“In Sebastopol,California, at the Flea Market, where i first encountered her image on a novena booklet, which cost $9.00, i asked the old woman selling it, in my broken ugly Spanish: “La Santisima Meurte — la razon por la que? [gesture of praying hands] Por que … oracion? — and she replied, “Matrimonio.”
– Catherine Yronwode, proprietor of Lucky Mojo Curio Co.
Before her image was appropriated for the perpetuation of social myths surrounding drugs and violence, Santisima Muerte appeared in the popular culture as a figure associated with the heart. In the world outside of mass mediated myopia, she has long been known as a protectress of women, bringing back errant husbands and lovers, and making sure that those who strayed too far realized the full consequence of breaking their vows of love.
It was in this guise that Catherine Yronwode, founder and owner of Lucky Mojo Curio Company and a scholar of popular religions, first discovered her in the late 1990’s:
“…in Austin Texas, down at Cantu’s Herbaria, they told me….the long story of how she keeps men faithful to their wives and will kill men who violate the sanctity of marriage if called upon to do so, because her husband was unfaithful to her and she hates all unfaithful men. The shop owner, Mrs. Cantu, even took me in a corner, away from my husband and taught me how you perform a seven-knot spell for La Santisima Muerte — it’s about the same as the hoodoo nine knot spell for a Nation Sack, but you keep the knotted string around her statue, for safe-keeping. And after that, she gave me a Santisima Muerte holy medal as a gift and told me with smiling eyes to not let my husband see it. And down in San Jose, California, at Dos Aguas [sp?] Botanica…women perform a novena to her to keep men faithful.”
Dr. R. Andrew Chesnut often points out that, “all of the anthropological reports from the mid-20th century show Her almost exclusively as a love magician. So, you know, in just a couple decades She’s morphed from love magician to multi-tasker.” Yet even now, with the growing attention that she is receiving as a miracle worker on all levels, it is her red candle which many shop owners find sees the most sales to her devotees. “The red votive candle of love and passion still the #1 selling colored candle in Mexico,” observes Chesnut, and adds that her passion for offerings of sweets makes her the perfect saint for Valentines Day, “Bony Lady, like many of us, loves chocolate, especially since it’s native to Mexico & derives from Nahuatl.”
Within her role as a love doctor we find her sitting close to the hearts of many mothers and wives, and perhaps here we can see one way in which she has spread so quickly and with such fervor. The intimacy seen in the relationship between La Madrina and Santa Muertistas is the intimacy of a close friend, who knows deeply the pains of life and who responds with action and care. Calling on her to rectify a situation of spurned love is surely one of the most intimate requests available, and in the long periods spent in prayers and reciting novenas it is not hard to imagine how closely tied the devotee becomes to the center of devotion. The recitation on the second day of her novena for love asks as much, with:
Saint Death, my great treasure,
never go away from me at any time:
You ate bread and gave me bread, and
as you are the powerful owner of
the dark mansion of life and
Empress of darkness, I want
you to grant me the favour that
___name___ is at my feet
humiliated and repentant
and that he never leaves my
side when I need him, and that
you make me get what was
promised to me.
When she is called upon her actions are swift. In her multi-faceted role of miracle worker she is know to grant powerful blessings for those who seek her aid, and more so in her area of specialty where the return of a wandering husband was not just brought with expediency, but with the full weight of responsibility burned into the act. Suffering pain almost to the death, the irresponsible man was brought back on his knees. As is mentioned in the 8th day of the same novena:
Miraculous and Majestic Death:
I ask that with your immense power
you return my beloved,
____name____. Don’t let him for one minute
be sociable or tranquil
with anyone he comes across; neither with
friends nor with women may he be at ease.
Grant that while sleeping, he thinks of me,
and that he listens to the
words I say to you in his sleep,
and that he does what I ask.
While the prayer is polite in saying that he will be unable to be ‘sociable or tranquil,’ the anecdotal realities of that state are much more direct. Here the abandoned woman is pleading for Santa Muerte to do everything in her power to assure that the man suffers physically and mentally for every second of pain that his absence causes the woman’s heart. He is to face in full the fear and longing that he has caused by carelessly tossing his promises aside for self seeking pleasure.
If we look to the novena as a whole we see that while much of it is centered on the straying husband, elements of it also indicated a longer lasting relationship between the devotee and La Santisima. There is a sense that these prayers sit within a much deeper tradition, however, as with most matters of love. the prying eyes of the indiscreet and curious remain unable to discover the roots of these relationships. It is for those who have held her dear for decades to know her face before she became so famous in the media.
It is interesting to see how, in a similar light, as a fierce figure of social marginalization she has come to chastise the often blindly dominating systems that cause untenable disparity within our society. From neighborhoods through out the Americas, and now in Europe as well, she is emerging as a constant reminder that the social contract has been broken and those in power have wandered away from their duties to the people that they pledge to serve. In a way the politicians, church leaders, corporate executives and other power brokers that have failed in their tasks are no different than the wandering husbands that she was called upon to drag back to their rightful homes.
One wonders as her devotions grow, and more and more prayers are offered to this silent, sanctified figure of justice – how sociable and tranquil will the powers that be remain? and how quickly will they return to their humble tasks of providing guidance to a society fast spinning out of control? It would seem that self-serving interests, no matter what their position in society, will not stand firm very long when faced with the sharp goad of the Powerful Lady’s well tried scythe.
Muerte querida: Yo te pido con
todas las fuerzas de mi corazon,
que asi como Dios te formo
Inmortal, ye poderosa duena y
Reina de las tinieblas del mas alla,
que con ese gran poder que
tienes sobre todos los mortales,
hagas que fulano……. no pueda en
mesa corner, ni en silla sentarse, ni
tranquilidad tenga, deseo que lo
obligues a que humilde y rendido
venga a mis pies y que nunca
jamas se aleje de mi.
Note: Click Here for the entire Novena to Holy Death as provided by the Lucky Mojo Curio Co.