Death has been personified by people for millennia, from simple artistic depictions of life and death to underworld gods taking human form. There are few personifications of death more readily identifiable than Santa Muerte, the folk saint of death acknowledged throughout Mexico and the Southwestern region of the United States.
Santa Muerte is said to reign over life and death, offering healing, protection and safe passage to the afterlife for those who follow and worship in her name. While you may not have heard of Santa Muerte before, you’ve likely seen various depictions of her without realizing who/what you were looking at. She often appears as a skeletal female figure wearing a long robe and holding either a scythe, globe or variety of objects.
However, muerte tattoos have taken on a life of their own. They usually break the mold and show either a fully-fleshed out woman or zombie-esque rendition of Santa Muerte with bone-like tattoos and body paint mixed with a variety of religious symbols. Tattoo artists all over the world have enjoyed depicting Santa Muerte in new and unique ways, making her easy on the eyes and appealing to a wide audience.
Santa Muerte and, by extension, muerte tattoos have gained widespread popularity over the past couple of decades largely due to the worldwide recognition of the Day of the Dead. Oddly enough, worship of Santa Muerte has been opposed by the Catholic Church for as long as her worshippers have been around. Until very recently, Santa Muerte followers in Mexico could only pray and worship their patron saint in the quiet reserve of their own home.
Whether you believe in Santa Muerte or not, you can’t deny the appeal and haunting beauty of the muerte tattoos in the gallery below. Maybe during the next Day of the Dead you can get one of your own.