It seems strange, doesn't it? A patron saint of people who are lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, and all other sexually fluid shades in-between. Popular opinion would have us believe that, by default, a saint would be against such liberal sexuality, but then again, just because an opinion is popular doesn't mean that it's true.
In my book La Santa Muerte: Unearthing the Magic & Mysticism of Death, I explore the mysteries of a clandestine cult devoted to the Spirit of Death, a shadowy spiritual community that has a uniqueness not found in many religious traditions: a statistically very high percentage of LGBT persons among the faithful. What makes this especially outstanding is the fact that most devotees of La Santa Muerte see themselves as Catholics, albeit with a morbid inclination towards the macabre.
So, how can this be? How can a pseudo-Catholic saint who is portrayed as a female grim reaper and venerated as the Spirit of Death, herself, come to be the patron saint of LGBT persons? Well, the answer, like most answers when you get down to the heart of it, is simple: the lessons of Death are of acceptance. In particular, there are four distinct ways in which an exponentially growing number of LGBT (and heterosexual) persons are finding self-acceptance and their own inner-power via the macabre mysteries of La Santa Muerte.
- Death = Equality
There is an Italian proverb that says, "At the end of the game, the king and the pawn go back into the same box." Both in chess and in life, we know this to be a universal truth. Everyone is equal in death. Likewise, death (as personified by La Santa Muerte) comes to us all equally. Men, women, children, young, old, gay, straight, black, white, good, bad, etc. It doesn't matter who you are or what you have done; Death holds no judgement for or against.
Although this may seem somber, it explains why so many people see La Santa Muerte as a refuge of tolerance. Those who seek her divine protection and work with her morbid magic know that they won't be judged. The supreme neutrality of Death acts as a beacon of solace to the misfits and social outcasts of the world, and so not only do they find the divine acceptance for which they've been longing, but they also find it in their fellow community members and devotees of Death. After all, if your patron deity is the epitome of equality, then as a spiritual credo, you are obligated to strive to be the same. And I can tell you from my personal travels and interactions within this macabre cult, acceptance abounds in the hearts and minds of the members of the mystery school of La Santa Muerte.
- Power = Acceptance of Life As It Is
When most people start hearing about death, the first thing they do is pretend they didn't hear about it, followed soon after by an abrupt change of subject. It makes many uncomfortable. They just don't want to be reminded that they are born into this life destined to die. But there is no power in death denial, never is there power in pretending the inevitable won't happen.
A similar uncomfortableness is true in the experience of many LGBT persons, especially those still in the closet. When confronted about their own sexuality, many begin to squirm in nervousness and attempt to answer by not directly answering. This verbal dance of denial has much in common with the delusional dance of death rejection. In both cases, we are trying to deny an unalterable fact of life whether it be our mortality or our sexual orientation/identity.
Now, if we think about these denial dances in terms of magic, we reach an impasse. Since magic, at its most basic, is the manipulation of energy in accordance with one's will, how can we expect to successfully manifest spells if we are purposely blinding ourselves to one of the most primordial and influential natural energies in existence: death? Life cannot exist without death, as they are opposite sides of the same coin. So in order to truly be able to work magic, we have to understand death. And in order to understand death, we have to accept its unalterable existence in our lives and the natural world.
Shift this mentality over to the LGBT community, and we find ourselves at the same impasse. Sexuality is one of the most primordial and influential forces at play in the lives of all organic beings. How can we, as organic beings, expect to live a happy and fulfilling life if we are purposely blinding ourselves to this basic and natural force? Knowing thyself is the beginning of all wisdom. So in order to truly know ourselves we have to understand the motivating forces within us, which include our sexual desires and sexual self-identification. And in order to understand that, we have to accept its unalterable existence in our lives and the natural world.
- Perception = Everything
Another major lesson that La Santa Muerte teaches is the all-powerful importance of perception. Having previously learned to accept life how it is, we understand that, at their core, things are how they are, and it is only our perception of them that defines them as anything more. In regard to Death, a lot of people malign this fact of life as sorrowful and depressing, but is it?
