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La Santa Muerte and other forms of crazy

Photo by AFP / Getty Images

Jim Morrison was right — “people are strange”:

“Popular in Mexico, and sometimes linked to the illicit drug trade, the skeleton saint known as La Santa Muerte in recent years has found a robust and diverse following north of the border: immigrant small business owners, artists, gay activists and the poor, among others – many of them non-Latinos and not all involved with organized religion.

Clad in a black nun’s robe and holding a scythe in one hand, Santa Muerte appeals to people seeking all manner of otherworldly help: from fending off wrongdoing and carrying out vengeance to stopping lovers from cheating and landing better jobs. And others seek her protection for their drug shipments and to ward off law enforcement.

‘Her growth in the United States has been extraordinary,’ said Andrew Chesnut, author of “Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint” and the Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. ‘Because you can ask her for anything, she has mass appeal and is now gaining a diverse group of followers throughout the country. She’s the ultimate multi-tasker.’ …

The saint is especially popular among Mexican-American Catholics, rivaling that of St. Jude and La Virgen de Guadalupe as a favorite for miracle requests, even as the Catholic Church in Mexico denounces Santa Muerte as satanic, experts say.”

Normally such a ridiculous news story wouldn’t warrant commenting on, but that the worship of La Santa Muerte appears to be a growing trend among Latinos and non-Latinos alike prodded me into saying something about adults and their make-believe friends.

People are prone to superstitions. You see it a lot in sports, whether it’s the basketball player who taps his nose three times before shooting a free throw, or the baseball player who has a ritual for putting on his batting gloves. Such rituals make people feel better and worse — better when you do them and worse when you don’t.

The same seems to be happening with this skeleton worship. Life sucks at the moment along the Rio Grande (and in Queens, apparently), so people are praying to bones dressed in a robe in hopes that it’ll make life suck a bit less. It won’t though, and the people must know that going into it, somewhere deep inside. I refuse to believe people are that deluded.

But, as the saying goes, desperate times call for desperate measures. When times get hard, it’s time to slap some clothes on a skeleton and offer it shots of Patrón. That’s a lot easier than, say, getting a better job or moving.

This new phenomenon illustrates why I can be such a curmudgeon when it comes to Latino religiosity. When you believe enough crazy things (like a virgin birth, a talking snake, people coming back to life and evil spirits), you’re prepared to believe just about anything. If the Virgen de Guadelupe isn’t granting your wishes in a timely fashion, try asking La Santa Muerte. And if that doesn’t work, there’s always Santa Claus (though you probably haven’t written him in a long time, so that might get awkward).

In a secular society like ours, we have to stop coddling people who believe made-up things just because their faith in such things make them feel better. It’s unhealthy to believe a lie — always. And, sure, taking a hit of heroin is likely to ease the stress of living, but who in their right mind thinks regular drug use is a strong foundation for a happy and healthy life?

If you know somebody who prays to La Santa Muerte, you should check in on them regularly. You might even want to let them know that they’re praying to bones from time to time, just to ensure they have one foot in reality. You’d say something to a friend who still believed in the Tooth Fairy, wouldn’t you? Or would you simply say “To each their own” and be on your way? Some friend.

Praying to La Santa Muerte is dumb (and that I used a word like “dumb” only underscores how entirely dumb I think it is.)

It’s stories like this make that me appreciate the normal crazy of Christianity — at least a little.

About Hector Luis Alamo, Jr.

Hector Luis Alamo, Jr., is the associate editor at Being Latino and a native son of Chicago's Humboldt Park neighborhood. He received a B.A. in history at the University of Illinois at Chicago, where his concentration was on ethnic relations in the United States. While at UIC, he worked first as a staff writer for the Chicago Flame and later became the newspaper's Opinions editor. He contributes to various Chicago-area publications, most notably, the RedEye and Gozamos. He's also a cultural critic for 'LLERO magazine. He has maintained a personal blog since 2007, YoungObservers.blogspot.com, where he discusses topics ranging from political history and philosophy to culture and music.

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this article are solely those of the author and should not be understood to be shared by Being Latino, Inc.

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