Photo: Shaul Schwarz
If you're a drug-runner in Mexico with powerful enemies, or an innocent citizen horrified by the increasingly gruesome turf battles between the cartels, you might well turn to religion for supernatural protection. A new breed of spiritual guardians have cropped up to fill this need, but you won't find these characters in any Lives of the Saints.
The most popular is a female deity called La Santa Muerte, represented by a skeleton in long robes who carries a reaper's sycthe. Anoher is Jesus Malverde, a 19th c. outlaw who may not actually have existed but has shrines in his honor and is often depicted with an AK47.
Alma Guillermoprieto reported on the rise of these cults in the May issue of National Geographic, with photos by Shaul Schwarz.
El Niño and Antonio say that La Santa Muerte will grant your prayers—but only in exchange for payment, and that payment must be proportional to the size of the miracle requested, and the punishment for not meeting one's debt to her is terrible.