Santa Muerte's popularity has grown of late. Given her origins as an obscure, Catholic-church disapproved folk saint she has in the past fifteen years blossomed from a bad-girl narco saint into a full-formed religion of her own, including churches dedicated solely to her in southern California. Tracey Rollin adds to the growing lore about the Skinny Lady in this accessible, well-researched book that examines the roots and historic theories of Santa Muerte from a perspective very different than what's already been published in English.

Rollin came to Santa Muerte during a childhood of ill-fitting Catholicism. As a young child, she discovered saints worship to be more fulfilling, and this led her to practice with folk saints. The author reveals a sincere and examined spiritual practice, filled with both reverence and pragmatism. Every symbol and tool has a historic connection behind it, a magical reason for it, and the substantiation that can only come from practice.

One thing that makes this book different from others on the market like it is that Rollins not only digs deeper into the nature of Aztec culture, she also looks at how European influences manifested in the veneration of Santa Muerte. The Aztecs are, in Rollins account, quite different from the backwards, human-sacrificing savages that Doctor Who episodes and US history textbooks suggest. Along with much more information and context about Aztec culture than normal, she explains how and why Cortes was never supposed to come to the Americas – and why the Aztecs hesitated on dispatching him.

Rollins clearly has knowledge of multiple magical systems, and they have influenced her thoughts and relationships in Saint worship and in other mystical venues. She distinguishes one path from the other with great care; nowhere does she muddle the tradition of Santa Muerte with other modalities, nor does she mix traditions without a compelling and historically founded reason. She does add in suggestions for people who do not practice the path of Santa Muerte to adapt certain practices to their own tradition in a way that is well-anchored to honoring the spiritual intent of a practice.

This book is highly recommended. Rollin’s graceful acknowledgement of multiple magical systems while carefully outlining a specific tradition is a nice improvement to current magical dialogue. Much more important, the book removes fear, raises awareness about the impact of colonization on the new world, and heightens awareness of magic happening outside the Eurocentric Pagan sphere.

~review by Diana Rajchel

Author: Rollin, Tracey
Weiser Books, 2017
pp. 235, $16.95