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Santa Muerte
April 28, 2010 11:20 PM   Subscribe

A Saint for Lost Souls. "The barrio of Tepito, where it's said that everything is for sale except dignity, has been one of Mexico City's roughest neighborhoods since Aztec times. Famous for its black market and its boxing champions, Tepito is a place where residents learn to fight early and fight hard. These days it has also become the epicenter of Mexico's fastest-growing faith: Santa Muerte, or Holy Death, a hybrid religion that merges Catholic symbolism with pre-Hispanic worship of the skeletal Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancihuatl, Lord and Lady of the Dead."
posted by homunculus (36 comments total) 38 users marked this as a favorite

 


He was depicted as a blood-spattered skeleton or a person wearing a toothy skull. Although his head was typically a skull, his eye sockets did contain eyeballs. His headdress was shown decorated with owl feathers and paper banners, and he wore a necklace of human eyeballs, while his earspools were made from human bones.

OK, this is a god I can get behind. Where do I sign up?
posted by flapjax at midnite at 11:38 PM on April 28, 2010 [3 favorites]


Run, you pigeons. It's Robert Frost.
posted by juv3nal at 11:45 PM on April 28, 2010 [4 favorites]


Previously: 1 & 2.
posted by homunculus at 11:46 PM on April 28, 2010


Thanks for the LA Times article--I've always wondered about that storefront on Alvarado--the sign is intriguing, to say the least.
posted by mandymanwasregistered at 11:53 PM on April 28, 2010


The Gods of Death
posted by Brian B. at 12:05 AM on April 29, 2010


tepitos a great place to be ;) santa muerte has just the same right to exist as any other religion.
posted by bruinbruin at 12:11 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


This is great, thanks. I'm just starting to get into Mexican religions, as well as the culture at large (partly, unfortunately, due to 2666 by Bolano), this looks really interesting.
posted by nevercalm at 12:21 AM on April 29, 2010




The NG article brings up the Day of the Dead and examines similarities and differences.
posted by mek at 1:25 AM on April 29, 2010


You say Mictlantecuhtli, I say Mictlancihuatl.

Why can't we all just fall in love?
posted by twoleftfeet at 2:26 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


It's good to get back to solid traditions, eh?
posted by 1adam12 at 2:51 AM on April 29, 2010


Jesus, the history of the barrio this all takes place in (Tepito) is awesome:
For decades, both government and developers have tried to transform the area. Mayors promise to clean it up and owners of the land there have tried various legal and other methods to get rid of the current residents to sell or redevelop the property. Coordinated plans to transform the area have tried to move residents to the outer parts of the city but residents here have resisted successfully so far.

One of the few successful efforts to evict and demolish tenements here occurred in 2007, when the adjoining properties of Tenochtitlan and Jesus Carranza were demolished. The area was a complex of 144 tenements known as “La Fortaleza” (The Fortress) where about eight kilos of cocaine and a half ton of marihuana was moved each day. As the tenements were being destroyed a number of curious finds appeared such as safes, false walls, murals, such as Pancho Villa smoking pot, reserves of cognac and champagne and even a Jacuzzi. The city’s Secretary of Public Safety stated that 411 convicts or ex-convicts were living in the tenements on Jesus Carranza and Tenochtitlan, most of which had been in jail for assault and/or robbery. The land expropriated by the government was excavaed by the National Institute and Anthropology and History (INAH). Findings included both pre-Hispanic and colonial-era items. The site was redeveloped into the Family Integral Development (DIF) community center for Cuauhtemoc borough.
Cool.
posted by Civil_Disobedient at 3:48 AM on April 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Tepito is where Luis Bunuel filmed Los Olvidados in 1950.
A beautiful, heart-breaking film.
posted by vacapinta at 3:59 AM on April 29, 2010


Oh heavens I love syncretic religions.

