Why Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde Are Not Just “Narco Saints”

Seraphin Station

I can’t count the number of references I’ve seen over the past 15 or so years to Santa Muerte being a “narco saint,” with the implication (or even the straight-up assertion) that she’s a saint for drug dealers, boom, like that’s the whole picture. This kind of statement is incredibly reductionist and oversimplified. It ignores nuance, never mind facts, and it betrays a lack of respect for the (sub)culture(s) from which she springs and a total lack of concern for understanding folk religion – in Mexico or in general.

Seriously, it’s insulting and dismissive even if you *are* a drug dealer. It would be reductionist even if it were true that only those associated with the drug trade in Mexico venerate this folk saint. That it’s not even true just makes all that rhetoric exhausting (and those who uncritically repeat it lazy).

Even though this interview in Vice is called…

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Santisima Muerte, pt. 1

la blanca overlay(1)(1)This will be in progress for a while, but I figured I could start organizing the stuff that’s already on the blog somewhere so folks can get to it from a single “directory” page instead of a list of scattered links.

Turns out I’m gonna have to do this in multiple sittings/sessions, though, and honestly that’s just as well, because that will give me a chance to solicit the input of some folks who *didn’t* just spend four years offline living under a rock like I did. So they are in a better position to comment on some of the more recently-available resources and recent evolutions/innovations within the cult. [*] So I’ll go ahead and do this as a short series of posts for now, and then I guess I’ll edit it down into a single page to list in the Rootwork Resources later.

[*] I’m using cult in the academic sense of the word to mean simply a system of beliefs and practices shared by a group of devotees. In this sense, it’s a neutral term and doesn’t imply anything about legitimacy or illegitimacy or make any judgment about devotees.

Santisima Muerte, or Most Holy Death, was not a mainstream figure at all when I started working with her just about 20 years ago now, and there was very little available in English about her. Devotees tended to keep her altars hidden and not honor her publicly, and while there were a few exceptions, there was still pretty widespread negativity and backlash around her cult. This was beginning to change when I began learning about and working with her, first slowly and then faster and faster as her reputation and devotion spread further and further.

Now people all over the globe honor her and petition her, and while the Catholic Church still objects and cautions the faithful about falling into idolatry and devil worship, it is easy to see evidence of her cult in broad daylight all over the place now. There are now multiple English publications and websites dedicated to her and it’s not difficult to find a worker versed in her cult.

I’m saying all this because it’s going to become apparent very quickly that I am a lot more old-fashioned and conservative about working with her than a lot of people are these days. You will find extensive resources online that essentially say “she’s wonderful and everyone should worship her!” and I am not going to agree with that at all lol, especially when the “everyone” we’re talking about is largely people who do not come from a Catholic background and are not from a culture that tends to treat the dead and ancestors as still-active and still-important members of spiritual society, as it were.

A quick example from an Etsy listing I saw the other day: a seller was offering an herbal mixture as a substitute for graveyard dirt and said in the listing that they thought it was disrespectful to disturb the rest of the dead to collect graveyard dirt.

That perspective is totally at odds with that of the culture from which graveyard dirt as materia magica sprang. I’ll pick just one unstated assumption that needs taking apart: the idea that the dead are asleep, peacefully resting when we don’t bother them, and that our interacting with them is bothersome. This is not even how the world works from a hoodoo perspective.

And a perspective like that would be totally at odds with that of Santisima Muerte’s culture of origin.  It’s totally at odds with the way Catholics conceive of the afterlife and the relationship between the living and the dead. (And not just Catholics, of course – there are plenty of cultures and religions in which ancestors play important roles or death is seen as just a different phase of existence, not a permanent “exit stage left and proceed to oblivion” stage direction. But I’m gonna stick to discussing it in terms of Catholicism for this blog post for obvious reasons).

Here’s the deal: Protestants by and large do not even conceive of the ontological categories — or the available modes of being, if you will — within creation the same way as Catholics. They do not see the universe the same way or understand the relationship between the living and the dead the same way. They don’t conceive of the afterlife the same way, and they don’t understand any nuances of obligation or reciprocity that are all tied up in those relationships. And they often aren’t even aware of the extent of these differences because they don’t actually know anything about Catholicism or know any Catholics to ask.

People who do not understand how death is conceived of in a Catholic culture cannot possibly understand Santisima Muerte. You can learn about it and come to understand it, sure! But an awful lot of “witchy”-type folks like to play “flea market bingo” or “all-you-can-appropriate buffet” and just collect whatever looks cool without bothering to really grok the underlying system or tradition or culture it came from.

