“From Argentina to Canada, there is no religious movement growing faster,” says Andrew Chestnut, Professor of Religious Studies at Virginia Commonwealth University and author of Devoted to Death: Santa Muerte, the Skeleton Saint. “Get this, going back to 2001, Santa Muerte is essentially unknown to 99 percent of Mexicans. Today, a decade and a half later, I estimate that there is some 10 to 12 million devotees in Mexico, the U.S., and Central America.”

Speaking to an attentive audience at an Obscura Society event in New York, Chestnut referred to the growth of the Cult of Santa Muerte as “astronomical.” 

At first, judging Santa Muerte (who is called a number of things by her followers: Saint Death, Holy Death, the Bony Lady, among others) based solely on appearance, may seem frightening. 

But on closer inspection, it makes sense. Death is one of the few universal experiences in the world. And while she looks “quintessentially Mexican,” Chestnut points out that “death has no nationality, death knows no borders or frontiers.”