From deep within Mexico and growing in the U.S. border areas, grows a death cult embraced by violent Mexican gangs.  Santa Muerte (or Holy Death) is not only the patron saint of the drug gangs, but her cult has spread to many who share the neighborhoods with those gangs. 

This "Saint Death" seems to be a hapless answer to the pessimism that pervades that low strata of society.  She is called upon for protection (of the petitioner and/or family), providing secular needs, and for a good death.

Shrines to her are in many homes, patios and courtyards.  Large, expensive shrines seem to "appear" along the roadsides of the major highways.  These shrines are rumored to be financed by Mexican drug gangs.  The Mexican authorities tear the roadside shrines down, only to have them return elsewhere on the road.

The cult is a mixture of pre-Columbian reverance for death.  This, as depicted in archeology and evidenced in the Mexican "Days of the Dead", seems to go hand-in-hand with Roman Catholicism. 

The Roman Catholic Archdiocese of Mexico City decries it (I would hope so).  The part that creeps me out the most is that this saint is often offered (among other things) tobacco.  I've "been around" in a couple of situations where offering tobacco to the disembodied voice, or statue was the thing to do.  It was chilling.

However, strange as it may sound, this weird blend of Roman Catholisim and Pagan culture is not all that unusual. 

Peoples of many countries, which were Christinized in the early colonial period, were denied their native worships and practices and were forced to accept  Roman Catholic norms - probably over night. 

My guess is that, either by obediance to both pagan and Roman Catholic dieties, or by sheer defiance, the old ways were kept (in secret) as, at least, tradition throughout the centuries.

I know from my own experience, that many in Brazil venerate both African dieties as well as Christian saints in both churches and natural environments, without much differenciation.  They throw money and mirrors into the sea to appease a vain sea-godess who might steal their children.  But she is revered as a saint, right along with Saint Michael. 

The rituals borrow from one another, as well.  Someone from the Northern Hemisphere would not believe their eyes at what goes on in some of those Roman Catholic church basements.
Santa Muerte, or "Saint Death" goes by several names; Señora de las Sombras ("Lady of the Shadows"), Señora Blanca ("White Lady"), Señora Negra ("Black Lady"), Niña Santa ("Holy Girl"), and La Flaca ("The Skinny One").

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