The Cult of 'Santa' Muerte

(I’m not sure how far north the influence of the cult of ‘Saint’ Death has gone so this is a wiki article about it.)

When I first converted I knew a little about ‘Santa’ Muerte but I didn’t pay it much mind. I have heard a few instances of the Church formally coming out against ‘her’ and figured it would die out but now I see this ‘Saint’ everywhere in a lot of the hispanic/chicano parts of our metroplex. (Cars, all over Botanica windows, jewelry, tattoos, and even prayer candles at the supermarket.) So many people that I know have ended up being devotees after I have gotten to know them a little. Even family members are getting sucked in. Someone told me that ‘she’ is just the Virgin of Guadalupe, only dead! I correct them and tell them to talk to Father about it or even just look up some things on the internet but I don’t feel like I am doing anything.

This alarms and worries my family and I. I understand that our culture is naturally superstitious in a lot of ways, but I feel like there is so much ignorance that people just don’t see the blasphemy of it. I have thought about bringing it up to our parish priest so that he might address it - but surely he must see it too? I just don’t know what to do. My children are getting older and I worry about them seeing people who claim to be Catholic, who go to church and are otherwise very devout, also keeping little shrines to this ‘Saint’ in the homes/yards/etc…

Is ‘Santa’ Muerte in your area? How are you and your local parishs’ handling it? Thank you for your time.

Our Lady of Guadalupe, keep us always wrapped in your loving mantle. Pray for us! Lord Jesus, I trust in You - help my brothers and sisters in You to see the evil of ‘Saint’ Death and renounce ‘her’. Amen.

it seems that while the Spanish were successful in converting a lot of people across many lands, they seem to have poorly Catechized these people and allowed old beliefs and supersitions to stay and eventually mix with Catholic beliefs

it is the same thing in the Philippines. there have been a very superstitious approach to a lot fo Catholic beliefs. sometimes i fear that people idolize statues there and lose sight of real worship of God

There’s a guy where I sometimes attend weekday Mass… “of a certain age” (e.g. not young). Before Mass walks up to the altar, genuflects (!) deeply to it, then walks right past the tabernacle with nary a nod, and then touches the toes of Jesus on a crucifix and genuflects deeply to it as well. Go figure.

And this is in Canada, and the guy is clearly French Canadian. Lord knows how it came to that, poor catechesis I guess.

Just ask them what on earth is wrong with sticking with venerating the live Virgin of Guadalupe, y’know, the one who definitely DIDN’T appear to St Juan Diego as a :eek: SKELETON but as a very much living woman???

I watched a documentary called ‘Around the World in 80 Faiths’. It’s really interesting. It’s about this vicar who travels around each continent, talking about the main faiths and strange faiths.

One of them was a cult/sect of Catholicism called Santa Muerte. They believe that blowing cigars over an image of it will remove evil spirits and keep it clean. One woman said that she prayed to the Virgin Mary for something and did not receive it, but did receive it after praying to Santa Muerte (the request was something stupid, that I highly doubt the Virgin Mary would pray for, let alone act on her own will and grant it).

Also, this man said he got out of prison earlier by praying to Santa Muerte and they have a painting of Christ on the crucifix with Santa Muerte (Spanish for Saint Death) there to take his spirit to Heaven. It seems like to them, Santa Muerte has replaced the Holy Spirit.

These people aren’t everyday Christians. The whole religion seems very gothic.

i think sometimes the problem is a person see someone do something, then formulates his own practice out of it

or something the whole think is just a matter of his opinion based on personal observances. i think that person you speak of has a deep desire for reverence, but was not Catechized on how to show it properly

i remember in the past it was quite common to go to the major churches in the Philippines and then enter from the back of the church and walk on your knees while praying the rosary, when your petitioning for something. and mind you these churches aren’t the small neighborhood parishes, these are about the size of a football field AT LEAST from entrance to foot of the front. i’m glad the CBCP has spoken against it and forbade it

another one is the Good Friday “tradition” of someone literally getting nailed to a cross in an reenactment. again, not supported by the Church but there’s nothing the Church can do when it takes place outside of Church

most of these people are very good and deeply devout Catholics who got caught in the wrong practice due to poor Catechisis. i think the diocese where these things are common should make a bigger effort to teach the correct teaching so people and their practices are in accordance with the Church

POOR CATECHESIS!!! Poor and desperate people adrift in a culture of death turn to these things because they aren’t getting the word of life from their shepherds.

I have a theory.

I am a retired Religious Education director for a Catholic parish in the US of A. For the first two hundred years of United States history the majority of American Catholics were Western European immigrants (PEACE all you Hispanic Catholics of Lousiana, Texas, New Mexico, Arizona, and Southern California. I’ll get to you). For those Irish, Germans, Poles, et all we developed, what I call, an “apologetics” model of religious instruction. The Baltimore Catechism is a good example of this. We expected that we would have to explain and defend ourselves to a Protestant majority. This thread is not the place to debate whether that was or remains a good approach ( I think it was and is still.) but that’s what we did.

