Wednesday, March 30, 2016

The Curious Case of Rev. Doktor Grey Ravyn

The following is something I wrote up in 2014, but it seems this particular person is trying his hand at deceiving people once again, so I'll highlight it here, as well as other places.

Since I’ve now had over a dozen people privately contact me about a particular person and his new Facebook group, I’m going to save us all alot of time and put this out here. I rarely do this as I don’t consider myself to be a police of anything unless it’s clear that a person or group is misinforming people.

There’s a person who goes by the moniker Rev. Doktor Grey Ravyn, and has a Facebook group, as well as a website, called The Monastery de la Santisima Muerte, both created in January 2014. I first saw this person online about a year ago and quickly dismissed him. His stories of who trained him and when have changed slightly over the year that I’ve been aware him. Currently he claims to a Gris-Gris Man, a New Orleans Voodoo Priest, an initiate of a Hereditary Gardnerian Coven, and an initiated priest of la Santisima Muerte. Most of these claims are typical of people who have simply made up their own past or highly embellished small facts about themselves. For the most part I don’t concern myself with his claims as anyone who is serious about hoodoo, Vodou, or La Muerte will eventually, after looking around and talking to more people within these communities, realize that he’s not really initiated into anything legitimate.

Generally speaking, the Lwa, Orisha, Mpungos, and other spirits of ADRs (African Diasporic Religions) aren’t going to pay much attention to people who have not been connected to the traditions through a legit house or priest/priestess, so I’m not so worried about anything he may say in those areas. However, the nature of Santisima Muerte is different, and there are some things that he’s saying that potentially lead people astray and could be dangerous. So, I want to address these here.  The quotes are from both the website and Facebook group and are in no particular order. As a sidenote, I’d like to point out that I was a member of the Facebook group until I asked him to support his information with sources. Then he kicked me out and banned me, after saying that the information came from his “Abuelita’s” teachings. Allegedly, he learned from a Mexican lady, and she initiated him...despite that until recently his story was that he learned everything over the phone from a friend’s grandmother who was from Mexico. Let’s see how this holds up against a bit of historical evidence and other Santa Muerteros’ experiences.

Grey Ravyn: “Our first topic of discussion is going to try to clear upthe confusion between what is deemed "The Cult of La Santisima Muerte" and "The religion of La Santisima Muerte." Basically all us devotees are in The cult of La Santisima Muerte, but not all are in the True religion of La Santisima Muerte. Confused yet? The difference in the Cult and the Religion is simple, those of us in her True Religion, worship her as the bringer of all things, as a Goddess of ancient times and as the one whom God himself even bowed too and later through her mercy released. The cultists amongst us invariably look on her for her powers of revenge or to help them in desperation, viewing her as nothing more than a "Mysterio" to be prayed too as any other Spirit or Saint. Some of hercultists are found in the pop-culture and gangland of Mexico, seeing her as the patroness of Drug Dealers,murderers and Prostitutes.”

So, he’s a little confused. In most Spanish accounts, the devotion of Santa Muerte is referred to as “el culto.” In Spanish the word “culto” does not have the negative connotations that “cult” has in English, which he’s playing with to suggest that those big meannie drug lords clearly can’t have the same level of spiritual devotion that an Amercian white boy has. But let’s focus on the more obvious problem, which of course is that there are no accounts of there ever being a “True Religion” of Santa Muerte, at least not until the last ten years or so. On Halloween of 2001, Doña Queta unveiled her public shrine to La Flaka, in Tepito, Mexico City, the very first public shrine of Santa Muerte. After this more and more people began to follow her example. Self-declared Archbishop David Romo, in 2003, included Santa Muerte in his non-sanctioned yet legally recognized church, while in the same year Santiago Guadalupe founded Santuario Universal de Santa Muerte. Andrew Chesnut, in his "Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte the Skeleton Saint" has one of the best historical accounts of Santa Muerte in English. Prior to this, there are no records and no one had even heard of an organized church or religion for La Santisima with any type of clergy. Before these events, Santisima’s devotions and magical workings were passed teacher to student, mainly in the case of the magical aspects, or inherited through the family, typically for the devotional side (of course the lines between these can be blurred.)

Grey Ravyn: “She is a Folk-Saint aspected Goddess, brought into Catholicism in Mexico and Brazil by the local Mestizos and other tribes who were forced into catholicism. Until the past twenty years or so she was actually recognized by the Diocese in Mexico as a Saint and many churches were built and sanctioned in her name, but as is often the case she became too powerful and the church banned her from their saints and burned her churches, saying she was an invention to cover up murders, drug dealers, and the cartels. Many of her worshippers in the past ten years have been murdered in explosions of her shrines and churches throughout Mexico, which both the Diocese and Policia consider her veneration and religion to be witchcraft and is against both church and federal law in Mexico. Punishable by imprisonment and the like if the laws are enforced, I can attest to the bombings and such by the Policia as my Abuelita who taught me about Santa Muerte was gunned down while trying to enter a small church dedicated to her.”

