Wednesday, February 6, 2013

Response to a blog about Santa Muerte

I haven't done much with this blog lately, so I thought I'd start back up with a response to a blog post someone posted on a Facebook account. The blog entry is an interesting one, and I thought I'd share my views and opinions. Here's the link:

I'd like to go point by point on this. Since it's been conveniently numbered, instead of quoting I'll just refer to the number in the original blog post. However, first I'd like to make it clear that this is not a critique of the blog author in any way. He states in the entry that he is not an expert on Santisima Muerte, but he is trying to make clear that Santisima is not a traditional part of Hoodoo. I agree with this wholeheartedly, and I encourage more clarification on this matter, and on the matter of who she is in general, as I'm starting to see a trend where she's becoming more popular among U.S. and other English-speaking countries where people are "picking up" her service without any regards to her cultural origin and with no respect to her traditional practices, which have been in place for quite a while now. Sadly, this is yet another case of appropriation for the next "spiritual fad." We've seen this with many traditional spiritual practices within the last few decades, and with those who never quite get it, those who skim the surface of a spiritual tradition, get all excited about a few chills, but get bored because they've hit a roadblock, and then move on to the next thing that catches their eyes. Rest assured, however, those of us who respect the traditions that are in place, respect the ancestors of those traditions, and respect the spiritual beings around whom these traditions have been built are here and will be once the fad wanes, as it always does. We don't always say anything, as time has shown that the popular spotlight is always moving on, but we're here, we watch, we safeguard, and we wait. 

With all that said, here are my opinions about the article in question:

1) and 2). Correct. 

3). Correct in a way. There are two levels of dealing with Santisima Muerte, from what I've been taught and what I've seen. The terms "inner circle" and "outer circle" are probably being used for lack of better terms. First, Sta M will accept devotion from anyone. Anyone can approach her, like they would any Catholic folk saint, and she will listen and determine if she wants to help that person. Second are her spiritual workers, those who do indeed hold her tradition of working with her for a multitude of reasons for both him/herself and for the people who come to this person. Generally speaking, there are three main types of spiritual workers in Mexico: Curanderos(as), Hechiceros(as), and Brujos(as). Curanderismo is the spiritual practice of healing, traditionally done before modern medicine became more widely available, but still practiced in conjunction with modern medicine with an emphasis on spiritual healing. Hechiceria would be more like sorcery, with a Native bend to it, and can be done for either good or harm. Brujeria is generally negative work, although it can be done for good. The people within these spiritual practices are generally the ones who have inherited the knowledge and gifts they have from their family or from other teachers, and these are the ones who Santisima Muerte has traditionally worked through. So, yes, there is an "inner circle" so to speak, but it's not a cohesive group in any way, and the lines dividing these groups are very fluid. AND there are regional differences, depending on how the underground practices developed. Despite this, though, there are striking similarities among the workings for Santisima Muerte throughout all these workers' practices.

The second 3). Correct. I've heard the term "The Bride" used for La Blanca (the white) but not "The Wife/Mother" or "The Widow." Sounds like someone's interpretation of the three colors. It's neither here nor there.

4). This statement needs some major clarification. First of all, there's no traditional "initiation" with Sta M. She chooses her workers, those who have already gone through some type of training/apprenticeship with their family or teacher, usually in one of the three systems mentioned above. There's no need for an initiation, because the person she's chosen has already been through what is necessary to have her close to the person. The training is from student to teacher. At least, this is the way it was until recently, that is within the last decade. I see where today some people are offering initiations of one type or another. Whether Sta M is behind this and/or accepting it remains to be seen, only time will tell. It is true that when great changes occur, the traditional ways of doing things may (or may not) have to be altered to accommodate those changes. However, this shouldn't be seen as an excuse to just do whatever one wishes to do. Any change in a traditional system must be done in a manner of back and forth communication between the spiritual being(s) and the elders/workers. Secondly, in response to #4 of the blog, there's no need for any type of family member sacrifice. As many responded to the original FB posting, Sta M gets everyone in the end anyway. That's not a real sacrifice. 

