Text and photo by guest contributor Stephen Patrick Guagliardo*
I’ve wanted to write this for a while.
Before I actually begin, this is going to be specifically about my own personal devotion to Santa Muerte, not me teaching about her or anything like that. So, if you find yourself wanting to learn more about Santa Muerte I highly recommend reading Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint by R. Andrew Chesnut.
Again, because of the nature of this post I’m not going to go into a ton of detail about who she is and about her history, but to offer an extremely brief explanation – Santa Muerte (Saint Death) is a female skeletal folk saint from Mexico.
When I was 16 I stumbled into a botanica in Indio, California. Looking back on it, it’s more likely that I was drawn in there by spirits rather than it just being random. I was in a small section of the city tagging along on an errand that wasn’t even for me, and I saw a small storefront that would have blended in with all the others if it wasn’t for a life-sized statue of Our Lady of Guadalupe and a slightly smaller one of St. Jude in the window. I remember actually thinking that it was a store that sold art.
I went inside and that pretty much set the course of my life from then on. I was absolutely mesmerized by everything there – the scents, shelves of candles, incense, statues, etc. It was like I walked into a place I had only ever dreamed of existing. I visited the store probably three times that week, and the first object I bought from there was a small statue of Santa Muerte after having asked the owner of the shop about how to properly pray to her.
Back in 2006 there was barely any decent information available in English at the time about Santa Muerte. I don’t recall actually even owning a book in English about her until around 2008. The few things I could find available to read at the time were mostly articles here and there on the internet, but I mostly learned from just asking around locally. I asked the owners of the botanicas I went to (after discovering one, I discovered several more) and the people that ran the stands at the public market that sold spiritual supplies. I actually also bought a few booklets and chaplets in Spanish and just went to work on slowly translating portions of them with my limited knowledge of Spanish and a Spanish-English dictionary.
My devotion to her at first was mostly like any of my other saints that I prayed too. However very quickly, she took a much more central role in my own spirituality as well as spiritual work that I performed for others. When I was approached by clients or friends for spiritual work or readings, she tended to be the first spirit to stand in to offer assistance in whatever was asked. She would give me instructions for works in dreams, such as where I needed to go to get a particular herb or powder for a certain kind of ritual work. She also began to assist me by pointing out and guiding me in the direction that my spiritual path was going, opening the way to learn more about Spiritualism, Espiritismo, and a few other related traditions.
All while this was going on for me she started to become more and more popular in the United States, which has been pretty fantastic to witness. I went from being mostly alone to having this vast open network of other people that wanted to write about her, work with her, pray to her, and discuss her. While I’m not a huge fan of some of the products and trends that are out there, there are also some pretty great resources now available due to her rise in popularity.
I honestly can’t even begin to list the things that she’s done for me. She’s been my guide, a consistent spiritual lighthouse for me for over a decade now. She’s saved my life at least twice that I know about. She’s gotten me several amazing jobs, and so many other wonderful things.
In the past few years I found out that she’s become fairly popular here in Rochester, something I hadn’t guessed would happen. Apparently the products and amulets that are sold at one of the botanicas here that are specifically for her are among the most popular, and I’ve seen several of the more New Age/Metaphysical oriented stores here sell spiritual supplies for her, particularly statues and incense.
Though rarely asked, I do perform readings, consultations, and spiritual work with her solely as a Santa Muertero. I keep a few tools of divination that I have dedicated to use solely for consultations under her guidance, and I can also perform pretty much all of my regular services from the standpoint of working specifically with her, such as cleansings, working with candles, etc.
I recently felt moved that I needed to share my devotion to her publicly as a personal testimony. While I’m fairly open about my devotion to Santa Muerte when asked, I tend to not set my devotion front and center when discussing my spirituality with others. I’ve found that her devotional practices (and by extension my devotion to her) has been a complex thing for me to explain to people, because while she has many different paths of devotion the fact of the matter is that devotion to her is not quite a full blown religion as it lacks an official initiation or baptism (though some traditions have this) and is very much still a tradition of Mexican folk Catholicism. All of this being said, I’d like to commit to changing my own approach to being open regarding her, as it’s only fair that a spirit so important to my personal path be rightfully acknowledged as such.
A point I would like to include, as it’s come up fairly recently in a few different discussions that I’ve had with people. While it’s very, very well known that Santa Muerte has many different paths, in my own journey with her, she is first and foremost the Curandera (healer) par excellence. This is essentially how she’s shown herself to walk with me, and how she has wanted me to walk with her. She’s the Healer and Herbalist, grounded in the damp wet earth, both the source of healing herbs, and where our bones will one day rest, after she has guided our souls to the world of Spirit. That is really, truly, the core of my own relationship with her.
So, I’d like to say, thank you: thank you so much Madrina, Godmother, for all you have done, and continue to do for me, and for others.
*Stephen is a Spiritualist Medium and Spiritual Worker based in Rochester, New York. He has been a Spiritualist for most of his life and a Santa Muertero for a little over a decade. Read more about him at www.StephenPatrickMedium.com or follow me on instagram with the same name, StephenPatrickMedium