Statues and images of La Santisima Muerte or The Saint of Death are common in areas where syncretic religions such as Santeria are followed. A syncretic religion combines Roman Catholicism especially the worship of saints with older pagan religions. La Santisima Muerte is syncretized with The Virgin Mary in her representation as Our Lady of Guadalupe. But she actually represents Mictecacihuatl, the wife of the Aztec god of death Mictlantecuhtli. Her husband is syncretized with Jesús Malverde. Adherents to the faith warn to never place representations of other saints on the alter with these two. La Santisima Muerte and her husband are jealous and dangerous when angered.
Mictecacihuatl and her husband live in a windowless house where they rule over Mictlan the lowest and northernmost section of the underworld. The couple are associated with spiders, owls, bats, the eleventh hour, and the northern compass direction, Mictlampa. Mictecacihuatl and her husband are aggressive dieties charged with guarding souls after death and passing them out to the living. Mictecacihuatl’s husband is depicted as a bloody skeleton with arms raised in preparation to tear apart the dead. In ancient times their ceremonies involved ritual cannibalism. Today their festival is celebrated as the Day of the Dead with feasts (non human dishes) dancing and music.
La Santisima Muerte can grant favors that no other saint can. She can make a lover remain faithful, damage property or even cause the death of enemies. She does insist that those who invoke her have the weight of justice on their side. Worship of La Santisima Muerte is banned by the Catholic Church, but her cult remains popular. Because of her affiliation with shadows and darkness she is especially popular with drug traffickers, prostitutes and those who do legitimate but dangerous nighttime work. She can be thought of as the Saint for people of the night. Because La Santisima Muerta is offten affiliated with criminals many towns on the US Mexican border routinely bulldoze or confiscate her statues.
Statues of La Santisima Muerte depict a robed skeleton holding a scythe. She hold the scales of justice (equity and impartiality) an hourglass (death as an end and a beginning) a globe (great power) an owl (her messenger) and and oil lamp (to light the darkness). The color of her robe varies depending on the type of invocation. White is for cleansing of negative influences. Red is for love, gold for money, amber for health. A green robe symbolizes justice. This is used when requesting success in court. La Santisima Muerte wears black robe when the request is for revenge or protection from sorcery. If she wears a rainbow colored robe, she is called the Santa Muerte of the Seven Powers and is even more powerful. The combinations of Aztec mythology with the African Seven Powers symbolism is evidence of the expansiveness of a religion that was for many years practiced in secret.
Invocation to La Santisima Muerte
Nine day cycle of prayers for love
Every year on the first Friday in March Catemaco Mexico hosts the Congreso Internacional de Brujos (The International Congress of Witches). Traditional healers, shamans, prophets fortune-tellers and every other possible type of magical practitioner from all over Mexico gather in the charming lakeside city for an all-night cleansing ceremony.
On the day of the cleansing the brujos’ powers are at their strongest. Visitors from all over the world pour into the city to hire their services. Throughout Catemaco signs point the way to the famous witches of the community. Candles, potions, charms and all sorts of magical supplies fill the shops.
As the colorful and entertaining mixture of magic, ancient indigenous beliefs and dance performances draws larger and larger crowds, charlatans increasingly have descended on the festival. In recent years, serious practitioners have clashed with some of the more flashy brujos who travel to the town to scoop up tourist dollars.
For 200 pesos or so visitors can cure what ails them, cast out a demon, ensure a lover’s faithfulness or curse an enemy. But buyer beware. Not everyone brujo can do what he claims. And often amulets are extra.