That’s always shitty.

But when it comes to working with Santisima Muerte, it’s also flat-out dangerous.

And of course, as her cult spreads beyond Mexico, there will be plenty of people who don’t want to say all those traditional Catholic prayers and have all those Catholic things on the altar because they’re not Catholic and they don’t see the Catholic aspect as important. They don’t see Santisima Muerte as having anything really to do with Catholicism. Some, in fact, seem to be patting themselves on the back for “liberating” her from what they apparently see as dreary and unimportant nonsense. They see her veneration (and some even use the word “worship”) as a totally new and completely separate religion.

In my opinion, they’re dead wrong, and in my experience, they’re risking the wrath of the very being they claim to be worshiping. And in being so chipper with the “everybody worship her, she’s wonderful!” stuff and not spending any time discussing cultural and religious context, they are in my opinion giving out  bad and potentially dangerous advice to their readers who also don’t understand any of this and aren’t even aware of how much they’re missing and misunderstanding.

I’m going to quote from an exchange I was part of on an email discussion list a while back by way of illustration and discuss it in part 2. – it might have been more than 10 years ago now. I don’t have access to that email account anymore to be sure. But this discussion touches on some of these things I mean by “dangerous.”


questions you’ve asked: santisima muerte

Can Santisima Muerte be petitioned for uncrossing and healing?

If you are already a devotee of Santisima Muerte and have a strong relationship with her, you probably wouldn’t be typing such a thing into Google, so I’d wonder why you want to do this. There are plenty of other saints to petition (and plenty of non-denominational methods) to get help with uncrossing and healing, and you need to establish a relationship with Santa Muerte before you go asking her for things. Since uncrossing and healing generally have some sort of urgency attached to them, it seems like an odd place to start for your first approach to Santisima Muerte and I would recommend other methods, something non-denominational, or if you already know something about working with saints and spirits more generally, petitioning one you already know.

I’d advise that you establish a good working relationship with any saint or spirit before asking for favors. And the penalties for treating Santa Muerte with disrespect can be quite severe, so that’s why I don’t advise you just go buy a holy card, bring it home, and start demanding shit. I’d advise that you first establish a good working relationship with a protective saint like St. Cyprian or St. Michael before working with Santa Muerte, as well.

But he short answer to the question is yes, she can be petitioned for uncrossing, healing, and a host of other things. Those who have long-standing, strong relationships with any saint will petition that saint for all kinds of things. That’s how patronage works, which I touch on in an explanatory post on working with saints as well as in various posts throughout the years including the one on St. Martha (particularly in the comments section of the version on livejournal).

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As you can see from this photo essay by Time magazine, devotees petition her for all kinds of things, sometimes the same sorts of things one would petition any saint for, and sometimes for the kind of assistance that other saints wouldn’t touch. Here is a collection of prayers that demonstrates some of the range of things for which her devotees call on her.

Above all, I think it’s important to recognize her and to honor her. Get to know her and let her get to know you. Give her gifts and make a place for her in your home and your life. Use the rituals and traditions of the Catholic church. Don’t try to “paganize” her or skimp on the incense and scapulars and rosaries and novenas. Invoke and establish a relationship with a figure like St. Michael or St. Cyprian (or Christ or the Trinity or Holy Family) as well, to honor and call on alongside her. Then you can ask her patronage for blessing, uncrossing, healing, protection, money, justice, etc.

But if you’ve never dealt with her before and you have a pressing need for uncrossing or healing, I’m not sure why you’d want to start with her for your first attempts – there are simpler and safer ways to approach your goals. But once you have a relationship with her, she is a powerful ally for all kinds of things, is said to love and protect her children fiercely, and will help the under-dog and the disenfranchised get help and justice from persecution.

Can you put Erzulie Freda with Santa Muerte?

I would not recommend this. First of all, they come from two totally different traditions. This is not a buffet and neither will appreciate being treated as mix-n-match. Second of all, they have very different personalities and very different realms. Third, they have both been described as a bit choosier or pickier about the company they keep than some others might be, and neither is a spirit that you want to piss off. Fourth, they do not like the same decor or offerings. Fifth, you complicate an already complex situation by risking displeasure if one perceives that you are treating the other better or not giving her the respect or offerings she deserves; Freda especially can be picky or demanding, and you don’t need to invite trouble.

If you don’t have much room in your home and can’t give every saint a separate altar, at least delineate separate areas; for instance, if you have only one mantle on which to keep statues, then have one section set off with a cloth covering of a color appropriate to your work with Santisima Muerte (if you are setting an altar up to her for the first time, I’d start with her white aspect), and have a separate section with pink or lighter blue or a lacy white cloth for Erzulie Freda, so they have their own “rooms.” But I would avoid putting them together like this if I at all could. I have heard of both of these making their displeasure known in very unpleasant ways.