First...what the heck is a “Folk-Saint aspected Goddess?” Historically, it’s either folk saint or goddess, not both. And I’m not sure how he’s using the word “aspected,” but I get the feeling he’s not sure himself. In any case, he’s making this up. Oh, and, Brazil? Well, isn’t it just all part of that Central/South American conglomeration of Latin language-speaking people? No. His geography is way off here, not to mention that Mexico and Brazil are two very different countries, separated by different languages, cultures, and colonial histories. Also, there are no accounts of Santisima Muerte being in Brazil until very recently...if she’s even really there now. Next on this list of historical inaccuracies is that Santisima Muerte has NEVER been recognized by any Diocese of the Catholic Church, and there have never been sanctioned Catholic churches built in her name. Ever. Period. In addition, no worshippers have been killed in the blowing up of either shrines or those non-existant churches. Worship of Santa Muerte is NOT illegal in Mexico, and people are NOT being imprisoned simply because they honor her. Hundreds of thousands of people walk around everyday in Mexico proudly displaying Santa Muerte clothing and jewelry, and if it was illegal then none of the shrines and (non-sanctioned) churches that have been built recently would be in existence. It’s all rubbish. There have been Catholic-supported government demolitions of some of her shrines, but these have been politically motivated and nothing to do with any laws that are in place. These are the statements I asked him to support with evidence, which got me kicked out and banned from the group. As for his Abuelita being gunned down, if this actually happened and isn't a cover-up for the possibility that she never existed, it's much more likely a case of gang violence and being in the wrong place at the wrong time. I highly doubt a police officer or other government official would gun down an old woman because she went to a particular religious shrine.

Grey Ravyn: “Today I thought we might discuss a bit about what it means when we say "Initiation" into her mysteries. Now there is some confusion on this subject, many will tell you there is no Initiatiatory system when dealing with SM and that really is not true. Basically any who work with SM have went through a initiation through her. In tradition there are actually two types of initiation and while all must go through the first type the second is optional and dependent on who your teacher, if any is. Every member of SM's cult must before working her mysteries, be intiated by her. This is done relatively easily as follows; The process takes 9 consecutive nights of prayer at midnight. One begins by setting a small table in the West where the sun can touch at sunset an d the moon and stars can touch at night. On this table one will place a Black cloth which reaches the floor on all four corners. Next one places an image, statue,or candle of SM in the center, On her right is placed a silver ring and a clean small round mirror, on her left is placed a ring of copper and a small mirror made of Onyx. On the side in front of the mirror on the right is placed a Glass of Clear cool water, Next to this in front of her image is placed a incense burner, 2 lit sticks of incense and also a few grains of copal. On the left is placed a fresh Bollito(Sm. French Bread Loaf) or a broken tortilla. Now the candle(white) is lit and the following prayers are said; 3 Our Father's, Nicene Creed, 3 Hail Mary's followed by the Asking prayer which I will post shortly as a doc. After this one begins(at Midnight this all takes place) with the first night of the Novena de la Santisima Muerte. This ritual is done progressively over the course of the next 9 nights, if she accepts you then on the 9th night you will complete the prayer with no interruption, if however she refuses then you will be interruopted and unable to complete the 9th night prayer. If this happens then one must wait a total of 9 days and then start again. If one decides after being accepted by her to go into the 2nd stage initiations and one has found a Abuelita and Madrina that will do this, then one must consult SM to see if it is right, the Abuelita or the Madrina will perform a simple divination to see if they can proceed to the Initiation of the 3 deaths. If not then the prospirant is refused and must wait a cycle of 9 months before one can re petition SM. All this I have discussed is of utmost importance for if this is not done before one begins to work with SM then one may think that they are working her mystery but instead are working something different and far more dangerous, that of the "Lone Soul."”

Oy vey! Where to even begin with this one? Let’s keep it simple, shall we? Suffice it to say that the ritual described above was made up by him, as it resembles a New Age-influenced novena. Although it's also possible that someone else made it up and passed it to him. Either way, it’s not an initiation ritual, it's a novena. Novenas are quite common with Santisima Muerte and can be used for a wide variety of situations. As for Initiation into the mysteries of Santa Muerte, we can get very theological and say, like another Sta Muertero I know, that true initiation for The Most Holy for it...yeah, death. When you die. However, there are some who say that birth into a life that is certain to end, is an initiation into an inevitable death, and therefore every living person is in a way already initiated as Santisima Muerte will come for each and every one of us when it’s our time to meet her in that way. But let’s look at this outside of the realm of theology and spiritual speculation. He’s suggesting here that unless a person does this so-called initiatory novena thing then they’re not going to be dealing with the true Santa Muerte, but a creature he calls the “Lone Soul.” More on this “Lone Soul” later, but think about it. There are millions of people, upwards to about 12 million, right now who are praying to and having their prayers answered by a folk saint called Santa Muerte (or any of her various other names). Are all these millions of people being deceived by this “Lone Soul?” Well, shit, I better start praying to her as she’s clearly the more prominant and powerful spiritual being in this equation! Right? No! It makes no sense whatsoever! 

