Praying to Saint Death

By Dirk Hanson 03/29/11
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The Patron Saint of Sinners
Photo via wednesdaysattic

A grisly reminder of the Mexican drug war: The renewed worship of Santa Muerte—literally, Saint Death. The goddess of death, who dates back to Mexico’s pre-Hispanic history, comes in the form of a skeleton wearing the garb of a grim reaper, often with a blood-red cape, and bearing a scythe or a globe. Typically trotted out only for ritual Day of the Dead celebrations, reports the new I-Pad newspaper The Daily,  believers now routinely pray to Santa Muerte for lives to be saved--or for enemies to be killed. A Time magazine investigative report tied the worshippers of Santa Muerte to drug trafficking, kidnapping, and executions. Mexico’s official Catholic church has distanced itself from the Santa Muerte cult, whose devotees often adorn themselves with tattooed likenesses of the saint. It seems grimly fitting that modern Mexican drug traffickers often find solace in the iconography of Santa Muerte. And especially appropriate that Mexico’s murderous drug thugs have chosen to worship the region’s primeval goddess of death and retribution.

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Dirk Hanson, MA, is a freelance science writer and the author of The Chemical Carousel: What Science Tells Us About Beating Addiction. He is also the author of The New Alchemists: Silicon Valley and the Microelectronics Revolution. He has worked as a business and science reporter for numerous magazines and trade publications including Wired, Scientific American, The Dana Foundation and more. He currently edits the Addiction Inbox blog. Email: [email protected]