There 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.
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.
The 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.