Santa Muerte, the Grim Reaper Saint

DEATH, TAROT Add comments

tarot-death-cardThere is an interesting article in the May 2010 issue of National Geographic magazine, titled “Mexico’s Shocking New Saints”.  The article deals with the cult of Santa Muerte, the saint named Holy Death.  La Santa Muerte takes the form of Death, the grim reaper, a skeleton draped in a shroud holding a scythe or a globe of the earth.  Here is the story:
Mexico’s Shocking New Saints

La Santa Muerte is a saint for outsiders, the poorest, the disenfranchised, and the criminal world of prostitutes, drug dealers, thieves and worse.  For those who face death in a hostile world, like taxi drivers or security guards.  I know nothing about this cult, but I do know something about people who live on the edge of existence.  I’ve had acquaintances that were lost souls, people in trouble, those who fell into trouble with the law.  These people are not necessarily evil, but mostly get into trouble because of poverty, stupidity, or substance abuse and addiction issues.

Regular Christians would consider the veneration of La Santa Muerte as devil worship.  Yet, I can sort of understand why the spiritually lost would be attracted to La Santa Muerte.  Ideally one could turn to any of the great spiritual traditions for salvation, so why embrace the grim reaper?  If the dominant culture does not accept you, what to do?  Invent your own spirituality. 


Dance Of Death

Followers of la Santa Muerte claim they had prayers answered in her name.  They actually believe in La Santa Muerte, it is not just a funky tattoo.  In my previous post I mentioned how there may be spiritual powers available, which we all have access to, if we follow the process.  These powers are neutral, available to any belief system.  And they can be used for both constructive and destructive means.

Yet these spiritual powers do not exist in a vacuum. There are other spiritual laws too, including something similar to karma.  What goes around comes around, and in the end we get what we deserve one way or another.  The problem with veneration of a saint of Holy Death is that life has so much more to offer. We don’t have to accept our fate as it is.  Any spiritual tradition can be positive or negative.  Christianity had the crusades and the inquisition, Islam had its jihads.  It seems like many people of faith throughout history worshiped Holy Death.

old-tarot-deathThe image of Santa Muerte looks similar to the European version of the grim reaper.  The classic image of the grim reaper is in the tarot, card number 13.  Just like people would misinterpret the imagery of Santa Muerte, so would it be easy to misconstrue the meaning of tarot’s death card.  The death card can mean physical death.  But its real meaning is of the death of old ways, in other words…change.  Most people don’t like change, fear change, resist change but for good or bad change is inevitable.  And without change there cannot be renewal, rebirth and growth.  We need to be flexible in the face of changing circumstances and adapt.  That is the way of nature, of evolution.  Species that cannot adapt perish.  On a personal level, if we can’t adapt to a changing world, we falter.

An interesting component of the earlier versions of tarot’s death card is that it is shown not as a complete skeleton, but was a decaying cadaver.  There is still flesh on those bones.  The symbolism is clear…a state of transition is taking place.  Decay leads to rebirth.   The world is changing, adapt or perish.

4 Responses to “Santa Muerte, the Grim Reaper Saint”

  1. Chrissy LaVielle Says:

    This is a wonderful blog. I’m enjoying it.

    Santa Muerte may have evolved from the skeleton imagery of the Day of the Dead. The Mexican culture has always had a comfortable relation with Death, possibly because it’s an impoverished culture. “When you ain’t got nothin’, you got nothin’ to lose.” They see Death as transformation, or, as you say, change–to them it’s a hopeful card. Wealthy cultures tend to want to preserve the status quo.

  2. Dr. Robert J. Bunker Says:

    This provides some more background on the topic:

    The Spiritual Significance of ?Plata O Plomo?
    by Pamela L. Bunker and Dr. Robert J. Bunker
    Posted by SWJ Editors on May 27, 2010 6:19 AM

    Download the full article: The Spiritual Significance of ?Plata O Plomo?

    Conventional wisdom holds that narco gang and drug cartel violence in Mexico is primarily secular in nature. This viewpoint has been recently challenged by the activities of the La Familia cartel and some Los Zetas, Gulfo, and other cartel adherents of the cult of Santa Muerte (Saint Death) by means of religious tenets of ‘divine justice’ and instances of tortured victims and ritual human sacrifice offered up to a dark deity, respectively. Severed heads thrown onto a disco floor in Michoacan in 2005 and burnt skull imprints in a clearing in a ranch in the Yucat?n Peninsula in 2008 only serve to highlight the number of such incidents which have now taken place. Whereas the infamous ‘black cauldron’ incident in Matamoros in 1989, where American college student Mark Kilroy’s brain was found in a ritual nganga belonging to a local narco gang, was the rare exception, such spiritual-like activities have now become far more frequent….

  3. David Says:

    Hi Dr,
    Thanks for the information. Binnall Of America has a great audio on this topic. Tony Kail has a lot to say about this topics.

  4. Geslina Says:

    I just read an article about that guy who shot that congresswoman in Arizona last year – they found an altar to this Santa Muerte in his backyard. People tried to argue that it was just left over halloween decorations, but I have seen a few altars in my day, and that is what is was.

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