Occult expert: Santa Muerte statue at cemetery designed to kill

A statue of the Santa Muerte is pictured at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery on Thursday, when two local women expressed concern that the folk figure’s image was “disrespectful” to the memory of those buried on the grounds.   (Staff photos by Michael Rodriguez and Francisco E. Jimenez)

A statue of the Santa Muerte is pictured at the San Benito Municipal Cemetery on Thursday, when two local women expressed concern that the folk figure’s image was “disrespectful” to the memory of those buried on the grounds. (Staff photos by Michael Rodriguez and Francisco E. Jimenez)

San Benito News

Santa Muerte 1Shrouded in a veil of secrecy as murky as its signature black cloak, the identity of the owner of an oddly-placed 3-feet-high statue of the Santisima Muerte in the middle of the San Benito Municipal Cemetery has become somewhat of a mystery.

On Thursday, two local women, who we’ll call Samantha and Sarah, expressed concern with the statue and called its presence “disrespectful” to the departed whose final resting places are located in the vicinity of where the porcelain folk figure – or Santa Muerte as it’s more commonly referred to in the Rio Grande Valley and elsewhere – was placed.

The statue depicts Death atop a crushed pile of skulls, cloaked in black and wielding a bronze globe in its left hand and a scythe in its right. Two incense sticks were found inside the sculpture, one within the globe that was visible through a gaping hole and another inside the base, which appeared to have been broken to gain access. It’s also accompanied by a bronze owl perched near the base and a tag tied to the scythe that displays a crowned Winged Death dangling a heart from a string.

“I noticed the statue on Monday (January 14) when I came to visit my mom’s grave,” said 61-year-old Samantha. “First of all, a statue like this shouldn’t be placed at a city cemetery. Whoever it belongs to should have a little more respect for our loved ones and the other people who are buried here.”

Samantha said she initially recalled the statue located beside a tree near a path which cuts through the cemetery. On Wednesday, Samantha said she returned to the cemetery and noticed that the statue had been moved directly underneath the tree and closer to the path.

“I don’t have anything against people who worship that statue, just not here at our city cemetery,” Samantha said. “It is disrespectful to our loved ones.”

Fifty-nine year-old Sarah of San Benito agreed.

“I’m not scared of it, it doesn’t bother me at all because I’m into a lot of prayer,” Sarah said while motioning to the statue. “It doesn’t faze me, but it is still being disrespectful to these people. I’m pretty sure that most of the people who are here are Catholic. For someone to come and put that here is very disrespectful.”

Sarah said she’s been in contact with officials from the City of San Benito and the San Benito Police Department to have the statue removed.

“We called the city, and they said that it shouldn’t be here, but the police said that they couldn’t do anything about it,” Sarah said. “I hope they do remove it or whoever owns it should come for it and put it at their house. Not here.”

According to City Manager Manuel Lara, complaints about the statue had previously not been brought to his attention, but he agreed that it should be removed if no one claims it.

“I hadn’t heard anything about it; I haven’t heard anything from the staff either,” Lara said. “If I have complaints, and it is not placed on a burial site that is identified, then of course (it’ll be removed). I’ll get my staff together to see if we can identify if it’s on a burial site. We’ll try to contact whomever we might be able to get in touch with on that burial site and see if they have placed it there. If someone else has placed it there, then we can have it removed at the request of the community.”

Dr. Antonio N. Zavaleta, a professor of anthropology at the University of Texas at Brownsville and renowned expert on the occult, believes the statue’s purpose is malicious in nature.

“It’s definitely being used in a work of witchcraft, probably a spell to harm or kill someone,” Zavaleta stated via email correspondence after viewing photos of the statue.

A student of folk religion and border cults for over 40 years, during which time he’s authored and co-authored a number of published books ranging in subjects from curanderos to a comprehensive history of the Rio Grande Valley, Zavaleta has aided authorities from all over the country in identifying and understanding ritualistic crimes. In fact, Zavaleta said he’s been asked to serve as an expert witness in cases in New Mexico, Arizona, California, Washington, D.C., Miami, Florida and Chicago, Illinois.

Regarding the statue’s imagery, and considering his expertise, Zavaleta felt confident in identifying the tag as showing that Death has claimed a life. “The whole thing is fascinating,” the professor further remarked.

Zavaleta said the owl is also a clear indication of brujeria, or witchcraft. “It’s a búho, or lechuza – a classic symbol of the witch, and the owl is the witch that takes the form of a person in Mexican-American culture and literally flies to the place where the spell is to be cast, where the harm is to be done to the person. It’s part of a spell and it definitely has a significance, I just have to look at it.”

