Mexican prosecutors are investigating the poor family living in shacks outside a small town near the U.S. border as alleged members of a cult that sacrificed two 10-year-old boys and a 55-year-old woman to Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, a figure adored mostly by outlaws but whose popularity is growing across Mexico and among Hispanics in the United States.
The killings have shocked the copper mining village of Nacozari, on the edge of the Sierra Madre, and may be the first ritual sacrifices linked to the popular saint condemned by the Roman Catholic Church.
Authorities say the throats and the wrists of the victims were cut with knives and axes, and their blood was spread on a Santa Muerte altar. Their bodies were then buried near the shacks where the alleged cult members lived.
“They thought that by offering the blood, they would be protected for some time,” Larrinaga [spokesman for the Sonora Attorney General's Office] said. “According to them, Santa Muerte was going to tell them where the money was. They all identify themselves as fanatic followers of Santa Muerte.”
It appears that most Santa Muerte devotees consider killing an aberration and that books about the Santa Muerte don’t mention human sacrifice. But some followers are extremists. Since there is no clerical authorities to speak out against these aberrant rituals, they continue and get passed on. As seen with other witchcraft rituals, the followers are out for riches via the superstitious practices.
The beliefs and the striking icongraphy are described as a blend of Mesoamerican and Catholic that became prominent only in the 20th century. Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Aztecs, have a reverence towards death that is expressed this veneration of a death figure. It is popular with those in poor communities outside the margins of the law such as drug dealers and prostitutes.
A book by scholar R. Andrew Chestnut was published last December about the cult and their connection to drug trafficking. It is the first book of its kind. You can find out more about it at Oxford Univ press.
UPDATE: (17-May-2012) These 8 have been formally charged for various crimes including homicide. http://seattletimes.nwsource.