Santa Muerte

Santa Muerte (Holy Death in Spanish) is a goddess of death in folk Mexican religion. She acts similarly to the Grim Reaper of European mythology, collecting the souls of the dead and deciding when people die. Unlike the Grim Reaper, however, she is worshipped and loved, with many shrines dedicated to her. She is celebrated, as death is seen as a transition rather than a loss of life. She personifies this transition, and many Mexicans see her as a benevolent goddess. She is associated with healing, wellbeing, and safety in the afterlife. She is often depicted carrying a scyth or a globe.


Santa Muerte is said to have evolved from the fusing of Spanish Catholic mythology and indigenous Mexican paganism. In Europe, the Grim Reaper and other personifications of death have been worshipped in times of great wars or epidemics when many lives were lost. The Aztecs worshipped Mictecacihuatl, a female skeleton that personified death. These indigenous beliefs fused with European Christianity with time and changed, creating folk religions such as the cult of Santa Muerte. The fusion of traditional Mexican beliefs and Christianity can also be seen during Dia de los Muertos, or Day of the Dead, when Mexicans celebrate the lives of those who have passed. Some worshippers of Santa Muerte remain Catholic, while others create separate churches to worship the goddess.


Shrines to Santa Muerte often include sacrifices to the goddess, such as flowers, fruits, incense, candies, coins, candles, and alcoholic beverages. Santa Muerte is supposedly very powerful and grants many favors and miracles. She is often invoked as a goddess of the night and those that work dangerous jobs at night worship her for protection. Figures of Santa Muerte are often made to pray to, and the colors of her robes differ depending on the reason for invocation. White robes represent cleansing and purity. Red robes represent love and passion. Gold robes represent money, success, and prosperity. Green robes represent justice and legal matters. Amber robes represent health. Black robes represent protection from black magic. Shrines can be found in hospitals, homes, religious stores, and cathedrals. Her image is often invoked during gay marriages, as she is seen as a protector of those outcast by society, including the LGBTQ community. According to Professor Andrew Chesnut from the Viginia Commonwealth University, the cult of Santa Muerte is the single fastest growing new religious movement in the Americas.


Santa Muerte is popularly worshipped by those associated with the illegal drug trade, and the cult is popular within many prison systems. Drug houses have also been found with shrines to Santa Muerte. In 2012, eight people were arrested for performing human sacrifice in her honor. Many cartels paint themselves as messiahs for Santa Muerte, giving their foot soldiers religious reasons to follow them.

Relation to the Catholic Church

Although the cult of Santa Muerte split off from Catholicism, the Church has condemned her worship as blasphemous and satanic. Many Catholics say that Santa Muerte is a false idol. This has caused many worshippers of Santa Muerte to leave the Catholic Church and start their own churches in her honor.

Other Names

  • La Cavalera Catrina
  • La Flaca
  • La Flaquita
  • La Huesuda
  • La Niña Blanca
  • La Hermana Blanca
  • La Niña Bonita
  • La Dama Poderosa
  • La Madrina
  • Señora de las Sombras
  • Señora Blanca
  • Señora Negra
  • Niña Santa
  • Santa Sebastiana
  • Doña Bella Sebastiana

In Popular Culture

  • A shrine to Santa Muerte appears in S3 Ep1 of Breaking Bad
  • Santa Muerte appears in S2 Ep6 of Fear the Walking Dead
  • The fictional Santa Blanca cartel worships Santa Muerte in Tom Clancy's Ghost Recon Wildlands
  • Santa Muerte is the wife of Xibalba in The Book of Life

See Also

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