5For the living know that they shall die: but the dead know not any thing, neither have they any more a reward; for the memory of them is forgotten. 6Also their love, and their hatred, and their envy, is now perished; neither have they any more a portion for ever in any thing that is done under the sun. Ecclesiastes 9:5
spacer“Let no one be found among you who … practices divination or sorcery, interprets omens, engages in witchcraft, or casts spells, or who is a medium or spiritist or who consults the dead. Anyone who does these things is detestable to the LORD, and because of these same detestable practices the Lord your God will drive out those nations before you. You must be blameless before the LORD your God.” Deuteronomy 18:10-13, NIV
6 And the soul that turneth after such as have familiar spirits, and after wizards, to go a whoring after them, I will even set my face against that soul, and will cut him off from among his people. Leviticus 20:6
9Do I mean then that food sacrificed to an idol is anything, or that an idol is anything? 20No, but the sacrifices of pagans are offered to demons, not to God, and I do not want you to be participants with demons. 21You cannot drink the cup of the Lord and the cup of demons too; you cannot have a part in both the Lord’s table and the table of demons. 22 1 Corinthians 10:19-21
14Be ye not unequally yoked together with unbelievers: for what fellowship hath righteousness with unrighteousness? and what communion hath light with darkness? 15And what concord hath Christ with Belial? or what part hath he that believeth with an infidel? 16And what agreement hath the temple of God with idols? for ye are the temple of the living God; as God hath said, I will dwell in them, and walk in them; and I will be their God, and they shall be my people. 17Wherefore come out from among them, and be ye separate, saith the Lord, and touch not the unclean thing; and I will receive you, 18And will be a Father unto you, and ye shall be my sons and daughters, saith the Lord Almighty. Exodus 29:45-46
Photograph by Saul Schwarz
Troubled Spirits,’ examines a growing phenomenon in Mexico due to the violent drug wars—the birth of religious cults. Admittedly, there’s a lot of coverage on the drug wars now, but this story takes a big step forward to show how the drug wars are impacting the cultural and religious fabric of Mexico.
Tattoos were for criminals and outcasts in ancient Greece …
The Art of Tattoo: From Ancient Rituals to Modern Tech …
Sarah Leen, senior photo editor
David Griffin, director of photography
Elaine H. Bradley, senior editor
National Geographic, client
Fri, Mar 19 2010 By Lizbeth Diaz
In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California. Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets. ”Sometimes a man needs another type of faith,” said former Tijuana policeman Marcos, who left the city force a year ago after surviving a drug gang attack. “I was saved when they killed two of my mates. I know why I didn’t die. ”Violence has exploded along the U.S. border since President Felipe Calderon set the army on drug cartels in late 2006. Turf wars have killed 19,000 people across Mexico over three years. Badly-paid Mexican police have long prayed to Christian saints before going out on patrol in Mexico, the world’s second-most populous Roman Catholic country after Brazil. Cops are part of a messy war between rival trafficking gangs and the army as cartels infiltrate police forces, offering officers cash to work and even murder for them or a bullet if they say no. More than 150 police are among those killed in Tijuana and the surrounding Baja California state since 2007. Army raids on homes of police working for cartels have found ornately adorned Santeria-type altars covered with statues and skulls stuffed with money paying homage to gods and spirits. “We all know that guns and body armor are useless against the cartels because they are well-armed and can attack any time. But this is something we can believe in, that really works,” said a Tijuana-based policeman called Daniel. BLACK MAGICA battle between top drug lord fugitive Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman and the local Arellano Felix drug clan has wrecked tourism in Tijuana and shuttered manufacturing businesses. Small groups of police in the city started turning to strange rituals about 18 months ago, a practice spotted when municipal cleaners found a trail of dead chickens on beaches. Priests and police say the animal sacrifices release life to rejuvenate spirits that will shield officers against hitmen. They believe the effects are intensified on full moon nights. Many police see a need to shield themselves from witchcraft used by drug gangs who mix Caribbean black magic and occultism from southern Mexico using things like human bones, dead bats and snake fangs to curse enemies and unleash evil spirits. Others worship the Mexican cult of “Saint Death”, a skeletal grim reaper draped in white and carrying a scythe. The rituals are carried out by sometimes shadowy Mexicans who have menial day jobs and are priests by night. They claim to be trained in Voodoo, Santeria and other religions from time spent in the Caribbean and in Mexican towns like Catemaco, a center for witchcraft on the Gulf of Mexico. Police have the quiet support of their superiors. “We know some agents use charms, saints and other methods for their protection,” said Baja California federal police chief Elias Alvarez. “They look for something to believe in.”Mexico’s often poorly armed police are intimidated by hitmen with automatic rifles, grenades and rocket launchers and despite low wages of around $300 a month some pay up to $160 for a tattoo of a Voodoo spirit like the three-horned Bosou Koblamin who protects his followers when they travel at night.
Most feared gang in America ‘sacrifices teenage girl to Satan’
The MS-13 is the only street gang the US government has designated a ‘transnational criminal organisation’
Miguel Alvarez-Flores, right, and Diego Hernandez-Rivera appear in court in Houston. The pair, who had a Satanic shrine in their Houston apartment, have been charged with killing one teenager and kidnapping another(AP)
An infamous street gang from Los Angeles is believed to have murdered at least eight people across the US over the last month, including teenage school students some of whom it is claimed were killed as part of satanic rituals.
Members of Mara Salvatrucha, also known as MS-13, have been charged with murders including that of a 15-year-old girl in Houston, Texas, and also of two friends, aged 15 and 16 in New York’s Long Island in September, whose bodies were found raped, beaten with baseball bats and hacked with machetes.
Two El Salvadoran suspects, Diego Rivera and Miguel Alvarez-Florez have been charged with the Houston murder.
It is alleged the pair killed their 15-year-old victim known only as “Genesis” when she challenged her captors’ over their “satanic” beliefs in front of a shrine.
According to the New York Post, a court in Houston heard a testimony from a 14-year-old girl who had also been captured, drugged, sexually assaulted and tattooed by the group, and held in the same room as Genesis.
She told the court that after Genesis’ outburst, gang member Alvarez-Florez offered a satanic statue in the shrine a cigarette.
“The beast did not want a material offering, but wanted a soul,” Alvarez-Flores said, according to court documents.
The body of the 15-year-old was subsequently found in the middle of a road, with bullet holes in the head and chest, both of which appeared to have been fired from close range, police said.
Meanwhile 14 members of the gang have been held, and 12 charged over the killing of the two girls in Long Island, after arrests this month.
“For far too long, MS-13 has been meting out their own version of the death penalty,” Robert L. Capers, the United States attorney for the Eastern District of New York said at a news conference.
The gang is thought to be responsible for more than 30 murders on Long Island since 2010.
But speaking to The Independent, InSight Crime co-director Steven Dudley said it is highly unlikely the gang is making a wholesale move towards Satanism.
He said: “There is a grain of truth in the satanic fascination of some of these gang members.
“But does it translate into mass, gang-wide rituals in which they execute young girls (thereby conforming to our worst, preconceived fears about them)?
“I highly doubt it. I think these are kids playing God, or Satan, as the case might be.”
(That is the most ridiculous statement I have ever heard. Sheer propoganda! They know darn well that these gangs worship spirits and offer human sacrifice. That practice will continue to deteriorate into darkness as the demons they count on for their power demand human sacrifice more and more often. Demons will not be satisfied for long with mere trinkets and oblations. THEY WANT SOULS, for eternity!)
The Death Cult of the Drug Lords Mexico’s Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals, and the Dispossessed
Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth, KS.
The Santa Muerte cult could probably best be described as a set of ritual practices offered on behalf of a supernatural personification of death. The personification is female, probably because the Spanish word for death, muerte, is feminine and possibly also because this personification is a sort of counterpart to the Virgin of Guadalupe. To believers, the entity exists within the context of Catholic theology and is comparable to other purely supernatural beings, namely archangels. (Fallen Angels) The cult involves prayers, rituals, and offerings, which are given directly to Santa Muerte in expectation of and tailored to the fulfillment of specific requests. These bear some resemblance to other traditions. The origin of the cult is uncertain; it has only been expanding recently. The cult appears to be closely associated with crime, criminals, and those whose lives are directly affected by crime. Criminals seem to identify with Santa Muerte and call upon the saint for protection and power, even when committing crimes. They will adorn themselves with her paraphernalia and render her respect that they do not give to other spiritual entities.
Figure 1 Santa Muerte in the Zocalo, Mexico City
There is, at least in English, a notable lack of academic literature about the Santa Muerte cult. However, due to its macabre charm, the cult and its devotees have received considerable attention in Mexican, Latin American, U.S., and even international news media. It also appears in Mexican government press bulletins, ranging from state-funded Anthropological studies of the cult itself to public arrest records concerning individuals connected to the cult. There are also a few internet sites maintained by cult adherents as well as published handbooks of cult rituals and traditions that are used by cult practitioners. The cult has been touched upon in anthropological studies of the symbol of death in Mexico culture. Although most of sources are in Spanish language, some have English translations.
