Travel

La Santa Muerte: Mexico’s Saint of Delinquents and Outcasts

As many Mexicans feel removed from their political and religious leaders, the country has seen an increase in modern religious cults. Santa Muerte is the patron saint of criminals, prostitutes, drug addicts, and all those overlooked by society.

by Erin Lee
Nov 1 2014, 9:00am

Mexico is facing many problems: a lack of decent-paying jobs, corruption, violence, reduced access to safe water, pollution, traffic... and the list goes on. As such, it's common for many Mexicans to distrust their leaders and institutions.

One such institution is the Catholic Church. Mexico's dominant religion is seeing a decline in numbers as worshipers begin looking to modern religious cults to meet their spiritual needs.

The Santa Muerte is a prime example. A female saint honored by millions of devotees across Mexico, Santa Muerta is known as the watcher of all perpetrators of delinquency. She is the patron saint of outcasts and those who feel they are overlooked by society. The personification of death, she represents protection, justice, and a safe passage from life to death.

The contemporary cult of the Santa Muerte first appeared in the state of Hidalgo, Mexico around 1965. Ever since it's been heavily associated with violence, crime, prostitution, and the drug trade.

Her followers may not be particularly religious, but they aren't atheists. They create their own religious codes and icons to nourish their existence, identity, and practices. Many take refuge in the fact that their deity lets them carry out violent activities and will then pardon them for their acts. The Catholic Church condemns the movement for combining its own beliefs with cultism.

Santa Muerte's following has grown in the last ten years, and today she has an estimated six million followers in Mexico. Most are under 30 and from lower socio economic areas. Followers of Santa Muerte have been labeled as blasphemous practitioners of Satanism, and their opponents claim the Saint is used to misguide desperate people.

Erin is a New Zealand born, Mexico based photographer.