Prevalence of The Worship in Mexico
For decades, thousands in some of Mexico's poorest neighborhoods have prayed to Santa Muerte. A large following developed among Mexicans who are disillusioned with the dominant, institutional Church and, in particular, with the ability of established Catholic saints to deliver them from poverty. The phenomenon is based among people with scarce resources, excluded from the formal market economy, the judicial and educational system, primarily in the inner cities and the very rural areas. Devotion to Santa Muerte is what anthropologists call a “cult of crisis.” Devotion to the image peaks during economic and social hardships, which tend to affect the lower classes more. Santa Muerte tends to attract those in extremely difficult or hopeless situations. Some of her most devoted followers are prostitutes, pickpockets, petty thieves and drug traffickers, associated with economic crimes often done out of desperation. The overwhelming majority of believers are poor people who are not necessarily criminals, but the public belief in her by several drug traffickers and small numbers of other petty criminals has indirectly associated her with crime, especially low-level organized crime.
While worship is most firmly based in poor neighborhoods, Santa Muerte is not unknown in upper class areas such as Mexico City's Condesa and Coyoacán districts. However, negative image of the worship in the rest of society has an effect. With the exception of some artists and politicians, some of whom perform rituals secretly, those in higher socioeconomic strata look upon the worship with distaste as a form of superstition.
Santa Muerte is also seen as a protector of homosexual, bisexual, and transgender people in Mexico and the United States, since many are considered to be outcast from society. Many LGBT people ask her for protection from violence, hatred, disease, and to help them in search of love. Her intercession is commonly invoked in same-sex marriage ceremonies performed in Mexico. The Iglesia Católica Tradicional México-Estados Unidos, also known as the Church of the Holy Death, recognizes gay marriage and performs religious wedding ceremonies for homosexual people.
The worship of Santa Muerte also attracts those who are not inclined to seek the traditional Catholic Church for spiritual solace, as it is part of the "legitimate" sector of society. Many followers of Santa Muerte live on the margins of the law or outside it entirely. Many drug traffickers, mobile vendors, taxi drivers, vendors of pirated merchandise, street people, prostitutes, pickpockets and gang members are not very religious, but neither are they atheists. In essence, they have created their own religion that reflects their realities, identity and practices, especially since it reflects the violence and struggles for life that many of these people face. Conversely, however, both police and military in Mexico can be counted among the faithful who ask for blessings on their weapons and ammunition.
Mexican authorities have linked the worship of Santa Muerte to prostitution, drug trafficking, kidnapping, smuggling and homicides. Criminals, among her most fervent believers, are likely to pray to her for successful conclusion of a job as well as escaping from the police or jail. In the north of Mexico, she is venerated along with Jesús Malverde, the so-called “Saint of Drug Traffickers.” Altars with images of Santa Muerte have been found in many drug houses in both Mexico and the United States. Among two of Santa Muerte’s more famous devotees are kidnapper Daniel Arizmendi López, known as El Mochaorejas, and Gilberto García Mena, one of the bosses of the Gulf Cartel. She is considered to be the “Virgin of the Incarcerated.” Many of those who enter prison in Mexico without believing in her, come to do so after a number of months. Many cells have images of Santa Muerte in different forms. On Friday, 30 March 2012, the Sonora State Investigative Police announced that they had arrested eight people for murder for allegedly having performed a human sacrifice of a woman and two ten year old boys to Santa Muerte.
As noted above, worship is made up of roughly two million adherents, mostly in Mexico State, Guerrero, Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Campeche, Morelos and Mexico City, with a recent spread to Nuevo León. However, Santa Muerte can be found throughout Mexico and now in parts of the United States.
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