But, wait! Later he says this:

“Note though: That we Initiated Priest/esses don't hold a true degree we have been passed through the "degrees" of the Initiation of the 3 Deaths by both an Abuelita and her assistant(Madrina). at least in the family tradition I was taught. Again with SM it is all very variable depending on who is teaching and how you choose to practice.”

LOL! So, what’s all the doom and gloom warnings about if it all depends on who you receive your information from? No, seriously, with that statement he’s just negated all of the statements and insinuations that if you’re not doing it the way he does then you’re not doing it right, that the rest of us don't know what we're talking about, that he has all the secrets, and that oogie boogie Lone Soul is gonna get ya! I’m know you’re still wondering who this Lone Soul is, but just be patient. We’re coming to that. Right now, however, let’s discuss something which is way too prevalent in (the online) spiritual communities and how it’s affecting the learning experiences of people just starting out. The ADRs have definitive initiatory systems with lineages, and it’s relatively easy to find out if someone really is who and what they claim to be. With folk systems like hoodoo and Latin American folk traditions, it’s much more difficult. It’s usually teacher to student or family-based, and these systems vary widely, though usually having a very similar core. This is good in some ways, but it’s bad in that it opens the door for someone to come onto the scene, declare themselves the student or initiate of So-And-So, grand magic person who is from a foreign country...who naturally no one in the U.S. has ever heard of and who may or may not still be alive, and as long as he tacks “I learned it from my teacher/initiator/Abuelita” at the end of everything he says, it simply can’t be questioned. Right? Wrong. There are always cultural hallmarks and central core beliefs and tenants in these traditions and systems that, if absent, scream very loudly the mating call of the frauds and charlatans. An example is when he said this in the quote above:

“ a Goddess of ancient times and as the one whom God himself even bowed too and later through her mercy released.”

This is the only instance where I’ve encountered Santa Muerte being raised above God. That’s just not how she’s viewed in Mexico or anywhere else. God is God. The Creator of all. Santisima Muerte, as a manifestation of Death, cannot create, only take away. Some see her as the second most powerful force, for whatever God creates, she can take away. However, it’s universal throughout the land in which Santa Muerte manifested, that nothing and no one is more powerful than God. La Santisima Muerte (Look. At. Her. Name. It’s Spanish and Catholic. And despite what someone may say, she doesn't have a "secret" name.) is not the continuation of a “Goddess of ancient times.” And on that note, which goddess is he referring to I wonder? He never says. If he’s referring to the Aztec underworld goddess Mictecacihuatl, then there’s a problem. The Aztecs didn’t come onto the scene in that region of the land until sometime around 1200 A.D. Not exactly ancient times, and also that gives the god of the Catholic Church at least a millennium on the Aztec Lady (well, much longer if you see this god as the same God of the Jewish people.) Also, let's keep in mind something pointed out to me by another Sta Muertero. Remembering that the Aztecs came into dominance around the 1200s and their height of power was the late 1400s, what happened in the 1500s? Yep. Spain. It’s didn’t take long, what with the epidemics and all, for colonial Spain to become the dominant force, and with it the Catholic Church. So. Two centuries of Aztec religion and over four (and counting) of Catholicism. History’s a bitch, huh? As for  the whole "Santisima Muerte has been around forever because Death has been around forever" argument, again getting into the theological realm, Death manifests in different cultures under different names with different characteristics, depending on the religion and culture you're talking about. So, no, La Santisima Muerte, as the mestizo folk saint and currently rising power has not been around forever, no matter how you want to look at it. 

Let's back up a second and talk about something I mentioned just above. I talked about how difficult it is to find out if someone is legit or not within these non-initiatory folk systems. The glaring question you should be asking (if you don't already know me) is "hey, Steven, how can we trust what you're saying?" Good question! I was taught by a man named Nick Arnoldi (he took the Facebook name of Hechicero Nick, which is why I sometimes refer to him as that.) Nick lived in Mexico in 2001 and apprenticed with an hechicero (kind of a more Native-influenced sorcerer) called Don Gilberto who lived south of Tijuana. Have I ever met Don Gilberto? No. Is he on Facebook or the internet? Not to my knowledge. So, then how do I know that Nick was telling the truth about Don Gilberto? Easy. I've spoken to several other people who have worked with la Santisima for longer than I have, and guess what? Much of what I received from Nick matches up with what they were taught. In fact there's a book by E. Bryant Holman, called "The Santisima Muerte: A Mexican Folk Saint" published in 2007 that describes devotion and working with La Muerte much in line with what I got from Nick. Details differ, but that's to be expected with folk traditions. It's ultimately, though, up to whether or not a person is able to develop a strong connection with La Flaka based on the teacher's information and instruction. So, then is it possible for Grey Ravyn and anyone he instructs to form a connection and be successful? We shall see. But that's not the point of all this. My intention is to show that whatever it is that Grey Ravyn is doing is not old, traditional, or some super secret religion with a grandmother story (didn't we all learn our lesson with the grandmother stories of those within modern witchcraft and Wicca?) Let's move on.