Terms and Concepts
The term cult generally is used to refer to the people and practices associated with Santa Muerte. This can be attributed, in part, to the fact that Spanish-language sources consistently use the cognate culto. The term’s use does not entail the pejorative meaning of a strictly controlled, fringe religious group, led by a charismatic leader. Although the Santa Muerte cult certainly appears to be fringe, it does not appear to be a formal or controlled group, at least yet. Instead, the term cult really applies to the series of rituals and practices associated with religious worship, i.e. the physical as opposed to cognitive and/or mystical dimension of worship. In this sense, it is comparable to the cult of the Blessed Virgin in
Christianity ROMAN CATHOLICISM. Similarly, persons who worship Santa Muerte cannot accurately be called members of the cult, since there is no formalized or exclusive membership. The terms devotee, adherent, and practitioner seem to be more accurate and appropriate. There is also some theological and linguistic inconsistency over the term saint. Santa Muerte is certainly not a saint officially recognized by the Roman Catholic Church or, indeed, any other mainstream branch of Christianity. Nevertheless, other than worshiping her, her devotees do not appear to espouse any theological doctrine that greatly diverges from mainstream Catholicism. Many if not most practitioners seem to consider themselves to be, more or less, good, practicing Catholics. Unlike a conventional saint, Santa Muerte definitely appears to be the object of worship rather than a simple intercessor, which is a significant divergence from Catholic doctrine, although the actual practice is not unheard of in the mysteries associated with other Catholic saint traditions, at least unofficially. The name itself is easily confused in translation. Some have translated Santa Muerte into English as Saint Death. Although this conveys the concept accurately, the correct literal translation is Sacred Death or Holy Death.
Death in Mexican Culture
The image of death is pervasive in many aspects of Mexican culture. Probably the most widely known manifestation of this is the feast of the Day of the Dead on the second of November, when Mexicans frequently parade skeletal images and render honors to their deceased loved ones. Another example is the image of the Catrina Calavera, a skeleton in a wedding dress that was popularized in the satirical works of the late nineteenth/early twentieth century artist Jos Guadalupe Posada. Such customs can be easily misunderstood by outsiders; it might even be tempting to confuse the Santa Muerte with these other cultural traditions.
To do so would be erroneous. Although Santa Muerte is venerated on the Day of the Dead, it appears to be a distinct phenomenon emerging from a separate tradition. The fact is, Santa Muerte probably has more in common with the roguish saint Jesus Malverde, who is sometimes glorified in Mexico’s famous (arguably infamous) narcocorridos, or Mexican drug-ballads, and who is worshipped by Mexican drug traffickers as a protector saint, especially in the Mexican State of Sinaloa. There may also be influence or inspiration from Catholic-African synchronistic religious practices, such as Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria, or Brazilian Palo Mayombe, with some witchcraft thrown into the mix.
Epithets and Aliases
A perusal through Mexico’s most wanted reveals a veritable plethora of epithets and nicknames. Devotees of Santa Muerte have not disdained to share this practice with her, although it should be observed that the nicknames themselves are not necessarily limited to Santa Muerte as an object of worship but are generally used by Mexicans in reference to Death personified. Some of the nicknames are simply variations, including Santsima Muerte [Most Holy Death or Very Holy Death], Sagrada Muerte [Sacred Death], Querida Muerte [Beloved Death], or, in Argentina, San la Muerte [Saint Death a Masculine variation]. Other labels suggest mystical interpretations of her nature, role, and/or relationship to the devotee, such as Poderosa Seora [Powerful Lady], La Comadre [The Co-Mother possibly a pun on Co-Redeemer], La Madrina [The Godmother notably used in Mexican prisons], or La Hermana [The Sister].
At least two nicknames refer to her as Saint Martha: Santa Marta [Saint Martha] and Martita [Little Martha]. The theory is that Santa Muerte represents the pious soul of Saint Martha. However, because of the obvious phonetic similarities, simple corruption of the vowel sound (i.e. crasis) should not be ruled out as a plausible explanation.
The commonest forms of nickname appear to be physical descriptors or puns thereon. These include La Santa Nia Blanca [The Holy White Girl], La Nia [The Girl], La Bonita [The Pretty Girl], La Flaquita [The Little Skinny Girl], La Flaca [The Skinny Girl], and Negrita [The Little Black Girl].
The nicknames are interesting because they suggest a sort of reverent irreverence, using familiar and demeaning, or at least diminutive, names to enhance the sacredness and sense of power of Santa Muerte. They are also reminiscent of the darkly comic tradition of the Catrina Calavera. Finally, they betray a custom of the followers themselves. Although the use of aliases and nicknames is common in Mexico, it is particularly common among criminals. The very fact that there are so many nicknames suggests that criminals view Santa Muerte, consciously or unconsciously, as one of their own.
The Power of Color
Color itself seems to be very important in the Santa Muerte cult. Statues dressed in particular colors represent certain powers or attributes. Similarly, when a devotee lights a candle, or a combination of candles, to Santa Muerte, the color of the candle used corresponds to the desired result. Gold represents economic power, success, and money. Devotees maintain that this color is suited for businessmen and merchants. The natural bone color is believed to promote peace and harmony, particularly among neighbors, and is intended for homes and businesses. The color red is associated with love and passion, as well as emotional stability; it is recommended for couples. White represents purification and defense against negative energy, particularly in situations when there is envy among relatives. Blue is used to help improve mental concentration. Green is the color used to help people with legal problems or matters of justice; it is the color used most often by lawyers. Yellow is the color used for healing from diseases. It is frequently used by drug addicts and alcoholics who are undergoing rehabilitation. The color purple also is purported to bring health. Black represents complete protection, particularly against black magic and hostile spirits associated with Santeria, Palo Mayombe, or voodoo. Black also is the color used by sorcerers to cause harm to their enemies.
The color symbolism in the Santa Muerte is distinct from other esoteric practices. Although other religious/occult traditions use candles in ceremonies, especially in Afro-Caribbean traditions, the association of a particular color of candle with a particular intention seems more akin to the practices of European occultists, especially Wiccans. There is even some direct correspondence in certain colors. However, this is not consistent, suggesting possible influence but not direct heritage. Furthermore, the parallel is limited specifically to the color of candles, not the vestments of the statuary. Finally, the functions of the colors themselves consistently although not without exception, have applications for crime: lust, power, help with legal power, cursing enemies, defending against curses from enemies, and help with drug addiction. Although these benefits may have applications for any follower, they would particularly appeal to those who live in a world of drugs and crime.
Other aspects of Santa Muerte iconography have significance as well. Devotees of the saint interpret the sickle, often carried in the right hand, to represent justice, while the globe, often in the left hand, represents dominion over the world. Sometimes, an image of Santa Muerte is holding an ear of corn, which apparently represents generosity. Such symbols are very useful for identifying cult iconography. Whereas the image of the Grim Reaper is a relatively common image and in and of itself does not signify any cult association, when the Death figure is displayed with the ear of corn, a crown, or possibly a globe or scale, it does indicate a Santa Muerte association. The icon itself can come in many forms. Devotees wear small amulets and medals, commonly called milagros in Mexico. They also keep statues and statuettes for offerings. These practices seem to be more or less reminiscent of Catholic saint worship. However, unlike the case with mainstream Catholic practices, devotees of Santa Muerte, particularly incarcerated cult practitioners, will sometimes take the additional step of having the icon tattooed onto their bodies. This has been referred to as an offering of skin. In some cases, this is an image of Santa Muerte; in others, it seems to be the entire amulet that is tattooed. Such an application is not merely innovative; it is telling. While tattooing has become a mainstream practice in much of North America even among the middle class, in Latin America, tattoos remain the hallmarks of criminal affiliation and imprisonment.
|Figure 3 Imprisoned Cult Practitioner with Tattooed Santa Muerte and Tattooed Amulet||
Figure 4 A Prisoner’s Tattoo of Santa Muerte
Figure 5 Santa Muerte devotee displays amulet[30
Figure 6 Statues of Santa Muerte
The beliefs associated with the cult appear to be relatively consistent. Santa Muerte devotees attend to their practice by lighting candles and leaving offerings while reciting prayers, often ritual prayers, in hopes of receiving favors. Such offerings draw upon
Christian ROMAN CATHOLIC symbolism. Tequila, for example is a representation of the chalice of Christ. An apple represents original sin. There appears to be a tradition about what sorts of offerings are appropriate. Santa Muerte has been described as jealous about what offerings are given to her. However, gifts that are somehow personal or in keeping with other religious offerings are considered acceptable. Offerings are not given willy-nilly; there is a recipe and ritual associated with each offering, so as to ensure the granting of the desired effect.
