The main altar of Templo Santa Muerte is filled with colorful statues of the saint along with fresh flower offerings. (all photographs by the author)
This month, the LA Obscura Society visited a temple in Hollywood, California, dedicated to a hybrid Aztec-Christian deity — the Templo Santa Muerte. We visited the altar area and bótanica, and were given permission to take photos (the temple normally has a strict no photo policy, especially when services are being held).
In the west alcove is the most haunting representation of Santa Muerte dressed in a white bridal outfit filled with candles, fresh fruit, fresh flowers and other offerings.
The temple itself is small and can only seat a little over 20 people, but its altar is filled with human-sized statues of skeletons dressed in colorful Virgin Mary-like robes representing Santa Muerte, surrounded by bouquets of fresh flowers. On the west side of the altar area is a separate alcove where another statue of Santa Marta resides, dressed in a white wedding gown, with many offerings of lit candles and fresh fruit.
Roman Catholics would easily recognize many of the items and religious artifacts in the altar since the worship of Santa Muerte borrows heavily from Catholicism.
After visiting the altar area, we were led outside to the temple lot to have a sermon and Q&A session with Father Garcia, the priest of Templo Santa Muerte. Father Garcia explained that Santa Muerta is a divine creation of God, not of Man. She is the Aztec Underworld goddess Mictecacihuatl, and the Angel of Death mentioned in Exodus of the Christian Bible. From an outside observer, she is more of a blending of Christianity, Aztec mythology, and even some African cultural influences.
Each of the colors that Santa Muerte is dressed in represents something specific, in this case purple is for spirituality and green is for health.
Many of Santa Muerte’s statues are seen carrying objects like the scythe, scales, a globe, or an owl perched on her shoulder.
We noticed in the bótanica that the many candles for sale had specific colors. Father Garcia explained that every altar to Santa Muerte should always have candles. Santa Muerte specializes in granting material needs and protection. The candles are the light of communication to the deity to grant her faithful worshipers their specific needs. Red symbolizes love. Blue deals with problems related to school or with the law. Gold is for business. Green is for health. Amber is for any kind of vice or addiction. White is for problems at home. Black is counterintuitive in that it represents protection. Purple is only for advanced worshipers, because it involves spirituality. Rainbow-striped candles are an all-in-one request.
The scales represent justice and equality.
The altar table is filled with objects like candles representing specific requests to the deity along with a crucifix despite the fact that the Catholic Church considers this blasphemy.
Santa Muerte doesn’t discriminate with who worships her, which is why she is popular with Mexico’s poor, dispossessed, and even criminals. When it comes to offerings, Santa Muerte’s tastes tend to be expensive. The offerings a worshiper gives to her represent one of the four elements. Water is meant for messages and if you really want to impress her, then give her a bottle of tequila. If you want to offer something that represents air, then fine cuban cigars will do. If you want to make an offering representing earth, then give her soil from where you were born, or virgin land or salt.
Father Garcia discusses and answers questions about Santa Muerte to the Obscura Society in a sermon-like manner - more fun than Sunday mass.
The worship of Santa Muerte seems to be growing, and one Obscura Society member ended up buying a four-foot statue of Santa Muerte to take home with her. If you are interested learning more about Santa Muerte, the temple offers services every Friday, Saturday and Sunday at 10 AM and 6 PM on Saturdays. Those are the best times to visit because they do not always follow their posted hours of operation at the door.
The Obscura Society is the real-world exploration arm of Atlas Obscura We seek out secret histories, unusual access, and opportunities for our community to explore strange and overlooked places hidden all around us. Join us on our next adventure!