Sunday, August 3, 2014

Origin of the New Orleans Chapel of the Santisima Muerte

The New Orleans Chapel of the Santisima Muerte owes its existence to the teachings of Nick Arnoldi, aka Hechicero Nick. A New Jersey native, Nick spent a year in Mexico in 2001 and met an hechicero (native sorcerer) who was known as Don Gilberto within his community. When someone was born with a special gift to work within the spiritual realm for the benefit of the community he was said to have the "don." Don Gilberto passed Nick the system of working with La Muerte which consisted of the three robes of white, red, and black. Nick returned to NJ and maintained his personal connection to la Flaka, working for clients over the years. Nick and I met in MA in 2008, but it wasn't until after I returned to New Orleans that the subject of the Santa Muerte came up. Before returning she had approached me in a dream and offered a solution to a problem I was having. At that point, not having any experience with her, I was hesitant, but I accepted. She fulfilled her end of the bargain, and I repaid her as best I could. She remained content with this until about a year later when she made it known she wanted me to work with her more. I set the condition that she needed to bring me a teacher before I'd go further with her, and right after is when Nick brought his devotion and workings with her. A couple of days later Nick contacted me saying La Muerte came to him in a dream and instructed him to teach me and pass along Don Gilberto's system. 

La Muerte wasted no time in responding to my prayers through this system, and she quickly became the dominant spiritual force in my life and practices. Once I got to a comfortable point with her I asked for a major, personal favor. Within a couple of weeks she delivered what I asked for, and I knew then that this relationship was the one I'd been preparing for most of my life. So, in payment I built an outdoor shrine as my way of spreading her devotion. Around the same time, the indoor space I had set up for her grew exponentially, and she eventually took over an entire room in my home. This became the indoor, private chapel. Before I could even put on the finishing touches, Santisima began to bring other people to attend the chaplet services I hold for her, and in two and a half years there is now a very close-knit family of devotees and beginning workers who live in New Orleans and other places. We've been honored to have as guests other traditional workers of La Muerte, as well as Prof. Andrew Chesnut, the leading academic of Santa Muerte in the English-speaking world.

Tragically, Nick's life ended soon after my training in his system was completed. It seemed Santisima Muerte wanted him to pass along his teachings before she came for him. He has an altar in the chapel, and I make certain to keep his memory alive and spirit honored. Without him, none of this would have been possible. I've been blessed to have some of his friends in New Jersey contact me and send me many of his statues and devotional items to continue their service in the New Orleans Chapel. His best friend, Lorraine, who knew Nick since high school and remembers when he was in Mexico has visited, and we've exchanged stories of Nick's personal and spiritual life.

What to Call Devotees and Workers of La Santa Muerte

Although there are no universally recognized "titles" for those who devote themselves to la santisima muerte, there are a couple of them that I've seen used. It should be noted, however, that these personal descriptors are not in any way a sign of an established priesthood or organization and can be used by anyone who has developed a strong connection to la muerte. 

Quick Spanish lesson for all of us Anglophones. "La Muerte" is the Spanish word for Death. Although is doesn't have the traditional "a" ending, it is a feminine word, denoted by "la". This may be a contributing factor as to why "Saint Death" has manifested in Mexico/Central America as female. One of many. Maybe, maybe not.

"Santa Muertero" for men, "Muertera" for women. Muertero/a is a Spanish word for someone who works very heavily with the dead, the muertos. (When you add "-ero/a" to the end of a word in Spanish, it's kinda like adding "-er/-ess" to the end of an English word, making it "someone who does this.") Now, add "Santa" to Muertero, and you have "someone who is devoted to/works with Holy Death. "Sta" is the abbreviation for "Santa," which I personally like because everyone in the English speaking world thinks of Santa Claus when you write out Santa. Lol.

Another descriptor you'll see is "Santa Muertista" which usually only has the "a" ending. Personally, this seems like a borrowing from the term Espiritista as a general Spanish word for a person who works with spirits. Espiritista is used throughout the Spanish-speaking Caribbean islands (but is also found in Mexico, possibly due to the Cuban diaspora, which is also why you see Lukumi and Palo there) as one who is accomplished within the realm of Espiritismo, their version of Allan Kardec spiritism (which is a whole other ball of wax!)

So, Santa Muertero/a or Santa Muertista. Take your pick. And I'm sure there are probably others out there I've yet to encounter. La Santisima Muerte is very quickly growing, changing, expanding, and one never knows exactly what to expect from her.

Sunday, January 26, 2014

The New Orleans Chapel has a new website! Currently most of the information here has been transferred over to get the site up and  going. Whether I continue to post here or not remains to be seen, but be sure to visit for the latest updates.

