I have a master’s degree in theology, and one of the things that has always intrigued me is what happens when there is a meeting and melding of cultures, particularly with respect to their religious beliefs. One of the most interesting I think is the varieties of faith that have grown up around Central and South America as a result of the mixture of Catholicism and the belief of the native peoples. Santa Muerte is a striking example of the product of this melding. She is thought to be the combination of the Virgin Mary and the goddess Mictecacihuatl. She certainly appears to be sinister; however, Latin American cultures typically have a very different relationship with death than we do here in the States. To us death is an enemy. To them, it is often an old friend, or a favorite uncle. The devoted pray to Santa Muerte for healing, for a good death, for a speedy journey to the afterlife.
What fascinates me is how this take on religion, on what the divine is and how it relates to us, illuminates aspects of faith, of God, that we might not have otherwise considered. Catholics who pray the Hail Mary ask for her to be with them at the hour of their death. Considering this devotion to Santa Muerte gives a certain depth to that prayer, a deeper understanding of what those words mean, why her presence at the hour of death is something that we desire.
[If you would like to see more photographs an learn more about Santa Muerte, this article is a good place to start.]