“Such a caring for death, an awakening that keeps vigil over death, a conscience that looks death in the face, is another name for freedom.” ― Jacques Derrida
SANTA MUERTE, HERMANA BLANCA
After their gig the Philippinoes like to go skate-boarding at midnight down on the beach road. It’s their new craze, and a great way to wind down. They’ll come up to my terrace for a while before heading for one of their skating haunts, and by that time I’m usually ready to crash. And not ready to deal with the cops up at the viewpoint, who know the musoes and wave them through, but don’t know me.
Once in a while I’ve joined them in the daytime, though. On the road through Kata there’s a stripped-out commercial space, formerly a restaurant, that’s been turned into a little skate park since the pandemic shut it down, and I sometimes find them there when I’m on my way to the beach for a swim. It’s a good vibe, with loud music on, the whirr of wheels and bumps and swooshes, and Mia rolling spliffs in the afternoon. Sasha turns up as well, and Kittiya and Megan are there and Yam of course, so it’s almost the whole original Jamrock crew, camped out under the rubber trees for the first lockdown. I’m feeling blessed as I mooch around watching my young friends and looking at the street-art that fills the concrete walls. I’m interested to find this figure that looks very much like Santa Muerte — Holy Death, Saint Death.
Recently I’ve been intrigued by references to this cult, which is reported to be the world’s fastest-growing religion, or religious movement, a heresy of Catholicism with its origins in Mexico but an increasingly widespread appeal. Huge crowds gather at private altars in the suburbs of Mexico City to make offerings to her, to pray for healing or protection, and buy icons and paraphernalia.
I’m staring at Our Lady of the Shadows and trying to decipher the ribbon legend when Kyle comes over to bump my fist and see if I’ve got a cigarette.
Kyle’s a nice lad. Well, maybe thirty now, I’m not sure, very much in his prime, quite a draw for the girls, long-haired and smoulderingly handsome, but nice with it, no apparent ego problems despite the outrageous gift of his voice.
I give him a cigarette and gesture at the icon I’ve been admiring.
‘Have you seen this? They say it’s the fastest-growing religion in the world.’
He reads the banner. ‘Live. Fuck,’ and chuckles. ‘Wait — Live, or Love?’
‘Love, I think. It’s a coincidence because I was just reading about it. Comes out of Mexico… South America and the States mainly, I think, so I was interested to see it here. You know Spanish?’
‘She has many names. Nostra Senora de las Ombras. Hermana Blanca. La Flaca. Santa Muerte — Saint Death, Sacred Death, Holy Death.’
‘Ah! Yes, I have it too.’ He shows me his upper arm, a tattoo of a beautiful girl taking up the length of it. She’s not a skeleton, not at all, but her make-up, with dark pools of eye shadow and trick-hollow cheeks, somehow reveals the skull beneath the flesh.
‘Huh, yeah, that’s beautiful,’ I say. ‘So they have this in Philippines too?’
‘I just got it because I like it. But I heard of this Santa Muerte. They worship Death. But — why? I forget why.’
Our one, two, three beautiful girls whizz by, weaving their hips to gain speed for the ramp. The space resonates with the clunk and grind of wheels and and reggae music booms around this space bounded on two sides with concrete walls and the other two with shutters of dazzling sunlight.
‘I think it’s a macho thing,’ I say. ‘It’s very popular with criminals apparently, as well as working class and poor people. I guess it’s like — What you gonna do? I worship death. You think I’m scared of you?’
‘Right,’ he says. ‘Gangsta thing.’
And we leave it at that.
But there’s more to it, of course. I first heard it mentioned by a man who calls himself Inner Guardians, a martial arts expert who was offering self-defence instruction, and as he worked with his clients became more and more interested in the importance of mindset, and from there has developed some interesting ideas which go beyond the secular in seeking a metaphysics of protection. He was the one I first heard make a connection between our death-obsessed times and the booming popularity of the death-cult at this strange time in the history of the planet, when frightening red numbers representing death-totals are flashed up on a million screens every hour of every day, terrorising the population into accepting the most dangerous (purported) medical product ever released. Not that he claimed to have a satisfying interpretation, but it’s an interesting connection to make.
Santa Muerte is said to be a ‘cult of crisis’, meaning that devotion peaks during times of hardship. As Señora de la Noche (‘Lady of the Night’), her protection is invoked by those exposed to the dangers of working at night, such as taxi drivers, bar owners, police, soldiers, prostitutes, and of course drug dealers and petty criminals. She appeals to outcasts — their choice of the heterodox cult over established religion an express of rebellion against legitimate society.
I like her more and more.
