The Cult of Santa Muerte: Migration, Marginalization, and Medicalization

  • Eduardo González Velázquez
  • Eduardo García-Villada
  • Timothy D Knepper
Part of the Comparative Philosophy of Religion book series (COPR, volume 2)


The 2015–2017 programming cycle of The Comparison Project hosted two lectures on Santa Muerte: the first by Prof. Eduardo González Velázquez, a professor of history at Monterrey Tec National School of Social Sciences and Government (Guadalajara, Mexico), an international partner of Drake University; the second by Prof. Eduardo García-Villada, a professor of Spanish at Drake University. In this essay, we weave these two lectures into a composite picture of the role of the cult of Santa Muerte with regard to death and dying. Section one draws on Prof. García-Villada’s initial encounter of the cult and consequent exploration of its history and practices. Section two contains the majority of Prof. González’s lecture about how the cult serves migrants and other marginalized sectors of Central American society. Section three is an excerpt of Prof. García-Villada’s lecture on what the prayers to Santa Muerte reveal about her nature and the function of her cult vis-à-vis traditional power structures. Finally, section four contains the reflections of The Comparison Project’s director, Tim Knepper, about the relationship between the cult of Santa Muerte and the theme of the 2015–2017 programming cycle: medicalized dying. In a time when fear of death is a constant presence, the devotees of Santa Muerte have turned to her as a saint, if not a deity, who can protect and provide for them in a way that the state and church cannot, without regard for how marginalized or deviant they might be. In this sense, the cult of Santa Muerte serves an end not unlike that of bioethics: the attempt to control death.


  1. Alvarenga, Daniel. 2016. Vos vs. Tú: 4 Central Americans on proudly reclaiming Voseo in the United States. Accessed 22 May 2016.
  2. Chesnut, Andrew R. 2012. Devoted to death: Santa Muerte, the skeleton saint. Oxford: Oxford University Press.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  3. Joseph, Miriam. 2002. The trivium: The liberal arts of logic, grammar, and rhetoric: Understanding the nature and function of language. Philadelphia: Paul Dry Books.Google Scholar
  4. Kroger, Joseph, and Patrizia Granziera. 2012. Aztec goddesses and Christian madonnas: Images of the divine feminine in Mexico. New York: Routledge.Google Scholar
  5. León, Juan Luis. 2007. La muerte y su imaginario en la historia de las religiones. Bilbao: Universidad de Deusto.Google Scholar
  6. León-Portilla, Miguel. 1993. Those made worthy of divine sacrifice: The faith of ancient Mexico. In South and Meso-American native spirituality: From the cult of the feathered serpent to the theology of liberation, ed. G. Gossen, 41–64. New York: Crossroad.Google Scholar
  7. Martín, Desirée. 2017. Santísima Muerte, vístete de negro, Santísima Muerte, vístete de blanco: La Santa Muerte’s illegal marginalizations. Religions 8 (3): 36. Accessed 24 May 2017.CrossRefGoogle Scholar
  8. McFarland, Mitzi. 2017. Viewing film for the purpose of interpreting it. Accessed 24 May 2017.
  9. Pennock, Caroline. 2012. Mass murder or religious homicide? Rethinking human sacrifice and interpersonal violence in Aztec society. Historical Social Research 37 (3): 276–302.Google Scholar
  10. Perdigón, Katia. 2008. La Santa Muerte, protectora de los hombres. México: Instituto Nacional de Antropología e Historia.Google Scholar
  11. Roush, Laura. 2012. La informalidad, la Santa Muerte y el infortunio legal en la Ciudad de México. In Informalidad urbana e incertidumbre: ¿cómo estudiar la informalización en las metrópolis? ed. F. Alba, F. Lesemann, and L.C. Bustamante, 221–245. Mexico: Universidad Nacional Autónoma de México, Coordinación de Humanidades, Programa Universitario de Estudios sobre la Ciudad.Google Scholar
  12. Scott, James. 1985. Weapons of the weak: Everyday forms of peasant resistance. New Haven: Yale University Press.Google Scholar

Copyright information

© Springer Nature Switzerland AG 2019

Authors and Affiliations

  • Eduardo González Velázquez
    • 1
  • Eduardo García-Villada
    • 2
  • Timothy D Knepper
    • 2
  1. 1.Monterrey Tec National School of Social Sciences and GovernmentGuadalajaraMexico
  2. 2.Drake UniversityDes MoinesUSA

Personalised recommendations