Appropriate offerings can include money, flowers, candy, alcohol, tobacco, fruits, water, bread, or incense. Money is a preferred offering, particularly in businesses, when the profits from the first sale of the day are given. Flowers of various types are acceptable, but should be fresh. White roses are normally used for healing or health and are considered to be the preferred form. Red roses are used for love. Candy offerings are also a matter of personal preference, although chocolate is common, particularly for love, and honey is considered to be a standard offering. Wines and liquors are common offerings, especially tequila, rum, and sherry, as well as dark beer; these are usually served in glass bottles or cups but not plastic. Cigars and cigarettes are among the most preferred offerings; they should be lit. Smoke blown over the image is used to purify the altar. Fresh fruit is also used as an offering. Red apples are the commonest offering but other fruits are often left. The color of the fruit can correspond to the benefit sought, in a way comparable to candles. Water is considered to be a crucial offering and should be clear and still, preferably from a tap. Bread is also offered frequently, as is incense. In the case of incense, different types of incense are used for different ends, in varieties that are sold by vendors of esoteric commodities.
They avoided a very important offering that is very often required. Blood offering, often of an animal, but also human sacrifice.
Just as the offerings are presented in a formulaic manner, the prayers themselves are often highly structured, in a format that resembles
Christian ROMAN CATHOLIC collects.� Some prayers even refer to the Trinity: In the name of the Father, the Son, and the Holy Spirit, made of pure light, I implore you to grant me the favors I should request of you until the final day, hour, and moment at which your divine majesty orders me to come before your presence. Desired Death of my heart, do not abandon me from your protection.
Similarities also manifest in the attempt at comprehensiveness that occurs in prayers. This occurs in protection prayers: Oh, Most Santa Muerte, I call upon you so that, through your image, you may free me from all dangers, whether [these dangers] are physical or from witchcraft, and that through this sacred flame you might purify my body from all charms and curses and that you also bring love, peace, and abundance. So be it. It also occurs in prayers for success and wealth: Desired Death of my heart, do not abandon me from [your] protection and I ask your blessing on this devotee of yours and that also you bring success, bring personal and economic prosperity, and take from me all natural or caused disease. So be it. Of further interest, the ending so be it is a translation of the traditional Christian prayer ending, Amen.
The formula is also applied to curses: Death of my heart, do not abandon me from your protection and do not permit (name of enemy) a single moment of peace. Molest him each moment, mortify him and worry him so that he always thinks about me and does what I want.
Objectives of Prayer
Whereas the form of offerings and prayers offers insight into the cults methods, it is the content of those offerings and prayers, which offers insight into the objectives of cult practitioners. The closest thing to a handbook for Santa Muerte practitioners is Juan Ambrosio’s La Santa Muerte Biografa y Culto:Ventisis rituales personales para conseguir salud, dinero y amor, which is, effectively, a recipe book for Santa Muerte rituals. The book contains twenty-six rituals:
|1||El poder de las tres muertes||The power of the three deaths|
|2||La mano de la muerte: para que se cumplan nuestros ms caros anhelos||The hand of death: to fulfill the most dear yearnings|
|3||Ritual para alejar a las malas amistades de nuestra pareja||Ritual to send away bad friendships from our partner|
|4||Ritual contra la magia negra||Ritual against black magic|
|5||Ritual para alejar un amante||Ritual to send away a lover|
|6||Ritual para alejar a los novios||Ritual to send away fiances|
|7||Para que tu pareja te ayude econmicamente||So that your partner helps you economically|
|8||Para que no entren chismes o nerta negative en tu casa o negocio||So that gossip or negative energy does not enter your home or business|
|9||Velacin a la Santa Muerte para que nos paguen una deuda||Prayer to Santa Muerte so that a debt is paid to us|
|10||Ritual para socorrer a quienes estan presos||Ritual to comfort those in prison|
|11||La balanza de la justicia: ritual para resolver problemas legales||The balance of justice: ritual to resolve legal problems|
|12||Ritual para quienes sern sometidos a una intervencin quirrgica||Ritual for those who will undergo surgery|
|13||Blsamo de la Santa Muerte para que marche bien tu negocio||Balsam of Santa Muerte so that your business does well|
|14||Ritual para incrementar las ventas en tu negocio||Ritual to increase sales in your business|
|15||Ritual para limpiar tu dinero||Ritual to clean your money|
|16||Tres recetas sencillas para obtener dinero||Three simple prescriptions to obtain money|
|17||Ritual del chocolate para dominar al amante, novio o esposo||Ritual of chocolate to dominate your lover, fianc or spouse|
|18||Bao de la Santa Muerte para el amor||Bath of Santa Muerte for love|
|19||Novena para ligar a una persona||Novena to bind a person|
|20||Para un amor difcil||For a difficult love|
|21||Amuleto de la Santa Muerte para tu automvil||Amulet of Santa Muerte for your automobile (used for protection when buying a vehicle, when suffering frequent vehicle problems, or suffering accidents, or when vehicle is jinxed)|
|22||Para retirar al mal vecino||To send away a bad neighbor|
|23||Ritual para que se alejen las malas amistades de nuestros hijos||Ritual to send away bad friends of your children|
|24||Otro ritual para alejar malas amistades||Another Ritual to send away bad friends|
|25||Velacin a la Santa Muerte para que nuestros hijos no abandonen los estudios||Prayer to Santa Muerte so that our children do not abandon their studies|
|26||Velacin para que un matrimonio no se realice||Prayer so that a marriage does not happen|
Figure 7 Table of Santa Muerte Rituals
These rituals resemble the pagan concept of do ut des, or giving a favor in hopes that another favor might be given (lit. I give so that you might give) which, although present in Christianity, is not standard practice. Furthermore, most of the objectives of these prayers would be incompatible with Christian doctrine, which explains why an alternative saint is needed. In this sense, Santa Muerte is more akin to primitive Western polytheistic adorations. It also resembles modern esoteric practices such as Voodoo, Santeria, Palo Mayombe, and Wicca. (All of the practices of this cult are incompatible with TRUE Christian Faith. NO ONE should seek protection or guidance or salvation from ANYONE but Our Heavenly Father through HIS SON JESUS CHRIST. Not Mary or and “Saints” not ANY Ancient Ones, not the dead, not a Shaman or a priest, or a Rabbi or ANYONE BUT JESUS CHRIST! A true believer in The WORD OF GOD, does not adore, honor or worship ANYTHING OR ANYONE ELSE, nor do they create any IMAGE not even of Jesus Christ!!)
The Origin and Spread of the Cult
The origin of the Santa Muerte cult is as mysterious and controversial as the nature of the cult itself. Some devotees assert that the death cult has existed in Mexico for as many as three millennia, having been handed down from the progenitors of the Maya, Zapoteco, Totonaca, and other indigenous groups until it became widespread under the Mexicas and the Aztecs. According to the theory, the figure now represented by Santa Muerte may actually be the legacy of Aztec devotions to Mictlantecuhtli and Mictecachuatl, the god and goddess of death respectively, rulers of the shadowy underworld realm of Mictln. They were traditionally portrayed as skeletons or persons with skeletal heads. Offerings to them included the skins of human sacrifices. Both allegedly ate the dead. They were worshipped by those seeking the power of death. Their temple was located in the ancient ceremonial center of the city Tenochtitlan (modern Mexico City). The name of the district was Tlalxico.
Figure 8 Mictlantecuhtli
Figure 9 Mictlantecuhtli
Figure 10 Mictecacíhuatl
Another theory is that the cult came from Yoruba traditions, being handed down from African slaves brought to the Americas and transmitted to Mexico through, or parallel to, the Cuban tradition of Santeria, the Brazilian tradition of Palo Mayombe, or the Haitian tradition of Voodoo. All of these practices are synchronistic traditions that emerged from the interaction between African animistic and polytheistic traditions with traditional saint-worship in ROMAN Catholic Christianity. According to this theory, Santa Muerte is actually a variation of the Santeria orishas (spiritual entities) Oy, goddess of storms, and/or Yew, goddess of the underworld, who, according to Santeria beliefs, brings bodies of the dead to Oy. She could also be a variation of Centella Endoki AKA Mama Wanga, ruler of cemeteries, who is a Palo Mayombe version of the Santeria Oy, Finally, the tradition could trace back to the Voodoo entity Maman Brigitte, who is also a counterpart to Oy and Centella Endoki. A third theory is that Santa Muerte appeared in a vision to a nineteenth century witchdoctor (brujo chamn) in the village of Orizaba, Veracruz and ordered the creation of the cult.
Figure 11 Oyá
Figure 12 Yewá
|Figure 13 Maman Brigitte||Santeria orishas (spiritual entities)|
Such theories may be ill founded, according to Elsa Malvido Miranda, a researcher for the Historical Studies Directorate (DEH) (Direccin de Estudios Histricos) of the Mexican National Anthropology and History Institute (INAH) (Instituto Nacional de Antropologa e Historia). Malvido argues that the cult can be traced back to mediaeval Europe. Especially during times of plague and epidemic, people would offer devotions to skeletal figures, which were even associated with miraculous cures. According to Fernn Pava Farrera, a historian from Tuxtla Gutirrez, Chiapas, such traditions may have spread to the Americas through the cult of the Spanish Saint Pascual Bailon (also called San Pascualito and Santo de los Pobres), who lived from 17 May 1540 until 17 May 1592. San Pascualito reportedly appeared in visions to indigenous peoples in Valle de Guatemala during a plague in 1601, for which he was attributed with healing miracles. He became known as a protector of the Indians [protector de los indios]. His image was venerated in the form of a crowned skeleton.
