Santa Muerte: Insights on Deeming “Bad Religion” by Teresa Rios Martinez

FESTIVAL OF SCHOLARS - “Hard to Digest” Panel Santa Muerte is a folk saint in Mexico with origins in the old religion of the Aztecs that has an increasingly growing following not only in Latin America and the United States among Latinx populations, but also in the broader occult milieu. She is known as the patron saint of criminals or narcos, as a large portion of her devotees are involved in gangs, drug trafficking, and prostitution, however that is not the full demographics of her following. This paper examines why the cult of Santa Muerte is considered a “bad” and “dangerous” religion. Jason Josephson’s work on heretical anthropology, Ann Tave’s “specialness” theory, cult theory, and new religious movement theory is employed to gain deeper insights on the factors surrounding the labels attached to Santa Muerte and her followers. The Catholic Church claims that she is satanic and the Mexican government actively targets her followers and associates their crimes to her. To her followers she is a religious figure that helps them in a time of need, especially to those who are constantly surrounded by violence and death. By looking at Santa Muerte from these three different perspectives we can see that she is ultimately labeled a bad religion because of the challenge she poses the steadily declining Catholic population in Mexico.