The history of syncretism in Mexico is a fertile field for research. In particular recent scholarship is examining Inquisitional records with an eye toward looking at the practices of the Jews forcibly converted to Christianity after their expulsion from Spain and Portugal is amazing. A lot of the interesting work right now is going on in journals, but one book I found fascinating was Secrecy and Deceit: The Religion of the Crypto-Jews. Of course, the Edict of Expulsion forced many of the Jewish people off the Iberian peninsula, but many of them, whether they left or stayed, continued to practice traditions they found significant to their identity as Jews in secret, a practice that was extremely dangerous. The ways that the secrecy changed the nature of their Judaism and the inter-mixture of other beliefs is such an intriguing story.
posted by winna at 5:57 AM on April 29, 2010 [4 favorites]


Tepito is where Luis Bunuel filmed Los Olvidados in 1950.
A beautiful, heart-breaking film.


Oh, yes.

Tepito has this iconic meaning as a symbol of all kinds of real and imagined lawlessness. It shows up in all kinds of books and movies, like Los caifanes de Tepito and Que viva Tepito.

Findings included both pre-Hispanic and colonial-era items.

I don't think that there is a single spot in the entire Distrito Federal where you could dig and not find layers upon layers of artifacts. That place has been densely populated for a long, long time, and the old neighborhoods (like Tepito) have been continuously occupied for all of that history.
posted by Forktine at 6:12 AM on April 29, 2010


I dunno, given that this cult started to become more visible as the killing levels and the criminal brutality grew in Mexico I find it a little unnerving. The drug war in the country has become a war to make everybody paranoid and psychotic, with decapitations, kidnappings, the blocking of streets, the killing of civilians and the use of a scary lady skeleton with US currency as a symbol. Frankly I find the whole death fixation in certains parts of Mexico to be barbaric, fatalistic and backwards.
posted by Omon Ra at 6:32 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I dunno, given that this cult started to become more visible as the killing levels and the criminal brutality grew in Mexico I find it a little unnerving.

Another reason to legalize drugs, and suck the money out of the system.
posted by delmoi at 6:42 AM on April 29, 2010 [2 favorites]


I went and looked this up after the season premier of Breaking Bad. What about those spooky Mexican killer cousins? They're starting to get a bit cartoonish, but the opening scene of the season, with them venerating Santa Muerte, and last week's first scene, with their encounter with local law enforcement...those were very effective.
posted by Edgewise at 6:53 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


"Frankly I find the whole death fixation in certains parts of Mexico to be barbaric, fatalistic and backwards."

On the other hand get some good back up for the imagery by Infernal Conjuration or Brujeria and you've got a kick ass death metal video.
posted by Smedleyman at 7:02 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


I've wondered if this was the sort of thing that helped inspire the creepy and humorous depiction of the cult in Jodorowski's Santa Sangre.
posted by 2N2222 at 7:05 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Santa Muerte comes down the chimney on Christmas and leaves... death.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 7:55 AM on April 29, 2010


You laugh, but you're going to want these people on your side when the zombies come.
posted by The otter lady at 8:10 AM on April 29, 2010


When the zombies come it may be because these people created them.
posted by Babblesort at 8:21 AM on April 29, 2010


[not-zombieist]
posted by Babblesort at 8:22 AM on April 29, 2010


Santa Muerte

Beats the fastest growning religion in Guatemala, ¡Santa Mierda!
posted by Pollomacho at 8:25 AM on April 29, 2010


They had me at 'earspools.'
posted by box at 8:54 AM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Jesus, this makes Terminal Café start to look like a Goddamned prophecy.

(Anyone else remember this incredible book?)
posted by PsychoTherapist at 9:33 AM on April 29, 2010


I've read multiple references to Santa Muerte being the wife of Krampus in his guise as The Devil. Their marriage is supposed to be due to the influence of early German/Austrian immigrants to Mexico.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 9:49 AM on April 29, 2010


This is pretty crazy. Seems like it could be the first step of a full blown revival of Aztec religion. That would be simply fascinating; does anyone know if a polytheistic religion has ever experienced a full resurgence after being displaced by one of the three big monotheisms? My understanding is that Hindu, Shinto, and polytheistic Buddhism were never really displaced in any real way, so they don't really count. Is there anything else?