Some saints aren’t picky about this kind of thing, but some are. For instance, I have Erzulie Freda and Erzulie Dantor in separate rooms of the house. I happen to have Erzulie Dantor, the Ghuede family, my ancestor altar, Ogoun, and Santisima Muerte in the same room, but each has their own altar structure, table, shelf, whatever. Dantor and Santa Muerte don’t share the same wall (but Santa Muerte shares the same wall with my ancestor altar). And even though I work with St. Cyprian and St. Michael when I’m working with Santa Muerte, they all have their own full altars separately.

New items at ebay and bonanza – jewelry and Sanguis Veneris

Somebody wrote me asking for a goat horn, and I said I’d order one from my "animal bits" supplier. I also said I was not likely to recall who asked me for it.  Sure enough, I forgot.  But I have a polished, hollow goat horn up on ebay for you. ETA: they found it and got it!

Santisima Muerte altar spell bottle, FIXED, customized, and chock full of herbs, roots, curios, etc.  Perfect for a spell of the Intranquil Spirit variety.

St. Expedite rosary bracelet with customizable spell pendant

Custom love-drawing mojo rosary bracelet
– non-denominational, but Erzulie Freda approved, and can be customized for her


Limited edition Sanguis Veneris oil and powder.

If you read my older post about Sanguis Veneris, you know it’s a medieval love and healing formula, and I wanted to give it a go even though it’s European and I no longer work too much in European herb-lore, because it has uses in conjure as well and because the astrological event for its creation happened to be coming up. So I went ahead and took this astrological opportunity to make up a batch of Sanguis Veneris oil (HIGHLY concentrated, quite thick and full of powdered resins and herbs, so dilute, dilute, dilute) and powder (pure, 100% powdered herbs and resins, NO base or filler or mineral ingredients). The oil can be worn (see caveats below), used to dress candles, mojos, objects, etc, just like any condition oil.  The powder can be burned as incense on a charcoal block, added to mojos, added to a base oil to make your own oil, etc.  Caution: MAY STAIN SKIN if a lot is used, WILL STAIN FABRIC etc so handle with care, especially in concentrated amounts.

This formula does NOT contain human blood, just plant matter and essential oils.  It was made in a ritual context under the appropriate astrological conditions and set under the light of the full moon.  (My initial formal hands-on training in herblore was in European traditions, so I do know how to do this stuff even though I work primarily in African-American herblore, and I spent nearly two decades as an initiate in a couple of formal hermetic, ceremonial magic, wand-waving and robe-wearing and qabala-using traditions and do know my astrology, sigils, grimoires, K and C of the HGA etc as well, so I broke out some of the old altar implements for this one). It does not contain anything that is not theoretically safe for use on skin, and I tested it on myself before listing it, but as with ANY ritual oil, you might want to dilute it and do a spot test before wearing it, and you wouldn’t use it as a perfume but rather as a ritual anointing oil. 

It *may* stain your skin – there is no way to avoid that given the ingredients – but if used in small enough quantities and away from white clothing, you might be alright. You might not want to dab it behind your ears, of course, but you could use it similarly to body paint and paint symbols or sigils on yourself, or dab it at appropriate spots (at the heart and right above the pubic bone below your navel would be good places) or, if your lover is adventurous, on him or her.  However, please note that it is not edible and would taste absolutely horrible, and should not be used as a personal lubricant nor on any areas where you want someone’s mouth to go.)  You can also use it to paint your lover’s name on the soles of your feet to put a little "commanding" action into your love workings.  (You can use a toothpick if you don’t have a paintbrush that’s that small).  I tried the foot-painting trick and it did not stain the bottom of my foot, and I dabbed a bit on my wrists and it did not stain my skin, but I can’t promise that it won’t stain you.

If you wanted to dilute this in a carrier oil I would try about half a dropper per half ounce of oil.  At that level it may still stain clothing (when I say it may stain, I don’t mean it won’t ever wash off with soap and water, but it may take a few washings to fade completely if you use it undiluted, or it may not wash completely out of whites).  You could also just add a few drops to a carrier oil for a lighter blend, and/or add a few drops to another type of love or lust condition oil, or to a bath salt base or incense powder base.  The scent is very lightly sweet.  If you dilute it you may not smell anything, so it becomes a matter of personal preference.  Just because you can’t smell it doesn’t mean it’s not working though.

