Santa Muerte: Not Just for Narcos Anymore

In Tepito, a Mexico City neighborhood, hundreds gather to offer la Santa Muerte gifts.PlayNancy de la Cruz/Fusion
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What's the one certain thing that binds us all? Death. Regardless of race and economic or social status, in the end none of us can escape it. And according to a continually growing number of people in Mexico, it's best to stave off a violent end (and other bad things) by offering money, cigars, flowers, and maybe a little marijuana to Santa Muerte or the Saint of Death.

The cult of La Santa Muerte is especially visible in Mexico City's Tepito neighborhood, where images of the bony figure peek out from market stalls in an area known for grit and the black market. Though generally associated with the the culture of drugs and organized crime, Santa Muerte is the result of a religious syncretism, a mixture of Catholic and pre-Hispanic concepts dating back centuries. It's certainly not endorsed by the church. But today, as many Mexicans have become disillusioned with the religious, political and social systems that have failed them, many of those marginalized by economic crisis and poverty are finding their way to her alters. In search of hope and protection, they are professing a blind faith to the female skeletal figure of la Santa Muerte.

They wear the image of the saint as tattoos on their skin or as talismans that hang around their neck. They parade with ceramic versions of "the skinny" or "the white girl" as she is sometime called and pray to alters adorned with her image. Sure, she is still worshipped by those looking for darker blessings, but many are simply drawn to the promise of the help she might bring – from sickness, poverty, and other problems of the earthly life. Her worshippers also believe that their acceptance of la Santa Muerte is the acceptance of death as a part of life that we will all face someday, equally.