Dare to cross a drug Mexico cartel? Then risk the wrath of “Santa Muerte,” or Saint Death.
Gaining in popularity in since the 1980s and 1990s, “Holy Death,” as Santa Muerte is also known, is part of a folk religion increasingly used by drug cartels in gory rituals.
The female folk deity spawned in the predominantly Catholic country of Mexico as an evil version of the Blessed Virgin Mary. For this reason, she is very much condemned by the Catholic Church.
Often depicted as a skeleton in dark robes and a scythe of death, Santa Muerte in imagery often mimics traditional pictures of the Blessed Mother, such as Our Mary of Guadalupe.
While the Santa Muerte cult has been active in Mexico for decades, it has not been active in the United States – until now. Law enforcement officials in Austin, Texas are now seeing evidence of Santa Muerte rituals in the Central Texas city.
Believers pray to Santa Muerte for favors, often to defeat enemies. At the extreme, followers of Santa Muerte engage in human sacrifice to appease the evil god. According to the Mexican government, the drug gang La Familia/Knights Templar has sacrificed humans in their bloody rituals.
In July 2011, Juarez, Mexico, right across the border from El Paso, Texas Mexican police found remains dressed as a bride at a Santa Muerte altar in a home used for kidnapping victims.
Not all followers of this evil version of Mary are violent. She appeals to average people as well.
“She’s always with me,” said follower Manuel Garduono who turned to her for help with unemployment. “You ask her for the bad thing – she will help you. You ask her for good things – she will help you.”
Gang members and criminals, however, pray to Santa Muerte to destroy their enemies. This includes attempting to stop police officers and law enforcement agencies from doing their jobs.
“We’re seeing more and more criminals that are praying to Santa Muerte,” says Robert Almonte, a former El Paso narcotics detective and undercover officer. “They believe that the more sacrifice, the more gorier [sic] or intense the sacrifice – the better off they’ll be with the Santa Muerte.”
While stories of the frightening death cult have reached American shores, most Americans have not experienced the Santa Muerte folk religion, nor are many even aware of it. Now that law enforcement officers are finding shrines to Santa Muerte in Austin, Texas, that is changing.
Hector Gomez, with the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force, explains he has seen shrines that include various gifts to protect fugitives from apprehensive by law enforcement.
“Yes, we’ve encountered them from a task force perspective many, many times in the Austin area. It’s not uncommon,” said Hector Gomez, with the Lone Star Fugitive Task Force.
Catholic leaders are urging Catholics to stay away from the folk “saint.”
“She’s not a saint. There is nothing good that can come out of praying to her,” Santa Fe Archbishop John Wester said. “We have a lot of saints who represent the teaching of Jesus Christ. This is an aberration.”