Regardless of scholars' desire to establish a line of continuity between the pre-Hispanic gods of death, the Catrina of Posada and theSanta Muerte. The "white lady" is a modern concept.
It is called "Santa Muerte", and this name means Good Death or Holy Death. The term was borrowed from Catholic prayers asking for a peaceful demise of this word, at peace with God, content with life. The medical nation has its own word for it. The Greek word is euthanasia, which also means "good death", the right to die without unnecessary suffering.
Santa Muerte Today
Since the turn of the 21st century, a bizarre cult has grown from a lonely street altar in a poor Mexico City neighborhood into a continental phenomenon that is now being studied by scholars. This is the cult ofSanta Muerte.
Its most original feature is perhaps that, whereas in Catholicism the good/holy death is a process and in medicine it is a procedure, the cult ofSanta Muerte made a person.
His acolytes say that basically it's the same thing: the desire to have a death without physical pain, the hope of experiencing a peaceful death.
But since in this new movement Death is a person, we must add a third element: the desire, the obligation among his followers, to please him and to adore him (in Spanish the word death is a feminine noun).
Her followers give her affectionate names: beautiful, skinny woman, cute girl, little mother, and even virgin.
Origins of Santa Muerte
Some specialists claim that theSanta Muerte is a direct descendant of the Aztec deities of death, but she is not a symbol of fertility and abundance. Nor is she a direct descendant of the mexicanísima Catrina, as others assume.
The first reference to the modern Santa Muerte cult appears in a novel by American anthropologist Oscar Lewis, Los hijos de Sánchez. Lewis published his story of a Mexican family in 1961.
Martha, one of the characters, says: "My sister Antonia (...) told me that when husbands go astray, one can pray the Santa Muerte. It is a novena which must be prayed at twelve o'clock ".
Originally, it was the Santa Muerte that had to be addressed to rehabilitate unfaithful husbands.
Lewis published his work in the early 1960s, which means the cult had existed since at least the mid-1950s in Mexico City's Tepito neighborhood. In Lewis's novel, the novena to Santa Muerte is treated as a secret, passed down by word of mouth among women.
The explosion of the cult of Santa Muerte
The cult remained underground throughout the second half of the 20th century until it exploded at the very beginning of the 21st.
In 2001, on Halloween day, a woman named Enriqueta Romero, who had until then made her living selling quesadillas, set up a Santa Muerte altar in front of her house in Calle Alfareros, Tepito, the same neighborhood where Sánchez set his novel.
Mrs. Romero has opened a small souvenir shop: books, medals, photos and candles of the Holy Death. It was a resounding success.
The cult has not gone unnoticed in Hollywood. In 2004, he was briefly mentioned in Man on Fire, a film starring Denzel Washington. But it was in 2010 that American audiences got their first massive exposure to the icon through two popular TV series: Breaking Bad and Criminal.
If the Santa Muerte is a person, then who is she, according to her worshipers and followers?
La Santa Muerte began as a character with the ability to grant any miracle, regardless of its moral value: it could be finding a lost lover, getting a job, or protecting yourself by killing a enemy.
But the central expectation is to obtain protection and shelter, in a world of abandonment and insecurity, and to experience a good, painless death.
His identity is subject to debate. Some followers believe she is an Archangel. Others see her as a demigod, who controls the lives of all beings in the universe. Still others believe that the Santa Muerte is a soul in purgatory. Finally, there are those who see it as a...
Esequiel Sánchez, a well-known Catholic pastor, expressed concern in 2008 when some parishioners asked him to bless their Santa Muerte statues.
"It worries me because it is an aberration. It is a misunderstanding of the faith. At the same time, I can understand why it is developing. Many people, especially Mexican immigrants, feel that the institutions give up."
Large-scale opposition came from the Mexican government. The antagonism grew when his intelligence forces began noticing the relationship between drug trafficking and the appearance of highway shrines; between ritual murders, violence and the growth of the cult. The researchers also found that the cult flourished in areas of the city where families had had members in prison.
It goes without saying that not all followers of Santa Muerte are involved in organized crime - there are many sincere believers, as is the case with Santería and New Age movements.
But its origins deserve an explanation. La Santa Muerte is perhaps an emotional reaction in a country terrified of death and violence, hence the need for the people to give it an identity and to please the Grim Reaper, a sort of Stockholm syndrome. Posada also personified death, for a different purpose.
However, death was always meant to be a metaphor. José Guadalupe Posada sculpted his famous Catrina to poke fun at those who took the upper class too seriously, but he knew the skeleton was still a metaphor, just like the Aztecs for whom it represented cosmic forces.
Perhaps it would be more uncomfortable, for those who are violent, if people started to wonder what the symbol means and why he became a person, rather than taking it at face value.