Local law enforcement officials think religious items recently discovered among a large marijuana patch growing in rural Reno County are tied to organized crime.
Items discovered honor La Santisima Muerte, a fabricated saint that has grown popular with drug cartel groups, confirmed Wesley Vaughn, deputy and gang investigator for the Reno County Sheriff's Department.
The patch of plants was discovered Oct. 7 on two acres of land near the intersection of Willison and Longview roads, about 4 miles north of Haven and a half-mile north of the Arkansas River. The elderly owner of the property had no idea the land was being used to cultivate marijuana, Sheriff Randy Henderson reported.
La Santisima Muerte, also known as La Santa Muerte, means "Holy Death" in English and is
becoming a growing cult.
"Not an official Roman Catholic saint," Vaughn explained. Instead, she is "homegrown within the border state of Mexico."
Used by drug cartels, they give offerings and pray to the saint for special powers of protection as they're trafficking drugs.
While the origin of the cult dates to the pre-Hispanic period of Mexico, contemporary criminals seem to identify with La Santa Muerte and call upon the saint, even when committing crimes. Those devoted to her say that as long as they keep their vows, she accepts them regardless of their crime, without judgment.
"Some believe they're invincible against cops. Others pray that if they do die, they go into her arms and through heaven that way," Vaughn said. "People give offerings and pray to the saint, offering alcohol and grains to appease her."
Worshippers adorn themselves with her paraphernalia and render her respect that they do not give to other spiritual entities, writes Kevin Freese in a report, "The Death Cult of the Drug Lords: Mexico's Patron Saint of Crime, Criminals and the Dispossessed," for the Foreign Military Studies Office, Fort Leavenworth.
As the drug wars in Mexico escalate, the cult has been expanding and is closely associated with criminals and those whose lives are directly affected by crime. Freese describes the saint as feminine because the Spanish word for death, "muerte," is feminine. He sees the personification as a sort of counterpart to the Virgin of Guadalupe. Appearing like a skeleton dressed in long robes, and carrying a scythe, La Santa Muerte is not to be confused with the playful skeletons that appear on the Day of the Dead, Nov. 2, when Mexicans honor their deceased loved ones.
Instead, the growing popularity of the cult seems to be rooted in the disruption of law and order in many Mexicans' lives.
"The emotional pressures, the tensions of living in a time of crisis lead people to look for symbolic figures that can help them face dangers," says Jose Luis Gonzalez, professor at Mexico's National School of Anthropology and History, in an article in the May 2010 edition of National Geographic titled "Mexico's Shocking New Saints."
Vaughn also noted another saint, Jesus Malverde, has been seen by officers in local drug busts. However, it was not at the recent marijuana growing operation. Malverde is like a "Mexican Robin Hood," anti-establishment, with the attitude "Do what you have to do." ....