Will Exorcisms Fix Mexico’s Cartel Violence?

Thanks to @DrBradMcKay for bringing this NY Daily News article to my attention: Exorcism rituals on the rise as way to battle evil of Mexican cartels. The piece basically could have been written by the Vatican’s PR team, which annoyed me, so I took to YouTube, as I do. Here’s my rant, with a close-enough transcript following:

Here’s the gist (what I’ve been trying to do lately is to expand my notes into something readable for the average person before recording the video. I try to stick to what I’ve written, but even when I stray it should still be on topic enough that I don’t have to go back and do an exact transcript. I hope people who can’t watch or hear the video get some use out of it!):

Gang and drug-related violence is out of control in Mexico, with something like 60,000 deaths since 2006. This is thanks in large part to drugs moving into the United States and guns moving out of the US and into Mexico. While the US very slowly begins legalizing marijuana state by state while doing basically nothing about other drugs and nothing about assault weapons, the Mexican government has been scrambling to fight the drug cartels with very little success. Between 2006 and 2012, 3,000 police officers and soldiers were killed, roughly equal to the number of coalition soldiers who died in Afghanistan between 2001 and 2012.

So you could say it’s a problem, and it doesn’t seem to be getting better very quickly, though there was an overall decline in violence in 2012.

As you may have guessed, this crime has significantly decreased quality of life in many areas of Mexico, creating widespread terror and limiting access to education. What do we see happen again and again in situations where people have little education and little hope for the future? Religion and superstition take the reins, of course!

Which brings me to this NY Daily News article that was sent to me by @DrBradMcKay on Twitter: Exorcism rituals on the rise as way to battle evil of Mexican cartels

I mean hell, if the government isn’t going to help you, you may as well give the priests a shot, I guess.

Father Ernesto Caro told the paper about how he took four months to exorcise demons from the body of a man who chopped people into pieces for the Los Zetas cartel. The man converted to Catholicism and began a new, nonviolent life.

Tough to argue with that, huh? How else could you possibly explain that? Hold on, let me just continue reading the very next sentence in the article:

“He’s heard the man secured an early prison release, but doesn’t know his whereabouts, Caro said.”

Look, I would never suggest that this sociopathic murderer was caught and went to prison and then pretended to be possessed with demons just so that he could then pretend to be free of the demons so that he could then pretend to be a good and Godly man in order to look good for a parole board and secure an early prison release and then disappear somewhere to do God knows what. Literally, I’m sure God knows what. No, I would never suggest that, because I hope to visit Mexico one day and I prefer my body to remain intact for as long as possible. I’m just saying that maybe the reporter could have thought to say that.

Speaking of the Catholic Church’s viewpoint standing unopposed in the mainstream media, the article also discusses the rising popularity of Santa Muerte, or Saint Death, or the “Bony Lady,” a female folk saint who is worshipped by millions of people in Mexico, the US, and Central America, much to the chagrin of the Catholic Church. The Catholic priests blame Santa Muerte for the increase in violence in the past decade, which must be easier than blaming social inequality, government corruption, and the damaging policies of at least two different countries.

The article seems to take a cue from the priests, inextricably tying Santa Muerte to the murderous cartels and to exorcisms, but a bit of research paints a much more complicated picture. She’s venerated by many people but particularly the poor and disenfranchised as a saint who does all kinds of things, like find lost objects, heal injuries, and most often protect marriages, stop cheaters, and other aspects of love. The people who pray to her usually consider themselves Catholics, despite the fact that the Church has branded her blasphemous and satanic.

According to R. Andrew Chesnut, who wrote the first English-language exploration of Santa Muerte, she’s worshipped by people who feel that death might be imminent, so of course that includes cartel members, but it also includes the people who are at risk of being murdered by the cartel members or having their lives otherwise ruined by the ongoing drug war.

A Houston Press reporter interviewed a Santa Muerte priestess named Maria, who said, “”I used to be a person who feared death, who feared night,” Maria continued. “Once night would arrive, I would start panicking. Scared knowing that I was going to die, and every day I would say I was going to die. One day [Santa Muerte] appeared and said that God wasn’t picking me up yet, [and] I still had a lot to do on this earth and I had to continue striving. Since then, that idea and fear of death left me as well as the fear of night coming and me saying that I was going to die.”

Again: where ignorance prevails and hope is hard to come by, the right religion can really score big.

Maria left the Catholic Church because she saw it as an oppressive institution mired in scandal. It’s worth noting that Santa Muerte has no policy about abortion, birth control, or women submitting to their husbands, which may help explain why the majority of devotees are women.

Anyway, it’s worth considering when you read an article about an evil cult, is that just the message the Catholic Church wants you to hear? Personally, I remain more scared of a politician with a crucifix in his office than a disenfranchised Latina with a Santa Muerte candle in her home.

Featured image of Santa Muerte by LittleBird16 on Deviant Art

Rebecca Watson

Rebecca is a writer, speaker, YouTube personality, and unrepentant science nerd. In addition to founding and continuing to run Skepchick, she hosts Quiz-o-Tron, a monthly science-themed quiz show and podcast that pits comedians against nerds. There is an asteroid named in her honor. Twitter @rebeccawatson Mastodon Instagram @actuallyrebeccawatson TikTok @actuallyrebeccawatson YouTube @rebeccawatson BlueSky

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  1. Super interesting, Rebecca!

    That “death cult” business not only promotes the Catholic Church’s official view, it also helps sensational journalism. You can spread propaganda while making a profit. A win-win for spin…

    … and a loss for humanity.

  2. Santa Muerte was the one that featured in Breaking Bad, right?
    Great post Rebecca, strongly agree with all you say (as usual).

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