Jesus Malverde Community Altar Service starts tonight

Have a vigil light set and worked on my Jesus Malverde altar in community altar work service beginning on Monday, May 3rd, which serves as the feast day of this folk saint. There is some wiggle room and you can join up after the work starts as long as you see that there are still spots left and it doesn’t say “sold out.”

Jesus Malverde, also known as the Angel of the Poor or the Generous Bandit, is a folk saint who is said to have lived and died in late 19th/early 20th century Sinaloa, Mexico. His reputation as a sort of Robin Hood figure began before his death, as the legend has it; he targeted the rich, redistributed the money and goods he stole to the poor, and basically spent his life on the wrong side of the law but by all accounts on the right side of morality.

While many details of his life and death are the stuff of legend and as such unverifiable and certainly prone to dramatic embroidery, what’s undisputable is that he has a solid reputation for responding to the prayers and petitions of his devotees, especially those who find themselves running afoul of the law due to poverty and corruption. 

Since the 1970s, he’s gained greater notoriety in the public eye as a narco saint — the patron saint of drug dealers and smugglers — and that is how many folks beyond the borders of Mexico who hear of him categorize him, increasingly so since the 1990s. But to dismiss him as merely a narco saint and his devotees as drug kingpins and criminals is to ignore the lived realities of the faithful in a complex world where things aren’t always so black and white – where sometimes breaking the law is the right thing (or the only thing) to do, where justice isn’t blind, where the distribution of wealth is immoral, where there is government corruption and the police aren’t always on the right side of the law – humanity’s or God’s.

His devotees petition him to have enough food for their children, for safety in dangerous lines of work (including but definitely not limited to smuggling), and to get them out of legal difficulties, as you might expect from a bandit folk saint. But they also tell of how he miraculously cured their illnesses, returned lost or stolen property, even helped them get *off* drugs and get their lives on firmer footing. 

His reputation as a narco saint has blossomed only over the last 40 or so years and not without a good bit of help from the media. His reputation as the Angel of the Poor and the Generous Bandit, however, long predates the sensationalist “narco saint” appellation, and as a folk saint, there’s a lot more to him than this. So it would be appropriate to petition him for pretty much anything related to living a life that is in some way “on the margins” or precarious or dangerous. It would also be suitable to use this service as an opportunity to “introduce yourself” to Jesus Malverde if you’ve been thinking you wanted to learn more about him but haven’t begun working with him yet.

If you are experiencing financial difficulties, you do not have to pay for a spot in the vigil service in order to have your name and petition included in my prayers and offerings to Jesus Malverde on May 3rd. You can simply submit your name and petition via the intake form and in place of the service/order #, type “jesus malverde prayers only.” There is no cost for the prayers-only option, though if you’d like to, you can make an optional donation in any amount you wish to help offset the cost of time and materials used, and in this case, I will set at least a votive light for you to burn for a few hours, depending on the number of reduced rate/pro bono requests I get for this service.

I’ve been doing some sort of pro bono or reduced rate/pay what you can service every month since COVID began to help those who need spiritual help but can’t afford to book private services. And I’m happy to present your petitions and pray for you as part of my own thanks to Jesus Malverde. Remember, when Jesus Malverde answers your prayers and grants your petitions, you should “pay” the saint by making a donation to the poor. Don’t protest that you are the poor and therefore you’re exempt from this duty – there’s *always* someone poorer than you. You must participate in the spiritual economy, which with Jesus Malverde is always already a financial one as well, and approach him with open rather than closed hands. Make sure you keep your side of the bargain!

Please note that community altar work services do not come with individual readings/reports, though I will post at least one photo of the work to the Discord “forum” for clients, which you’ll receive an invitation to after you book your vigil service spot.

Read more or book your spot at SeraphinStation.com.

If you’d like to make a donation to help offset the cost of pro bono and reduced rate services that I provide for folks experiencing income instability and career challenges during this COVID mess, you can do so here. (Offsite PayPal link)

Why Santa Muerte and Jesus Malverde Are Not Just “Narco Saints”

I can’t count the number of references I’ve seen over the past 15 or so years to Santa Muerte being a “narco saint,” with the implication (or even the straight-up assertion) that she’s a saint for drug dealers, boom, like that’s the whole picture. This kind of statement is incredibly reductionist and oversimplified. It ignores nuance, never mind facts, and it betrays a lack of respect for the (sub)culture(s) from which she springs and a total lack of concern for understanding folk religion – in Mexico or in general.

Seriously, it’s insulting and dismissive even if you *are* a drug dealer. It would be reductionist even if it were true that only those associated with the drug trade in Mexico venerate this folk saint. That it’s not even true just makes all that rhetoric exhausting (and those who uncritically repeat it lazy).

Even though this interview in Vice is called “Narco-Saints Are Melding Catholicism with the Drug Trade in Mexico,” it’s not one of those pieces that just focuses on the narco saint argument. That might have been where the journalist (or the editors) started out, but it’s a little better than the title would suggest.

It’s a very readable interview with a professor of World Arts & Cultures at UCLA, and the occasion is an exhibit he curated in 2014 called Sinful Saints and Saintly Sinners. The journalist might not start out sounding like all that much, but he makes a really astute observation in here towards the beginning:

When you say researcher, I’m thinking not just people like you who are doing historical research but people who are, you know, researching their own lives through religion.

– Jules Suzdaltsev

They don’t pause and unpack that — “researching their own lives through religion” — but boy, I wish they had. I’ll have to file it away for now until I have time to expand on it, but it definitely ties into my ongoing attempts to articulate this stuff about narrative and personal mythology and why it’s so critical — not just for personal spiritual practice but for what I can only think to call “psychic wholeness” at this exact second. (If that doesn’t make sense yet, sorry – I’m working on it! Gradually!)

Anyway, this is not the first or the best piece to look at some of the nuances of vernacular religion or popular piety in Mexico or more generally, and in fact it doesn’t have a lot of depth at all, tbh. But if you don’t know what any of this stuff is even about, it might be worth a look as a very accessible, non-technical (albeit bite-sized) introduction. And even if you do already know what all of this is about, it features some really cool artwork so it still might be worth a look.

I’m especially a fan of Edgar Clement’s La Trinca. Let’s see if this embed feature will work.

Editing to add:

I didn’t go into Jesus Malverde at all here – I kinda ran out of time – so my title ended up being inadvertently misleading. Here’s a pretty decent news piece from 2019 at the Courier Journal on how Jesus Malverde figured in a couple’s drug trial. The piece directly tackles the question of who venerates Jesus Malverde, why, and whether the stereotypes are fair.

Hopefully this goes a tiny way towards fixing my “false advertising” with the post title – sorry about that!