If you prefer, you could add a drop or two to your favorite ritual or anointing oil if you use such on your skin (please note my usual caveats about my own oils – they are generally not designed for use on skin unless the listing specifically says so, and will nearly always need to be diluted to proper skin-safe levels if you decide to wear them).

This thick mixture makes a fabulous candle dressing and the powder makes a fascinating, unusual incense.  You can certainly add a pinch of it to a less expensive incense blend to stretch it out (and I would advise it – uncut, this can be almost too thick and heady, and it does have a slightly bitter undertone and lots of resins in it).  A little of this goes a long, long way.  You could also dress your candle with another condition oil or plain olive oil and sprinkle the powder on the candle,  or roll your candle in it. 

This blend would be especially appropriate when you’re trying to draw a lover with the means and desire to give you lots of gifts, attention, money etc, or to get your current lover to loosen up on the purse strings a little bit. It’s also appropriate for situations where you are concerned that people NOT gossip or spread rumors about your relationship, if for any reason you need to keep it under wraps, so in that particular area it has a protective quality (though it can’t be expected to totally hide crimes or affairs all on its own!).  If people are gossiping about you because they are jealous of your looks or love life, this can help with that sort of thing.  Finally, it can be used in spellwork to cool off hot tempers in a relationship and put the love back in the center – it’s not a reconciliation oil exactly, it won’t just heal up all difficulties and it wouldn’t work alone to return a lost lover, but it can turn the volume down on the anger and turn the volume up on the love and remembering why you got together in the first place.

From a hoodoo perspective, the ingredients in this blend are healing, relaxing, protective (especially from those telling lies), good for sensual love, and good for money-protection and money-drawing.  So this isn’t a "true sweet romance" love formula, and it’s not a "Fiery Love" blend, but it definitely has sexual/sensual overtones, and within a certain sphere, it’s definitely a multi-purpose oil.

Limited edition – once it’s gone, it’s gone, at least until the next appropriate astrological event comes around.

Finally, remember that everything you see at ebay can also be had at bonanza, often at a discount (chicken, turkey, and alligator feet excluded).

a prayer of the Santisima Muerte

This prayer was translated from Spanish (not by me), and is of the Intranquil Spirit variety:

Jesus Christ the Conqueror, who on the cross was conquered, conquer (name of person), that he be conquered with me in the name of the lord if you are a fierce animal tame as a lamb, tame as the flower of romero; you must come; you ate bread, of him you gave me and through the most strong word that you gave me, I want that you bring me (name of person), that he be humbled, defeated at my feet to complete what to me he has offered.  Santisima Muerte, I beseech you lovingly inasmuch as Immortal God formed you with your great power over all mortals so that you might place them in the celestial sphere where they may enjoy a glorious day without night for all eternity and in the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, I pray and I beseech you that you deign to be my protectress and that you concede all the favors that I ask of you until the last day, hour and moment in which your Divine Majesty commands to take to before your presence.  AMEN.

In other news, Santisima Muerte is getting a facelift in Mexico City.

Feast of St. Cyprian (San Cypriano) – September 26

The end of September was a very busy time for me.  It was also a busy time for important saints’ feasts days.  Unfortunately, I fell down on the job with posting about them on the appropriate day, but I figure I’ll play a little catch up and you can mark your calendars for next year.

September 26 is the Feast day of St. Cyprian, who is popular today in Latin America, and was said to have been a sorcerer and magician before he was converted to Christianity in the late 200s or early 300s by St. Justina.

Those who work with Santisima Muerte in a careful way will often call on St. Cyprian or one of the archangels as they call on Santisima Muerte, for additional protection, as Santisima Muerte is considered by many to be a saint that is dangerous to call on by oneself, if one is uninitiated into her ways.  St. Cyprian is one of my favorite saints, and I have a nicho of him that was made by a folk artist and amateur anthropologist who is an expert in curanderismo.  A previous incarnation of one of my altars, showing the nicho, is my lj user icon for this post.

Both Cyprian and Justina died in 304.

The pre-Vatican II prayer said on St. Cyprian’s day is as follows:

Let Thy Blessed Virgin Martyrs, Cyprian and Justina, ever lend us strength and protection, O Lord, for Thou never ceasest to reward with mercy those to whom Thou  dost give such powerful aid.  Through our Lord, etc.

Now, I don’t know about you, but I find it kind of hard to believe that St. Cyprian maintained a reputation for virginity. I mean, you can renounce your use of sorcery and get converted, but you can’t exactly take back that kind of act.  Well, who knows.