Ok, ok, fine, let's look at this "Lone Soul" figure now. You're an impatient lot, aren't you?

Grey Ravyn: “For now suffice it to say "The Lone Soul" is an entity that when people ask SM to commit murder or vengeful acts that go against her commandments and then the prayer is answered and the act is committed it is not SM that has done this but rather "The Lone Soul" this is what we mean in the true religion of SM, when we say to commit acts of violence and darkness causes something else to appear and not SM this is what we are talking about. There are many stories of what this "Lone Soul" is and we will get into this at a later time, suffice it to say it is responsible for most violence and murder associated with us followers of SM's religion.”

Ok, The Lone Soul. Quite clearly this is as English translation of Anima Sola, the Catholic image of a soul in purgatory with chains on her arms and surrounded by flames. Without getting too deep into this, as I'm not an expert, Anima Sola can be petitioned to do spiritual work that you wouldn't necessarily go to a Saint about. Different traditions have their own interpretations and practices. However, the type of workings he's referring to here are those that traditionally fall to La Negra, tha is Santisima Muerte of the black robe. When wearing the black robe, Santa Muerte can do many things usually reserved for brujos and brujas (witches), but she can also be petitioned to protect someone from malicious sorcery. So, what seems to be going on here, is that he's trying to white wash Santisima's reputation for whatever reason. Substituting The Lone Soul for the work of La Negra is yet another thing I've encountered no where else, and I've not heard any other Santa Muertero speak of this. Oh, and did you notice where he mentions "her commandments?" More on that in a bit. However, he goes on to say:

“Thus strengthening your protection not necessarily from Santisima Muerte but rather from the "Lone Soul." This is who these Amparos are truly created to protect against when dealing with SM not SM herself but rather "The Lone Soul." Vile and dangerous it is without the Amparo in place.”

That would be another no. While the amparo is a very important piece of working with La Muerte, it's because She is Death. We are living. Working too much with her can have negative effects. It's like being constantly exposed to harmful radiation. So, the amparo is in place as a safeguard. Ask any other person who works within a traditional system of La Flaka and see what they say.

By now I should've made my points quite clear. But I'd be remiss if I didn't address a few more inaccurate statements.

Grey Ravyn: “The other colors though not strictly traditional came from various influences of the modern pagan candle colors and beliefs. As the Mexicans began learning of European Witchcraft traditions in this country they then instead of using the various colors in candles converted them instead into clothing for Santisima Muerte's robes for the same purposes. This is how I was taught anyway and then the Mexicans woukld migrate back to Mexico and they would take these new color forms back with them, now in Mexico you will see alot of the non-traditional triad colors all over.”

First off, the older and traditional system that evolved works with Santisima Muerte wearing only three colors: white, red, and black. It's a complete system in and of itself. However, over the last decade there's been a rise in Santa Muerte statues in various colors, and even one version that has seven colors. There are several lists for what each color is for, it's certainly not a universal system. However, the idea that these originated from a cross-pollination between Mexicans and U.S. pagans and witches is ridiculous. The vast majority of the people in the U.S. who practice the various forms of witchcraft have historically not been found mingling with the often insular Mexican and Latino immigrants. There's the socio-economic gap, and then there's the language divide, as most U.S. witches (pagans, Wiccans, etc.) are monolinguists (this is much kinder than I was originally going to put it.) No, the Mexicans did not learn about the different colors from this side of the border. Why? Well, it seems to have completely missed Grey Ravyn, but there are much more reasonable sources for the color systems that's right there in Mexico. There are the ADRs. Cubans have immigrated to Mexico, taking their Lukumi and Palo religions with them. There are the spiritual merchants, those who seek to make a profit from selling religious items. And there's the internet, an unlimited source of New Age and magical misinformation that never sleeps. There are other sources, too, but you get the picture, and that picture does not include the fictional account proposed by our dear Reverend Doktor.

