Setting Up a Santa Muerte Altar

by Tracey Rollin
Golden Santa Muerte altar

Setting up a magical altar dedicated to Santa Muerte is a fundamental step in working with her.  If you want her help, you need to give her a place to live and invite her into your home and into your life.  Fortunately setting up a Santa Muerte altar is not a difficult thing to do.

A Santa Muerte altar doesn’t have to be large or elaborate, but there are some that certainly are!  In fact, all you really need is the corner of a bookshelf.  I have seen very small – but very effective – Santa Muerte altars that could be balanced upon a paper plate.  The most basic altar requires just three things: an image of Santa Muerte, a candle, and a glass of water.  The image of Santa Muerte usually takes the form of a small statue, but if you are just starting out (or if you don’t have much money) you can also print out a picture from the Internet.  The candle doesn’t have to be fancy – even a simple white birthday candle will work.  A small glass of water is also fine, so long as it is refilled every day.

The best place to put your magical altar is in an area of your home where you will see her every day, but where any offerings given to her will not be disturbed.  After all, it is common practice to give Santa Muerte small gifts like food and alcohol, and you don’t want these things sampled by curious kids or pets.  Candles are also burned for Santa Muerte, so you want to pick a place where they won’t get easily knocked over.

Once you select her new home within your home, make sure to clean it thoroughly.  This shows not only respect for Santa Muerte, but respect for yourself and the magical rituals you are about to perform there.  The next step is to magically cleanse the area.  This can be done by washing the area a second time with warm salt water, or by spraying the area with Florida Water.  Florida Water, a light citrusy perfume blend that is commonly and cheaply available, has long been used to attract friendly spirits of the dead.  Since Santa Muerte is Our Lady of the Holy Death, she really likes the scent of Florida Water.

Once the area has been physically and magically cleansed, it’s time to place the image of Santa Muerte and your other basic altar items.  There are no specific requirements to this basic setup – you can place the candle and water anywhere in proximity of the image.  If your normal magical practice dictates that you place these items in a specific location (such as placing your candle in a southern position because that direction is associated with elemental fire) feel free to do so.

There are two critical things to remember when you set up your Santa Muerte altar.  The first thing is that spot is hers.  Santa Muerte is a very territorial spirit.  She does not appreciate sharing altar space with other powers or spirits – the list of whom she will tolerate in her space is very short.  It includes:

  • Saint Jude, the patron saint of people down to their last hope
  • Saint Cyprian of Antioch, the patron saint of magicians
  • Juan el Soldado, the patron folk saint of the falsely accused
  • Jesus Malverde, the folk Bandit Saint

If you place another spirit’s images or tokens in Santa Muerte’s space, either your spells will go awry or simply cease to function (the latter is more common.)

The second important thing to remember that Santa Muerte’s image is to be treated with respect because it is considered in a sense to be alive.  Once your image is placed, you can address Santa Muerte as if she is in the room with you.  This is also why her water must be refreshed daily, and also why it is common practice to give her gifts of food.  A lady has to eat, after all – and wouldn’t you give a guest in your home some refreshments?

Once the altar is set up, it needs to be kept clean and the offerings refreshed.  Any spells that you perform at your altar are considered performed under her watchful guidance, so thanking her after doing a ritual is essential. Frequently interacting with your altar’s image strengthens the connection that you have with her.  Therefore, I encourage you to talk to Santa Muerte often, even if it’s just about ordinary things (I often tell her what I’m making for dinner.)  The stronger the connection you have with Santa Muerte, the more powerful the spells you cast with her will become.