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What Does the Santa Muerte Tattoo Mean?

The Santa Muerte tattoo, also known as the “Saint Death” tattoo, is a popular design among those who follow the folk saint known as the “Lady of the Holy Death.” This tattoo often features a depiction of the skeleton saint holding a scythe or other symbols of death and is believed to bring protection, good fortune, and blessings to those who wear it.  

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The Santa Muerte tattoo can hold a variety of meanings and significance for those who choose to get it, from honoring one’s cultural heritage to seeking guidance and protection on life’s journey. If you’re considering getting a Santa Muerte tattoo, it’s important to do your research first and understand the cultural significance of this powerful symbol. 

Who is Santa Muerte? 

Santa Muerte wood carving
Santa Muerte wood carving. See this here.

Santa Muerte, also known as the “Saint of Death,” is a female folk saint venerated in Mexico and parts of the United States. She is usually depicted as a skeletal figure, often dressed in a hooded cloak and carrying a scythe. More recently and especially in stylized tattoos, she’s depicted as a beautiful young woman with skull-like makeup.  

As it’s sometimes difficult to distinguish Santa Muerte in skeletal form from her male counterpart, San La Muerte, feminine features or accessories such as flowers, jewelry, or flowing hair are added to the more traditional tattoos. Her followers revere her as a friendly spirit that partakes in the activities of the living, so they leave cigarettes, alcoholic drinks, and food at her shrines.  

santa muerte protection amulet
Santa Muerte Protection Amulet. See it here.

It’s believed that Santa Muerte has various powers, especially those related to death and decay for which she is often invoked. Some followers invoke her protection against illnesses or addictions, while others seek protection from harm, or wisdom to overcome potentially life-threatening situations. 

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Like the Aztec goddess, Mictecacihuatl, who possesses the key to the Underworld, Santa Muerte, too, can go back and forth between the realms of the living and the dead. She’s sought after, consequently, to communicate with the deceased or protect them in the afterlife.  

Those who tattoo her image on their bodies seek to acquire some of her powerful magic, wisdom, and willpower, especially those who face danger on a daily basis. 

The Colors of Santa Muerte 

santa muerte statue
Colorful Santa Muerte statue. See it here.

There are several different colors associated with Santa Muerte, each of which is believed to represent a different aspect or attribute of the saint. The most common colors are: 

  • White: This color is associated with purity, spiritual guidance, and protection from harm. White Santa Muerte is often invoked for protection, healing, and help with spiritual matters. 
  • Red: This color symbolizes love, passion, and desire. Red Santa Muerte is invoked for matters of the heart, including love, relationships, and attracting good fortune. 
  • Black: Associated with protection, justice, and the removal of obstacles, black Santa Muerte is often invoked for protection, justice, and help with overcoming challenges or obstacles. 
  • Green: Green represents prosperity, abundance, and financial success. Green Santa Muerte is believed to help with financial matters and attract abundance and prosperity. 
  • Gold: This color is associated with success, prosperity, and good fortune. Gold Santa Muerte is invoked for help with achieving success and attracting good fortune. 

It’s important to note that the symbolism associated with the different colors of Santa Muerte is not universally agreed upon, and different people may attribute different meanings to the various colors. 

The Moral Values of Santa Muerte 

santa muerte blanca

It’s common knowledge among devotees to Santa Muerte that trying to deceive her is counterproductive. She always catches liars, and not only does she not grant them their wishes, but she also punishes them for their foolishness.  

Santa Muerte is less concerned with the underlying motivations of worshippers than with their candor. As death is the only possible end for all believers, every attempt at pushing it further in the future is valid, even at the cost of other people’s suffering. This is why it’s commonly believed that Santa Muerte will answer every heartfelt request even though they may stem from greedy or selfish reasons.  

Santa Muerte does not judge, nor does she assign any kind of moral weight to any of the requests she receives. This makes her a particularly loved saint by criminals and mafia members. It also explains why she is resisted by civil authorities, and also by the Catholic Church. For example, Mexican police is known to have targeted individuals using Santa Muerte tattoos under the suspicion that they may engage in illegal activities.  

Who Uses Santa Muerte Tattoos? 

santa muerte costume

There are no specific rules or restrictions on who can wear a tattoo of Santa Muerte. However, it’s important to remember that tattoos are a form of self-expression and should be chosen and placed with care.  

Some people may choose to get a tattoo of Santa Muerte to express their devotion to this folk saint or to honor a loved one who has passed away. Others may be drawn to the symbolism and imagery associated with Santa Muerte and choose to get a tattoo to express their personal beliefs or values. 

It’s believed that Santa Muerte accepts requests from everyone without discrimination. She is the patron saint of the marginalized, the rejected, and those who live on the fringes of society. This does not include only criminals, but also the poor, drug addicts, prostitutes, single mothers, handicapped people, the homeless, the mentally ill, and so on.  

santa muerte candle
Santa Muerte Witchcraft Candle. See it here.

Due to associations of death with twilight, some people who work at night have adopted Santa Muerte as a protective entity as well. Taxi drivers, bartenders, cleaners, security guards, exotic dancers, and night-shift staff are generally subject to a higher risk of accidents, assaults, robberies, and violence.  

This is the reason why Santa Muerte is La Señora de la Noche (The Lady of the Night). She is also known as the Saint of Last Resort because many of her devotees invoke her powers as a last resort when they feel as though they have nowhere else to turn in times of trouble.  

Santa Muerte’s Places of Worship 

worship of santa muerte

Santa Muerte is venerated by some people in Mexico and other parts of Latin America, and her cult has spread to other parts of the world in recent years. Some of her followers may have private altars or shrines in their homes where they pray and offer offerings to Santa Muerte.  

There are also some public places of worship or meeting places for Santa Muerte followers, such as temples or churches, where devotees can gather to pray and participate in rituals. It’s important to note that the worship of Santa Muerte is not accepted by the Catholic Church and may be outside the bounds of Catholic teaching and practice. 

Wrapping Up 

Contrary to what many people believe, Santa Muerte tattoos are not just found on criminals. Santa Muerte is the protectress of the poor and the wretched, who are on the margins of society, just as she lives in a fringe space between life and death.  

This is why tattoos of Santa Muerte can be found on people from all walks of life who wish to be protected from harm, but also (although probably in a lesser proportion) on people who wish harm on others. If there’s one lesson to be learned from Santa Muerte, that is to not judge others. 

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Sebastian Francisco Maydana
Sebastian Francisco Maydana

I'm a PhD candidate in History, with a specialization in ancient Egyptian history. My main field of interest is Egyptian art and religion, especially during the Predynastic period. I also write film reviews and narrative, and have a passion for sailing.