Remember those 10 Commandments he mentioned? Well here they are:

1. Venerás a La Santa Muerte con todo respeto.(Thou shalt venerate La Santa Muerte with all due respect.)
2. No tomarás el nombre de ella en vano.(Thou shalt not take her name in vain.)
3. La adorarás los dias de sus fiestas.(Thou shalt observe her Feast Days.)
4. Honrarás a todos tus hermanos de la religión.(Thou shalt honor all your brethren of the religion.)
5. No le harás daño a nadie.(Thou shalt not do harm to anyone.)
6. No cometerás actos que perjudiquen nuestra religion de adorar a La Santa Muerte.(Thou shalt not commit acts that endanger our religion of adoring La Santa Muerte.)
7. No abusarás de tus conocimientos espirituales.(Thou shalt not abuse your spiritual knowledge.)
8. No dirás falsos testimonios relacionados con ella.(Thou shalt not give false testimony about her.)
9. No tendrás pensamientos que te hagan lucrar con ella.(Thou shalt not think to make a profit off of her.)
10. No desearás las riquezas de otras personas.(Thou shalt not covet the wealth of others.)To these traditional ten...or sometimes as an alternative to the traditional ten...I like to add two commandments:
11. Respetarás todo lo que vive y todo lo que está muerto.(Thou shalt respect all that lives and all that is dead.)and
12. Usarás tus conocimientos para servir a la familia, la comunidad, y toda la Creacíon.(Thou shalt use your knowledge to serve the family, the community, and all of Creation)

No, he doesn't try to take credit for these. In fact they've been floating around the internet for a while and can be found in the book "La Biblia de la Santa Muerte" published anonymously in Mexico in 2010. Well, the original 10 are found there, and someone added the other two. Simply put, these are new. A modern invention for those who have recently decided to boldly take Santa Muerte where no Santa Muertero has gone before. Oh, and by the way, this isn't the only version, as I've seen others. All new. All good advice, most certainly, but not traditional.

Ok, one last thing and I'll be done...for now. Grey Ravyn likes to sign many of his posts with “Salve Regina Muerte.” Yes, you read that right. A little bit of Latin, a tiny dash of Spanish, and a whole heap of him hoping no one pays too much attention to his language skills...or lack thereof. 

Good night, everybody!
Santa Muertero Steven signing off.

UPDATE: 01/17/14. The good Rev. Doktor has been unmasked as Roy K. Bradburn of Omaha, NE, who in 2012 was using the name Rev. Merletone Legba. Everything about this person is fraudulent. Here is his profile description from the Monastery website in 2012:

"I am a 3rd degree English Traditionalist Gardnerian Wytche and fully Ordained in the Southern United States Creole Voodoo Tradition. I have been a Priest of La Santisima Muerte for over 5 years, I was traine by a friends grandmother who was from Puebla,Mexico, she taught me over the phone and thru correspondence passed to me by her family here in the States. She passed into the sleep of La Blanca in 2009. She was in a shrine to La Santisima and was gunned down in the street by the policia,who thought she was in possesion of drugs or selling or buying them.,not caring or realizing the bag held only a piece of fruit she was leaving as an offering to La Muerte,as she had done every Tuesday and Sunday for years."

And here is his profile from the website from 2012:"I have been formally trained in Southern Conjure and Gris-Gris by my mother who was trained by her grandmother and passed down for generations. I have been practicing for over 16yrs. I am also a formally trained New Orleans Voodoo Priest trained by Mambo Milly Charbonneau and Papa Jim LaDeaux both of whom have been practcing for well over 40 years in the bayous and swamps around New Orleans. I have been working with Tarot since I was 12 years old so for about 20yrs. now. I also am a formally trained 3rd degree High Priest of a English Trad Gardnerian Coven in Portsmouth IA. Also am a practicing Thelemite and have been for over 10 years. I have been formally trained in the H.O.G.D. in Denver Colorado and received formal degree of Zelator."

The "English Traditionalist Gardnerian Wytche" claim is bogus. The only legitimate Gardnerian tradtion is the Gardnerian tradition of Wicca, of which I am a 3rd Degree High Priest with an unbroken lineage back to Gerald Gardner. This sounds like a very recent invention. The "Mambo" and "Papa" he claims are his Creole/New Orleans Voodoo teachers are known to be brought into a newly made system of New Orleans Voodoo. As for the OTO claim, I'm not in a position to say. He's also allegedly a Freemason, but again not my area. 

Then he tries to talk about Jesus Malverde:"Now the most famous of these "Narco-Saints" is known as Jesus Malverde, he was a drug runner and dealer who had famous shoot outs with the policia that eventually ended in a bloody stand that cost him his life. However many of Mexico's people saw him as a hero because with his vast fortunes of Drug money he helped the poor,built shelters and Hospitals and was always willing to help a person in need. Of course that being said he was also a murderer and showed no mercy to anyone who crossed him."

