Bishops from Mexico and the southwestern U.S. have united to proclaim that praying to Santa Muerte, a folk figure depicted as a skeleton, is not a good thing and people should stop. Delightful. I found this news on back pages of the February 21 Denver Post. Finding articles NOT about 45 is a daunting task these days. By comparison, death is a fine alternative topic.
It turns out that while Catholic enrollments are dropping, devotees of Santa Muerte are increasing, particularly among drug cartels. I imagine such prayers as, “Dear Saint Death, please kill off the rival cartel and let my heroin shipment get through to Detroit.”
The article didn’t say so, but I’m pretty sure the church regards Santa Muerte as a consort of the Devil. A rack of bones with long dark hair, she often carries the scythe favored by the grim reaper of our heritage. Evolved over centuries from Aztec deities, she reminds me of the Hindu goddess Kali, who’s been around thousands of years, wears a necklace of skulls and is way sexier.
The upshot is there’s nothing new about lady death, she’s just been reconfigured. Sort of like the way Tea Party protesters at town hall meetings a decade ago have now become liberal protesters at town hall meetings. It hurts my feelings, by the way, that they accuse us of being paid activists. Did we accuse the Tea Party of that?
When I worked at Chicano Humanities and Arts Council half a life ago, we had a big poster of the lady skeleton in her rustic wooden cart. That was Doña Sebastiana, a New Mexican variation on the theme. She forgoes the scythe for a bow and arrow. I rather like the irony of that: instead of getting shot by the arrow of love, you realize, too late—this is not that arrow. But either way, a lady skeleton of death has become popular. And the bishops aren’t happy. No good can come of it, they say.
The bishops don’t know the half of it. Día de los Muertos has taken America by storm. Everybody and his nephew has an elaborately decorated Día skull, or sugar skulls with their names written on the forehead. I’ve seen skull earrings and pink flannel pajamas covered in pretty little skulls. Skull tats and skull T-shirts. I was in a Mexican restaurant, idly looking around while waiting for our food, and realized the décor was entirely skull-based. Even the wallpaper had a tiny skull pattern in it.
I was hoping to find a skull postcard to send to Paul Ryan this week. He’s apparently stopped taking our petitions and phone calls, so the women’s march folk thoughtfully published his home address. I sent him a few cards, reminding him of the importance of health care and civil rights. Sadly, none had skulls on them.
I have a lady esqueleto on my desk, wearing a sparkly red dress, pounding away on her computer. I call her Pollyanna Posada. Posada, in honor of José Guadalupe Posada, the Mexican artist who, around 1900, created the satirical skeletons everyone copies; and Pollyanna because I love alliteration. Pollyanna was a gift from Donna and Mike, two cosmopolitan hedonists I know. They gave her to me when I had a birthday that meant I was on the downhill.
Pollyanna’s kind of like me. Most days I can’t resist optimism. Sending Paul Ryan those postcards cheered me up, even though I know he won’t read them. A few days ago I saw merchandise for sale on Facebook in the afternoon. That evening we heard the news about Elizabeth Warren being silenced while reading the Coretta Scott King letter. They showed a clip of McConnell saying she was warned but nevertheless she persisted. “That,” I tell my husband, “is already a T-shirt.”
Response is faster than thunder after lightning these days. That also makes me happy. And I’m completely jazzed by the fact that Pollyanna’s still writing in spite of being dead. Dying is not the worst thing that can happen to you if you’re a writer—a failure to write is.
“Look,” I tell Doña Sebastiana, “point that arrow elsewhere: I need to finish this blog.” Creation of art is always done in defiance of death. I’d never wear that sequin dress though: trashy.