Now when I look out at the faces of the congragation in my church on any Sunday the Anglos are an aging and shrinking majority. Young parents with children are increasingly Hispanic and Filipino. When these parents bring their children forward for Baptism and First Communion they also bring a radically different understanding of what they expect catechesis to be. When we try to enroll them in classes where the object is to make them demonstrate that they have a grasp of the basics of Catholic doctrine they, too often, listen politely, leave and never come back again. Often, sadly, they show up at the local evangelical churches where they have a picture of Our Lady of Guadalupe on the wall and a “Holy Water” font at the entry door.

I’m convinced that there is another model of catechesis. How else would the great people of these countries cling so faithfully to the Church for all these centuries.

Please, please all you faithful sons and daughters of Hispanic countries tell us how you learned your faith. We can’t lose any more little ones to this blasphmeous and ugly distortion of the truth.

if you’re serious about that, i’m willing to help. i’m Filipino

and i do get what you mean. most Filipinos who leave the Catholic Church doesn’t cease to be religious. its ingrained in our culture to be religious. but due to bad Catechisis, many are swayed to Protestant or other faiths. i would like to see a good kind of Catechisis developed especially targetted for people like my countrymen who i believe are deeply religious and devout, but are not getting the proper guidance

I assumed that they know that the Church doesn’t teach about Santa Muerte. I do agree that the diocese in those areas need to teach that Santa Muerte isn’t a real Saint. I wish priests would talk about the catechist and Papal Supremacy at Mass. It would save a lot of people (including me at one point) from losing faith.

yes. and that is what i am saying. they are good and devout but got caught in bad Catechisis, thus they picked up something that doesn’t belong in the Church and made a devotion for it. at least you can see that they want to be closer to God, they only lack the proper teaching. if they receive the proper teaching, then they will be able to worship and pray in the right way

maybe there’s some efforts that we are not aware of. but if this practice/belief is spreading, then those efforts may not be enough.

From what I’ve read and understand about the “Santa Muerte” situation is that many bishops and priests in the areas where this wayward devotion is practiced have come out publically against it. So I don’t think we can blame the Church for being silent on the issue. However, perhaps they have not been vocal enough. Maybe if the Pope formally spoke against it while on a visit to Latin America there would be more of an effect?

Either way it doesn’t take much to see that this “saint death” is not a saint at all. And the fact that some people think this creature is the Blessed Virgin is horrifying! If anything I think this thing is a mockery, an antithesis to Our Lady of Guadalupe. I’m by no means an expert on the “deep things of Satan” (as Saint John calls them) but from what I’ve read in various articles and have seen in a short documentary the practices involved with worshipping this hideous thing are quite sinister in nature. I’ve heard that men in prison or gangs who worship this thing talk about “owing” Santa Muerte and how if you do not give it what you owe it will seek revenge on you (hardly something any Saint, let alone the Blessed Mother, would do).

I feel so bad for the misinformed Catholics who have fallen for this demonic force’s lies. I hope that God forgives them all as they are quite ignorant of what they are doing. I also hope that our priests, bishops, and also the more educated laymen will go out and explain these things to those who have been taken in by this false faith.

May Our Lady of Guadalupe destroy this demon soon and bring the wayward back to her Son.

To the OP:

As you can tell from my information, I am from the hinterland. Sadly, this plague has infiltrated our city in the worst way. However, Nuevo Laredo has borne the brunt of this malady worse than Laredo. The Bishop of Nuevo Laredo (Mexico) took the courageous stance of having his priests destroy these little roadside “shrines” along the Mexican roads leading to his city. This demon, for lack of a better word, is the “patron” of the Mexican drug cartels. Unfortunately, just like the vendors and jewelers sell gold medals depicting Our Lady of Guadalupe, they also sell huge gold images of this horrendous creature. What crushed me even more was that this monstrous image was depicted in the same manner as OLG. This is even worse than the golden calf.

This “devotion” is not sanctioned by the Church. It never has been and it never will be. It is an abomination.

One of the priests here in town (I’m on the border too, just north of Laredo) says that the “Santa Muerte” is part of Santeria…like voodoo??

And he openly chastises against those who go to Mexico looking for curanderos (witch doctors).

I haven’t seen the “Santa Muerte” stuff out in the open so much here, but I know it’s in people’s homes…

Sadly, I have seen a lot of cars down here displaying that dreadful image on their rear windows. It’s really bad.

yikes! maybe that means something more than just a devotion? you know, since you say there’s a devotion from among the drug cartel :eek:

Dear choy;

Thanks for your willingness to help. I agree with you. It’s necessary but not enough to say that this evil practice is bad. God bless the bishops and priests that speak out against it but they MUST also offer the real food of the truths of Christ’s church in its place. Otherwise, the poor will continue to feed on this poison.

