Venerating Danger: Identity And Ritual In The Cult Of Santa Muerte

ASU Author/Contributor (non-ASU co-authors, if there are any, appear on document)
Kailey Muñoz (Creator)
Appalachian State University (ASU )
Web Site:
Laura Ammon

Abstract: Santa Muerte is a Mexican folk saint that is the female personification of death. The cult of Santa Muerte is characterized as being one of the fastest-growing religious movements in the Americas, with an estimated 10 to 12 million devotees. This large following was amassed quite quickly as the cult has only become widely public since 2001. This growing popularity for Santa Muerte hints at the many appealing qualities she has. Arguably one of her most enticing characteristics is her multidimensionality. Even though she is the saint of death she deals with a variety of issues and concerns that her devotees have. Santa Muerte is most commonly known for being the saint of healing, wisdom, prosperity, protection, love sorcery, justice, and even vengeance. It is through this multifaceted aspect of her character that many of her devotees feel like they can come to her for any reason. In this cult there is a strong emphasis on the materiality and physicality of Santa Muerte’s multidimensionality. This is best expressed through the different colored votive candles that are each representative of a different aspect of Santa Muerte’s character. Red symbolizes her work with love and troubles of the heart. The brown candle is used for wisdom and knowledge. The white candle is used for gratitude and purity. Purple is used for health-related concerns. Green is for dealings with the law and the need for justice. Gold is prayed to for prosperity and financial troubles. The last candle, which has the most controversial ties, is the black candle which can be used for both protection and vengeance. Santa Muerte’s femininity and maternal qualities offer another source of comfort to her devotees, as she is often thought of as being a member of the family (specifically seen as a mother figure). Many of her devotees affectionately refer to her as La Madrina (Godmother), La Niña Blanca (The White Girl), La Flaquita (Skinny Girl/lady), and La Huesuda (Boney Lady). One of her most famous names is Santísima Muerte or “Most Holy Death," this name encompasses the divinity and reverence she is given to by her devotees. These nicknames showcase her distinctively female identity that helps connect her to devotees through a very personal and intimate relationship. Presently, the cult of Santa Muerte’s modern-day roots can be traced to the late 1990’s and early 2000’s. A pivotal moment in the expansion of the cult from an esoteric tradition was the public shrine created by Enriqueta Romero in Mexico City. This public shrine began the era of growth for the cult and allowed for Santa Muerte’s unique multifaceted qualities to come out of hiding and affect the lives of millions of people across the globe.

Additional Information

Honors Project
Muñoz, K. (2021). Venerating Danger: Identity And Ritual In The Cult Of Santa Muerte. Unpublished Honors Thesis. Appalachian State University, Boone, NC.
Language: English
Date: 2021
Santa Muerte, the cult of Santa Muerte, Religion and Identity, Religion and Ritual

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