The San Pascualito theory is especially interesting because of another unofficial Latin American saint, Maximn, also known as San Simn. Maximn is a roguish entity worshipped in approximately 20 places in Guatemala. He is a pseudo-deification of the conquistador Pedro de Alvarado, who seems to have been synchronized with the Mayan underworld deity, Maam, or Rilaj Maam, who is the most revered god of the Tzutuhil pantheon, and is found among Mayan descendants, notably the Quiches and Tzutuhiles of Guatemala. Like San Pascualito, he is associated, in particular, with Holy Week celebrations. Like Santa Muerte, Maximn is worshipped by leaving offerings of candles, alcohol, tobacco, candy, or personal items. Also like Santa Muerte, Maximn is a patron of people on the fringe of the society in Maximns case, drunkards and gamblers. Consequently, Maximn shares a similar geography and seasonal association with Santa Muertes likely progenitor as well as a similarity in method of worship and followers with Santa Muerte herself.
Figure 14 Shrine to Maximón
Regardless of how it may have originated, the cult has become a major phenomenon only recently. According to Blanquita Tamez, a practitioner of the cult from Monterrey, Nuevo Len, her grandmother was a Santa Muerte devotee. This suggests that the cult has been around since at least the mid-20th century. It spread more rapidly in Mexico during the mid-1960s. It appeared in Hidalgo in 1965. It also established roots in Mexico State, Guerrero, Veracruz, Tamaulipas, Campeche, Morelos, Nuevo Len, Chihuahua, and the Federal District, especially the barrio of Tepito.
Although they are prima facie contradictory, the different accounts Santa Muertes history are still telling because what practitioners choose to believe about their cult’s history is in many ways as interesting as what its true origins may be. They also have certain themes in common. The cult is associated with indigenous peoples, blending Catholic and pagan beliefs. (Which is EXACTLY what ROME did when they forced everyone into Roman Catholicism.) The cult is associated with people on the fringe of Mexican society slaves, indigenous peoples, the poor, and criminals.
The Goddess of Tepito
Mexico City appears to be the hub of the Santa Muerte cult, with ten shrines. These include one shrine at 12 Alfarera Street (between Mineros Street and Panaderos Street), a shrine at the corner of Matamoros and Peralvillo Streets, another at Villa de Guadalupe in the Plaza del Peregrino, a fourth at 16 Canarias Street, another shrine at 352 Retrograbados Street in Colonia 20 de Noviembre, and a sixth at the Parrish of the Suffering and Sanctuary of Santa Muerte at 35 Bravo Street, Colonia Morelos. There are reportedly at least four shrines at other locations in the city and 120 altars where her figure is venerated.
Within Mexico City itself, these shrines are concentrated within one particular neighborhood: Tepito. Tepito is not just any neighborhood, however. Also known as Tepis, Tepiscoloya, and Tepistock, Tepito is without doubt the most infamous barrio in Mexico. Its tough reputation dates back to pre-Hispanic times. The neighborhood market is the black market knockoff goods, drugs, and weapons are sold openly on the street. The police are seen as unable to control the crime. Indeed, it is in the poverty and desperation that her cult seems to thrive. Thus, the very heart of the cult is a place associated with poverty, crime, and defiance. (This is what they want in the USA. The elite want to do away with law and order. They want the gangs to run the streets of the USA.)
Santa Muerte is not limited to Tepito, however. There are at least 35 different locations in Mexico where Santa Muerte is venerated and where her skeletal figure is paraded. There are also twelve locations where Santa Muerte pilgrimages take place. Increasingly, the cult is appearing along the border, where it seems to have reached almost every town. Such a spread, from the heart of Mexico City to various border communities, conveniently coincides with the routes of illegal immigration and drug trafficking.
The Lord of the Rings
The Santa Muerte cult appears to have little, if any, official organization. However, one personality is at the forefront of the cult. Monsignor David Romo Guilln, 47, AKA the Lord of the Rings (El Senor de los Anillos) is the Archbishop and Primate of the so-called Mexican-U.S. Catholic Apostolic Traditional Church (Cathlica Apostolica Tradicional Mexico-USA AKA la Iglesia Cathlica Tradicionalista Mex-USA). Romo is a married father of five and a veteran of the Mexican Air Force, in which he claims to have served as an administrator. He is also the self-professed leader and guardian of the Santa Muerte cult. Since 2002, he has been leading masses at the National Sanctuary of Santa Muerte, located at Bravo 35 in the in Venustian Carranza delegation. Romo now boasts an attendance of 200-300 parishioners, mostly youths, at each mass. Many of these youths dress up in costumes for the occasion. The masses are held at midnight.
Figure 16 David Romo Guilln
Figure 17 A Worshipper inside the
Santa Muerte National Sanctuary
Figure 18 David Romo Guilln
Approximately 80 or 90 people [visit] daily, coming with their families, alone, or with companions. Likewise, we have an attendance of 200 or 300 persons twice weekly, states Romo. He estimates that there are one million followers of Santa Muerte in Mexico.
Romo is also an ardent defender of the cult. When Jos Guadalupe Martn Rbago, head of the Mexican Episcopal Conference (CEM) (Conferencia del Episcopado Mexicano), and Cardinal Norberto Rivera Carrera described the Santa Muerte Cult as Satanic, Romo filed a defamation complaint before the Public Ministry (Ministerio Publico). Martn stated that he would request the Interior Secretariat (SEGOB) (Secretara de Gobernacin), headed by Interior Secretary (Secretario de Gobernacin) Santiago Creel Miranda, to review the process of religious registration. Romo then stated that the devotion to Santa Muerte was not different from devotion to saints in other churches. He argued that Santa Muerte was a tool for evangelizing people in the marginalized sectors of society just as the Virgin of Guadalupe was a vehicle for converting Native Americans. (They venerated Mary, as a tool to bring the pagans who worshiped the earth mother , into the Roman Church. Just like the changed the pagan gods to Roman saints to bring other pagans to the Roman church. This did not convert anyone. A rose by any other name is still a rose. A pagan god or goddess does not change just because you call them something different. And neither do their worshippers.) At the time, SEGOB refused to intervene.
In April 2005, however, despite marches and protests by Santa Muerte adherents the previous month, SEGOB concluded in a 25-page resolution that the Santa Muerte Cult did not meet the qualifications for a religion and removed the Mexican-U.S. Catholic Apostolic Traditional Church from the list of recognized religions, citing theological doctrine dating back as far as the Council of Trent. Romo issued a call for Santa Muerte devotees to vote against Secretary Creel’s party, the National Action Party (PAN) (Partido Accin Nacional), and Creel himself in the 2006 Mexican Presidential Elections. Romo also began a series of meetings with Mexico City magistrates to promote social development and community service projects that would be undertaken by Santa Muerte adherents (there is that FALSE Philanthropy…and using NGOs to undermine the existing government. Bill Gates and Obama should love this guy.) under the a new blanket organization, the National Association of Altars and Sanctuaries of Santa Muerte (Asociacin Nacional de Altares y Santuarios de la Santa Muerte), which is effectively replacing the Mexican-U.S. Catholic Apostolic Traditional Church. The organization includes 100 of the 120 altars that display Santa Muerte in Mexico City.
The Patron Saint of Crime
People give numerous reasons for giving offerings to Santa Muerte. Some still consider themselves Catholic. Some say that they are disillusioned with traditional Catholicism. Others say that Santa Muerte has granted miracles and favors that other saints have not. Still others claim that they find Santa Muerte more welcoming because she does not distinguish between good and evil practitioners.
Increasingly, many of the devotees of Santa Muerte are being described as ordinary, working-class people, rather than the criminals with which the cult has traditionally been associated. Among those would be taxi driver Mario Juarez, claiming that Santa Muerte offered a little more protection in rough neighborhoods. Carmen Gonzlez Hernndez, a grandmother from Tepito, prayed to Santa Muerte for help raising her grandchildren, whose father was in prison. Hayde Sols Cardenas, prayed to Santa Muerte for help running her business after her son left, abandoning her grandson with her. She worked with loan sharks and smugglers, selling stolen tennis shoes. Isiel Alvarado, a welder, prayed to Santa Muerte for delivering his brother from prison. Subway janitor Maria Carrillo, prayed to Santa Muerte for help raising her four grandchildren, abandoned by their mother, who ran away. At the ages of seven and nine, respectively, Marisa Adriana Ruiz and Carla Patricia Reyes prayed to Santa Muerte for the release of their fathers from prison. Gonzalo Urbano prayed to Santa Muerte because he believed she restored his son’s vision.
Although not all of these individuals are criminals themselves, it would be misleading to describe them as independent of crime. In most cases, they are still people whose lives are touched, if not dominated by crime. Although not crimes of their own, the crimes are committed by family members, neighbors, or people with whom they interact daily.
Because its practitioners do not seem to seek any spiritual enlightenment, simply favors and rewards, the cult of Santa Muerte is probably best described as not so much a religion as an esoteric practice wrapped in the trappings of a religious movement. Although it may have been around for a considerable time, it appears to have been spreading more rapidly, particularly within the last decade. Efforts to truncate its growth may actually be encouraging it. It has historically been diffused but is becoming increasingly organized, especially in Mexico City.
