The Feminine Roots of Santa Muerte with Anthropologist Dr. Kate Kingsbury

Yuri Mendez by Dr. Kate Kingsbury
Yuri Mendez photographed by Dr. Kate Kingsbury

Roejen Razorwire and I welcome anthropologist Dr. Kate Kingsbury to discuss her work studying the less well known aspects of Santa Muerte devotion. Images of and ideas about Santa Muerte have multiplied phenomenally in popular media, but the perspective of her women followers – some of the most influential – are little represented.

We talk about Dr. Kingsbury’s time in the field with poor, Indigenous women devotees in Mexico, and learn how people excluded from standard avenues of status in society work with Santa Muerte to empower themselves and their community. We discuss the development of new religious movements, activism in academia, working with people on the ground as an ethnographer, archaeological and colonial evidence of Santa Muerte’s indigenous roots, how anthropologists understand paranormal events in their social/ritual contexts, and more!

I am very interested in situating paranormal experiences in a larger social context, and following how experiencers explore the meaning of these experiences and leverage them to create changes in their community and society at large. This is a familiar story regarding UFO and cryptid encounters, Dr. Kingsbury’s work provides structure and a wider context for eludicating these processes.


Listen here:

Grandma and Holy Death
Doña Elena in her shrine. Photo by Dr. Kingsbury

Help Fund Dr. Kingsbury’s Research for her upcoming book “Daughters of Death”

Articles by Dr. Kingsbury on Santa Muerte and other topics:

Yuri and Dr. Kate
Yuri Mendez and Dr. Kingsbury in Cancun.  photo courtesy of Dr. Kingsbury

For our interview, I drew from these three articles by Dr. Kingsbury:

“Mighty Mexican Mothers: Santa Muerte as Female Empowerment in Oaxaca”


“At Death`s Door in Cancun: Meeting Santa Muerte Witch Yuri Mendez”


“Supplicating Santa Muerte (Saint Death): Fierce Female Folk Saint as Source of Empowerment for Mexican Indigenous Women”


SkeletonSaint – website for articles and pictures about Santa Muerte by scholars as well as devotees


Dr. Andrew Chesnut is Bishop Walter F. Sullivan Chair in Catholic Studies and Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University. Find his book “Devoted to Death” here:

Follow Dr. Chesnut on Twitter

And read his scholarly articles here


Project Archivist interview with David B. Metcalfe on Santa Muerte


Professor Nancy Scheper-Hughes honored for her work exposing the abuses in human organ trafficking


George P. Hansen’s “The Trickster and the Paranormal” discusses paranormal phenomena in anti-structural social situations through Weber’s lens of pure charisma


Mark Stavish and David Metcalfe discuss transmission and authentic tradition regarding Santa Muerte

David B. Metcalfe’s blog “Liminal Analytics” – where the very brainy meets the very weird


UnFound podcast on missing people


Chukchansi Tribe in Conflict on This American Life




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