I recently read an article about cults in Mexico that I found absolutely fascinating. It seems that the Roman Catholic organization is experiencing some competition in one of their stronghold nations.
Here’s a quote from the article about the growing worship of fictional drug-trafficking saint, Jesús Malverde:
“The emotional pressures, the tensions of living in a time of crisis lead people to look for symbolic figures that can help them face danger,” says José Luis González, a professor at Mexico’s National School of Anthropology and History who specializes in popular religions. Among the helper figures are Afro-Cuban deities that have recently found their way to new shores and outlaws that have been transformed into miracle workers, like a mythical bandit from northern Mexico called Jesús Malverde. There are even saints from the New Testament repurposed for achieving not salvation but success. In this expanding spiritual universe, the worship of a skeleton dressed in long robes and carrying a scythe—La Santa Muerte—is possibly the fastest growing and, at first glance at least, the most extravagant of the new cults.
There’s a reason for God’s prohibition against graven images and the bowing down to them. Our hearts are truly idol factories and here’s an example of how one such idol was created:
Eligio had been working as a driver in 1976 when he was knifed and shot in a holdup and left for dead. He prayed to Malverde, whose only monument at the time was a pile of rocks where his grave was said to be, promising to erect a proper shrine in Malverde’s honor if the saintly bandit saved his life. When he survived, he kept his word. González appears to have understood that people would grasp Malverde’s real importance only if there were an image of him they could worship, but unfortunately no photograph of Malverde existed—and, in fact, no evidence at all that he’d ever lived. In the 1980s González asked an artisan in the neighborhood to create a plaster bust: “Make him sort of like Pedro Infante and sort of like Carlos Mariscal,” Infante being a famous movie star from Sinaloa and Mariscal a local politician.
Antonio explains what gives La Santa Muerte her powerful attraction: “La Muerte is always beside you—even if it’s just a little postage stamp that you put up above your cot, you know that she’s not going to move, that she’ll never leave.” . . . El Niño and Antonio say just that La Santa Muerte will grant your prayers—but only in exchange for payment, and that payment must be proportional to the size of the miracle requested, and the punishment for not meeting one’s debt to her is terrible.
I find it ironic that the official position of the Roman Catholic organization is in opposition to the worship of Jesús Malverde and La Santa Muerte when they are one of the worst offenders of idol worship around and seem to have no problem when the idol being worshiped is one that they’ve created.
Mexicans who retain a strong connection to the Roman Catholic faith might turn instead to St. Jude Thaddeus. At a time when no-win situations abound, he is experiencing a rise in popularity comparable only to that of La Santa Muerte, perhaps because he is known in the Catholic Church as the patron saint of desperate causes. . . . St. Jude’s official feast day is October 28, and thousands of his followers feel inspired to come and pray to him on that day every month. Sixteen Masses are celebrated in the parish from dawn to evening, and worshippers crawl to the statue of the saint on their knees, praying for help, protection, and survival.
But let me caution you, before we look down on these souls in Mexico who are steeped in idol worship, let us not forget that we in America are equally as guilty of this sin; our idols just come in different forms (cars, sports, money, status, possessions, self, etc.).
To read the entire National Geographic article (and to view more pictures) visit National Geographic online.