Tepito has been and will likely continue to be the center of the organized cult. It is growing throughout other parts of Mexico, particularly at the U.S border. It appears to command respect and have considerable influence upon its practitioners.
The Santa Muerte cult is anti-establishment and appears to glorify criminal behavior. Although not all members of the cult are criminals, all live an existence that is dominated by crime. The cult seems to be linked closely to prisons, prisoners, and family members of prisoners. It is also associated with at least two organized criminal groups the Gulf Cartel and the Mara Salvatrucha. Although it does not appear that most practitioners would commit crimes on behalf of the cult, some criminals might use it as an impetus to commit a crime or to increase the scale and violence of their crimes. Furthermore, because of the inherent danger in crime, the invocation of death itself as patron has a manifest appeal.
The website of a Santa Muerte practitioner describes the Santa Muerte as, a symbol that identifies people who live between the legal and the illegal, but it can also be found in high levels of society. It is a veritable embodiment of the sense of dissatisfaction, exclusion, isolation, and despair among the marginalized in Mexican society. As long as these appear to be conditions of life in Mexico and Latin America and among Latin American communities in the U.S., the cult of Santa Muerte will almost certainly continue to prosper.
The cult of Saint Muerta is rapidly expanding across the globe. I have heard many testimonies of “normal” people who have joined because they can get what the want from this demon. In our self-obsorbed amoral society, that is all that people care about. They want what they want and they want it NOW. They want a god that is a Santa Claus. Someone to whom they can submit list and expect a delivery. What these people do not realize is that demons will give you things…but there is a price. A greater price than some apples or tequilla left on an altar. They are after your eternal soul. Which you are readily and willing giving up for a few trinkets. Remember the story of the Indians who supposedly sold Manhattan to a Dutch Explorer for $24 worth of beads??? Or, Essau in the bible who sold his birthright for a pot of porridge?? THAT IS YOU!
36 For what shall it profit a man, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? Mark 8:36
26 For what is a man profited, if he shall gain the whole world, and lose his own soul? or what shall a man give in exchange for his soul? Matthew 16:26
In secret meetings that draw on elements of Haitian Voodoo, Cuban Santeria and Mexican witchcraft, priests are slaughtering chickens on full moon nights on beaches, smearing police with the blood and using prayers to evoke spirits to guard them as drug cartels battle over smuggling routes into California.
Other police in the city of Tijuana, across the border from San Diego, tattoo their bodies with Voodoo symbols, believing they can repel bullets.
“Sometimes a man needs another type of faith,” said former Tijuana policeman Marcos, who left the city force a year ago after surviving a drug gang attack. “I was saved when they killed two of my mates. I know why I didn’t die.”
Violence has exploded along the U.S. border since President Felipe Calderon set the army on drug cartels in late 2006. Turf wars have killed 19,000 people across Mexico over three years.
Badly-paid Mexican police have long prayed to Christian saints before going out on patrol in Mexico, the world’s second-most populous Roman Catholic country after Brazil.
Cops are part of a messy war between rival trafficking gangs and the army as cartels infiltrate police forces, offering officers cash to work and even murder for them or a bullet if they say no. More than 150 police are among those killed in Tijuana and the surrounding Baja California state since 2007.
Army raids on homes of police working for cartels have found ornately adorned Santeria-type altars covered with statues and skulls stuffed with money paying homage to gods and spirits.
“We all know that guns and body armor are useless against the cartels because they are well-armed and can attack any time. But this is something we can believe in, that really works,” said a Tijuana-based policeman called Daniel.
A battle between top drug lord fugitive Joaquin “Shorty” Guzman and the local Arellano Felix drug clan has wrecked tourism in Tijuana and shuttered manufacturing businesses.
Small groups of police in the city started turning to strange rituals about 18 months ago, a practice spotted when municipal cleaners found a trail of dead chickens on beaches.
Many police see a need to shield themselves from witchcraft used by drug gangs who mix Caribbean black magic and occultism from southern Mexico using things like human bones, dead bats and snake fangs to curse enemies and unleash evil spirits.
Others worship the Mexican cult of “Saint Death”, a skeletal grim reaper draped in white and carrying a scythe.
The rituals are carried out by sometimes shadowy Mexicans who have menial day jobs and are priests by night. They claim to be trained in Voodoo, Santeria and other religions from time spent in the Caribbean and in Mexican towns like Catemaco, a center for witchcraft on the Gulf of Mexico.
Police have the quiet support of their superiors.
“We know some agents use charms, saints and other methods for their protection,” said Baja California federal police chief Elias Alvarez. “They look for something to believe in.”
Mexico’s often poorly armed police are intimidated by hitmen with automatic rifles, grenades and rocket launchers and despite low wages of around $300 a month some pay up to $160 for a tattoo of a Voodoo spirit like the three-horned Bosou Koblamin who protects his followers when they travel at night.
Writing by Robin Emmott; Editing by Catherine Bremer and Kieran Murray
A court case forced a Santeria priest to reveal some of his religion’s secrets. Its ritual of animal sacrifice, he revealed on his own.
But Jose Merced doesn’t shy away from controversy—and he has no plans of doing so on this crisp day in late September. No matter that his neighbors remain uneasy with the ritual singing and drumming that are part of his Santería religion; no matter that they might, as before, call the police if they feared he was engaging in animal sacrifice; no matter that the city of Euless, even after losing a drawn-out lawsuit that tested the boundaries of religious liberty in Texas, is still searching for new ways to shut down Merced’s spiritual practices. For him, the deities who reside in the back room of his house have been silenced long enough.
It’s been nearly three and a half years since he stopped the ritual slaughter of four-legged animals in his home to pursue litigation against the city over his right to do so. With a decision from the 5th U.S. Circuit Court of Appeals in his favor and against the city’s health and safety concerns, Merced, a flight attendant, will resume his full religious practices tonight.
Web extra: More photos from the feast day at Jose Merced’s home.
As the sacrificial hour approaches, several priests (Santeros) are preparing the 40 assorted goats, roosters, hens, guinea hens, pigeons, quail, turtle and duck who grow noisy and nervous in their cages. Their lives will be taken in an exchange mandated by Olofi, Santería’s supreme god and source of all energy, to heal the broken body and spirit of Virginia Rosario-Nevarez and to initiate her into the Santería priesthood. No medical doctor has been able to alleviate her suffering—the intractable back pain that makes walking unbearable, her debilitating depression and loneliness.
During a spiritual reading, lesser deities have told Merced that for Nevarez to be healed, she must become a priestess. In the initiation ceremony for priesthood, a high priest will sacrifice animals, which must die so she can live a healthy and spiritual life. In a theology similar to Christian grace in which Jesus died to forgive the sins of his followers, the animals will be offered in sacrifice to Olofi and the other deities (Orishas), who will purge her of negative energy as she makes her commitment to them.
Mounted against a wall in the back room shrine in Merced’s house are shelves containing clusters of small ceramic pots, ornately decorated and filled with shells, stones and other artifacts—the physical manifestations of the Orishas that reside in the room. To initiate Nevarez as a priestess, new godly manifestations of the old gods on Merced’s shelf must be born. To make this happen, animal blood will be spilled onto new pots, which the priestess will take home to begin her own shrine with her own newly manifested gods.
Much of theology behind Santería’s rituals remains unknown to Nevarez, though more of its secrets will be revealed to her as she grows in her commitment.
Secrecy defines the Santería religion, which is why estimates, even by its own followers, of the number of its U.S. adherents vary widely between one and five million. The religion’s clandestine nature was also a point of contention during the lawsuit. At trial, the city asked Merced if its health officials could witness a sacrifice to determine if it violated Euless’ ordinances prohibiting animal cruelty, the possession of livestock and the disposal of animal remains, but Merced said only initiated priests were permitted to see one. The exclusion of outsiders stems from the long history of persecution Santería’s followers suffered. Santería came to Cuba from West Africa during the slave trade centuries ago, a peculiar melding of the Yoruba religious traditions of captured slaves and the Catholicism of their masters. Slaves were forbidden from practicing their indigenous beliefs, so they hid that practice from their oppressors, adopting the names of Catholic saints for their Orishas (Saint Peter for Ogun, for example) whose divine intervention they could call upon when seeking protection, health and wisdom.
But tonight, Merced has had enough of secrecy. The litigation has taken a toll on his physical appearance. He looks heavier, grayer, worn out. The national media generated by the case, however, has left him more comfortable with the presence of strangers in his house, even with local news trucks parked in his front yard. And this evening Merced is allowing his first nonbeliever to witness an animal sacrifice.
“I’m going to let her see one and that’s it,” he says, standing in front of a long, flowing curtain concealing the entrance to his shrine. He is unwilling to listen to any who oppose the outsider observing the ceremony. Some in the shrine raise their eyebrows but return to the task at hand. They figure Merced’s deities are in control today. If he’s allowing the Orishas to be seen by a nonbeliever, then the gods must be OK with it.
