Santa Muerte & shinigami

There’s a syncretic folk religion that is catching on in Mexico and America. It’s a cult devoted to

 Santa Muerte who is depicted like a Grim Reaper wielding a scythe.

Popularity has shot up because followers believe she’s done miracles. Her mythology isn’t set, but some suppose she is some kind of fallen archangel. The followers are predominately women in places that have become disillusioned with the institutionalized Catholic church.

Wikipedia lists her under folk saints – popular fictional saints that certain Catholics believe in. They are basically mini-gods, not unlike ancestral Gods or Japanese Kami.

Naturally the Catholic church has tried to stamp it out in Mexico, and some vandals recently smashed a statue to her in a Texas cementary. And yet with the violence in Mexico her grisly following has shot up by several million, and immigrants have begun to bring her to America. So if you see a plastic statue to a grim reaper in the future, it might actually be a deity rather than cheap Halloween decor.


Shinigami in Manga:

As an interesting side note, the Japanese adopted death gods or “shinigami” (死神) after making contact with Europeans. I don’t yet know much about how prevalant it is, but they liked the idea of the western “Grim Reaper,” since they fill in a void not explained by Shintoism. Kami serve various purposes, and in that world view there is no reason there can’t be a messenger that meets a recently deceased soul and conveys it into the afterlife.  Consequently, shinigami now commonly appear in their manga (sometimes alongside angels), and I’ve probably seen grim reapers in about 30 series though it’s hard to remember the titles.  (Maybe the cloaked skeleton holding a scythe looks so cool it’s become universal.)

Some mainstream examples of series which appeal to boys and that are centered around death gods are “Death Note” and “Bleach.” In both series shinigami are the main characters.

In “Death Note” a law student acquires a book from a shinigami, and whenever you write their name in the book they will die in the manner written in the book. He then plays a cat and mouse game with a detective who is trying to arrest him for his murders; neither can kill the other because they don’t know one another’s identities for a hundred chapters.

In “Bleach” a guy dies and becomes a shinigami that fights impure spirits and tries to purify them, hence the name “Bleach.”

Likewise, in “Tsurebito”, (translation: “one that conveys”), a girl dies in an accident and offered a choice: she can either go to the afterlife, or becoming a shinigami and protect the souls of the departed on their journey to the other side. After a shinigami helps her, she chooses to do that, partly because she wants to remain on Earth longer so she can spy on the boyfriend she left behind.

P.S. P.S. I’ve thought patron saints = kami / Chinese gods / Mongolian animalist gods / minor Roman gods for a year now. The parallel is just too similar to be coincidental.
(Letter went on to talk about inventing your own patron saints.)

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