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Santa Muerte, Catrina and dia de los muertos | Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte, Catrina and dia de los muertos

The Day of the Dead combines European Catholic traditions of All Saints' Day with Aztec rituals.


dia de muertos

The tradition originated in southern Mexico over three thousand years ago with the first celebrations of deceased souls. When the Spaniards arrived many years later, they tried to stop the celebration because they did not align with their own beliefs. But nothing they tried could stop the love and enthusiasm that the natives had for this day, and over time the date flourished and evolved.

santa muerte

As people move to different parts of the world, the Day of the Dead has been recognized beyond Mexican borders. It received special attention in the United States thanks to the wide media coverage it received and a growing population of Mexican descent.

Despite what its name suggests, the Day of the Dead is not a day of mourning, but of joy. Basically, the day recognizes death as part of the human experience. He seeks to honor the lives of the deceased so that they set aside a day and wake up from their eternal sleep to share food, drink and celebration with their families.

Some of the traditions are: setting up offerings, decorating with skulls and preparing pan de muerto.

Altars are traditionally created inside homes, in graves in cemeteries, and more recently, in public spaces and museums in Mexico and the United States. These public altars demonstrate the art of making altars for the Day of the Dead and celebrate loved ones in the process.



While preparing the altar for the deceased, some people mount an offering that includes food and other favorite personal items of the deceased, as well as their photographic portraits. Having these items allows loved ones to feel rejuvenated after their long trip.The Saint is known to adore cigarettes!

The offerings also include:

Copal, or traditional incense (dating from pre-Hispanic religious ceremonies in Mexico).
Cempazúchitl flower, or calendula (sometimes other types of flowers are used).
Religious objects, such as a crucifix or a picture of theVirgin of Guadalupe.
The four elements of nature: earth, wind, water and fire, in various forms, but often include an earthenware pot or kettle (earth) and candles (fire).
The offerings tell you a lot about deceased family members and what they enjoyed on Earth.
The Saint is known to adore cigarettes!

ofrandes jour des morts


Skulls can be seen everywhere during the Day of the Dead, from sweets to papier-mâché creations to decorate homes and altars. Some skulls have the names of deceased loved ones written on their foreheads to remember them.

The meaning of the skull and skeleton on this day is to honor the continuous nature of life, to laugh happily at death, and to accept it as part of our daily existence.

Sugar skulls

Skulls, another Aztec tradition, are made from pressed sugar and water skulls with the deceased's name written on their foreheads. Skulls are colorful folk art skulls decorated with colored paper, icings, beads, ribbons and feathers. They are a reminder of the cycles of life.


sugar skulls

Death bread

The bread of the dead is an important part of the offering and is much appreciated and appreciated during this feast. The round shape of the bread represents the human body, while the long shapes that are placed on the bread represent the human body and the round knot in the center represents the skull.

There are different varieties of pan de muerto. Some are based on anise, others with orange extract and zest; others are covered with sesame seeds, and others with sugar. Legend has it that bread dates back to pre-Hispanic times and could have replaced the human sacrifices originally required by the Aztecs to honor the holiday.

pain des morts

Day of the dead today

Since the migratory phenomenon separated many families from the graves of their ancestors and from the cemeteries where processions were held and altars were erected, Day of the Dead celebrations have changed a lot over the years. There has also been controversy in some communities about the growing commercialization of the holiday.

 dia de los muertos


One of the main figures of the Dias de los Muertos is thea Santa Muerte. It is also celebrated throughout the year and is the subject of much worship. The representation of death in Mexico was present long before the Spanish invasion: the Aztecs worshiped Mictlantecuhtli, and his wife Mictlancihuatl, gods of death ruling over Mictlan, a sort of kingdom of shadows.

The human skull was very frequently used in Aztec ceremonies and cults. During the Spanish invasion, Catholic culture, with its many memento mori, succeeded Aztec representations, assimilating them. This mixture of two cultures today gives the figure of the skeleton and the skull its status as a national symbol and identity.

Santa Muerte

The cult of Santa Muerte made its appearance during the 20th century in Mexican prisons.
It would be linked, among other things, to the cult of Catrina and Mictecacihuatl. It originates in Mexican prisons, among criminals who no longer have any hope and are rejected by the Church. Among the followers are people who regularly risk their lives, (and later those who risked it and got away with it, such as women who had difficult pregnancies etc.) and who are part of a game. of the neglected population, making up a sort of sub-society, an underground society, like the Inframundo, beyond the Aztecs and the Incas, which therefore devotes a cult to the Holy Death, the Santa Muerte. Because if life is holy, death must be so.ent.


santa muerte

The openly popular cult of Santa Muerte is relatively recent. The Saint has been prayed for a very long time, but she remained in the shadows, and relatively little is known about her exact origins. It was not until the 1960s that this cult was really public. And it was only in 2001 that the first statue of Santa Muerte was erected in Mexico City in the Tepico district. This sudden craze can be explained by the fact that the Santa Muerte is the patroness of the desperate, the marginalized: it is invoked against accidents, violent deaths, attacks. She is a saint who accepts all the faithful, without judgment. She is therefore considered the most honest and pure saint.

