In this article, we trace the syncretic origins and development of the new religious movement centered on the Mexican folk saint of death, Santa Muerte. We explore how she was born of the syncretic association of the Spanish Catholic Grim Reapress and Pre-Columbian Indigenous thanatologies in the colonial era. Through further religious bricolage in the post-colony, we describe how as the new religious movement rapidly expanded it integrated elements of other religious traditions, namely Afro-Cuban Santeria and Palo Mayombe, New Age beliefs and practices, and even Wicca. In contrast to much of the Eurocentric scholarship on Santa Muerte, we posit that both the Skeleton Saint’s origins and contemporary devotional framework cannot be comprehended without considering the significant influence of Indigenous death deities who formed part of holistic ontologies that starkly contrasted with the dualistic absolutism of European Catholicism in which life and death were viewed as stark polarities. We also demonstrate how across time the liminal power of death as a supernatural female figure has proved especially appealing to marginalized socioeconomic groups.
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