Santisima Muerte, Spanish for "Holy Death," is a saint who is venerated in Mexican folk practices. Also known as Santa Muerte or the White Lady, this saint is not recognised by the Catholic Church and may have roots in a pre-Christian Aztec goddess. According to Time magazine, her cult has grown rapidly in Mexico and the United States over the last decade. Her worshippers say Santa Muerte is generous and protective of those who build an altar to honour her, but it is crucial you don't offend Santisima Muerte by setting up the altar incorrectly.
Find a place to set up your Santisima Muerte altar. Ideally set it up on a shelf or a tall dresser as it is considered disrespectful to approach or worship your altar looking down at the White Lady. It must be a safe place for open flames.
Clear off all objects from the altar that are not related to Santa Muerte. She does not like to share her altar, so you must dedicate the space to her alone. If you keep altars for other saints, set up Santa Muerte's altar separately from them.
Clean your altar with a damp rag. If the surface of your altar is not in good condition, cover it with a red altar cloth to make it more attractive. To protect your altar from burns or fires, cover it with a piece of glass cut to the size of the altar's surface, or place a large, decorative tray on the altar.
Purchase a Santa Muerte statue. She is an imposing skeletal figure, depicted either standing or seated in a thrown, often with a scythe in her hand. She is sometimes dressed in robes or a wedding gown. The colours in the statue should correspond to what you are seeking from her. Use red for love and marriage, yellow for luck, green for legal issues, blue for petitions involving studies, black for protection, brown for overcoming challenges or white for prosperity, health and general blessings.
Place the statue of Santisima Muerte on the back centre of the altar. You can drape the statue with gifts of jewellery, such as gold chains or polished stone beads. Flank the statue with candles or vases to hold flowers.
Put two glasses on the altar. One should be a shot glass containing an alcoholic beverage, such as tequila or rum. The other should be a glass of plain water.
Get an incense burner for either sticks or cones and set it on the altar. Place an ashtray on the altar for offerings of cigarettes. You can leave cigarettes unlit in the ashtrays until you are ready to worship and light them.
Set a bowl and a plate on the shrine for food offerings, which should be on the shrine at all times. Include fresh fruits, bread or tortillas, rice and some kinds of sweets, like chocolates or cookies. Arrange all of the elements on the altar in a neat, attractive way.
- "Time"; Santa Muerte: The New God in Town; Steven Gray; Oct. 2007
- "Santa Muerte-Altares, Ofrendas, Oraciones y Rituales"; Viman Books; 2007
- If you can't get a statue of Santisima Muerte right away, at least get an image of her. Print it and frame it attractively to give it prominence.
- A white or stone Santisima Muerte is ideal for general family worship, or use a multicoloured statue.
- Keep a drawer or basket near the altar with a lighter or matches, incense, candles, cigarettes and a bottle of alcohol for convenience.
- Keep your altar and all items on it clean. Dust and clean out ashes weekly and replace burnt out candles. Dispose of food as soon as it shows signs of rot, and throw away flowers when they begin to wilt. Remove water and alcohol after three days, or when liquids begin to appear cloudy.
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