5). Absolutely correct! Not all, but a good number of eclectic Wiccans, Neo-Pagans, and New Agers are among those most guilty of cultural appropriation, superficially swiping elements, techniques, spirits, and deities and plunking them down into their own systems using pre-conceived notions about how there is a universal spiritual system that they go by. They usually have only read books, gotten almost no real instruction from experienced people, and built themselves a comfortable system, with a revisionist history, that only brushes the surface of what most traditional systems delve into. Without really going into this area too much, as that would require a blog, or series of blogs, I'm just going to say that the most important aspect, as pertains to this subject, is respect. Respect the tradition; respect the elders/teachers; respect the ancestors; respect the spiritual beings. In my experience doing this will get your further along in one year than a decade of do-it-yourself eclecticism. 

6). Correct, mostly. According to the documented evidence that's been uncovered so far, ever since she manifested in Mexico, Santisima Muerte has been treated like a Catholic folk saint. Catholic culture and society, Catholic prayers, Catholic rites. Granted that some of what has been found borders on pagan-like rituals, but then a lot of Catholic folk practices do, as well. These are remnants of two merging cultures, however, the dominant religion is Catholicism. I'm well aware that an overwhelming majority of Mexicans who serve Sta M will say, if asked, that Sta M is either the reincarnation or in some way linked to the pre-Christian Aztec goddess. However, as noted in the blog, the evidence is lacking. Sure the superficial elements are there. Female divine being ruling over death and the underworld. Ok, great. But what else? The offerings and rites associated with Santisima Muerte are commonly found among other Mexican Catholic folk saints. There's a few elements in her service, which I won't list here, that may be remnants of pre-Christian practices, but not that many. In addition, there are two European figures who share striking resemblance to Sta M's current form. La Parca, from Spain, is a female grim reaper who is a skeleton, with cloak and scythe, and there is an Italian "Santa Muerte" who is (possibly!?) a version of the Virgin Mary. Who were the two European powers that conquered (what is now) Mexico? Was it Spain, with the backing of Rome, which is in Italy? So, yeah, linking Santisima Muerte with an Aztec goddess of similar nature may be good for Mexican nationalism, but does that mean Santisima Muerte is automatically the reincarnation of that goddess? I won't say no, and I won't say yes. It think it's much more complex than that, however the bottom line for me is that Santisima Muerte is NOT a goddess. She's made that perfectly clear to me herself, and I have no reason to try to make her into one.

7). This one I don't agree with. The oldest documented workings we have of Sta M work is love work, specifically work to bring back wandering lovers, usually men. The tri-colored system in her traditional practice is designed to incorporate any type of working that is necessary, worldly or other-worldly. Yes, Santisima Muerte is petitioned for a good death, but she can also do so much more.

8). Eh. True in a way. Santisima Muerte goes by her own ethical system. She helps those she helps for whatever reason and doesn't discriminate. Without getting into a long discussion about ethics, I'll just leave it at that...for now.

9). Correct.

10). I personally don't know much about San La Muerte, but I was told by my teacher not to mix him with Santisima Muerte.

11). As mentioned above, there is an Italian Santa Muerte, who may by a version of Mary, but yes, Santisima Muerte is considered not only the Angel of Death, but also the highest of God's Archangels.

So, as you can see this is not a bad article, written by someone who admits to not being an expert. Of course, the word "expert" is a loaded term, but I think what is meant here is someone who has received traditional teachings for Sta M. Like I said earlier, I support these types of writings in order to let other people who, through no fault of their own...most of the time, know that there is already a traditional system for Sta M in place. There are devotees, and there are workers. AND there are regional differences amongst all of these. Devotees are going to serve from their hearts and may pick up information from family and friends. Some of it will be traditional, some will not. If Sta M wants a devotee to learn more traditional practices she will lead that person to a teacher, as she did in my case. Of course, I am open minded enough to realize that with the recent explosion of popularity, there may be changes on the horizon, but for me personally these will have to come directly from Santisima Muerte in a way that I have no doubt she wants me to do them. In the meantime, I'm going to continue to serve and work with her in the way that she has brought to me.