected on an altar behind glass and steel bars and explained that she stood at an equal distance between the ancient Aztec Cathedral and the Basilica of Our Lady of Guadalupe, pretty much encapsulating the mixture of ancient indigenous and European culture that is Santa Muerte. He went on to explain that followers also celebrate traditional Catholic saint days, but they celebrate the day of their death, and not the day they were born. For them, Santa Muerte is “The Way,” which is what the triangle hand sign (bottom image) means, in life and in death and she is the one that comes to carry you home to heaven making her, in some ways, the most important saint of all.”

To read more about Hurley’s search, and explore the insights she shares as one newly come to meet Santa Muerte, click here and head over to the original article on the Morbid Anatomy blog.

Note: Special thanks to Tonya Hurley and Tracy H. Martin for providing the impetus for the Morbid Anatomy event which lead to the creation of this website!

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