Merced has recently disregarded other premonitions of danger. Three days earlier in his home, he held a séance for Nevarez in preparation for her priestly initiation. Ten members, all wearing white, gathered inside his converted garage, now a spare kitchen. On top of a white tablecloth sat a crucifix, prayer books, pencils, paper and a fishbowl of water—there to cleanse the spirits from negative to positive. Hanging on the wall were decorative hollowed-out gourds, painted in primary colors to represent a handful of the 60 or so Orishas in Santería. In one corner sat a life-size female black doll dressed in a flowing skirt and bandanna, a half-empty bottle of rum and lighted candles placed nearby.
One of the Santeros at the table knotted his face, his expression troubled. He began to grunt and take short breathes, acting possessed by the spirit, which came alive through him and asked for some rum. A woman handed him a gourd brimming with white Bacardi. As he gulped the rum, he walked hastily toward Merced.
This was a negative spirit, and it had a message: It would be best for Merced to leave the area or send everybody away from his home and remain alone.
Merced folded his arms defensively across his chest. Time and again, throughout his legal troubles, lawyers, neighbors, friends and even Santeros had proposed he do the same. Why didn’t he just leave Euless? Worship somewhere else? Why come out and create so much controversy when he could just keep things secret and live in peace like the others? To Merced, this spirit represented an insult to everything he had accomplished.
“How dare you?” accused Merced, reminding the spirit that it was “immaterial”—and in Merced’s house. “I don’t have to go anywhere. I’m going to keep up the fight.”—-
Jose Merced never intended to be the face of Santería in North Texas, although he might argue that it was his fate.
He grew up in San Juan, Puerto Rico, and recalls his childhood as happy and stable—that is, until his father left the family. Merced, at 12, felt abandoned and grew physically ill, developing a sharp, chronic pain in his stomach and intestines. A medical doctor suggested exploratory surgery, but his mother wouldn’t hear of it.
She had grown up in a home where regular séances took place between family members. When pregnant with Jose, a stranger stopped her in a shoe store and told her she would give birth to a male child on April 20 who would possess the gift of spirituality. Merced was born on April 19 and early on became intrigued with the spiritual realm.
After Merced became ill, he asked his mother to bring him to a woman his mother had been seeing for private spiritual readings. Even without him mentioning it, the woman told him about his intestinal pains and his nightmares. Hoping she could cure him, Merced began attending weekly séances at her home. Many of those attending wore colorful, beaded necklaces, and he asked the woman how he could get some. She told him those who wore the necklaces were followers of Santería, and he could only get them when he needed them, not when he wanted them. A year and a half later, she did a reading for him with the deities of Santería and told him it was time.
At 14, he donned his collares—necklaces that represented the protection granted by the Orishas. For a short while, Merced, who weighed 210 pounds, began to feel better, but it didn’t last. “Spirits also can bother you when you’re not knowing or understanding what it is you come in life to do,” he now explains.
The woman became his godmother in Santería, and she continued to treat him with herbal potions and spiritual readings. Over the next 18 months, he lost 60 pounds and had good months as well as bad.
Finally, Merced says that the Orishas spoke through the woman and told her that the only way to make his pain disappear was to get initiated as a priest. Merced was ready, but the ceremony was expensive, $3,000, and he didn’t have enough money. For a year after graduating high school, Merced saved up, working as a clerk for the Puerto Rico Department of Education in San Juan. By early 1979, with his mother’s help, he had saved enough money, though he still had no idea what to expect.
He had helped with other initiations at his godmother’s house but was never allowed inside the shrine-room. “I saw the animals going in alive and coming out dead,” Merced recalls. But he had no idea why. He helped by cleaning or cutting up the meat or plucking chicken feathers. Sometimes he would ask the people outside the room what was happening inside. “And when you asked something, all they answered was, ‘It is a secret.’ If you’re not crowned [a priest], you’re not supposed to know. So when I went in to my ceremony, I didn’t have a clue.”
On the day of his initiation, he was called inside the shrine and told to keep his eyes closed. Four hours later, he was dressed in regal-looking robes, his head completely shaven. Later he was told he had been possessed by his Orisha, but he remembered nothing.
After the crowning ceremony, it was time for the animal sacrifice. As the animals were brought in, he was told to touch his head to the animal’s head and its hooves to other areas of his body. The animal was absorbing his negativity. He had to chew pieces of coconut, swallowing the juice but spitting the coconut meat into the animal’s ear.
He would later learn that this was necessary for the “the exchange ceremony,” which came next. The pieces of coconut represented Merced’s message—his thoughts, feelings, needs—which were transferred to the goat for direct passage to Olofi. His physical contact with the animal was also symbolic of his commitment to God (NOT the GOD OF ABRAHAM ISAAC AND JACOB, but LUCIFER). As soon as the animal’s blood was spilled, Merced’s negativity, which had been absorbed by the goat, was released. The purified blood then spilled into the pots.
Shortly after the initiation, he says his stomach pains subsided. “I never, ever have felt again the same pain that I used to feel before,” he says.
Although he had little contact with his father, a nonbeliever, he invited him to his divination readings two days later. His father also visited him at his mother’s house immediately after the seven-day ceremony concluded. Merced was wearing all-white, his head shaved clean, and his father insisted this was all his mother’s doing—she was the one who had become a priestess a year earlier. His father demanded he end these religious practices and join the National Guard like he had. Merced told him, no: He had become a priest for health reasons, and he refused to let him shake his faith, particularly after his father had been so uninvolved in his life for so long.
If his father had learned anything from the divination readings, he would know what the Orishas had in store for his son. The priest had told him he would travel the world. He told him he would become a priest who would initiate others. And he told him that people would have reason to remember his name.—
The first year of his priesthood was a difficult one. At the department of education, many of his co-workers would shoot him strange, even hostile glances when he wore his necklace and dressed in the all-white attire his religion required him to wear in the year following his intiation.
In 1989, he learned about a job opening with a commercial airline, and the next year he began to work for the company in Dallas. The work was good, but his spiritual life suffered.
He didn’t know any Santeros here and removed his necklaces to avoid drawing attention to himself. “I didn’t want people to know [about my religion],” Merced says. “That’s hiding. And I lived hiding for a long, long time.”
A closet in his apartment in Euless served as the shrine for his Orishas, which he had brought in cloth bags when he first traveled from Puerto Rico to Dallas.
A year after the move, he bought his first home and dedicated an entire room to his deities. Using the Yellow Pages, he located a botanica (a spiritual supply store) on West Jefferson and felt brave enough to introduce himself as a Santero. Here he would find others who shared his beliefs.
Over the years, he would become godfather to at least 500 followers and initiate at least 17 priests. As these new priests went out into the community and gave out necklaces to their own godchildren, Merced’s own house grew. He estimates that today there are close to 1,000 believers in his Santería community.
As Merced grew more confident in his job and in himself, he stopped hiding his religion to outsiders and would tell them about it when asked. He took the same approach in his personal life. And in 2002, when his boyfriend, Michael, decided to take his last name, their commitment to each other seemed a natural progression. “This is me,” Jose says. “And everyone will accept me for what I am.”
In 2002 Merced moved into the house he currently owns in Euless, but it wasn’t until 2004 that he started attracting the attention of the authorities. On September 4, Euless police and animal control officials showed up unannounced at his home. An anonymous caller had complained that goats were being illegally slaughtered in his backyard. When the authorities arrived, Merced was in the middle of a sacrificial ceremony inside his shrine. The police told him to stop—that if he didn’t they would fine him or arrest him. But the animal control officer intervened: Merced was allowed to continue the ritual and would not be arrested, at least not that day.
The incident was only the beginning of a lengthy legal struggle that would thrust this otherwise private man into the national spotlight.
In May 2006, authorities again appeared at Merced’s home, responding to a neighbor’s complaint that he was preparing to kill goats. But Merced and a friend were just sitting outside, celebrating another Santero’s birthday with a beer and a cigarette. Merced invited the authorities to search his backyard for goats. Only two small dogs came running.
Merced recalled what the police told him in court: “They said, well, if you’re not doing it today, make sure you don’t do it tomorrow, either, because you cannot do it.” Shortly after the second complaint, Merced went to Euless City Hall and asked for a permit that would allow him to perform animal sacrifices. City staff said no such permit existed.
With the threat of arrest looming, Merced felt he had no choice but to sue. In December 2006, Merced, through his attorney John Wheat Gibson, sought an injunction in a Fort Worth federal court prohibiting Euless from preventing him from exercising his right to practice his religion. The suit alleged that the city had violated the First, Fifth, and Fourteenth Amendments as well as the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act. Because his case was the first to invoke the act’s protections, Judge John McBryde had no precedent upon which to rely.
During the one-day trial, Merced took the stand and told the judge: “I just want to practice my religion. I just want them to leave me alone as long as I’m not harming anybody or it’s not a risk or causing damage to anybody in the neighborhood.”
Merced and a defense expert testified that the location of initiation ceremonies was divined by Santería deities and that Merced’s deities requested those ceremonies be held where they lived—in his home. But Merced also told the court that he had conducted initiation ceremonies outside of Euless—a fact the attorney representing Euless, William “Mick” McKamie, seized upon in his argument.
