A recent meet-up at a home temple in Dallas, Texas between top Mexican Santa Muerte leader Enriqueta Vargas of Santa Muerte Internacional and Padre Sisyphus Garcia, pioneering founder of the Los Angeles Templo Santa Muerte, provides a perfect portrait of increasing centralization in Santa Muerte’s multifaceted public devotional tradition. Vargas’ diplomacy has extended the presence of SMI from its base in Tultitlan across the Americas – including groups as far north as Queens, New York and as far south as northern Colombia – she has even reached out across the pond where UK devotee Michael Caleigh (who Andrew Chesnut interviewed for SkeletonSaint.com) is now working under SMI’s interpretation of Saint Death’s iconography.
While the growth of Santa Muerte International and Enriqueta Vargas’ influence has strengthened the popular devotional tradition as a contemporary faith beyond the stigma of narco-cultura, it also highlights the fact that the tradition as it existed prior to la Nina’s association with either the contemporary popular cult, or the obscured variants on the margins of the law, is quickly becoming more illusive than ever. A comment posted by Geronimo Garcia on a YouTube interview conducted with SkeletonSaint.com‘s David Metcalfe draws this into focus:
“…my two cents. as someone who was raised in a family of devotees that go back generations literally. It’s offensive to see where all these…supposed “devotees” have taken her. it’s either a bunch of…charlatans or people that refuse to be accountable for they’re own actions and lives. people who really have no clue as to why she is involved in magic and have instead listened to all types…that have associated her with traditions and practices that have no place in the worship of her.
all this colored candles and figures and that each one has a certain aspect is bullshit. and if that’s what was told to anyone it’s because they heard from (someone) that was trying to take your money. 15 years ago you couldn’t purchase a figure of her anywhere. they didn’t exist. and for those of us that followed her, we had effigies made for our homes, or made them ourselves. and technically, it’s wrong to even sale all that…you should be given a figure of her not be able to go down the street and get one.
it shouldn’t be a money making scheme. and you definitely shouldn’t be killing people and using that as an initiation rite. that’s a fucking disgrace to her and everything she is about. it’s like everything else. as soon as a bunch of heathens get there hands on anything, they bastardize it.”
With her popularity having now grown irrefutably beyond her Mexican roots and guarded oral tradition, Santa Muerte will continue to adapt and change to the needs of her new international devotees. As she adapts, however, the allure of an ‘authentic tradition’ lying behind her silent skeletal form will continue to haunt the rising stars and charismatic leaders heading up Santa Muerte’s developing public presence.
As always Saint Death continues to elude classification and even with the development of a media friendly public face there are still those who seek favors from her that are better spoken of in whispers – for more on her complicated persona and a look at some of the darker elements that still surround her, head over to The Revealer, the online review hosted by NYU’s Center for Media and Religion, for:
2 thoughts on “The Enigmatic Allure of the Beautiful Girl”
This is frightening. Centralization of spiritual pursuits is almost always a negative. Perhaps there’s a way for the growing community to emphasize the very real DE-centralized nature of her devotion? I’m wondering if more “houses” start popping up (home chapels, corner store chapels, etc), and if they are bound not by their same-ness, but rather by their love of the Mother and vehement appreciation of diverse approaches to devotion, this network of heterodox spaces will be strong enough (and visible enough) to counter any centralization or regimentation of devotion. Trust me, studying (and participating in) both marginal and mainstream spiritualities for more than 20 years has shown me that the ill effects of normalizing one method of spiritual practice over another within a small diverse community should be something to fear. It’s way easier to catch before it gets too big, rather than to have to counter it after the deed is done. Just look at the central narrative of the “narco saint.” The concept of the “narco saint” is a privileged dominant (in the eyes of the media) narrative, and even after only a couple of decades, it’s virtually impossible to shake. My hope is that spaces like this one, and those in the real world, will be able to simultaneously salute and respect Vargas’ mission, while at the same time act as a check against any form of centralized codification of what is inherently a diversity of practices. Peace and love in the name and grace of la Satisima Muerte. 🌹❤💀❤🌹 (copied from the FB post)
2023…I honestly share the concerns raised here. The focus on colour aspects and paraphernalia ….7 years after this article gatekeepers are stamping down that this and that are essential to any relationship with La Madrina…Honest prayer and faith from the heart and mind of a devotee is enough….Always was and will be. The Egyptians tried to take their possession’s through death and failed….Live life with honour, love and respect and there will be no reckoning only welcome from La Senora de las Sombras.