(I think we should bring back some full-blown Aesir-worship, except without the sacrifices and mutilations.)

(Also if the Aztec religion comes back, I hope they do it without the blood sacrifices.)

(Also, I guess some people have brought back Aesir-worship.)
posted by Caduceus at 10:40 AM on April 29, 2010


Caduceus, I realise that la Santa Muerte incorporates elements of pre-Hispanic religion, but it doesn't seem to be exactly evidence of polytheism per se, or of a revival of Aztec religion. It references Mictlantecuhtli and Mictlancihuatl, but also incorporates some of the trappings of Catholicism (the mass, incense, altar, rosary, etc).

The combination (syncretism?) of Catholic and pre-Hispanic tradition in Mexico is fascinating; for example, some people posit that the veneration of the Virgin of Guadalupe within Mexico represents a fusion of an Aztec goddess and the Virgin Mary. As far as I know, praying and dedicating altars to particular saints is not uncommon within Catholicism, and I wouldn't say that Catholicism is polytheistic (maybe someone else would? I don't know.)

I am, however, making these observations based solely upon reading the articles linked in the post, and being intrigued by a statue of la Santa Muerte in my land lady's living room.

Anyway, totally fascinating post!
posted by the cat's pyjamas at 12:49 PM on April 29, 2010


Polytheistic religion has never been displaced by monotheism in Mexico. All the saints are just new faces on old gods.

And speaking of images of death, when I was 6 or 7 I would get one of these coins on Sunday, with the image of the dismembered naked woman, I would take it to the arcade, exchange it for a pocketful of tokens and spend all afternoon playing.

Images of death are everywhere in Mexico.
posted by dirty lies at 2:23 PM on April 29, 2010 [1 favorite]


Yeah, I know it's not polytheism yet. I was just suggesting it might be the first of what would probably be a large number of steps that could possibly lead to an Aztec revival, which I then used as a jumping off point to semi-idly wonder if any true polytheistic religions had ever experienced a resurgence after being suppressed or replaced. I wasn't meaning to imply that Santa Muerte was actually polytheistic.
posted by Caduceus at 2:24 PM on April 29, 2010


I don't get the impression that this is a revival of Aztec religion so much as the presistence of pre-Hispanic themes within a Catholic framework. Catholicism has absorbed pagan deities before by transforming them into saints, like how the Irish Goddess Brigid became Saint Brigid. If the Church recognized Santa Muerte as a saint they would be doing the same with Mictlancihuatl, and I imagine some of her devotees would be overjoyed at the acceptance, but I don't see that happening for a variety of reasons, the association with crime and the morbid aesthetic in particular.

(Thinking of Brigid reminds me of Imbolc, which in turn reminds me that Beltane is almost here.)
posted by homunculus at 2:40 PM on April 29, 2010


I was just suggesting it might be the first of what would probably be a large number of steps that could possibly lead to an Aztec revival, which I then used as a jumping off point to semi-idly wonder if any true polytheistic religions had ever experienced a resurgence after being suppressed or replaced.

Ah, okay. The only one I can think of is the Asatru, which you mentioned.
posted by homunculus at 2:47 PM on April 29, 2010


does anyone know if a polytheistic religion has ever experienced a full resurgence after being displaced by one of the three big monotheisms?

I have a friend who is a member of a pagan worship circle of the Olympian (in particular Dionysian) stripe. She spent months getting into the proper headspace to play Aphrodite at their recent Spring Mystery Festival.
posted by Pirate-Bartender-Zombie-Monkey at 3:16 AM on April 30, 2010


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