La Santa Muerte is the result of a deification linked to danger and violence, and for this reason, the statue was erected in Tepico, one of the most dangerous neighborhoods in Mexico City. La Santa Muerte is notably the patron saint of gangs. Despite the great vivacity of her cult, and her ease in crossing all kinds of borders, the Santa Muerte is condemned by the Catholic Church, for several reasons. Indeed, the Church hardly appreciates the veneration of a skeleton who is not a martyr, nor a recognized saint: it is death that is venerated, and not a human figure. This type of worship is too steeped in pagan cultures and beliefs for the Catholic Church to accept. In addition, the cult of Santa Muerte does not require intermediaries: there are no priests or churches, and the altars are located in the street. it is celebrated today in the streets, and attracts many followers every first day of the month. Enriqueta Romero, also called Doña Queta, was one of the first, in 2001, to set up an altar bearing the image of the Saint, which soon became a place of pilgrimage, then a veritable pantheon. She had the idea to carry out this ritual when she was presented with a human-sized statue of the Santa Muerte. She then dressed him, put on a wig and accessories to feminize the skeleton as much as possible.m.

Since then, the Niña Blanca has been built into the wall of her house, on the street side, every month with a different outfit. Moreover, the change of dress is an occasion celebrated with the faithful. Usually the statue holds a scythe in one hand and a globe in the other; but its accessories can also be a scale, an hourglass or an owl.

It is therefore both a private worship (one can have an altar at home) and a public worship, which is displayed openly. Therefore, it is a difficult cult to control, especially as the Saint is not dedicated to a specific task and does not perform miracles. It provides services of all kinds relating to the daily life of Mexican inhabitants.s.

This brings her even closer to the pagan gods condemned by the Church.
However, certain aspects of the cult of Santa Muerte are close to the cults given to Catholic saints: the clothes with which the Saint is adorned, the processions, the donations in money and in kind, the symbols associated with the Saint are elements that the Saint is adorned with. we find in the Catholic Church. However, Santa Muerte is surrounded by an aura of sulfur: donations in kind from residents are not ex-votos offered to other saints. In the case of Santa Muerte, one can see on the altars cigarettes, drugs, sweets and chocolate, alcohol, jewelry The potions and recipes associated with his cult are too close to wizarding rites to be accepted by the Catholic Church, which also condemns the Dias de los Muertos, as heretical and pagan manifestations. One can wonder if the fact that the cult is popular especially among the marginalized of Mexican society, is not one of the reasons for the condemnation of the cult by the Catholic Church (although the Santa Muerte is venerated by many of Catholics). The poverty rate being very high in Mexico City, the cult of Santa Muerte is obvious: tired of believing in saints who are far enough from their ordinary concerns, the marginalized and forgotten of Mexican society decide to revive a more cult. popular, more accessible, with a saint closer to them.x. 



La Catrina (or Cavalera Catrina, or Cavalera Garbancera). The figure of the Catrina continues to influence Halloween makeup, tattooists (which we'll talk about later), and pop-surreal artists.
The catrina is derived from the Spanish catrin, which designates an elegant and tastefully dressed person (this term also designates, in Mexico, a kind of dandy). This skeletal figure, dressed in a large hat with ostrich feathers and put in the European fashion of the 1900s / 1910s, is recurrent in the iconographic tradition of Mexico, and today in the West.ale.

The West forgets however, through the reinterpretations of the Catrina which it uses, that this one is first of all a caricature, and therefore, a symbol of rebellion (unless this function does not appear unconsciously, and that she does not participate in the success of La Catrina outside Mexico).


JOSE GUADALUPE POSADA, La Calavera Catrina, c. 1910, lithograph

The first performance of the Catrina is due to the Mexican engraver and illustrator José Guadalupe Posada in 1910. He was influenced by Manuel Marilla, also an illustrator, himself inspired by European dances of death. It is for this reason in particular that the Catrina has a skeletal figure and therefore a function of memento mori, since
it reminds us that even the richest must die one day, just like medieval European dances of death. La Catrina is indeed a garbancera. The term refers to indigenous women selling or eating chickpea-based products (garbanza and garbanzos), disregarding their social class and origins, and copying European customs and fashions in order to achieve higher social rank. The revolution being linked to the rediscovery of the pre-Hispanic heritage, in particular Aztec, of the Mexicans, they adopted skeletons and skulls as national symbols, and therefore also the Catrina as a symbol of the cultural independence of Mexicans against the European imperialism. La Catrina is therefore both a symbol of religious origins (the dances of death), but also a symbol of counter-culture and culture. culture
popular, like the Santa Muerte.

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