Tuesday, January 14, 2014

La Negra Pose, 3 of 3

In the three-robed system I was taught and practice, there is a very specific set of guidelines on how to arrange the three statues of La Blanca (the white), La Roja (the red), and La Negra (the black). These guidelines reflect the lore I received about her and the hierarchy within the paradigm of the three-robed system. First, it should be noted that not everyone is called to work with all three robes, and most people work more with La Blanca and La Roja, La Negra being reserved for those who have been trained to handle her dangerous power. Some people only work with one robe, some two, and some all three. However, which ever way it works out, there will always be one robe that becomes the dominant robe for that person. It may have something to do with a person's personality, the spirits a person has around him/her, or any number of variables that only Sanstisima herself can see. In any case, she is the one who chooses, not the other way around. She will always be the one who chooses who she'll work with, which robe is the dominant robe for a person, and which work she'll pick up and do. The devotee merely has to look for the signs.

In the case that someone is chosen to work with all three robes and La Negra is the dominant robe, she is placed in the middle, with La Blanca on the right and La Roja on the left (these refer to YOUR right and left as you face the altar). If someone only works with La Negra and one of the other two, La Negra is always going to be on the Left.

La Blanca, being the purist of the three, must be covered with a white cloth anytime a person works with La Negra.

A strong word of caution: La Negra is very hot, ferocious, wild, and dangerous. She brings with her disease, tragedy, and the spirits of those who have died in horrible ways. Working with her requires regular cleansing baths and periodic blessing of the Amparo. It's best not to try to work with her unless you've received training from an experienced teacher.

See the attached photo for an example of the arrangement with all three robes.

Photo by Steven Bragg

La Roja Pose, 2 of 3

In the three-robed system I was taught and practice, there is a very specific set of guidelines on how to arrange the three statues of La Blanca (the white), La Roja (the red), and La Negra (the black). These guidelines reflect the lore I received about her and the hierarchy within the paradigm of the three-robed system. First, it should be noted that not everyone is called to work with all three robes, and most people work more with La Blanca and La Roja, La Negra being reserved for those who have been trained to handle her dangerous power. Some people only work with one robe, some two, and some all three. However, which ever way it works out, there will always be one robe that becomes the dominant robe for that person. It may have something to do with a person's personality, the spirits a person has around him/her, or any number of variables that only Sanstisima herself can see. In any case, she is the one who chooses, not the other way around. She will always be the one who chooses who she'll work with, which robe is the dominant robe for a person, and which work she'll pick up and do. The devotee merely has to look for the signs.

In the case that someone is chosen to work with all three robes and La Roja is the dominant robe, she is placed in the middle, with La Blanca on the right and La Negra on the left (these refer to YOUR right and left as you face the altar). If someone only works with La Roja and one of the other two, La Roja will be to the left of La Blanca, but to the right of La Negra.

See the attached photo for an example of the arrangement with all three robes.

Photo by Steven Bragg

La Blanca Pose, 1 of 3

In the three-robed system I was taught and practice, there is a very specific set of guidelines on how to arrange the three statues of La Blanca (the white), La Roja (the red), and La Negra (the black). These guidelines reflect the lore I received about her and the hierarchy within the paradigm of the three-robed system. First, it should be noted that not everyone is called to work with all three robes, and most people work more with La Blanca and La Roja, La Negra being reserved for those who have been trained to handle her dangerous power. Some people only work with one robe, some two, and some all three. However, which ever way it works out, there will always be one robe that becomes the dominant robe for that person. It may have something to do with a person's personality, the spirits a person has around him/her, or any number of variables that only Sanstisima herself can see. In any case, she is the one who chooses, not the other way around. She will always be the one who chooses who she'll work with, which robe is the dominant robe for a person, and which work she'll pick up and do. The devotee merely has to look for the signs.

In the case that someone is chosen to work with all three robes and La Blanca is the dominant robe, she is placed in the middle, with La Roja on the right and La Negra on the left (these refer to YOUR right and left as you face the altar). If someone only works with La Blanca and one of the other two, La Blanca is always going to be on the right.

La Blanca, being the purist of the three, must be covered with a white cloth anytime a person works with La Negra.

See the attached photo for an example of the arrangement with all three robes. This is also considered the "natural pose" for when the dominant robe has not yet revealed itself.

Photo by Steven Bragg

Wednesday, November 20, 2013

“Punishing” La Muerte?

Steven Bragg

I’ve had more than a few people ask me about this lately, so I thought I’d share my thoughts on a particular matter. Some people say, and this was even included in my original teachings from my teacher, Nick, that if you ask Santisima to do something for you and either she doesn’t do it or she’s being really slow in acting, you can take away her things (scythe, hands, offerings, etc.) and hide them until she comes through with what you ask. Then you give her things back to her and keep on going as normal. I’ve heard of several variations on this, including making her face the wall, turning her upside-down, putting her in a dark closet, and so on.

Now, I understand that this is an old practice, and similar actions can be found all throughout the world, including folk Catholicism and the African Diasporic Religions. I’ve seen people do it, and I’ve even done it myself. Twice. Once with a Lwa of Haitian Vodou, and once with Santisima Muerte. Both times ended disastrously for me. It took two times of being punished by the spiritual beings I thought I was punishing to realize what a stupid practice it is, especially when you try to do it with very old and very powerful beings.


Practice however you wish, but my experience has been that although you might get what you ask for (or not!), you might also get something you didn’t ask for and don’t want. Choose with care.