August 6, 2020
A Prayer to Santa Muerte
By Loretta Ledesma
The number of times I’ve written out an opening sentence for this entry, gone back and deleted it, are now more than I can count. It’s 12:19 Friday morning, during a global pandemic and Santa Muerte is perched in Her sacred space next to me. And I still can’t find the words to describe devotion. Perhaps because She is ancient and at the same time brand new. Perhaps because after 25 years I still at times have a hard time speaking Her name, choosing to say “Her” instead. Perhaps because I don’t want to betray any oaths or initiations I have taken.
The truth about this devotion is that it goes both ways. She is as devoted to us as we are to Her. The truth about Her is that we have chosen to sensationalize, colonize, demonize and gentrify Her and yet She still meets us with mercy. The literature about Her origins is hard to find and the stories are held close to the breast of the elders. After all, we have to keep something for ourselves, don’t we? But I feel the challenge from Her that She is needed now more than ever and this is why the awareness of Her is rising.
I want to start this dive by stating clearly that I do not claim to be an expert nor am I a scholar. What I do own is that I know death very well. I have looked death in the face many times. I have faced death with loved ones and I have faced my own. I have also had the great honor of having a beautiful teacher who took me under her wings and showed me a path that saved my life. She taught me how to set up a space for La Santa Muerte, to keep always above waist high so we never look down on death. She taught me how to call Her in, with rattles and marigolds, as the rattle is ancient and reminds Her of the old temples and even the dead can smell marigolds. She taught me how to feed Her tobacco, wine, blood and bone. Bone calls to bone. She taught me how to only ask for what I was willing to give up to my descendants when it was my time. The gifts, objects and protections we are granted in this life should not be so coveted that our souls become attached to this world. When it’s time to go with Her, we must leave our physical belongings with the living.
My teacher taught me how to bathe Her statues when we first brought them home. A mixture of cool water, Florida Water and tobacco cologne. Cool water to quench the thirst of the dead and moisten the throat so that She can speak to us openly and clearly. Florida Water because it contains spiritual cleansers and offerings to the ancestors. Tobacco cologne because the spirit of tobacco is so sacred, we have a hard time handling the potency of this plant so we should only consume it in ceremony.
She showed me the post colonial three robes. Red for all earthly desires and needs of the blood. White for purification, protection and ease. Black for all things that dwell in the underworld or that we truly need to remain hidden. She then taught me that the rainbow of Santisima statues were born from the sharing of information and spirituality with the African Traditional Religions. The Orisha met La Santa and the multitude of Her colors was born.
My teacher spoke to me about why Nina Blanca carries the scales for us to help insure the balance of life and death as they are one and the same. All the weight of the world in one skeletal hand. She taught me to honor the Owls and the secrets they carry with them. My teacher shared with me the ways She comes in so that I would not be afraid, Her messages are loud. She is not a deity that hides in the shadows or sends mixed messages. She screams in the wind and gathers matter in order to make Herself known.
She taught me that there is no death, not in the way we think of it in the west. She taught me the roots. She taught me that no matter what agenda any person in power tries to push, there is no such thing as a “narco saint,” only the saints of the people and unfortunately the war on drugs was a made up war for governmental profit. A war that targeted the people. She taught me that the colonizing voices have no place in calling the spirituality of the people demonic, as the devil is an ideal that belongs to them, not us. She taught me to look deep. Deep into the Mexica stories, into the caves now covered in waters, into the temples that defy all reason, into the eyes of the descendants of the keepers of the magic. It is in those places I would find Her true roots.
While it’s not my place to speak Her original name to you here, I do encourage you to seek the answers in antiquity. Recognize that those who speak catholic prayers in Her name do so in acts of resilience. Look past the church and the assumption that the veil is only thin in Autumn. Look past the mass produced calavera and the confusion between the Bony Lady and the grim reaper, and when the timing is right go to the places. See the altars in the streets. Experience the homes that have been open to the public and turned into sacred dwellings in the name of the unofficial Saint of Mexico. Come to the many shops that have areas carved out and devoted to Her. Speak your prayers and leave Her pennies, chocolate and Her favorite two dollar bills. Maybe we will cross paths in our journeys. Maybe we already have.
I will leave you with the two most important lessons I learned.
One, to work with Her is to honor Her descendants. Today this brings to mind the way some choose to ignore Her children locked in cages while asking for Her protections. Make no mistake that She chooses to usher Her people in peril before She aids us in conquests of love or finance.
Two, She will meet us all, as we all must die. The reintroduction around death and dying that we see now is of course bringing more awareness around the spirits that have always lived in these realms. Holy Death is queen in this realm and holds us all in Her powerful embrace as we face these final moments. She also is known to intervene on behalf of those who find themselves in situations before their time. In this meeting She shows us mercy and brings an easeful death* or holds death at bay to ensure the balance.
*Nod to sweet Jess for conjuring the power behind the words Easeful Death.
For D.M. La Bruja
Connect with Loretta on instagram @thedeathwitch