Features May 5, 2009 By John Dickie

     No doubt, the origins of Death worship in Mexico are rooted in pre-Hispanic “paganism”. The syncretism of those beliefs with the conquistadors’ imposed Christian beliefs gave birth to a hybrid form of Catholicism in which the pantheon of pre-Hispanic Gods transformed into Christian saints. While many, like Our Lady of Guadalupe, have been sanctioned by the Pope — mostly to not alienate the masses — La Santa Muerte is still reviled by the church as a Satanic cult. Certainly, she is favored by occultists and criminals, but believing in her doesn’t make you either. Mexicans have a famously peculiar relationship with Death: the nine-day funerals, the Days of The Dead fiestas, the light-hearted skeletal art made famous by Jose Guadalupe Posada. Photographs of the dearly departed adorn the walls of every Mexican home, and small altars pay homage to them. The Dead, and Death, are kept close. Migrants, who often don’t return to their villages for decades, are sometimes considered “dead”. Convicts, imprisoned in an earthly purgatory, barred from participating in real life outside, often consider themselves “dead”. Inside, La Santa Muerte is their protector. Tattoos of her figure are a pledge of their faith.
     It’s a tattoo we saw a lot as we walked around Tepito’s market stalls with Beto. There’s also a phrase you hear repeated a lot around Tepito, a phrase you just can’t argue with: “The only thing you can be sure of is Death.” No wonder so many people believe in her.

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