If you look at it as a permanent ending, then yes, it is all those things and more. But if you look at it as a new beginning, then Death is nothing more than a new adventure. And really, all new beginnings come from some other beginning's end. What the caterpillar calls an ending, the butterfly calls a new beginning. What the egg calls an ending, the chicken calls a new beginning. What our physical bodies call an ending, our souls call a new beginning. This lesson is of utmost importance because if you cannot accept Death as anything other than something negative, then you cannot create a meaningful relationship with Death and co-create magic with her.
This lesson is empowering to LGBT persons because if you cannot accept your own sexual orientation/identity, then you cannot create a meaningful relationship with yourself and effectively have a healthy relationship with anyone else. There will ALWAYS be haters. People will hate you for whom you love, what you do or don't do, and anything else they perceive of you. But that is only their perception of you. If you allow the haters' perception of you to become your dominant perception of your own self, then you have chosen to define yourself as such. La Santa Muerte experiences these same haters, too. Some people simply refuse to see Death as a whole new adventure of beginnings. Rather, they place blinders on their own eyes and insist that Death is wholly something awful, terrible, and to be scorned. But does Death care? Not at all. She knows what she is, she doesn't need to prove anything to anybody, and her own perception of herself is all that matters. Likewise, an LGBT person (or anyone maligned by society, really) has a similar choice to make in perception: see ourselves as others perceive us or as we perceive ourselves. And that self-perception makes all the difference.
- Every Moment = Just You
In the end, we are all we have. As the previous lesson of Death taught us, perception is everything. This fourth lesson expands upon this by revealing that no one has more power over us than our own selves. This is true not just at critical and defining moments in our lives, but at all moments during the entirety of our lifespan.
How does this apply to Death? Well, think about it. When it comes for your time to die, it will be just you. No one can take your place. Others may be there with you, supporting and easing your transition off this mortal coil, but when the moment comes, it's just you and Death.
If we expand this lesson into other parts of our lives, we find it to be true of all events. When you are sick, it is you who is sick. Others may help to heal and ease your recovery, but no one can take your place in being sick. You're taking an exam at school; again it's just you. Others can help teach you and study with you, but when exam day comes, it's just you and that test. Playing sports? It's just you and the ball. Writing that novel? It's just you and the computer screen. Becoming an actor? It's just you and the camera. Becoming a singer? It's just you and that microphone. And so on...
In the LGBT community, this lesson rings true. No one can live your life but you. Trying to find a love of the same sex? It doesn't matter how others might glare and internally disapprove because in the end, it's just you who is out on that date with that prospective lover. In a polyamorous relationship? It doesn't matter if your well-meaning friends say such a relationship can't be done because in the end, it's just you who experiences two-times the love after coming home from work. Transitioning between genders? It doesn't matter if your family disapproves because in the end, it's just you who has to live in your body. And so on...
In these past few minutes, just by allowing ourselves to briefly contemplate the wisdom of Death, as held in such high reverence by the magical Santa Muerte community, we have: discovered a deity and spiritual community whose founding tenant is "equality;" enhanced our magical prowess and self-power by accepting life as it is; become the architects of our own identity by realizing perception is everything; and become the masters of our own fate by understanding that all power, at any given moment, lies entirely within us and only us.
Just imagine what we could learn and do if we spent more than just a few minutes on the spiritual lessons of Death!
Well, if you're ready to explore the magic and mysticism of Death and learn about one of the fastest growing underground spiritual communities, a community dedicated to La Santa Muerte, feel free to pick-up my book La Santa Muerte: Unearthing the Magic & Mysticism of Death. I know, it might seem a little scary over here in the shadows, but trust me, once your eyes acclimate to the darkness, you'll be able to see the kinds of things that those who dwell solely in the light never see...but you'll never know, until you try.