She goes by many names: Lady of the Shadows, Lady of the Night, Skeleton Saint, Grim Reapress, Lady of the Seven Powers, Black Lady, White Lady, Skinny Lady, Bony Lady, Lady of the Dead and Most Holy Death. But she is probably best known as Santa Muerte, Spanish for Saint Death. But who is she? Considered by some to be vengeful, she is the personification of death and patron saint of the religious cult of Saint Death, currently the fastest growing religion in the Americas. While her roots and origin are a matter of debate among religious scholars and devotees alike, worship of Saint Death has been going on for over half a century, exploding like wildfire from Mexico into the United States and many other countries around the world.
Some say she gives job security and advancement, justice, protects loved ones, and is a miracle worker in matters of the heart and happiness. She is also known for her supernatural healing powers. But others, including the Catholic Church, have condemned her worship as blasphemous, evil and satanic. To be sure murders in Mexico and the United States have been committed in the name of Saint Death. Some victims have been decapitated and their blood poured out on or around Saint Death shrines as sacrificial offerings to win her favor. Many devotees come from the fringes of society, marginalized in some way by poverty and unemployment. Others are petty criminals and a small percentage are violent drug cartel members, who pray to Saint Death using various colored symbolic votive candles, asking her to destroy their enemies and insure safe passage of illegally smuggled drugs.
But still other devotees are successful professionals; police officers, doctors, lawyers, or just everyday working middle-class members of society. A large percentage of followers are decent people searching for a religion they can identity with, free from the often more rigid protocols of an institutionalized religion like Catholicism. Saint Death doesn’t discriminate. She accepts everybody.
And while one can argue, in the face of violent and sacrificial decapitations, that Saint Death is nothing more than a dangerous and evil cult, think for a moment about the other religions. For centuries people have been perverting the good tenets of Christianity and Islam; in some cases perverting those religions in their entirety and committing heinous atrocities. You don’t have to look far to find hundreds of examples. Some say more blood has been shed in the name of religion than anything else in the world. So, as people would mask their evil deeds by holding up religion as a false banner of righteousness, so too would people kill people and justify it as a sacrificial offering to win the favor of Saint Death. But, as with Christianity and Islam, that doesn’t mean it represents the majority of followers.
Saint Death adherents also believe she provides safe passage into the afterlife. And, perhaps more importantly, she helps devotees come to grips with death so they might enjoy their lives. If you face your mortality, wouldn’t that encourage you to live every single minute of every day to its fullest? The grim reality is, we are all going to die some time. The irony, of course, is that while she helps followers come to grips with their mortality and provides safe passage into the afterlife, she is also revered for her healing powers.
In perhaps one of the most scholarly books written on the subject, Dr. Andrew Chesnut, in Devoted to Death, explores this: “…One of the great paradoxes of the cult is that a saint who is the very personification of death is charged with preserving and extending life through her awesome healing powers. Here Santa Muerte isn’t the Grim Reapress harvesting souls with her scythe but the Mother of all Physicians mending broken bodies and fractured bones.”
Chesnut writes, “Santa Muerte is first and foremost an unofficial saint who heals, protects, and delivers devotees to their destinations in the afterlife.”
In my latest novel, tentatively titled Freaky Franky, I took great care to be fair to the cult of Saint Death. As a work of horror fiction, I certainly embellish some of the violence that has been associated with the Grim Reapress, but I also include many examples of her benevolence as a protective saint who helps with health, wealth, and love. I recently completed the first draft and it will likely hit the shelves in about two months. I hope it entertains and provides you with a better insight into a patron saint who is often misunderstood and maligned. Without any further adieu, here is a short summary:
When an enigmatic town doctor saves the life of Anisa Worthington’s dying son, she abandons Christianity in favor of devotion to the cult of Saint Death. Some believe the mysterious skeleton saint will protect your loved ones, help in matters of the heart, provide abundant happiness, wealth, health, job security and justice. But others, including the Catholic Church, call the cult blasphemous, evil and satanic.
Anisa introduces Saint Death to troubled friend Helen Reiger and strange things begin happening. An enemy of Helen’s is brutally murdered and residents of Montague, a peaceful little town in Prince Edward Island, begin plotting to rid the Bible belt of “religious heretics.”
Anisa suspects Helen is perverting the good tenets of Saint Death but a terrible nightmare propels her to the Dominican Republic in search of Freaky Franky, her long-lost and unstable brother, who mysteriously disappeared twenty years ago without a trace.
To her utter shock and horror, she learns Freaky Franky is also worshiping Saint Death with evil intentions. As a possessed and hell-bent lynch mob gathers momentum, mysterious murders begin occurring all around her. Unsure about who is an ally and who is an enemy, she’s thrust into a violent battle to save her life as well as the lives of her unpredictable friends and brother.