Santa Muerte in the Mission San Fco California
Santa Muerte, called Mexico’s “holy death cult,” is growing—and spreading. Followers in the Mission District of San Francisco say they pray to la Santa for health, work and love.
I am Katy K.
This place might look a little weird from the outside, but it's really a wonderful place with the right sort of mood. They have EVERYTHING you might possibly need in the way of candles, oils, incense, baths, powders, charms, and soaps. They have a lot of Orisha items and this is one of the few local places where I can find Santa Muerte candles and supplies. All of their prayer cards and books seem to be in Spanish, but who doesn't have a Spanish speaking friend who can help translate? They also have the best prices on everything, and they have brands other than Indio. Their candle burning altars are really powerful. This seems to be the only botanica on the face of the planet that is open seven days a week.
Botanica los Sueños
3274 23rd St
(between Capp St & Mission St)
San Francisco, CA 94110
Lupe Cell: 415-240-1776
Everyday Sandra Orosco lights a candle and prays to her chosen saint — an ordinary act in the Mission District or anywhere with a Latin American population.
To Orosco, her lady saint is the most powerful. She offers protection and guidance rather than stiff judgment. And indeed this saint is extraordinary. Like most saints, she is adorned in a flowing robe and sometimes holds a globe in her hand and pendulum in the other — but her fingers are skeletal and her face is a human skull.
Those unfamiliar might mistake her for the Grim Reaper but to Orosco and a growing number of devotees she is an angel from God. They call her La Santa Muerte — Saint Death or Holy Death.
La Santa Muerte is a symbolic personification of death and a popular saint not condoned by the Catholic Church. While Mexico has many such folk saints, devotion for her has spread rapidly and widely.
In Mexico, there are now nearly 5 million followers. Despite a growing number of artists, intellectuals, politicians and actors have who have become followers, the largest base remains among those economically and socially marginalized. They include many who live dangerous lives—drug traffickers, police, gang members, prisoners and sex workers.
The growing movement in Mexico has met increased opposition from the Roman Catholic Church and the government.
In March 2009, the Mexican army bulldozed several Santa Muerte places of worship they alleged were criminal hideouts. The government claims that worship of Santa Muerte is a national security threat that supports the narco trade.
In northern Mexico — the frontline of the narco war — there are thousands of shrines to Santa Muerte. Her artifacts there are starting to outnumber those of Guadalupe, Mexico’s indigenous image of the Virgin Mary. Like Guadalupe, Santa Muerte has been celebrated in corridos and even a popular film.
Now migrant communities are bringing their devotion to the U.S. Here in the Mission, Orosco, 44, opened a small botanica on 24th Street near Shotwell nearly eight months ago.
Scholars have various theories over the origin of Santa Muerte. Some say she comes from the ancient beliefs of pre-Columbian Mexicas. Others say the belief is based on religious practices imported from African slaves via the Caribbean and some claim its roots are medieval Europe. But to Orozco, these kinds of details are trivial and miss the point.
“She has always been here,” Orosco said emphatically when asked when Santa Muerte arrived in the Mission. “She was already here but there was no location for it.”
Originally from Jalisco, Mexico, Orosco learned about the saint when she was 25 years old and has devoted herself to her ever since.
Orosco has entered into “twenty-two blood pacts” with Santa Muerte. She considered this a personal matter, however, and didn’t want to discuss the details, but she did add that these pacts give her a mark of respect and proclaim her sincerity to those who come by her store.
“People ask if you have some pacts with Santa Muerte and if you don’t have it, they go,” she said.
There is little doubt that Orosco commands respect. A direct and confident woman who spoke no English, she started working at a nearby flower shop with just a handful of Santa Muerte candles. Over time, she witnessed firsthand the increase of people seeking advice and instruction on how to pray and ask for favors from Santa Muerte.
“Most people come to ask for something like a job, something specific,” she said.
After three years, the demand for service and the need of more private space required Orosco to get her own shop. Although various artifacts of Santa Muerte are readily found in other shops, Orosco has the only botanica that is almost completely devoted to the saint.
“They [the other shops] don’t worship Santa Muerte. This is the house of Santa Muerte,” she said.
While it is difficult to assess the number of Santa Muerte worshipers in the Bay Area, Orosco estimates that she has between 200 to 300 regular visitors, with gender split about evenly and with ages ranging between 15 and 60. They come from countries all over Latin America. There is also a significant number of faithful within the transgendered migrant community.
Professor Lois Ann Lorentzen, Chair of the Department of Theology and Religious Studies at the University of San Francisco, recently wrote a study on Mexican transgendered sex workers who travel back and forth between San Francisco and Guadalajara, Mexico, and who venerate Santa Muerte.
In her study, Lorentzen found their faith is not just a source of protection from the daily risks of a dangerous life. It also serves, she asserts, to keep them connected to the Catholic faith they were raised in but now feel ostracized from. Their prayers to Santa Muerte evoke both Jesus and God.
Lorentzen writes, “They do not differentiate between Holy Death and the more traditional Catholic saints. Rather, she is simply another possible intermediary between themselves and God.” Indeed most of those devoted to Santa Muerte see no contradiction with their Catholic faith.
Estas fotos son de mi visita a Botanica de Los Sueños, mis comentarios abajo, con todo respeto a los dueños del lugar, los cuales son unas personas muy educadas, inteligentes y muy conocedoras del tema.