Now, I'm not sure which tv show he got this from, or just confusing Jesus Malverde with Pablo Escobar (a Columbian druglord who died in the manner he describes above) but according to all the of sources out there I've encountered, the legend is that Jesus Malverde, while considered an outlaw by the government, was seen as a Robinhood-like figure, stealing from the rich and giving to the poor. He did not smuggle drugs, and he was hanged in 1909 (or thereabouts). Of course, as with all folks legends, there are variants, but Grey Ravyn's is one I've never encountered, and like much of his information about Santisima Muerte seems to come from his very active imagination.

UPDATE: 02/09/14

Recently, he's posted this in his Monastery group:

"The tributa is as follows:

Get an unglazed clay vase, put fresh water in it, and put six while flowers, and seven coins in it. Either place it at the feet of the Santisima Muerte (you can set your statue up on something to elevate her a little bit for this) or else do this - Take it to the cemetery and 1. either place it exactly at the threshold of the cemetery or 2. set it on the first grave you encounter

When you do this, meditate on the number seven in the sense that there are seven angels who protect us on the seven days of the week from the evils of seven evil spirits, and the six while flowers are the first six angels, and she is numberseven.

The manda:

After your miracle has occured, take your image of her, and light 12 candles all around her - 4 red, 4 black, and 4 white.

These items were taught to me by Manuela Porras and Carlos Cisneros, who are both practitioners of the true religion of the Santisima Muerte."

This comes straight out of the book, The Santisima Muerte: A Mexican Folk Saint by E. Bryant Holman. And pay attention to the last line where he claims to have been taught by Manuela Porras and Carlos Cisneros. Those were the two people Holman mentioned in the chapter "The Santisima Muerte and actual curanderos in Northern Mexico." The pages aren't numbered or else I'd give them. So, Grey Ravyn is claiming to have been taught by the same two people as Holman in 2001 and 2002? Well, bless his little heart.

Lies. And willfully leading people astray. God help him.

UPDATE: 03/30/14

From his facebook page:

Posted in Hoodoo Happenings:
Greetings and Bon Jou Y'all! As some of ya may have noticed I have changed some things on my wall and also after much deliberation and soul searching have taken down both FB pages to La Santisima Muerte. The reason for these changes are simple, I wish to make peace in my life and in the world and I cannot do so by helping, even with advice on how, people to call on forces that cause harm, retribution, illness or the ilk. As such I also wish ya all to know I am returnin to my Buddhist Practice and thus this page is goin to be the next to be taken down over the coming week or so. Please please please understand I am not abandoning you all, I am just growing and changing spiritually and I have to make this change. I will be starting a new FB group regarding Eastern Philosophy and Meditative practices for any that are interested in joinin me. With this I say. Namaste and Peace. Ce Bon "Doktor Grey-Ravyn"

So, the whole thing lasted a little less than three months. Wonderful. I'm going to keep this up, though, in case he decides to try something like this again in the future.

UPDATE: 04/03/14

Just for curiosity's sake, I ordered the little paperback book called "The Magical Powers of the Holy Death." Guess what? This book was the source for practically all of that fake Rev. Doktor Grey Ravyn's information. His altar set up, "Don Diego Elf", "Prayer to the Lone Soul", the so-called initiation into the "religion of Santisima Muerte", pretty much everything he said his "abuelita" taught him. He tweaked it all just a tiny bit but not enough.

Monday, January 4, 2016

Steven Bragg

Steven Bragg, founder of the New Orleans Chapel of the Santisima Muerte. Photo by Allan Spiers, 2015.

On Being Multi-Traditional

At times I’m asked why I’ve gone through so many initiations and how do I handle so many different spiritual paths? Sometimes I’m accused of being a “Jack of all trades, master of none” and a title collector. The Biblical concept of not being able to serve two masters also comes up. So, today I’d like to take a moment and explain, from my point of view, why I believe it’s important for some people to go through the initiations and trainings of more than one spiritual path. Hopefully this will serve a good purpose in bringing about a better understanding for folks on both sides of the issue.

A foundational belief I hold is that all people are born with many spiritual beings around them, connected to them. There are the person’s blood ancestors, spirit guides, higher beings and their potentials, and then finally that person’s dominating spiritual force. But that’s just at birth. If a person becomes spiritually active then he or she may pick up more spirits the further down the spiritual road this person walks. However, if a person never becomes spiritually active, these forces tend to remain in the background, silently attempting to guide the person, sometimes coming through in dreams or as intuition.

If a person does become spiritually active, and they’re exposed to the right set of circumstances and influences, it may come to light that these different spirits require the person to go through different things in order to bring about healing or elevation or whatever to these spirits, or that they need to be “fed” or empowered in a certain way. Perhaps the person’s long-ago ancestors wish their descendant to be spiritually active in a certain way, but the ancient rites have been lost, so they lead the person to another path in order to be “made” in the way they want them to be and to pick up things similar to the older ways that these ancestors recognize. Sometimes a person has an ancestral debt to pay off, such as with slavery in the South, and the “sins of the fathers” must be dealt with in order to bring about healing for those spirits who were enslaved during life. There are many potential reasons for this to happen, depending on the spiritual make up of the person. Which brings me to my next point.