The professor did just that on Friday when he accompanied San Benito News reporters to the cemetery to take a closer look. Afterwards, Zavaleta estimated the sculpture’s worth to be in the vicinity of $100 to $200. Also, Zavaleta believes the statue is the work of someone who paid a witch to inflict harm on another person.

“Someone, a man or woman, is doing witchcraft for pay,” Zavaleta said. “Somebody has paid the witch; they don’t do it for free and it (witchcraft) could easily go for a couple thousand dollars. So it definitely needs to be removed. The city should remove it, and that should be the end of it.”

Actually, Zavaleta said the best course of action may even be to burn the sculpture. The city manager said he’s already notified his staff of the statue and is currently determining an appropriate means of disposal, which may not occur until after this weekend.

“You see this on TV or in motion pictures, but not here in San Benito,” Lara said. “Our communication regarding the cemetery is to make sure that it’s cleaned up, that they pick up the trash, make sure the grass is mowed and manicured. We just want the people of the community to be proud of the burial sites that they have for their loved ones.”

Identifying the worshiping of Santa Muerte and its use in witchcraft as a fairly new phenomenon, Zavaleta said there are many who have common misconceptions regarding its practice.

“It’s not a saint,” Zavaleta said of the Santa Muerte figure, of which its roots he traced back to Mexico City during the 1980s. “Some people think it’s a Catholic saint, but it is not. It’s a folk figure. It’s not even a folk saint. It’s only existed for about 30 years… Thirty years ago there was no such thing, and here it is. It’s very popular.”

Given the statue’s ominous nature, which the professor believes is to cause someone’s death, Zavaleta said he was surprised to see it placed near a path not far from the road. “You want that to be clandestine,” he said. “You want it to be hidden; you don’t want it to be found out. They do their best not to be found out.”

Still, this isn’t the first time he’s witnessed such imagery at the city’s cemetery. “There’s been activity here in this cemetery, but to my knowledge it has been a while,” Zavaleta said. “If I were to walk here and study (the cemetery), I could probably uncover some other things, but what for? There’s no purpose in it. These witches, people who practice black magic – especially with Santa Muerte – they’re going to always lay out their work once they’re done with it. They’re going to lay it out in a cemetery.”

Read this story in the Jan. 20 edition of the San Benito News, or subscribe to our E-Edition by clicking here.

Permanent link to this article: https://www.sbnewspaper.com/2013/01/18/occult-expert-santa-muerte-statue-at-cemetery-designed-to-kill/


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    • H Gonzales on February 6, 2020 at 9:26 pm
    • Reply

    I’ll take the statue because it is not witchcraft or evil doings either

    • susana on September 27, 2015 at 4:27 pm
    • Reply

    first off la muerta isnt witchcraft or satanism im a devout catholic and ive petioned her weekly for years i see no problem with her statue in public our ladys statues and our lords are often left in cemeteries and if thats ok la santisma should be left in peace shes the guardian of the dead it isnt disrespectful at all

    • dllopez on January 22, 2015 at 3:56 pm
    • Reply

    So wrong, and disrespectful,and judgemental.
    you need to review what an expert means.
    On occult, maybe on Santa Muerte,no

  1. Dr. Antonio N. Zavaleta is completely misinformed on Santa Muerte. The roots of the shrine go much further than 30 years. Please read my article on Santa Muerte if you want real information, not fear mongering.

    • Morgan on January 23, 2013 at 3:58 pm
    • Reply

    Anyone who has been to Mexico knows that “Santa Muerte” is VERY popular there, and is used by those in the drug trade as a protection. Go to any “botanica” and you will find these statues with offerings of cigarettes, coins, food, candles, etc. gathered on or around them. I am a Wiccan and have never known any witch to use these statues in any kind of ritual or spell, but it’s possible that they do in Mexico.

    If this statue wasn’t placed by a relative of someone buried in the cemetery, I would suggest that it be moved out of the cemetery and at least put into storage in the city yard for a while to see if anyone claims it. If not, it could be sold at auction (use the proceeds for upkeep for the cemetery).

  2. Ms Drea, whatever the statue represents to you or anyone else..one does’nt just go set something like that in the middle of no where; the middle of your living room; the middle of the road OR the middle of a cemetary just because. I’m sure of one things:that if it was next to your mothers plot you wouldn’t be too happy. Or that you probably have no one resting there so you could care less.

