I realize things have been all Loki, all the time around here for a while. The grand book project took a lot of time and much of that effort got shared here eventually. Even as all that has been going on (and I may talk about the rest of it at some point), my spiritual life has been growing and changing on many fronts. In the last six months or so a few people have talked to me about Santa Muerte, Saint Death. I’m sometimes a bit of an evangelist for the Saint because, well, that’s what happens. When she makes her power known in your life suddenly you have a taste for her that no one and nothing else will entirely satisfy. You become a believer, and that’s the exchange that occurs when she grants you a miracle.
This isn’t the sort of exchange most people imagine making when they petition a Power for intervention or aid. Even though on the one hand we resist thinking of the Powers as vending machines where aid is exchanged for various offerings, the concept of fair exchange is a value many polytheists hold dear. Ideally, fair exchange happens within the context of a relationship that includes intangible features such as trust. Such an exchange might be a prelude to a more complex relationship or an exchange might be a feature of the relationship that keeps the spiritual-emotional character of the bond healthy and active. (That is, I might approach a new Power with simple offerings of candles and incense in order to cultivate the first stages of a relationship with them; however, as the relationship developes in time and complexity, offerings and gifts would continue to form an important part of our interaction.)
The Saint is like this, too but she’s also a little different. What she desires from us is not so much candles or tequila or incense or candy or cigarettes (though she likes all these things and much else besides). She, perhaps more than any other Power I’ve ever encountered, is most pleased through memetic reproduction. She desires the proliferation of her idea. This is accomplished first by faith in her and in her power; this is why those who venerate her are called “believers”. (At least, this is what the believers I know call themselves but this might be a regional appellation.) As more and more people come to believe in the Saint, her image, her name, and the very idea of her spreads exponentially.
To participate in her belief is to participate in an ever-expanding global neural network. Many of the Norse polytheists and Heathen-types I know joke about our gods being like viruses; they do tend to spread as the human members of this larger community interact with one another. (Does this mean you’ll get a dose of the Loki virus hanging out with me? Possibly. I’ve seen it happen too, too many times to think otherwise but Loki also chooses who to leap to. I’d come with a warning label but I’m not terribly interested in warning people; it’d be more like a label forewarning celebration – but anyway.)
The Saint works in a very similar way – most Powers probably do, to some extent or another – but she is memetically potent to a rather exceptional degree. She travels, hopping from mind to mind, from one awareness to another, and has used the material astral known as the Internet to become a global Power in more than symbolic terms. She is highly material even as she leads us to transcendent ideas.
I can’t tell you who she is because I don’t actually know. She’s not a goddess exactly – even though researchers, believers, and even some non-believers connect her with ancient goddesses from places that are now Mexico – but I have a hard time believing she’s absolutely entirely definitely not a goddess, either. (Personally, I tend to grant her lower-case pronouns which is my individual way of distinguishing between divine and non-divine Powers but in this entry it has been a distinct struggle.) I have no real way of telling you what the difference is except that her presence doesn’t tick the same flavor, the same quality, the same reactions in me that are characteristic of divinities of any variety I’ve so far encountered. This is not an analytical category that is at all meaningful to anyone else.
I call her a Rogue Power. She seems to exist without a category, without a greater variety of which she is a part of. She has no pantheon (except perhaps for those other Rouge Powers we call “folk saints” like Saint Doctor Baby who are alike primarily by being like nothing and no one else). She certainly has a cultural context but that context is expanding and morphing even as I write this. Every interaction I’ve ever had with her suggests that she is part of everyone’s context – at least potentially, and certainly some more than others.
She is not a Power of the bourgeoisie. She is not a Power of the powerful. From her very earliest days she has been petitioned by people who had no other access to power (magic being a tool of those who had no other tools). This is why historically she was a love doctor par excellence; women whose well-being depended on staying in a stable relationship prayed to her for success in love. She is still a love doctor but is also known as a patron of queer people, sex workers, anyone working at night, anyone working in dangerous conditions, and anyone for whom magic and divine intervention are the only safeguards against disaster. Transsexuals are among her most fervent believers.
What I ask her for most is a quiet life. This is more or less what most people ask for: a quiet life and a good death. (Why might one pray for a good death? Because a bad death involves fear, pain, torment, abuse, loneliness, and abandonment. Our prayers acknowledge the fact of mortality while asking for an easy transition into the life beyond.)
I’ve been a believer in the Saint for many years. I’ve found her to be a compassionate(ish) figure that responds immediately to any petition. Any. Curses, healing, curse breaking, employment, legal victory, safety, financial success – anything. At times her presence is immensely healing and comforting; at others her energy has a distinct razor’s edge to it that warns you of your mounting debt. Gratitude should be forthcoming.
I have faith in Santa Muerte. I have faith in no one else, not like this. I love Loki, I love the Mother, I love many Powers with a depth that staggers me but an unshakable bedrock faith like this has been won only by her. I don’t know why. I don’t know how.
She is easy to petition. A plain white novena candle is a great place to start. Write her name on it; draw her picture if you’re feeling artistic. Fresh flowers, a glass of water, a fresh bun or pastry, and a handful of hard candy will certainly get her attention; tequila, cigarettes, cigarillos, or a joint will grab even more of her focus.
Greet her; praise her. Tell her what you want. Tell her why you want it and what you will do as a result of getting what you want. (I’ve found that her willingness to help is sweetened by describing how I will help others as a result of her aid.) Thank her and let the candle burn for a while. You can keep it lit for several days if you’re able or just when you’re praying or wish to celebrate her. I usually have her candle lit on the weekends; Friday is my day for lighting a candle to the Virgin, so Santa Muerte gets her candle lit then, too. Sunday is my particular day for the Saint just because I’m likely to be home all day and can leave the candle lit for many hours at a stretch.
Finally, expect miracles and express gratitude. That’s all there is to believing in the Saint.