further to previous abuse of our photos, please do not reproduce photos without our permission, these photos are copyrighted and only shareable if you are raising money for charity, this is not an opportunity to make money off granny but to help her.
DONATE TO GRANNY HERE to rebuild her roof, her walls, feed her, the children and dogs
I put on the Mexican news, the scenes of Hurricane Agatha are horrific. There are shards of glass strewn everywhere, homes razed to the ground, trees uprooted, some people are bleeding, cut from flying debris, others have lost their homes and are despairing. Animals lie dead. Mothers are sobbing, their children have nowhere to sleep, nowhere to rest their heads and no blankets. There is no electricity, no running water, no WiFi, food shortages and the entire area for as far as the eye can see is devastated.
I watched in horror on a weather app as the path of the Hurricane went directly over the Chapel of la Santa Muerte where Granny, her daughter the Bruja (witch) Yelha, and five children live. I couldn’t reach Yelha or anyone else, all I had was the Mexican news on Facebook and the devastation looks catastrophic. For several days I didn’t know if granny and family were dead or alive. I didn’t know if the Chapel of Death still stood.
I had been deeply anxious for several days. Finally I get a call from Bruja Yelha and Granny. I am trying not to cry, Yelha has gone to a nearby town where WiFi is now working to let me know they are ok. She tells me:
“Santa Muerte saved us. It is a miracle. Granny’s house is totally destroyed with no roof, and we have no kitchen anymore, no living room, nowhere to sit and eat, but we are alive. We found refuge underneath the shrine and Santa Muerte kept us safe despite gusts of wind of over 205km. But there is a lot to do now. We need to rebuild everything. Everything is destroyed. The windows of the shrine smashed to bits. We have no electricity, no WiFi. The community cannot work to make a living as there is nowhere to work, everything is gone.”
Granny in her house before the hurricane, and after the hurricane, the house wrecked– donate here to rebuild her house
I tell her to give everyone in the family my love, that we will get through this. That there are good people in the Santa Muerte community online who care, that we will find help. She sends me videos of the devastation that break my heart. So many beautiful places now completely annihilated. That’s when I see the chapel decimated, broken glass everywhere, granny’s house a total wreck with no walls, no roof.
In the videos I see the women are hard at work, trying to make some order of the chaos. A man from the village sits on a what is left of a wall, he looks catatonic, like he can’t move, the shock is too much. I hear the voice of a small child in the background: “mom, why has the world suddenly gone mad?”
I am an anthropologist who has been studying Santa Muerte with Granny since 2017. It certainly was not intentional to ever do fieldwork in Oaxaca, neither could I imagine how I would come to care for an entire community who now face severe devastation. Meeting granny changed my life forever. From the moment I met her, I knew she was special. Indeed in her own community both she and her daughter hold the deepest respect from devotees of Death.
People come to their beautiful shrine to Santa Muerte from all over, even driving from 5-6 hours away after dreams of la sabia, the wise woman, as granny is known. She is able to see the future and makes predictions that come true. Many come to pray, to seek her blessings, to get her advice. Yet others come to drop off dogs. Granny has the softest heart despite having had the hardest of lives and rescues stray dogs that have no home, feeding them, bathing them, washing their wounds despite barely having a cent to live off.
While tough on the outside, she is tender and deeply wise inside. I have sat many a day at her table by the chapel -a table that was blown away in the hurricane- and asked her for advice. She always listens patiently, and then wisely encourages me.
We go to the shrine together, she lights candles with me, she shows me how to pray, she talks to Santa Muerte in Spanish but sometimes in Zapotec, her Indigenous language, and her words have power. She brings a miracle to my life the year that we pray I get money to return to Mexico so I can study more on Santa Muerte with her. I have no money and then out of nowhere funds suddenly materialize from a grant and I return.
This is what granny does, not just with me, but with the many who come to her shrine, dispensing advice, working her magic. Her daughter to this day carries on her traditions. Granny’s father, an Indigenous curandero (shaman), threw her out at age 8 when her mother died and he found a new wife. She left the mountains to find work in the city and started cleaning people’s houses just as she tells me “to get a taco to eat”. She later learnt sewing, earning her living mending and making clothes. Now she makes dresses for la Santa Muerte, every month dressing her in a gown more beautiful than her own clothes.
Granny later married had two children with a man who promised to look after her. But when Yelha turned three and her son Antonio five, her husband split. Once again she had nothing, and now two mouths to feed. She was briefly with another man a few years later but he did not stick around. She worked to feed and raise many children since, those of her sister and Yelha’s now too, working hard everyday since she was 8. Then she got sick and nearly died. Death came to her but not as she expected:
“I got up, it was 2 in the morning, the moon was shining and out of the blackness came two owls and with them Santa Muerte, dressed in a black shawl. I thought ahh Diosito (oh lordy), Death has come to take me, now I will die. I spoke to her. I said to her, please do not take me. I want to live and I want to work.”
Santa Muerte healed Granny of her sickness and of all her emotional wounds. Since that time she has devoted her life to Death, built a beautiful chapel with her family and been healing others. When I met her I myself was severely sick, having undergone an operation that nearly killed me. Being in her presence healed me. Her daughter, Bruja Yelha, heals women too, and helps men as well. She works with old shamanic methods and la Santa Muerte and now they both dedicate their life to Death.
Santa Muerte has saved them from this hurricane but time and time again they have to pick up the pieces, this time not of a broken heart, or body but a broken home, so please help them by donating to this charity, the money will go to rebuilding their home and Saint Death chapel. Thank you for your generosity!