Today more than ever, and especially here in the U.S., many people are mixtures of different bloodlines, ancestries, cultures, and so on. It stands to reason that a person with varying ancestral backgrounds may, not always but may, need to undergo certain rites in order to lift up those ancestors in ways that they recognize and accept. Some spiritual practices can be universal, but not all them are, and at times it depends on the preferences of the person’s spirits which is the correct way for them. If someone feels pulled to different things, there may be a reason for that. I’d advise reaching out to priests/esses of these different paths, researching before jumping into anything, and taking one’s time. It’s not a race, nor is it a competition. It’s for you, your spirits, and your journey in this life.

I’ll use myself as an example for all the things above. When I first started on my personal spiritual journey I was solitary, eclectic Wiccan. I read lots of Llewelyn books. However, I got to a point where it simply wasn’t cutting it. I wasn’t connected to the spiritual world like I felt I should be. Sure, there was some connection, but I knew there was more to it and I knew I needed to seek it out. Why? I had no idea at the time, I just knew I had to. So, before I even had a real concept of working with my ancestors, I prayed to them to lead me to where I needed to go. Shortly after that, I was invited to my first Haitian Vodou ceremony. Of course it was the most impressive thing I’d ever experienced, and every fiber of my being said, “This is it!” Long story short, I ended up on a plane to Haiti to undergo the kanzo (initiation.) Only later did I come to realize the reasons why. It wasn’t because I was supposed to eventually become an Houngan and lead a house. It was because I was in part paying off an ancestral debt incurred by my Southern slave-owning ancestors, also in part so my own spirit could be re-molded in a way only Vodou could do. Once this was done, I found myself in a situation where I could properly (for me, that is) undergo the rites of British Traditional Wicca for many of my blood ancestors. Later I found out that 75% of my blood comes from the U.K., so it was important that I pick up something that was born on British soil.

After all this was when I was ready for the dominating spiritual force in my life to reveal herself. Enter La Santisima Muerte. After I received my training with her she came to me in a dream and showed me how she’d been around me my whole life. 

Have I picked up a great deal in the last two decades? Yes. Am I a master of all of them? No. But then, I don’t believe I need to be a so-called master of everything I’ve picked up, because I wasn’t meant to. I’ve gone through all this for my own spirits, my own ancestors…not to fulfill the expectations of others. But just because I’m not a master at all of them doesn’t mean I’m not damn good at them. I remember when I was in band in junior and high school. I played a different instrument every year, started out with brasswinds and ended up with woodwinds. However, every year I was always the first chair player of whatever section I was in, and I had music scholarships for the three years I played in college. So, maybe I’m not a master in all my spiritual traditions, but I’m still better than a lot of people in these same traditions. In all my journeys I’ve met very few masters. I’ve met a lot of people who think they’re masters, but really they can’t see beyond their own glass ceilings.

Part of my role in this life is to be a guide for other people, opening doors and roads, connecting people to the different paths in order for them to further themselves in their own spiritual journeys. This is reflected in the strong connections I have to the crossroads spirits in most of my traditions. If I didn’t have all these traditions I wouldn’t be able to fulfill this aspect of what I was meant to do.

As for not being able to “serve two masters” or “serve at two altars,” first of all that originates from a monotheistic, Abrahamic source. I’m not Jewish, Christian, or Muslim, so that doesn’t apply to me. However, going beyond that and addressing the deeper meaning, I’ll say this. None of these spirits that I serve are the Divine Creative Force of the universe. They are spiritual beings, and they are not my masters. I work with these beings; I do not worship them. I give them thanks and appreciation and love, but I don’t see myself as their slave. I do have to juggle my time, resources, and energy, however, because I’ve gone throug the work of establishing relationships with all of them, they understand what it is I have to do in this life, and they know they share me with other beings. I only know of one jealous god.

One of the advantages I’ve found in being multi-traditional is when someone comes to me with an issue, I can usually pinpoint the nature of the problem more quickly and accurately than others, and I can either take care of the problem myself or refer the person to a reputable priest/worker, instead of sending them on a wild goose chase and them possibly spending lots of time, effort, and money finding someone who isn’t a fraud or out to milk them of as much money as they can.

So, I’ll close this with saying, everyone has their own reasons for what they do. It’s not my place to sit in judgment of why people may be doing this, that, or the other. That certainly doesn’t accomplish anything positive or helpful in any way. Some people may be collecting titles, and if so that’s their business. I really don’t care. The proof of all this lies in the pudding, and the vast majority of the time the best pudding is made behind closed doors, not out in the public for all to see. The nature of the occult is that it is occult, secret. Readings are done in private; workings are done in private. Public ceremonies are for the community and can provide some things, but the strongest witchcraft and workings are done in private, not really because it has to be super secret, but because this is when you’re affecting change in a person’s life. That is no one else’s business and doesn’t need to be proclaimed far and wide.

