By Guest Contributor Aaman Lamba*
As a devotee of Santa Muerte, I take every opportunity to look for ways to engage with her. When I travel to new cities, I look up local stores and temples, and also travel with a personal doll of Santa Muerte, made by my artist wife Deepti Lamba.
Recently, I had occasion to visit Los Angeles, the city with the second largest Mexican population in the world after Mexico City. I knew there would be some stores and temples to the Bony Lady but was quite surprised and happy with what I found. I checked into my hotel Sunday afternoon in Hollywood and looked at a few stores, most were closed, but Atlas Obscura mentioned a place with an interesting name, Templo Major de Santa Muerte.
I looked up the location to find it was far away in Huntington Park and I wasn’t too sure I wanted to make the trip in LA traffic, which can be a beast, even on Sundays. Nevertheless, I called up a Lyft car and set off. My first surprise was right after we got underway. The driver asked me where I was going and when he pulled up the route, he was surprised, because the location was less than a block from his home, and he had been wanting to go that way all afternoon. Mother was already at work, summoning and ensuring everyone was benefited.
We faced almost no traffic and soon enough, I was at the Temple. From outside, it was an unassuming store in a nondescript strip mall, but once I stepped in, I was awestruck. I stepped into a large room with a circle of chairs surrounding a lady who was kneeling in the center, praying to a large array of Santa Muerte statues in the front of the room. She was chanting prayers in Spanish and the devotees were following intently.
I introduced myself to the madrina’s daughter, who was taking care of their small store on the side. I watched the madrina continue her prayers. She was focused and performing a sequence of hand gestures to the Mother. Occasionally she would take a sip of water and continue. Mexican music was playing in the background and the attendees were rapt in devotion.
The madrina stopped to take a breath and motioned me forward. I had purchased a candle and some incense while watching the ritual and I tentatively walked to the front of the room where there was an array of Santa Muerte statues and offerings, including burning candles. I lit my candle, offered it reverentially to the Death Mother and lit my incense. I then prostrated myself before Her and communed for some time with her. I felt filled with her presence and refreshed, until the infinity of our union should be realized.
Once done, I stepped back and was looking for an unobtrusive place to stand when the madrina indicated I should take a seat in the circle of devotees. I did so and she resumed her prayers. She chanted to various forms and powers of the Bony Lady for a while, then taking a Spanish rosary book, began a sequence of call and response prayers, assisted by the congregants. I mumbled a few words, at which she asked a bilingual devotee to guide me. Joining in, we praised La Reina del Mundo, La Nina Blanca, La Nina Poderosa, and various other appellations of Santa Muerte.
This continued for about half an hour, the tempo rising in crescendo, interspersed with the madrina occasionally spraying us with blessed scented water from a spray bottle. I wafted the fluid over my head and into my nostrils, following the lead of the other devotees. The room was fragrant with the rosy scent of the vapors and the world fell away.
Once she had completed the service. I was honored to spend a few more minutes with the madrina, who blessed me and my family, and sanctified a few items for me, my wife, the artist and devotee, Deepti Lamba, and Professor Andrew Chesnut and his wife Fabiola Lopez-Chesnut. I was allowed to take photographs of the room, which included a wide variety of statues, preserved birds, and various representations of Santa Muerte, including some in the Apache tradition.
I was especially surprised and blessed to learn that this was the last service of the Templo Mayor de Santa Muerte at this location, having been in operation for over 20 years there. The building was to be razed in a week, and they would be moving, but had not yet found a new permanent location. I was glad I had made the effort to visit the Temple. It was an experience that I will cherish for a long time to come.
*Aaman Lamba is a researcher, occultist, author, and student of magic, astrology and philosophy, as well as a Santa Muerte devotee. He can be found here