Association of Social Anthropologist of the UK and Commonwealth
Anthropology and Enlightenment, 19-22 June, Edinburgh 2014
The Santa Muerte: magic and material culture in the cemeteries of a megalopolis
Author: Dr Marcel Reyes-Cortez
This paper will look at how practitioners of magic and followers of the Santa Muerte form different types of social meanings and will explore further how objects and photographs facilitate the communion between the living, the dead and the ánima.
This paper explores why the cemetery is a magnet for social, cultural and religious interaction by investigating the practices and activities of the materialisation and objectification of the dead inside and outside its boundaries. This includes the life histories of its workers, mourners and daily visitors. My assertion is that the spaces of the dead, such as the cemeteries of Mexico City, are clear examples of dynamically active memory-making sites. In these the dead are revered daily, socialised and memorialised through a combination of secular and religious contemporary funerary practices, material culture such as objects, photographs, and the daily interaction between the living and the ánima. One such example is the regular use and practice of magic in the cemetery and regular visits made by non-mourners who are perceived to be witches and followers of the Santa Muerte. It also investigates how the diverse uses of material objects have been embraced to carry out such activities in Panteón San Rafael.
Supported by the evidence presented in this paper, I suggest that the embracing of material culture in the cemeteries provides and creates a space for multiple layers of memory facilitating and bridging the communion between the living, the dead and the ánima. I will also explore further how mourners’ religious and secular experiences, practices and activities, including the widespread embracing of material and visual culture, play an active and dynamic role in contemporary funerary rituals and social memory dedicated to the dead in the cemeteries of a megalopolis.