“When you’re looking at the overall practice of the religion, that’s one aspect of it [and] it can be practiced elsewhere,” he contended. “Mr. Merced moved into this place where it was illegal instead of selecting a place that wasn’t. And so he burdened himself.“
The judge agreed that Merced’s sacrifices could be performed outside of Euless and ruled against him. Gibson was convinced the decision was wrong—that McBryde was unable to rule in favor of a religion so alien to his own belief system.
“I think what happened in Euless is that we have people who don’t understand what the Santeros are up to,” Gibson says. “It’s not that they’re against dogma; it’s just that this is the wrong dogma.”
Merced took the decision as one more instance of people insisting he was the problem, and if he would only move, he would be free to practice his religion in peace. Outraged, he decided to appeal.
The case gained recognition, embraced by religious liberty lawyers who sought a more expansive interpretation of the Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act.
Enacted in 1999 under then-Governor George Bush, the TRFRA prevents Texas state and local governments from “substantially burdening” a person’s free exercise of religion unless that government can show a compelling interest in doing so. The law was a reaction to a 1990 U.S. Supreme Court decision in a Native American peyote-use case, which held that the First Amendment did not prohibit the state of Oregon from banning the sacramental use of peyote through general criminal drug laws as long as they do not specifically target Native American religious ritual. It did say, however, that the legislative process could be employed to protect the free exercise of religion.
Congress took the court at its word and in 1993 passed the Religious Freedom Restoration Act. But the Supreme Court fired back with a 1997 ruling that said it was unconstitutional to apply this federal law to the states. So at least 14 states, including Texas, took it upon themselves to pass similar laws protecting religious freedom.
First Amendment scholar Doug Laycock, a law professor at UT-Austin at the time the Legislature enacted the TRFRA, said its authors intended the law to be expansive and apply to all religions, even the ones “the Legislature has never heard of.”
Laycock had successfully represented the Santería church before the Supreme Court in 1993 after the city of Hialeah, Florida, tried to ban the ritual killing of animals not for public consumption. The Hialeah City Council enacted the ban specifically targeting the Santería religion after it learned one of its churches had plans to locate within city limits. The high court saw this ordinance as being applied exclusively to Santería and held it an unconstitutional restriction on the free exercise of religion.
So when Merced decided to appeal his case, he called Laycock. But Laycock, now a law professor at the University of Michigan, had other obligations and couldn’t take the case. He assured Merced he would find him representation. And fast. The deadline to appeal was approaching.
Laycock contacted Plano-based Liberty Legal Institute, a nonprofit First Amendment law firm with a history of advocating conservative causes. But the firm already had one TRFRA challenge before the Texas Supreme Court and didn’t want to detract attention from it. The conservative 5th Circuit also had an abysmal track record when it came to religious liberty claims, especially those that had been adversely decided by its lower courts.
Within days of the deadline, Laycock found Eric Rassbach, the national litigation director at the Becket Fund for Religious Liberty in Washington, D.C. Legal Liberty’s director Hiram Sasser also helped Rassbach prepare for his oral arguments, stressing the importance of making the judges comfortable with animal sacrifice in the context of religious freedom. “That’s always the hardest part about handling a case that involves weird facts,” Sasser says. “Everybody has to understand that their religious freedom is tied together.”
Rassbach hit that point hard during his arguments before a three-judge panel of the 5th Circuit, which on July 31 ruled in favor of Merced and ordered the lower court to issue an injunction against the city of Euless. The panel didn’t decide the case on First Amendment grounds but rather on its interpretation of the TRFRA.
In an August 7 Wall Street Journal op-ed entitled “Why I Defend Goat Sacrifice,” Rassbach praised the appellate court for championing religious freedom.
“The Court did not decide whether Mr. Merced’s beliefs were right or wrong, orthodox or unorthodox,” Rassbach wrote. “It simply held that as long as he is not endangering public health or safety, the government had to leave those beliefs up to him and his gods.“—-
The litigation had taken its toll on Merced. His testimony and the media attention that followed brought many of Santería’s secrets into the open and unnerved those devotees who saw its mystery as part of its theology as well as its enchantment.
He had written letters to the several hundred Santeros he had met over the years, asking each to contribute $100 to his legal defense fund. But many turned him down. Some were fearful that his case would reveal the secrets that gave power and meaning to their religion; others felt his case was his own personal crusade and not a cause for all who practice Santería. “They want to keep on hiding,” Merced says, “which I don’t understand.”
Many of his co-workers at the airline started to give him strange looks, avoiding him altogether. But most painful was the disappearance from his life of friends unrelated to Santería, whom he had known for more than a decade.
They had visited his home many times for parties, but had never entered his backroom shine or the converted garage where he practiced. “See, it’s not my business card saying, I’m Jose Merced, and I’m a Santero.”
With the lawsuit, he also isolated himself. “I was just sharing with Santeros. I put shields up.” One relationship grew stronger though, as he and his partner Michael completed the process of adopting a baby boy from Guatemala.
Suddenly his own father could read about him on the Internet or watch his interviews on CNN. After he won, his father wanted to know what the decision meant. “I didn’t sue for money, I sued for religious rights,” Merced told him. “It means that I can practice at home and they can’t bother me…I made history.”
Michael also saw the case as a huge victory for religious freedom and thinks the reaction from some in the Santería community is unjustified. “I would hope that this is a turning point for [them] not to be ashamed of the religion you believe in,” he says. “[Jose] has to be commended. If it wasn’t for him, who would fight?”
Doug Laycock hopes that with another win under its belt, the Santería community will feel more protected. “Now there’re two decisions, and city attorneys will be more inclined to tell their clients they’re just wasting their time and money.”
That hasn’t proven true, however, with the city of Euless. Even though the lower court issued its injunction on September 16, Euless’ attorney McKamie sees the adverse ruling as a minor hiccup.
“We are going to look at our ordinances as they’re written in light of the court’s ruling and see if they can be rewritten,” he says. “Also, we are going to coordinate with other state and county officials on the enforcement of their laws, not just city ordinances.”
McKamie says he has seen Merced’s property and does not think there’s enough land there to keep and kill animals. “Oh my goodness, this is next door to homes! It’s not like there’s some kind of buffer zone there or anything...Keeping them inside a house, and killing them with blood and waste inside the house, that’s a major league health problem.”
McKamie is considering an appeal to the U.S. Supreme Court, convinced the 5th Circuit Court misinterpreted the TRFRA. “I think it was never intended to be perverted in this way.” He is shocked that the court didn’t find Euless’ public health interests compelling enough to “burden” Merced’s religious practices. “How can you say the public health is not compelling? Protection of the public health is the definition of a compelling interest.”
Several state statutes deal with the public health concerns of slaughtering animals in an urban setting. “It’s not just something simple as ‘Oh, trust me, I’m going to kill this animal correctly, and by the way, I’ll double-bag it.’ That’s almost insulting it’s so simplistic.”
During the trial, McKamie raised the issue of animal cruelty, but the defense countered that the Santería method of animal sacrifice—cutting the carotid artery—was a humane way of slaughter. It would be difficult for the city to prove that killing animals in a ritualistic manner, such as the Jewish faith does, is crueler than killing animals in a slaughterhouse.
None of this will stop McKamie from exploring animal cruelty concerns as he retools his attack. But redrafting health, safety and zoning ordinances or convincing state and county authorities to investigate Merced for other violations smacks of targeting Santería and may run afoul of constitutional protections.
Merced insists he will keep practicing his religion openly, even at the risk of being threatened or arrested, or being shunned by followers and friends.—-
Merced throws back the long curtain at the shrine’s entrance, for the first time allowing a non-believer to witness an animal sacrifice in his home. The ritual will mark the dramatic climax of the second day of Virginia Rosario-Nevarez’s weeklong initiation.
Other Santeros are hard at work preparing the first animal. The men and women all wear white—hats, bandannas, shirts, skirts, pants, socks and shoes. Only Nevarez wears color—a yellow satin robe draped over a long skirt. Her head has been shaved, painted and adorned with a crown.
Merced disappears into another room, and then yells, “Ahí va el primero!“
The first goat, a black and white male, is carried to the shrine and placed on the white tile. A woman presents it to Nevarez, lifting its front legs into the air.
Nevarez leans forward and cups the goat’s small head between her hands. She whispers into its right ear. Her lips move quickly.
The goat relieves itself on the shoes of the woman behind her. The mess is swept up and the goat is picked up—its front legs crossed with its rear to prevent it from struggling. A broad-shouldered man is handed the goat to hold.
On the floor in the middle of the room sits a group of Orishas, their physical presence represented by open pots containing shells and miniature axes, spears and carvings of roosters. Above these Orishas, the goat is suspended on its side, as the other Santeros retreat into the room’s shadows.
The high priest (Babalawo) picks up a sharp blade and braces the head of the goat. He pinches the skin on its neck and brings the knife in close. He cuts its fur, letting its shavings fall onto the heads of the gods in anticipation of blood. As the Babalawo begins to sing a Yoruban song, his knife forcefully enters the goat’s neck so its esophagus remains untouched. Blood collects on the blade and spills off its tip.
