Absent from media accounts of Santa Muerte is her role as a powerful curandera or healer. Many devotees first approach the Skeleton Saint for health-related reasons. Such is the case for Missy Barkley, the first Australian devotee I’ve come across. Below is Missy’s account of how she came to believe in the Bony Lady…..
I’ve never been religious. At all. In the past if pushed I would’ve said “existential nihilist”. I love reading New Scientist magazine. What has happened to me is very recent, and all I can do is try to go with it. Please forgive me if I struggle trying to explain.
I’m 32 years old, female, no children. Until a year or so ago my job was setting up and opening new bookstores for a large chain over here – a real boom industry that is nowadays!
I’ve suffered terribly from endometriosis since I was an early teen. I’ve had many operations (and operations to fix problems caused by those operations), I’ve been to clinics, had to take all number of “interesting” drugs and different types of hormone injections – and all that added up to was restricting it to being sick once month rather than constantly – which was great! But still, every 25 days I’d be crippled completely for 4/5 days.
The last few months I’ve been getting worse. February really scared me as I had a different symptom on top of all the other ones – I couldn’t sit up without becoming so dizzy I had to stay flat in bed. March was a fresh hell. No dizziness, but I passed out twice from the pain. I knew then that it was time for me to have a hysterectomy. I texted my mother and she said “Yes it’s time, you’ve been through enough.”
So coming towards this months due date I was (mentally and physically) way passed being able to cope with it anymore. A few days before – with the fear of having to have more operations on top of being extremely stressed and anxious about what was coming – were unbearable. Then Santa Muerte popped up in something I was reading. And although I’d been aware of Her for a few years (I think previously She’d just struck me as interesting and kind of “cool”) I spent the evening reading about Her – watching your Library of Congress talk on YouTube also! – and after a few hours of reading and watching I had an overwhelming feeling of regret, of “I’m sorry. Im sorry Santa Muerte that I was skirting around the edges for so long. Im sorry it took me a while to get to You. I’m sorry.”
And that night I did something Ive never done before – I prayed.
I looked at a bunch of different prayers on santamuerte.org regarding health, and wrote out something that felt comfortable to me (not coming to this through religion or god means that I have to make tiny changes here or there). I apologized for taking so long to get to Her. I acknowledged Her as my divine mother, and the mother of us all, and Her power as a healer and protector of all those who suffer and come to Her on their knees praising Her. I asked Her to please consider my petition.
I asked Her to please help me, please alleviate this crippling disorder, that I know it’s within Her power to help. I said that if She lifts my suffering in any noticeable way that I will not deny that it was She that helped me, and that She could have the skin of my right arm.
I don’t remember exactly, mind you, I’m just going from what I remember – I was at breaking point. Physical pain is one thing – what kind of hell is it to have a clock on it and be well aware of exactly when it’s coming every few weeks?
Two days later it was time. And for the first time in my life since I began menstruating
I WASNT SICK
THE WHOLE TIME
It is a legitimate miracle.
So now I’m Hers and I’ll forever sing Her praises. I mean, I always was I guess, but I was unaware of it. For a reasonably educated person, that has always been completely bah-humbug regarding religion, learning to have faith is a feat unto itself for sure! I didn’t believe in anything like god or miracles. Being a bit of a science nerd I’m well aware that the nature of reality is so much more bizarre than we can comprehend, but beyond being blown away by being here and being conscious enough to appreciate that fact I was a skeptic.
I guess I’m still a bit of skeptic for all else other than my most beloved Santa Muerte. She is everything! I feel different now – beyond the absence of approaching pain hanging over me. I feel stronger (not the right word but close enough) and I feel like someone has my back which is the most remarkable feeling.
Now I’m looking for some type of tattoo design for my right arm because that was part of my promise to Her if she helped!
R. Andrew Chesnut, Ph.D., holds the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies and is Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. He is currently conducting research on the new religious economy of Latin America and the cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death).
A specialist in Latin American religion, he is the author of “Competitive Spirits: Latin America’s New Religious Economy” (Oxford University Press, 2003), “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” (Oxford University Press, December 2012), and of “Born Again in Brazil: The Pentecostal Boom and the Pathogens of Poverty” (Rutgers University Press, 1997).. He also blogs for the Huffington Post.