by Kate Kingsbury and M.
A Mexican devotee who currently lives in Texas talks to Dr. Kate Kingsbury and describes how she found light in darkness after being saved from suicide by la Niña Blanca.
The Pope on his first day’s visit in Mexico City in 2016 decried devotion to death as heretical and denounced Santa Muerte as a “macabre symbol” of death, associating Santa Muerte with narcos. However, conversations with, and my research on the female followers of Santa Muerte evinces that this is far from being the case for many devotees across Mexico and the US. Associating Santa Muerte with violent males is not only racist but also sexist, silencing the voices of devotees and their stories, in particular those of women, as I have written before. Narcos, criminals and murderers do feature among the folk saint’s faithful, but they are a minority. As Abby the granddaughter of the largest shrine to the skeleton saint in Oaxaca detailed “there are nefarious characters in all religions“. And it is female followers and leaders who have been at the forefront of the flourishing new religious movement, which today boasts 10-12 million followers across the Americas, and beyond.
Women, as M’s story reveals, turn to the powerful female folk saint to find strength in times of darkness. Soraya Arredondo, a devotional leader from Hidalgo, summarises this: “Santa Muerte is a warrior and she teaches us how to fight as women and lift ourselves up despite everything we must deal with.” Through this omnipotent female figure of death, women fashion gynocentric spaces of healing to cope with gendered violence, depression and the aftermath of their experiences. In the US, M. who had moved from Mexico also found in Santa Muerte a spirituality that allowed her to embrace her culture, to find pride in her identity as a Mexican woman. While some Europeans and Americans have regarded death as inimical, and spelling finality, in Mesoamerica, the idea of death as regenerative of life is ancient and images of pregnant Santa Muerte statues reflect that this idea is still salient, as do the stories of devotees. As M. details, seeking death, she met her head on, but Death gave her life.
Today I am going to share my story on how I become a devotee of Holy Death. I want to focus on why I am grateful to Santa Muerte till this day. Back in 2015 and 2016, I was going through a lot: depression, anxiety, and I was close to suicide. I was in such a bad state. I kept on binge eating. My thoughts were of the darkest kind. My self-esteem was so low I stopped taking showers, sometimes for a month at a time. My family had to push me to take a shower and told me “como puedes irte dias sin bañar te?” (how can you go for days without showering?) “Can you not smell yourself?”. I would say “ I do not care about that”. I felt guilty and disgusting inside of myself. I was abused as a young girl. I thought: what is the purpose of me taking a shower if I still feel disgusting and dirty inside? And how could my family understand that?
Then I discovered Greek witchcraft. I also dabbled in English sorcery but it was so distant from my own Mexican culture that I did not know where to begin. I began talking to a bruja (witch) and she told me to look up Santa Muerte. So I did. I read just one sentence about la Madrina and I felt a huge, warming, peaceful, joyfulness within my soul so pure that I wanted to burst into happy tears. I knew this was my calling. I started to slowly pray to her and turn to her and with each day my faith grew stronger.
Even though in the current generation of my family nobody believes in la Santa, in previous generations they had, such as my grandfather and it was as if she had called me back to her, my family returning to her. My grandfather was a devotee of Santa Muerte, he may not have had a fancy altar but he always bought her candles, gave her simple offerings, prayed to her and asked her for protection.
When I met her, she knew where I came from, and everything I had been through. From my multiple suicide attempts to my debilitating anxiety. I had gone from Catholicism to Atheism to Agnosticism to witchcraft, going through so many religions trying to figure out where I stand. She knew I was searching and she picked me up and showed me how to love myself again, regain my self-esteem, how to take care of myself and be a woman, the woman I was always supposed to be. She made me fall in love with my culture.
Back then, before I met her, I hated my culture because of the abuse, the trauma I had endured. I was raised in a very vicious household where there was lots of machismo, where they believed that the woman had to do the chores in the house, the woman has to make the food, the woman has to serve the man, that the woman has to stay inside and do all the housework and not go out, serving the man anyway he wants. There was so much abuse in my house and violence that I said I am not going to ever be with anyone from Mexico and especially not from San Luis Potosi, because I had endured too much. Santa Muerte made me realise that just because one person is like that it does not mean everyone is like that.
Most Holy Death made me make a contract with her that I will be fine with life until it is time for her to take my soul, because when I was in my dark depression mode I wanted to meet her. Yes, I wanted to meet Death because then all my problems would be solved. Santa Muerte told me “you don’t have to die in order for you to meet me, you can still live and be with me, your Most Holy Death.”
Her name may be death, but she wants us to live and she does not want us to die until we have lived fully, and once we have lived, then we will be ready to be at her side forever.
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