This is an old story, but it erupts in new forms. Polytheistic-style devotion keeps irrupting in the Roman Catholic Church, much to the concern of the hierarchs.
From The Catholic Herald (UK): “The Church’s life-and-death struggle with Santa Muerte: The Church in the Americas is sounding the alarm over a macabre new devotion.”
To the great consternation of the Church, over the past 17 years veneration of a Mexican folk saint that personifies death has become the fastest-growing new religious movement in the West. At this point there are no systematic surveys of the precise number of Santa Muerte devotees, but based on 10 years of research in Mexico and the US, we estimate there are some 10 to 12 million followers, with a large majority in Mexico and a significant presence in the United States and Central America. However, the skeletal folk saint, whose name translates into English as both Saint Death and Holy Death, now has followers across the globe, including in the UK, where there are sufficient devotees to support a Facebook group specifically for British followers . . . .
To understand the devotion to death, we must also examine the historical record. Across the Americas, and in particular in Mexico, death deities were prevalent during the pre-Hispanic era prior to colonisation. Many indigenous peoples, such as the Maya and the Aztecs, turned to death gods and goddesses for healing ailments, and also to guarantee safe passage into the underworld.
Yes, devotion to Santa Muerte is huge, and I have heard of some American Anglo Pagans who also participate in her cult, particularly in the Southwest.
There are more “folk saints.” One of my graduate-school professors, of partially Mexican ancestry, was fascinated by the cult of El Niño Fidencio, one of several folk saints who emerged from the chaotic years of revolution and civil war in early 20th-century Mexico.
Another of that period is Jesus Malverde, considered the patron saint of drug traffickers. It’s not to hard to find statues of him. He is one of a whole choir of “narco saints” (the linked article includes N. S. de Guadalupe; she is versatile).
3 thoughts on “Catholic Church Struggles with De Facto Polytheism”
I’ve often wondered if “gods” came about due to some person, way back in paleolithic times, being so revered by his/her group that over the course of decades or centuries, his/her reputation grew to astronomical proportions. Sort of like how Emperor Haile Selassi became a “god” to the Rastafarians.
This is what happens often in the Voudun or Voodoo religion in Haiti. Many priests ( Hougans) and priestesses (Mambos) become conflated with certaim lwas, or loas ( Voudun deities) and in some cases they become lwas in their own right.
Pagan polytheism is diverse and open, so it’s not surprising that it investigates/includes Santa Muerte and other folk saints.
It seems to me that the relationship between approved monotheism and popular not-so-monotheistic spiritual currents and movements has been going on within the Catholic Church for centuries. Maybe there’s something going on about who stands where in a spiritual hierarchy vs.in an ecclesiastical hierarchy vs.in a theological hierarchy.
Plus,in my limited experience of Catholicism, there appears to be a strong underground belief system that adheres to beliefs and notions far removed from the received official Church. Plenty of tension and variant outlooks.
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