    • drea on January 22, 2013 at 8:44 pm
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    i’m kind of disgusted at the fact that you all are having a poll about if they should burn it? this is america and owls represent a lot of things through out history. this is absolutely ridiculous.

    1. You’re disgusted with a poll to gauge public opinion yet point out that “this is America” as if to insinuate that freedoms have been suppressed? Ridiculous indeed. Keep in mind that you can always participate in the poll by voting for the following, “The city should leave the statue alone because it represents the owner’s religious beliefs;” after all, “this is America.”

        • Fabian on December 6, 2018 at 4:45 pm
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        This is America, freedom of religion right…. Santa Muerte is the guardian of the dead. You are all misinformed.

    • Eric on January 22, 2013 at 7:14 pm
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    This guy is not an expert, but some person who got a second hand story and became an expert.. Owls represent many things, not only lechuzas like the man says. The statue that has been placed there is for honoring someone, not black magick like the man says, although some do indeed use it for those reasons in this case it is not. I do believe that in a place like this it shouldn’t be put, i do believe in freedom of religion and belief whatever those might be, If your going to explain something Dr., explain both sides. It is a representation of death, in this case I believe the person that put it there, did so to guard someone buried there. Also seeing that cemeteries are holy ground, it is a place that has great power.

  3. Occult expert? Owls are symbols of the underworld in Mexican cultures dating back to Pre-Colombian times. They are depicted in the codex borgia as underworld figures, not witch figures, and Santa Muerte herself is based off of the Aztec goddess Mictlancacihuatl, the goddess of the underworld. Owls were the messengers of her and her husband, i.e. of death, and she wore owl feathers in her hair. There is nothing here about killing anyone, I can cite multiple academic sources that it’s a harmless statue meant to honor St.Death.

    • Chantel on January 22, 2013 at 5:46 pm
    • Reply

    Seems silly to get so worked up over a statue. I kinda like it.

    1. Well if you ask me I prefer a COHIBA over a WHITE OWL any day.

    • luis on January 22, 2013 at 9:41 am
    • Reply

    sucks how even in the afterlife they dont have freedom of religion…
    how do you know the person buried didnt belive in that? if they take it down take down the crosses… its a city cementary not a christian/cathlic one…

    1. The statue is not associated with any known grave in the area. This is why city officials are attempting to identify an owner before taking any action. It’s all in the story.

  4. It can’t be any worse then some of the kids that dress up in horror costumes and run around the streets asking for candy during halloween. Just wait till halloween comes around I bet the statue will be stolen from the cemetery and used as a decoration at some hunted house somewhere in the RGV. ” No man for real”! I am not kidding! Some smart people in the RGV will do that…

  5. Hahahahahahahahahaha…That a GOOD one!!!

    • Think About It on January 21, 2013 at 11:00 am
    • Reply

    Certainly some of form restriction that is already in place addressing what may or may not be erected, placed, or displayed on cemetery grounds exists. Here’s an idea, let’s take this statue, place it in an open field, sell tickets to watch Dr. Zavaleta set a match to it and donate the money raised to charity. So in essence, what is or may be evil, will have been destroyed and at the same time helped someone in need. Oh wait, don’t forget, we absolutely must invite mariachi’s, food vendors, and maybe even a small carnival. My gosh, I think we’ve created the first annual “Burning of Evil Festival.” All in effort to raise money for charity.

  6. Is it concrete?? If not burn it. I’m worried its aimed at someone that passes by there on a daily basis.
    True Catholics don’t give that kind of stuff a second thought. Our faith is in God Almighty not this stupidity.But that doesn’t mean we don’t care that others do belive in that crap and that we aren’t worried for their safety.
    I’m sure Mr. Lara will do the right thing and get rid of it period. I’m surprised Dr. Zavaleta doesn’t have a collection of this memoribilia in a warehouse somewhere, being that its his specialty.I don’t know, I feel if you don’t belive in it , it wont harm you……..

      • Facts on September 24, 2017 at 8:26 pm
      • Reply

      Your religion is made of various pagan beliefs and practices that came before, like every other religion.

  1. […] Though she may be considered a saint rather than a witch, Mexico’s Santa Muerte, or Saint of Death, is deeply connected to witchcraft. Portrayed as a woman wearing a skull mask, donning a long cloak—similar to a female Grim Reaper—Santa Muerte is honored through statues that are believed to hold magical powers. Black sculptures of the saint are used in cursing rituals while white sculptures are used for cleansing rituals. Some believers even consider Santa Muerte to be an intermediary between God and Earth, and others see her statue as an omen or threat of death. […]

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