Texas officials and the Catholic Church have warned of a strange Mexican folk religion involving human sacrifice.
Drug traffickers earlier this month murdered 28 inmates at a prison in Guerrero, Mexico. The incident, as Mexican newspaper Reforma alleged, happened during a ritual performed by followers of the Santa Muerte cult. Followers of “the saint of death” have caused concern for law enforcement in the United States, too.
The folk religion is sometimes linked to the drug trade — and the “saint” appears anything but.
“Clad in a black nun’s robe and holding a scythe in one hand, Santa Muerte appeals to people seeking all manner of otherworldly help: from fending off wrongdoing and carrying out vengeance to stopping lovers from cheating and landing better jobs,” noted an Associated Press article from February 2017. “Others seek her protection for their drug shipments and to ward off law enforcement.”
“Devotees often use Catholic prayers and set up shrines in her honor,” the AP also said.
The Catholic Church in both the U.S. and Mexico has warned parishioners against honoring the so-called saint. The church said there are spiritual dangers to honoring Santa Muerte.
“Part of the attraction to Santa Muerte, as several sources familiar with the devotion explained, is that she is seen as a non-judgmental saint that can be invoked for some not-so-holy petitions,” as the Catholic News Agency reported.
In 2013, the Vatican equated devotion to Santa Muerte with the celebration of hell. A Vatican official condemned any devotion to the skeletal female figure.
“We’re seeing more and more criminals … praying to Santa Muerte,” Robert Almonte, a former El Paso, Texas, narcotics detective, told KVUE News, an ABC-TV affiliate. The religion appears popular among drug traffickers and criminals and has become more prominent in central Texas.
“Almonte, who now gives seminars across the country educating law enforcement on the signs of the folk religion, said officers are now ‘encountering elaborate Santa Muerte shrines’ when entering homes on drug search warrants,” Fox News reported.
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The folk cult gained traction in Mexico during the late 1980s and early ’90s. “The criminal insurgencies waged by the cartels and gangs, centered on a strategy of securing nongovernmental interference with their illicit narcotics and other criminal economic activities, have received much attention and debate,” according to an FBI law enforcement bulletin from February 2013. “Far less has focused on some of the darker spiritualistic parts of the drug wars.”
The Santa Muerte cult, as the FBI bulletin noted, “can be so extreme that it condones morally corrupt behaviors — what many people would consider as resulting from an evil value system that rewards personal gain above all else, promoting the intentional pain and suffering of others and even viewing killing as a pleasurable activity.”
Devotees have spread into Central America as well.
“[A]dherents generally consider Santa Muerte a jealous and vengeful deity who demands that her followers conduct the rituals and sacrifices properly to avoid her divine wrath. Candle magic, herbs, oils, amulets, spiritual energy, and various mystical items play an important role,” the FBI piece also noted.