Santa Muerte and Human Sacrifice in Mexico and Guatemala

Since Santa Muerte went public in 2001 there have been numerous cases of alleged human sacrifice to the skeleton saint. The great majority follow the pattern of the two latest cases, one in Chihuahua, Mexico, and the other in Guatemala City. In the Mexican case involving the shocking murder of a 6 year-old boy by a gang of neighborhood teens and pre-teens, local media outlets reported that some neighbors in the gritty barrio described the young murderers as Santa Muerte devotees who were notorious thugs in the neighborhood. In turn, Catholic media outlets seized on the story and interviewed a priest and Mexican academic who opined that murder victim Christopher’s mutilated body was consistent with Satanic rituals. Click here for more detail on the story analyzed in Doubtful News.

Last week’s case in Guatemala also lacks any solid evidence of human sacrifice. Two young women were found dead in a Guatemala City safehouse used by gangsters. Since the room in which the bodies were discovered, wrapped in plastic bags, contained a Santa Muerte altar, the police commander in charge stated that the murders could be assumed to be part of a “satantic rite” involving the saint of death by the gang members who were arrested and charged with homicide. Go here for more details. As in the Mexican case, both Catholic and Protestant media outlets picked up the story and further exaggerated the claims of Satanism and human sacrifice.

The lack of concrete evidence in these two cases and most others over the past decade and half have not stopped local Mexican and Christian media outlets from making unsubstantiated claims of human sacrifice, which have greatly accelerated since one of the few substantiated cases occurred in Sonora, Mexico in 2012. Click here for details. Since the Vatican condemned Santa Muerte a couple years ago, the Catholic Church in Mexico has waged a robust campaign against veneration of the skeleton saint, even threatening parishioners with excommunication. For a Church that was already struggling to compete with Pentecostalism, the emergence of a wildly popular and heretical folk saint has been a real challenge. Bogus stories of human sacrifice are also convenient to both the Mexican and Guatemalan governments in their battles against narcos for whom the Grim Reapress is especially appealing.

While there is no denying Saint Death’s association with criminal elements in Central America, Mexico and the US, the majority of her devotees are not kidnappers and narcos but mostly working class people looking for supernatural protection from the myriad threats and dangers that surround them, especially in Mexico and Central America, which are plagued by hyper-violence. Cases of alleged human sacrifice, of course, must be taken very seriously, but the manufacture of bogus stories only serves to demonize and further marginalize already vulnerable populations.

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