While the vast majority of followers are engaged in benign practices involving nothing more than making offerings and prayers to 'the Skinny One' this nefarious element has taken up their own form of Santa Muerte worship, reimagining the often maligned saint as a darker icon with an unquenchable thirst for blood.
In an interview with the BBC, Father Ernesto Caro blames Santa Muerte for the rise in exorcisms, claiming that the practice is "the first step into Satanism" and that drug traffickers and killers routinely offer Flaquita sacrifices. Some cartels insist their members practice their twisted version of Santa Muerte worship, using devotion as a tool to control their foot soldiers and turning gruesome killings into religiously sanctioned offerings to the figure of death herself. One such individual, a cartel hitman charged with disposing of victims bodies, came to be exorcised at Caro's church in Monterrey. Believing he was possessed by demons he gleefully divulged how he'd cut up bodies and burned others alive, relishing the sounds of their tortured screams as they died. When asked why he took such delight in the suffering of others the man explained he was a devote follower of Santa Muerte. Father Caro insists this is not an isolated incident but rather is becoming the new norm.
"Santa Muerte is being used by all our drug dealers and those linked to these brutal murders," Caro explained to the BBC. "We've found that most of them, if not all, follow Santa Muerte."
In a country where drug-related violence has swallowed up over 150,000 people in the last decade, including innocent bystanders, the appeal of the dark worship of an amoral deity who offers protection, wealth, status, and power is as intoxicating as the narcotics driving the brutality. Faced with the near certainty of a grisly death at the hands of their enemies, some cartel members have begun offering severed body parts including human heads, rather than the traditional beer or tobacco, hoping to invoke some form of divine intervention by rubbing cocaine and human blood on their Santa Muerte statues. In one instance a vicious cartel killer boasted that Santa Muerte had brought him back from death five times, right before two enforcers hacked him to pieces with machetes.
In Tepito, it was discovered that a drug lord was holding annual human sacrifices of virgins and newborns in return for the Saint bestowing magical powers on him. Recently, a mass grave was unearthed in the drug crime embattled northern state of Sinaloa. All 50 bodies were marked with symbols and adornments depicting Santa Muerte. Although venerated alongside Jesús Malverde, the "Saint of Drug Traffickers" whose following is strong in his hometown of Sinaloa, the force of Santa Muerte is much more dominant. Altars with images of Santa Muerte have begun to crop up routinely raided drug houses in both Mexico and the United States, as immigrants bring their practices with them.
Churches for Santa Muerte have cropped up in San Francisco, Chicago, New York City, and New Orleans, as well as other heavily populated areas that draw in migrant workers. At present there are 15 religious groups in Los Angeles alone dedicated to her worship and not just by Latinos. Increasingly larger numbers have begun to show up at pseudo-religious ceremonies as the worship of the celebrated folk Saint continues to spread inside the United States. Each and every day millions of people pray to her, asking for her assistance in both worldly and spiritual matters, including cartel and gang members who in some cases ask for nothing more than a quick, painless death and for their names to live on in glory long after they are gone.
For more information on Santa Muerte, check out Devoted to Death by Andrew Chesnut, the leading authority on the growing cult. Until next time ... Stay Scared!