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La Santa Muerte begins by detailing exactly how this mostly disorganized cult of worship earned a reputation so scary it had a cameo on Breaking Bad. Tomás Prower does his best to to point out that the petitioners associated with the saint are not in any way an indication of her place on the spectrum of good and evil; she is non-judgmental, and that is the most powerful part of her appeal. This non-judgmental aspect fills a significant psychic hole to her mainly Catholic followers, making her the patron goddess of the socially marginalized.

Prower is a great writer with a strong voice; even the more difficult to accept aspects of the Santa Muerte cult became entertaining and educating under his guidance. While his talent as a writer is unparalleled, the conflict between publisher directive and amelioration for bald facts of Santa Muerte worship created some cognitive dissonance in later chapters. When the book moves from historical background to practical application, some pieces made sense – such as the herbs that differ from North American practice – while others seemed less connected spell and more experimental symbolic arrangement. It wasn’t wrong per se – all magic folk must innovate at times -- but it also didn’t quite feel like it fit with the overall context of the book. While the introduction made it clear that Lady Muerte does not share our mortal moral constraints, Prower clearly does, especially when those mortal restraints include publisher guidelines.

One flag of inconsistency is Prower’s statement that he sees a mirror shield as a form of attack, rather than the straightforward security maneuver many will consider it to be. This smacks of the kind of ethical considerations designed to prevent practice of magic altogether; without the practice of handing someone their energy back, arts like Aikido wouldn’t exist, and there appears to be little debate about the ethics of someone’s own kinetic energy.

While the first chapters of the book make a great introduction to the saint, it seems better to start elsewhere for actual practice, perhaps taking a journey to the famous statues mentioned in the book, or visiting one of the temples. Even so, it does demystify Santa Muerte, making her symbols less fearful and more a force to respect.  The first half of the book is recommended. The second, take or leave.

~ review by Diana Rajchel

Author: Thomás Prower
Llewellyn Publications, 2015
pp. 243; $17.99

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