The image I photographed, I learned, is an example of the merging of the figure of the saint with Our Lady of Guadalupe, as shown by the blue shawl decorated with stars and the firey halo behind her head. As ‘Guadamuerte’ she becomes a surrogate for the Virgin herself and the whole feminine archetype in Roman religion.
Lady Death. Madrina: the Mother.
Her deepest roots are probably in her role as a psychopomp, like Anubis or Charon, the spirit-guide without whom you will not find your way to the afterlife. Devotees of Santa Muerte have begun to recognise their saint as a reincarnation of Mictecacihuatl, ‘Lady of the Dead’ in Aztec culture, and the traditional ‘Day of the Dead’ celebrations as her unofficial feast day. (This re-emergence of pagan precursors is said to have provoked a certain amount of panic within the Catholic hierarchy.)
So in fact it’s nothing new, the worship (if that’s the right word) of death. It seems strange to our kitsch modern outlook, which neurotically avoids the contemplation of mortality considered so essential in earlier cultures. I can see how Santa Muerte could play a role in a metaphysics of protection… something of which, God knows, we are badly in need.
Historically, then, there’s nothing so unusual about it, and it’s our culture, tongue-tied and shame-faced in the presence of death, which is the anomaly. It’s only to us, metaphysically illiterate and ignorant of the ways of the spirit, that such a thing as Santa Muerte seems strange at all.
Though I walk through the valley of the shadow of death…
As this iatrogenic holocaust unfolds, with more and more hideous discoveries about the effects of the vaccine emerging week by week, those words keep coming back to me, remembered from church services when I was a kid. I never thought they would have such resonance in my lifetime. But here we are.
The fear-propaganda was incessant. Terrorism, pure and simple — “the best political weapon,” as Hitler wrote in Mein Kampf, “for nothing drives people harder than a fear of sudden death.” Bio-terrorist governments herded their people into the vaccine centres and a whole society to the brink of cultural and economic suicide. And from the fear was born Sudden Adult Death Syndrome — SADS, and the horrors few are aware of yet.
I assume the Santa Muerte cultists sought the protection of their saint, not the needle. If the latter, they abandoned their metaphysics of protection for a cruel trap.
You can scoff, if you like, at crowds of poor peasants crawling on their knees, clutching their skeletal icons and chanting about death, but consider your own culture:
Ten years ago, a strange ritual was conducted in London. It was part of the opening ceremony of the Olympic Games — the thirtieth (modern) Olympiad. The ceremony, directed by Oscar-winning film-director Danny Boyle, with musical direction, appropriately enough, by Rick Smith of Underworld, was entitled ‘Isles of Wonder’, and it must have made many wonder. With a cast of hundreds and some impressive puppetry, it portrayed the host country in a very strange light. The UK’s National Health Service was chosen to represent the spirit of the nation, realised as a choreographed vision of vast wards of sick and bedridden children, cosily wrapped in Victorian night-caps and gowns, attended by hordes of dancing nurses. Behind them was revealed an enormous simulacrum of a newborn baby. Looming over the whole scene, a huge, sinister figure of death, in black robes like a witch, holding what might either be a wand or a syringe.
There are narrative overlays celebrating bed-time stories and a rich tradition of children’s literature, from Peter Pan to Mary Poppins, but nothing could overwrite the disturbing occultism of that dominating stage image. What a bizarre way to represent the culture of the host country, obsessed, it would seem, not with health but with sickness and death! It comes across, now, as some weird premonition or foreshadowing of the panic of 2020, as well as the kitsch infantilism that accompanied it, at least in the UK. At an appointed time each week, people were allowed to leave their houses and stand on their doorsteps — socially distanced, of course — to clap and bang pots in the street to applaud their socialised health system even as it was actively engaged in forced euthanasia and medical murder. Even the motif of dancing nurses would return to haunt us in numerous ridiculous Tik-Tok dance-routines made by NHS staff with nothing better to do.
And that giant baby revealed at the end, suggestive of the birth of a new world, keys in to the rhetoric of the Great Reset and the Green New Deal, a Brave, New World arising from the green transition and bio-digital convergence.
I wasn’t aware of this bizarre ceremony until someone unearthed it a couple of months into the lockdowns. Now, looking at video and photos of the 2012 event, I’m incredulous. Why would anyone create such a vision, simultaneously insipid and nightmarish, cloying and disturbing, as prologue to a festival of athleticism? Could anything have less to do with a celebration of Olympic values?
Even if it’s all a coincidence, the video is still a valid social document, and what does it tell us about contemporary British society? Let’s be clear, the bizarre vision does not represent a death cult like Santa Muerte, but quite the opposite — a cult, rather, of safety. And that witch is no psychopomp, believe me. Hers is the spell cast by the fear of death; the dark side of the nanny state.
Who would want to live in such a society?