Not everyone can or should be multi-traditional, as not everyone can handle it. But for those of us who do, most of us anyway, we do it for our own spirits, our own life journeys, and for the people we help along the way.

Steven Bragg

Tuesday, December 2, 2014

Is La Santisima Muerte an Aztec Goddess?

Is La Santisima Muerte an Aztec Goddess?
By Steven Bragg

Many people claim that la Santisima Muerte is Aztec in origin, and they point to the Aztec goddess of death and the underworld, Mictecacihuatl. Although it can't be denied that Mictecacihuatl and la Santisima Muerte share a few similarities, being represented as a skeleton or with a skull for a head and being a deity associated with death and the realm of the dead, these seem to be more superficial than at first glance. Recent evidence has come forward to question the common belief that la Santisima Muerte is the re-emergence of an Aztec goddess with a thin veneer of Catholic trappings.

In Andrew Chesnut's book, Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte the Skeleton Saint, in the chapter exploring Santa Muerte’s history, he introduces us to La Parca, the Grim Reapress of Spain who, along with her male counterpart, the traditional European, bubonic plague-inspired Grim Reaper, carries the souls of the dead on to their next destination. The Black Death swept through Europe in the 14th century, leaving in its wake new manifestations of Death within the European mindsets, which may have still been fresh when Spain began its conquest of the Aztec Empire in 1519. Add to this that la Santa Muerte has been discovered in the Philippines, another area colonized by Spain, where effigies date back to at least to the 1850s, according to Chesnut’s June 8, 2014, entry to the blog He further says, "This discovery, coupled with the existence of skeleton saints Rey Pascual in Guatemala and Chiapas and San La Muerte in Argentina and Paraguay, reinforces the indisputably strong Spanish influence in the origins of Santa Muerte in Mexico." So, it would seem that in many of the places Spain went and colonized, Catholic death saints and figures manifested within the indigenous and folk populations.

Briefly looking below the surface at the Aztec claims, we can see that the Aztec Empire lasted less than two centuries before Spain arrived, and it only ruled a relatively small, southern portion of what is now Mexico. The better part of Mexico has been predominantly Catholic for over four centuries. In addition, Mictecacihuatl was only one goddess of several deities of death and the underworld. It’s highly unlikely that one, singular goddess, who wasn’t even honored for that long or by that many people, managed to survive underground and dodge the Inquisition in such a small area, and then later re-emerge throughout all of Mexico and parts of Central America. It is, however, more likely that the spiritual remnants of the Native underworld deities managed to latch onto the much larger personification of death brought over by the Spanish and survive, at least in the minds of the mestizo population.

Speaking of the Spanish Inquisition in Mexico, Chesnut shows us that in the Inquisitional records of the 1700s there is mention of localized devotion to “la Santa Muerte,” specifically. Not Mictecacihuatl or any other pre-colonial name, but the Spanish name Santa Muerte. Although that’s not definitive evidence, it does show that the religious and linguistic rule of the Spanish colonists had already heavily affected folk practices as early as the 1700s.

In his book, The Santisima Muerte: A Mexican Folk Saint, Bryant Holman recounts an interview with an informant who relays the story from Tehuantepec, Oaxaca, of the Santa Muerte of that region that rode “a cart creaking and straining as it was pulled down a cobblestone street.” He points out the similarity to Don Sebastian of New Mexico who is a “skeleton driving an oxcart, which hauls the bodies of the dead away.” Death driving a cart is an old tradition throughout European lore, and the squeaky axle reminds me specifically of L’Ankou of Brittany, who also drive a squeaky-axled cart to collect the souls of the dead.

Although I certainly do not discount the possible effects the native, pre-colonial deities had on the development of la Santisima Muerte, as we see her today, it’s becoming more and more clear to me, at least, that la Madrina has more European roots than was previously believed. As a European descendant, this makes a great deal of sense as to why la Muerte would have come to me so strongly, not that one has to be of European descent, of course, but everyone who can trace their blood back to Western Europe also traces their spiritual ancestry back to the Catholic Church and the veneration of the Saints, who in my opinion are elevated ancestors. The Church has always had a concept of the Angel of Death, through the Bible, and Europe is filled with older images and personifications of Death. It makes perfect sense that these images and forces came together with the native peoples in the New World (and the Philippines, it seems) to give rise to la Santisima Muerte.

I realize that what I’ve mention here is only the tip of the proverbial iceberg, and I look forward to Professor Chesnut’s next book on la Santa Muerte, where he says he will go even deeper into her history and possible origins.

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.