Patron Saints of the Mexican Drug Underworld (Part 2 of 2)

Some human sacrifices to Santa Muerte have been claimed in Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo in 2006. In 2008, 11 headless bodies were found in the Yucatan and the heads were said to have been burned in honor of Santa Muerte.

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A Prayer to Jesus Malverde

Today before your cross prostrate,

Oh, Malverde my Lord,

I beg your mercy to relieve my pain.

You who dwell in glory,

And you who are so close to God,

Listen to the suffering of this humble fisherman.

Oh, miraculous Malverde,

Oh, Malverde my Lord,

Concede this favor and fill my sprit with joy.

Give me health Lord,

Give me rest,

Give me wellbeing,

And so let it be.

In the second part of this blog, we continue our look at how the Mexican underworld has appropriated and perverted the iconography of Mexican culture and the Catholic faith.

Unorthodox Folk Saints

San Juan Soldado (Saint John the Soldier) was a real person, Juan Castillo Morales, a soldier in the Mexican Army. In 1938, he was convicted for the rape and murder of a young girl in Tijuana. Believers claim that he was an innocent man.

In a strange custom called "La Le Fuga" (the Law of Flight), Juan Soldado was sentenced to face a military firing squad, but he was allowed to run. If he could reach the distance of a thousand meters or so without being killed, he was a free man. Juan was shot running through a cemetery toward the U.S. border.

Later, blood mysteriously began to appear in the spot where Juan was shot. This was witnessed by numerous people. He is now invoked as the unofficial "saint" of illegal aliens, fugitives, and for people seeking safe passage.

"Brother" San Simon was a drunkard and a gambler from Guatemala. He is depicted as a mustached man dressed in a black suit and hat sitting in a chair. Sometimes he holds a staff or cane, smokes a cigar and has coins in his hand. In Guatemala, he is slightly more colorfully dressed and is often crudely carved from wood. He represents a man of the 20th century enjoying worldly things. He is the patron of drunkards and gamblers.

The image of Jesus Malverde comes from the city of Culican Sinaloa, Mexico. There are two different folk stories explaining Jesus Malverde. The first version of the tale is that he was a bandit who was caught by the Federales (Mexican Federal Police). Without a trial he was hung from a tree, cursed, and left to be eaten by vultures.

A poor peon rancher happened to pass the rotting corpse he recognized as Juan Malverde. The poor rancher was looking for his only cow which had wandered away. He invoked the intervention of the bandit promising to give him a proper burial if he would help him recover his prized possession. The cow returned and the poor rancher buried Malverde as he promised, building a small shrine over his grave.

Another folk tale is that bounty hunters shot the "Robin Hood" like bandit. Jesus had been nicknamed Malverde because he had employed the tactic of dressing in green camouflage clothing and hiding in the brush to surprise his victims. Mal in Spanish can be translated bad and verde means green. Though mortally wounded he escaped the bounty hunters and returned to his rancho. He pleaded with his friends to turn in his dead body and split up the reward with the other villagers. This is what they did.[PAGEBREAK]

Bandits and drug smugglers soon began visiting his shrine and invoking his intervention to protect their illegal cargo and other criminal enterprises. They bring gifts of tequila and flowers and hire expensive mariachi bands to serenade his image.

Some drug dealers even observe the "Sabbath of Jesus Malverde" by doing no trafficking on Thursday because they believe this is the day Malverde was killed. Malverde is by far the most common folk "saint" that I have encountered among the Mexican drug traffickers in Los Angeles.

A caution here, Jesus Malverde has become so popular that he has been accepted as a saint by many Mexicans who are not necessarily drug dealers. He is depicted as a mustached young man with black hair wearing a white shirt. He is also sometimes depicted with a noose around his neck. Sometimes he is shown wearing a white cowboy hat.

Afro-Caribbean and Mexican Brujeria Influences

The Afro-Caribbean influences of Haitian Vodou, Santeria, and Palo Mayombe have many devoted followers in Mexico. In these systems, Catholic saints are substituted for the African deities. These belief systems are often mixed with local folk magic and brujeria (witchcraft).

And not all believers are poor, uneducated, superstitious peons.

In the 1940s, the "Evangelist of Satan" Aleister Crowley and his associates studied the dark arts, including brujeria, in Mexico. One of his associates was rocket scientist Jack Parsons who worked at the Jet Propulsion Laboratory in Pasadena, Calif. Crowley would pick Parsons to lead his occult church, the Ordo Templi Orientis (O.T.O.), in Pasadena, Calif. Parsons was also an associate of L. Ron Hubbard, founder of the Church of Scientology.

Santa Muerte

In Mexico's District Federal, the cathedral was filled with smoke and the smell of burning marijuana. The large icon was surrounded by burning candles, flowers, and offerings of money and tequila. A well-dressed middle-aged man knelt before the shrine. He was followed into the cathedral by a band of mariachis. "Play for her" he ordered, and the mariachis began to play one of Mexico's popular narcocorridos (ballads) by Chalino Sanchez.

A larger than life figure stood before them, a smirking skeleton dressed to look like what Americans would recognize as the grim reaper, complete with the soul-harvesting scythe. The figure was similar in dress to the grim reaper, except this figure was female. Her long tufts of hair hung from her gruesome skull. She was Santa Muerte, the "Holy Angel of Death."

Santa (or Santisima) Muerte is worshiped in Mexico like the evil sister of the Virgin of Guadalupe, and today she has converted thousands of souls to her dark world. Some say she had her beginnings in a Mexican prison in the 1960s. She is sometimes affectionately called "La Nina Blanca" (The White Child) and dressed almost bride like. Her colors have significance—white for good luck, red for love, and black for protection.

Santa Muerte is invoked by smugglers, bandits and drug dealers for health, happiness and successful "business transactions." She is also said to protect the drug load in its journey across the frontera and the smuggler from the police. There are small shrines, churches and cathedrals dedicated to Santa Muerte all over Mexico and a few in the U.S.

Mexican Sinaloan Drug cartel boss Joaquin "Chapo" Guzman as well as Armando "Chato" Garcia, the murderer of Los Angeles County Sheriff's Deputy David March in 2002, are both worshipers of Santa Muerte. 

What is far more disturbing is the growing acceptance of this perverse idol worship among the general Mexican population. Thousands attend processions and celebrations to honor Santa Muerte and the traditional Catholic saints are ignored.

Some human sacrifices to Santa Muerte have been claimed in Tijuana and Nuevo Laredo in 2006. In 2008, 11 headless bodies were found in the Yucatan and the heads were said to have been burned in honor of Santa Muerte. Perhaps Mexico is returning to the practice of human sacrifice to a new Mictecacihuatl, the female Aztec god of the dead.

Hopefully, along with other trafficking indicators, this information will assist you in identifying the use of these saints by people involved in the narcotics trade. Remember everyone who might have worn or carried images of these patron saints is not necessarily a criminal. This information is offered as another tool for you to use and to keep you safe.

Read the first part of this blog here.

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