But that’s where we are.
Death is, of course, a portal through which any of us may one day fervently wish to pass. Not all, though. At a time when the transhumanist elites on this planet are trying to kill off the rest of us useless eaters, the super-wealthy are hoping to secure for themselves some kind of synthetic immortality through their Gilgamesh Project, hailed by the WEF’s Yuval Harari as ‘the leading project of the scientific revolution’. Death is nothing sacred, he proclaims, merely a technical problem, like any other disease. But even Harari sees something of the absurdity of the immortality project.
“Harari suspects that the biotechnological revolution signals the end of sapiens: we will be replaced by bioengineered post-humans, ‘amortal’ cyborgs, capable of living forever. But amortality isn’t immortality, because it will always be possible for us to die by violence, and Harari is plausibly sceptical about how much good it will do us. As amortals, we may become hysterically and disablingly cautious … The deaths of those we love may become far more terrible. We may grow weary of all things under the sun – even in heaven … We may come to agree with JRR Tolkien‘s elves, who saw mortality as a gift to human beings that they themselves lacked.” (The Guardian, Sept 11 2014)
While life-extension technologies will never, one assumes, be available to any except the wealthiest elites on this planet, the absurdity of Harari’s amortality can be generalised to the broad scope of the culture, certainly in the West, as a concomitant of the deceptive cult of safety which has been so pronounced during the pseudo-pandemic. In fact I’m tempted to adapt the word with only a slight change of emphasis, as a neologism to describe the specific emptiness of the entire technocratic worldview. Amortality… even as Harari uses it, the word evokes a spiritually impoverished condition, a cosmic ennui which in itself encapsulates exactly what it is about death that the human spirit should venerate.
Such a rationalised cult of public safety or ‘public health’ is always used to provide the intellectual cover for totalitarian measures, from the French Revolution to the Soviet Union and The Third Reich. No doubt this is an example of how totalitarian doctrine arises from the atomised masses; the obsession with safety, the submission to a ‘nanny-state’, arguably makes a medical dictatorship inevitable at some point, or at least available to a totalitarian movement to exploit when it’s ready. At the same time it’s a symptom of spiritual malaise arising from a desacralised vision of life which shies away from the reality of death. The mechanistic poverty of the technicians’ vision of what life is carries the collective experience further and further from its inherent logic, creating an increasingly dependent population which consents automatically to its own irrelevance and loss of value. Thus the cult of safety ultimately betrays — already has betrayed — the timid masses who follow it. ‘Amortality’… such a perfect word to describe that technological, unnatural limbo of pseudo-life, of not-quite-death, which is the best the technocrats can ever do do fill their God-shaped void. Against which, the veneration of death — not the seeking of it by any means, which is not our prerogative — becomes a spiritual rebellion, a protest on behalf of the natural order, and a reaching out to natural energies which can never be accessed through fear.
A living organism is not a machine, but a consubstantiality of matter and spirit, sealed by a flash of light at the moment of conception, and joined, according to Santa Muerte mythology, by a silver thread which she will cut with her scythe at the moment of death. If that thread can no longer be found, there can be no distinction between matter and spirit, and the organism is condemned to be one or the other, which in this material realm can only be matter. It must degrade, in other words, into a machine — whose parts can be continuously replaced but which cannot be alive; an automaton, merely, as Descartes conceived of animals — a mere mechanism.
It seems logical to me, then, that life cannot exist independently of death: that the denial of one is also the denial of the other, because it’s the denial of that consubstantiality, that super-position of matter and spirit. To banish death is merely to redefine the living organism as a machine, in a reprise of the grotesque Cartesian error.
No doubt Harari and his fellow amortalists would see this as abstruse and sentimental reasoning, as primitive wish-fulfilment, all part of the same delusion that insists that human beings possess some kind of hidden ‘spark’ — yes, he used that word, without irony — a ‘soul’, or ‘spirit’, a life force that expresses itself in free well, the self-evident experience of being alive. To reject that notion, on the basis of crude dataism, is nihilism of the most insidious kind, a materialist dead-end. Harari’s bloodless amortals will not inherit the earth; amortalism leads only to a deeper death; they will learn that in the end and pray to Our Lady for her release. In the mean time, and as a matter of urgency, we need to recognise this philosophy that has arisen among us for what it is: spiritually dead, politically totalitarian, technologically insane; and reject it for the disastrous aberration it is.
“And in those days shall men seek death, and shall not find it; and shall desire to die, and death shall flee from them.” Revelation 9:6 (KJV)
Santa Muerte, who holds power over all, bless us with your love now and at the moment of our deaths.
Glory be to Holy Death, blessed Death, peaceful Death
As you have been with me from the beginning
So are you with me now
And so you will be with me always