La Santa Muerte’s Birthday Party

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La Santa Muerte’s Birthday Party

In Los Angeles her figure oversaw all the goings on, but her devotees were respectful, amiable, family oriented, and enjoyed the partying, chipping in by singing lusty Mexican corridos and dancing traditional steps to familiar tunes..

I celebrated the birthday of La Santa Muerte (Saint of Death) with her devotees over the weekend at her Los Angeles church.  Maestro Sysiphus with his wife, Sahara, performed “Mass” and healings on Friday evening.  Some fifty baptisms on Saturday preceded a wedding ceremony for six couples, one of them gay.  Typical Mexican meals were served for breakfast and afternoon comida in a tent next door.  Some of the city’s best mariachis serenaded the group through much of the day followed by an energetic banda in the evening.  Next day the group went for a picnic in the mountains above the city.  The entire event was colorful, joyous, spirited and at appropriate moments, prayerful and even tearful.  It was in every way extraordinary.

Why so  extraordinary?  Because those tied to Santa Muerte devotions in much of Mexico, especially the capital, are said to be mostly drug dealers and their acolytes and criminals of all stripes who plead to the Santa for  protection from the law and ask for financial proceeds from their activities.  It is said to be dangerous to hang out at the Santa’s chapels in destitute barrios like Tepito in Mexico City.  Her image itself can be foreboding, a skull-headed icon with menacing  teeth, a replica of the grim reaper carrying a scythe.  In Los Angeles her figure oversaw all the goings on, but her devotees were respectful, amiable, family oriented, and enjoyed the partying, chipping in by singing lusty Mexican corridos and dancing traditional steps to familiar tunes..  No alcohol, no disorder, no pushing and shoving, no meanness, only an occasional bit of discipline for an unruly child.  Folks just had a good time.  And it was great fun for me, the only obvious gringo among them.

La Santa Muerte comes from a long line of popular saints mainly among Catholics (although other religions have such saints), that is, they are santos canonized by the people instead of the official Church.  That’s the way it was in the early centuries of Christianity until the Church grabbed control of  the saint-making machinery.  No church has  sanctioned La Santa Muerte.  On the other hand, many of the santa’s followers regularly go to Catholic services, and many of the ceremonies and rituals performed at the birthday party followed long-honored Christian sayings and ways.  The crucified Christ stands next to La Santa Muerte in the church..  Maestro Sysiphus explained that La Santa has a good side and a bad one.  Criminals appeal to her negative instincts, the members of his congregation to her positive attributes.  At the weekend ceremonies in Los Angeles, there were large blocks of ice placed in corners of the church in case any of the devotees needed to cleanse themselves with moisture and prayers of some wrongdoing.
    I am trying to understand the profundity of this devotion, but it is going to take some doing.

Paul Vanderwood


Santa Muerte FestivalSanta Muerte Music & Arts Festival, a two day event celebrating the folklore of the southwest showcasing some of the most important underground musicians and cutting-edge international visionary artists. This is a grassroots event created and inspired by artists and musicians.

ART: Twenty world-renowned artists from Scotland, Italy, Canada, and across the U.S. converge on Tucson at Sacred Machine. Participating artists work has appeared in and been commissioned by The New York Times, Juxtapoz Magazine, Hi-Fructose Magazine, Time Magazine, The Washington Post, LA Times, the Academy Award winning movie 'Traffic' by Steven Soderbergh, on multi-platinum album covers, illustrated children's books, published monographs, and advertising for clients such as Sony and Toyota. "These artists are so multi-talented that some even play in rock bands and create videos. With their work they have imbued apocalyptic prophecies, shaken the norms of conventional iconography and written books, museums and collectors such as Madonna acquire their work, they exhibit their art across the globe, some self-taught, some professors, some outsiders, but one thing is certain, the group as a whole has influenced, and is seriously rocking the art world." Paula Catherine Valencia, Curator of Sacred Machine.

September 10th - November 7th, 2010
Opening Reception Friday, September 10th, 2010, 7:00PM - Midnight

The Finest World Renowned Artists come together to celebrate the unique spirit of the Southwest and its mysterious traditions.

Mark Ryden (Los Angeles) Chris Mars (Minneapolis) Daniel Martin Diaz (Tucson) Jason D'Aquino (Brooklyn) Craig LaRotonda (Buffalo) Bob Dob (Los Angeles) Bryan Cunningham (Los Angeles) Norbert Kox (Wisconsin) P.J. Fidler (Los Angeles) Fred Stonehouse (Milwaukee) Robert Palacios (Los Angeles) Paul Barnes (Scotland, UK) Joel Nakamura (Santa Fe) Pol Turgeon (Montreal, CA) Jon MacNair (Michigan) Nicoletta Ceccoli (Rome, Italy) Michael Page (San Francisco) Charlie Immer (Maryland) Alfred Quiroz (Tucson) Scott Holloway (Massachusetts)

Curated by Paula Catherine Valencia and Daniel Martin Diaz

Sacred Machine
245 E. Congress St. Suite 123
Tucson, Arizona 85701


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