In the years I have been running this website, one of the most common messages I get comes from people who tell me they cannot build a "proper" altar to Santa Muerte because they must hide their devotion for fear of persecution. In this post I will discuss the idea of the covert altar for Santa Muerte devotees, an idea that I touch on in my book, "Santa Muerte Devotion 101".
No Altar Required
The first point I want to make is that an altar is not required to be a devotee of Santa Muerte. To be a devotee of Santa Muerte is to acknowledge and respect death. While an altar is a great way to do this, it is not the only way, and there is no requirement to build an altar in order to have a relationship with Santa Muerte. A relationship with Santa Muerte is built through the heart, not through any physical item. This being said, if you want to build an altar to Santa Muerte, and the only thing that is preventing you from doing so is a fear of persecution, then you may consider building a covert altar - that is, an altar hidden in plain sight.
We Build an Altar to Death
While it is true that traditional altars to Santa Muerte will feature some kind of statue or picture of the folk saint as she is known today - a cloaked skeleton holding a scythe - remember that Santa Muerte herself is not a character from a myth, nor a being that ever appeared in physical form. The Santa Muerte is the personification of death itself. Therefore, when we build an altar to Santa Muerte, we are building an altar to death, not to a character created by humans. For this reason, any depiction of death, and any depiction which reminds us of death, can serve as the foundation for an altar to Santa Muerte.
Using a Covert Altar
There is no difference between how a traditional altar is used and how a covert altar is used. The only difference is how you choose to represent death upon the altar. Where a traditional altar displays death in the obvious form of Santa Muerte, a covert altar is intended to hide in plain sight, and therefore to be more subtle about what it represents.
Practically speaking, an altar is a point of focus for your spiritual work with Santa Muerte, no more and no less. You may approach a covert altar to pray and meditate, to make offerings, or to make petitions. You may treat your covert altar just as you would a permanent Santa Muerte altar or a temporary / travel Santa Muerte altar.
Covert Santa Muerte Altar Ideas
Here are some examples of items you can use as the foundation for a covert Santa Muerte altar. To the untrained eye, they appear as representations of skulls in various forms. They may seem morbid and quirky, but nobody will know their connection to Santa Muerte unless you told them.
Even More Covert Altar Ideas
If you live in an area where even a skull is considered taboo, you may need an altar that is even more covert, and even more hidden in plain sight. If this is the case, you can use items traditionally associated with Santa Muerte as the foundation for a covert Santa Muerte altar. Depictions of items traditionally associated with Santa Muerte inlcude:
a scythe: which you can substitute for a more compact sickle, and which represents the Santa Muerte's power to cut the thread of life.