The broad-shouldered man holding the goat moves with the Babalawo as he feeds the Orishas, pouring blood into each container. The goat’s tail continues to wag and the men and women begin to sing. After several minutes, the Babalawo lays the goat on the floor. He completely severs the goat’s head and shakes its body over the Orishas to catch any remaining blood. He turns its head upside down and places it on the floor beside the Orishas.
Next, roosters and pigeons are brought in, and then another goat. The ceremony repeats itself for the next two hours until all 40 animals are killed.
After each Orisha is fed, the animal carcasses are taken to an enclosed patio where the remaining live animals are kept in separate cages before slaughter. Ten people are set up in stations here, skinning goats, plucking chickens, carving up body parts and separating meat from bone.
The smell of animal waste and flesh is strong on the patio. Merced would rather this be done outside, but he has yet to receive a copy of the injunction and wants its security before he risks offending his neighbors.
The next day calls for another long ceremony. Twice as many Orishas sit on the floor, with fruit, sweets and money baskets laid beside them as offerings. The Orishas are now covered by hollowed-out gourds brimming with cooked animal feet, legs and heads. The odor emanating from them is strong only up close and smells of fried skin and hair.
Nevarez seems rested today. “I feel very calm,” she says. “It’s a new life. The old ways are gone.” She looks forward to being healed from what doctors could not cure. She holds her head proudly and relishes the formal greeting process, which has her blessing each visitor who enters the shrine.
After the greeting ceremony, musicians enter the shrine, followed by Santeros who dance to the beat of the drums and the songs sung by the Babalawo. In the kitchen the meat waits in pots, separated by the type of animal—goat, chicken and lamb—being prepared for a large feast.
From out of nowhere, a squad car pulls up in front of the house and waits. Merced rushes outside, pointing to his neighbor’s house. A Euless police officer explains he received an anonymous call over his radio—something about a blocked driveway. Merced turns to the driveway of his next-door neighbor, whom he suspects has been the anonymous caller all along, and notices a car has blocked its entrance, just slightly.
The police officer seems friendly enough. “I’ll tell you what my call screen says.” He reads from it: “Vehicle white truck blocking drive way. People in backyard have been chanting all day and all night and have been known to sacrifice animals.”
Nevarez, unsure of how to react, lifts her hands and folds them diagonally across her chest in ceremonial greeting. The officer looks at the shelves of pots and the new priestess, and squeezes himself back outside.
“It’s different,” the officer says to Merced, as they tour the backyard in search of animals. “You know how people are with different. They just don’t like different.”
The officer is satisfied and returns to his squad car, driving away. Merced glances toward his neighbor’s house. “If they’re trying to put pressure on me in order to get me out of here,” he says, shaking his head. “I’m not moving.”
So, we see that ritual killing of animals even inside a suburban home is totally legal and acceptable. RELIGIOUS FREEDOM, well, that should give Chrisitan’s hope and encouragement. Surely if they can sacrifice animals in our neighborhoods, we can share our faith, sing, pray and praise our GOD, hold bible studies in our homes and preach the word of GOD in the open air.
The following article should give you an idea of where the practice of Santeria can lead. Demons ALWAYS demand MORE.
The Believers: Cult Murders in Mexico
They thought their rituals of human sacrifice would make them invincible. In the end, a much stronger force prevailed.
For Mark Kilroy and his friends, the nightmare began as a spring-break blowout. In the early hours of Saturday, March 11th, Kilroy, a senior at the University of Texas at Austin, Bill Huddleston and Bradley Moore, both juniors at Texas A&M, and Brent Martin, a student at Alvin Community College, in Alvin, Texas, packed into Martin’s car and hit the road bound for South Padre Island, a balmy stretch of sand and sea where the southern tip of the Lone Star State meets the Gulf of Mexico. The quartet — all former high-school basketball and baseball teammates from Santa Fe, Texas — were looking forward to a week of drinking, sunning and meeting girls on the beach. Blond and well built, a premed and a good athlete, Kilroy, 21, was the all-American boy next door, described by one of his friends as “an above-average kind of guy.”
In what had become a routine procedure, they (Ferales) showed a photograph of Kilroy to the ranch caretaker and asked if he had seen the missing American. Yes, Kilroy had been there, the caretaker told them, pointing to a corral and a tin and tarpaper shack on a rise about 400 yards away. As the lawmen approached the corral, they were engulfed by the sickening stench of decaying flesh. Buried in several shallow graves in the immediate area were the remains of twelve males, including the mutilated body of Mark Kilroy. Some of the victims had been slashed with knives, others shot. At least one had been burned, another hanged. Many had been savagely disfigured, their hearts ripped out, their ears, eyes and testicles removed. One had been decapitated. Eventually three more bodies would be found in the area, bringing the count of corpses to fifteen.
The police also found it difficult to believe their ears. According to testimony by Hernandez Rivera and four other confederates, the victims had been ritually slain in the belief that human sacrifices would make the gang invincible and protect their drug business from the police. Two of the cultists were rumored to have been wearing necklaces made from human vertebrae when they were arrested. They said that their rites made them invisible and impervious to bullets. At one point a member of the cult pulled back his shirt to show a series of marks on his arms and back. The symbols, he explained, “marked” him as a killer.
The suspects, who showed no sign of remorse during their confessions, said that Kilroy was kidnapped after Constanzo ordered the sacrifice of an Anglo student. Kilroy, they told police, had almost escaped, but he had been wrestled back into the car and taken out to the ranch. After being bound and gagged with heavy tape, Kilroy had been imprisoned in the shack. He was told that nothing would happen to him, and he was fed a meal of eggs, bread and water. Twelve hours after he had been captured, Kilroy was led outside, and Constanzo executed him with a chop to the back of the neck with a machete. When the police found Kilroy’s body in one of the graves at the ranch, his legs had been severed at the knee and his brain and spine had been removed.
Experts identified the objects found in the killing shack and in Aldrete’s room as accouterments of Santeria, an underground Caribbean religion in which African gods are identified with Roman Catholic saints, and of Palo Mayombe, a darker mix of voodoo and African gods with origins in the Congo. Philip Carlo, a New York writer and expert on the occult, is certain that Constanzo was dedicated to a specific spirit of the Palo Mayombe cult known as Oggun, the patron god of criminals and criminal activity. According to Carlo, the presiding priest, or mayombero, becomes possessed by the spirits and blows cigar smoke and spits liquor at his victim before killing him. “Constanzo had all of Oggun’s implements, i.e., a horseshoe, a chain, railroad spikes, things of metal,” says Carlo. “Constanzo traveled to Haiti about fourteen or fifteen months ago. People who make human sacrifices are practicing with negative energy. Constanzo was a sadistic psychopath, a very, very dangerous individual.”
Santeria, in fact, ran in Constanzo’s blood. Constanzo’s mother and grandmother were both known santeras, or priestesses, who worshiped the spirits at altars in their Miami, Florida, homes. Neighbors of the Constanzos remember that as a boy, Adolfo would sometimes leave dead animals on other people’s doorsteps. A known homosexual who frequented Mexico City’s Zona Rosa, or Pink Zone, Constanzo had lived in the capital for several years before moving to Matamoros. There he was able to establish himself as a drug lord and a feared mayombero who commanded respect from other drug dealers and total obedience from members of his cult. “His use of ritual and so forth clearly served as a point of fascination to people around him and the people he brought in,” says Zavaleta. “But he also had to be extremely charismatic. He was the Pied Piper of death.”
Now that the world is filling up again with pagans calling on spirits to work magic for them, when we are seeing people walking down the streets in all manner of terrifying and inhuman makeup, costumes, and even body modifications, where curses, and spells and spirit travel is once again a reality, MAYBE PEOPLE WILL WAKE UP and realize that there really are demons. That there is a devil, and witches really do have power that they get from the spirits they call upon. That the “stories” from our ancient past were not just stories. You will soon sympathize with the people of SALEM. You will begin to fear and tremble, and suspect your enemies or your colleagues of working magic against you.
In this PAGAN environment where powerful concoctions are available to anyone with the money to purchase them or the knowledge to create them, no one is safe. They literally have drugs that can turn you into a walking zombie at just a touch. You are walking and talking but your mind is no longer in your control. Doing the bidding of the one you gave you the drug. Some of these drugs can leave you paralyzed yet awake. So that you know what is happening to you, but you can do NOTHING to defend yourself. GOD knows what other potions are out there. For a very small fee anyone can buy a CRISPER kit and change their DNA or YOURS, or create all manner of unknown bacteria. The Pagan world is a scary place. A PERILOUS PLACE.
WAKE UP and smell the coffee. Get under the blood of JESUS and do not participate in any of these pagan practices or pagan festivals.
This post is part of a three part series. Here are the other parts in case you missed them:
RETURN OF HUMAN SACRIFIC – Part 1
RETURN OF HUMAN SACRIFICE – Part 2
RETURN OF HUMAN SACRIFICE Part 3
For MORE RELATED INFORMATION, check out my article:
Gifts from the Fallen – Part 9 – AND THE WORLD BECAME ALTERED.