In Mexico, the church attempts to exorcise Saint Death to bring peace

Violence, abuse, corpses in mass graves. What is fueling the chaos and inhumanity in Mexico? Priests say it’s the devil in the guise of a skeletal icon.

BBC News – The country where exorcisms are on the rise.

To some it may seem extraordinary, but priests say the country is under attack by Satan, and that more exorcists are needed to fight him.

This attack, they say, is showing itself in the gruesome drug-related violence, including human sacrifice, that has engulfed the country since 2006.

“We believe that behind all these big and structural evils there is a dark agent and his name is The Demon. That is why the Lord wants to have here a ministry of exorcism and liberation, for the fight against the Devil,” says Father Carlos Triana, a priest, and an exorcist, in Mexico City.

“As much as we believe that the Devil was behind Adolf Hitler, possessing and directing him, we also believe that he (the Devil) is here behind the drug cartels.”

Mexico’s exorcists say there is unprecedented demand for their services.

A preist recounts the horrendous crimes of a gang hitman who was a member the Santa Muerte cult.

“The cult is the first step into Satanism and then into this band of people [the drug traffickers], that’s why he was chosen for that job.”

“Santa Muerte is being used by all our drug dealers and those linked to these brutal murders. We’ve found that most of them, if not all, follow Santa Muerte,” he adds.

Dear Priests, I believe you’ll find things are a lot more complicated than you think.

It’s an irresponsible cop-out to blame fictional characters, the devil, demons, and saints, for the complex problems in Mexico and to assume that a ritual exorcism can fix it. The article touches on the drug culture which is entwined with the violence and economics of this part of the world. That, in turn, is guiding people away from the traditional church and to the cult of Santa Muerte or Saint Death – a strange mixture of Mesoamerican and Catholic traditions – which became prominent only in the 20th century. Mesoamerican cultures, such as the Aztecs, have a reverence towards death that is expressed in the veneration of a death figure. As this piece notes, followers are often those in poor communities outside the margins of the law such as drug dealers and prostitutes, since Saint Death will protect them from their enemies. A book by scholar R. Andrew Chesnut is available from Oxford Univ press.


It seems like the church is fighting an intrusion onto their turf, the cult they say will lead to Satanism (methinks they are misinformed about actual Satanism). But they have themselves to blame, it is noted, by the child abuse scandal. It’s not clear if people are turning away from the Catholic church solely due to that reason, however fostering a medieval solution is only going backwards and won’t do any good. This is a complex problem that requires complex solutions. Not theatrics.


More: Exorcism rituals on the rise as way to battle evil of Mexican cartels    – NY Daily News.

  5 comments for “In Mexico, the church attempts to exorcise Saint Death to bring peace

  1. spookyparadigm
    November 27, 2013 at 2:09 PM

    I haven’t been to Mexico in almost 20 years, but I have lived in Latin America and done some poking into occulture there. Remember the heady days, starting with the far-right Satanic Panic but then going mainstream with the likes of Geraldo Rivera? Such attitudes are not unusual in the media etc. in Latin America, so take the imagery of Santa Muerte and put it in that mindframe. I don’t think it is so much fear of competition (Santa Muerte is one of many folk saints still within the larger post-1521 blend of Catholicism with African and American religious styles, all within a larger Catholic paradigm), as it is just a freakout. I mean, it’s symbol is a skeleton, that’s not going to always make the best first impression). Further, it is indeed a religion more powerful on the margins of Mexican society, so it will of course be associated with that.

    I haven’t looked at Chestnut’s book, though I’ve seen quotes from him online. I will withhold any comments regarding the syncretic nature of Santa Muerte, other than to note, as you’ve done, that it is a relatively late development (which is not a vote for a strong syncretic nature IMO). I think there is a tendency, and this is something that is going to press associated with me right now, that scholars and observers in the North, especially the Anglosphere, often assume more “deep tradition” and “authenticity” in Latin American practices than perhaps is warranted, treating very pan-Latin American and recent innovations as being “indigenous.” Sometimes it is the case (see the way case in Yucatan that you covered about a month or so ago that got lumped in with chupacabras when it really was an older belief), but a lot of the time, there is much more active reworking of supposedly ancient beliefs than is understood by those who see Latin America and automatically Other it into a mystical fog.

  2. Lagaya1
    November 27, 2013 at 2:13 PM

    Who exactly are they going to do these exorcisms on? I doubt that the drug cartel members would volunteer, although I wouldn’t mind seeing a few of them slammed up against walls or beaned with a heavy metal cross or two.

  3. November 28, 2013 at 7:21 AM

    Excellent corrective to the BBC article! If anything my book emphasizes the medieval Spanish Catholic roots of Santa Muerte. The conceptualization of Santa Muerte as the reincarnation of Aztec death goddess Mictecacihuatl is actually more common in Mexico than among “Anglosphere” scholars. Please note my surname is Chesnut, not Chestnut.

  4. spookyparadigm
    November 29, 2013 at 12:10 AM

    I took my cue on your surname from the article, apologies.

    As for syncretism, I was referring more broadly, where it seems like non-mainstream spiritual or occult beliefs in Latin America automatically seem to be thrown in the broadest sense into the syncretism or indigenous box, which is undoubtedly fair in some cases, but in others seems to be an expression of whatever we should call the New World equivalent of Orientalism.

    Out of curiosity, has your work looked at all at the tzitzimimeh?

  5. November 29, 2013 at 12:04 PM

    I reference Aztec death goddess cousin, Mictecacihuatl. Inquisition records from 1790s, however, refer to other indigenous groups who were venerating Santa Muerte in the present day states of Queretaro and Guanajuato.

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