One of the few things we can be sure every culture has in common is a concept of death. For some, it’s the Grim Reaper, the silent, cold, unforgiving death who waits and watches for you to die. For others, it’s Santa Muerte, who is, aside from being a sort of psychopomp, also associated with healing and protection.
She’s worshipped today, often by those who live on the fringes of society–the poor, LGBTQ+ folks, and, unfortunately, also by criminals. That means that her followers are often suspect for no reason other than that they find comfort in a saint who offers protection and safe passage to the afterlife.
Ordinarily I use this space to talk about something in my own life, but Santa Muerte isn’t a figure from my own culture. Rather than projecting myself onto a culture that isn’t mine, I want to link to a couple of articles–one on some of the reasons particular communities worship Santa Muerte, and another on cultural appropriation, Día de los Muertos, and white peoples’ (such as myself) lack of connection with our lost loved ones.
They’re both interesting reads, and I want to tread carefully in this post because I typically write fantasy and writing fantasy about a culture I don’t belong to means I have great potential to fall into harmful, racist tropes, even if I have no intention of doing harm. I welcome criticism on that front–though this is fiction inspired by a religious figure, the potential is still there, and I’m happy to have a conversation about anything I’ve done wrong. It’s very easy to let fear of doing things wrong stop us from speaking or writing at all, but I think I would rather fail spectacularly and learn so I can do better next time than let myself write only about people just like me.
Anyway, here’s a drabble.
(Noun: Spanish for Holy Death)
A Mexican and Southwestern United States folk saint who personifies death and is associated with healing, protection, and safe passage into the afterlife.
She is beautiful, it is whispered. Nobody speaks too loudly of the Lady of the Shadows.
Those who worship her are the small, the fearful, the outcasts, or those who deal in death themselves. To speak her name too loudly is an incrimination, an admission of guilt.
For some, she merely crooks a bony finger and laughs, luring the curious. She embraces others like old friends, rubbing their shoulders to warm their weary bones. The Lady may grasp hands or kiss cheeks or simply smile a skeletal grin—all come to her eventually, and follow her elsewhere, into the shadows.