I fear there is a mistaken notion that Hispanics and Filipinos are so stupid, lazy, and bad that catechising them is no use. What an insult to the dignity of these sons and daughters of the Church who have been faithful for centuries!

Obviously, Hispanic and Filipino brothers and sisters, you had a way to pass on the faith that worked in your native lands. WHAT IS IT? Did you all go to Catholic schools. If there were no schools, did your parish priest instruct your children in a classroom when it was time for First Confession and First Communion and Confirmation? Did you have visiting preachers have missions at your church to instruct adults and have special devotions? Can any of these things be used here?

if you’re middle class and up in the Philippines, you probably go to a Catholic or somewhat Catholic school. not all Catholic Schools are run by religious orders or the diocese, so the quality of religious education may vary from good to non-existent (they may use a Saint’s name to attract people for enrollment). but sometimes even the schools run by religious orders may come up short for a variety of reasons

but mostly Catechesis is done at home. usually the parents will educate the child. noble, but sometimes because the parents themselves are not sufficiently trained or educated in the faith, they may fall short. and sometimes the parents themselves may have a bad habit in the faith that gets passed on to the child. oftentimes, a desire for the faith leads to one copying what they see from others. either a wrong habit it copied, or there is a lack of understanding of a practice that one starts to form their own conclusions why something is. or just not ask questions why such a practice is done.

Here’s my :twocents:

Where I live has a very large Latino population. There are maybe 3 Botanicas in the area. I asked dh (who is Latino) about them and about this Santa Muerte cult.

He said that it all comes down to a need for education, both secular and catechetical. Those practices and beliefs are very cultural. You don’t really see this where there is better education and opportunities.

It’s his opinion that the Church has taken the Latino members for granted. They have large families and the Church figures that they have ready-made members for the future so they don’t spend much on the way of catechesis. This is just his opinion. He got very little in the way of solid Church instruction when he was growing up. To combat this, the Church has to meet its members where they are and instruct them in a way that makes sense to them so they can understand the real beauty of the Church and not be distracted with some cultural superstition.

Benedictgal, you have hit the nail on the head.

I live in Arizona, 15 minutes away from Sonora and I have seen the influence that this image has caused. Yes, this is a patron “saint” for the drug cartels, just like Jesus Malverde; who is also not a saint. I have seen the decals that people put up in their rear view mirrors. These 2 patron saints are sung about in “corridos” (balads) and how they helped them in crossing over a drug shipment to the US or killing another opposing drug cartel member has stired up their popularity. Unfortunately, most people who have these images may not be involved in with the drug trade, but are wrapped up in the culture and especially the influence that the music has over them. So don’t go and think that everyone who has these decals are involved with the cartels. I also voice the concern of poor catechesis, but I don’t put the blame entirely on the Church. I think the people are at fault just as much. I am saying this because I am latino as well, I have Mexican and Salvadorean parents. I was in the same boat as most of the latinos as well.

My family only cared about us having our sacraments of initation and that was it. We would not go to Mass at all. My mother would say outrightly that the Church is a Mafia. She hasn’t said that recently because she knows that I am very active in the Church now. I started learning about the faith on my own, from there on I started attending Church and studying more. I can say that based on what my experiences have been, we, latinos, choose to be ignorant. We are quick to dismiss anything that comes from the Church, and quick to pick up the garbage the world throws at us. If you talk to any latino who has immigrated here, especially from Mexico, you will know that most of them have gone to curanderos, have had the tarot cards read to them, or cant leave their homes with out listening or reading to their daily horoscope. There are even those who mix all these things up and still pray the rosary and go to Mass on Sundays, its just atrocious.

What has come to mind, is that these things are so engrained in our culture, it will take many decades more for this influence to stop. Just think about it, It has been little over 500 years since Europeans have come to the Americas to spread the faith. In many cases they spread the faith in cultures that were hostile to Christianity. These cultures were very pagan and superstitious. Many of those pagan influences are still alive in our day. This may have been because of poor catechesis, but also because most people chose not to let go of that paganism. What also comes to mind, is that latinos of european descent, have a better education and grasp of the faith, than those who are of indiginous descent. I am not trying to be racist or have favoritisms but it is a sad fact.

I have done some research on the Santa Muerte and looked across news articles that state tha the Church in Mexico outwardly condems this belief. People in the comments section aggressively defend their beleif in the Santa Muerte and make horrendous comments about the priests and bishops who are vocal in condeming this belief. These people call them ignorant, child molestors, stupid, etc. At best, these people think that the Church should shut up about condeming this belief and fix the problems the Church has. There is definately a strong bias against the Church, especially when it comes to Her condeming these pratices.

DISCLAIMER: The views and opinions expressed in these forums do not necessarily reflect those of Catholic Answers. For official apologetics resources please visit