Literary Arts

Tracey Rollin debuts ‘Santa Muerte’

The magic in chaos

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Tracey Rollin is a registered nurse who works in an emergency room. Rollin says she is also a Chaos magician and practicing witch who has written a book called “Santa Muerte: History, Rituals, and Magic of Our Lady of the Holy Death.”

The author will be on-hand for a reading and booksigning Saturday (Dec. 9) from 2-4 p.m. at SOMOS, 108 Civic Plaza Drive.

Santa Muerte is said to mean “Our Lady of Death” in Spanish. Rollin sees Santa Muerte as “the great equalizer and represents those on the peripheries of society, regardless of socioeconomic status, we all end up in the same place in the end.” She is a female folk saint revered in folk religion, primarily throughout Mexico and the Southwestern United States. She is considered the female Grim Reaper, the personification of death. Rollin said she became interested in her for “practical reasons, to understand life as it relates to death.”

Chaos magic, sometimes spelled “kaos magik,” is classified as a magical practice which engages the pragmatic use of belief systems in the occult. The book details an in-depth historical interpretation of Santa Muerte and provides instructions for practices surrounding her invocation.

Rollin said she was raised in a religious family. Her mother was a German immigrant. “I was raised in a pretty devout Catholic household, the sort that went to mass frequently, prayed at shrines often and sent their children for weekly religious education with the nuns. Even as a child at Mass I could both feel and see the power that the rituals evoked from people united in worship, and the directed purpose was always a joy, hope and faith. It left an incredible impression on me. I wanted nothing more than to be a priest and help direct both community and ritual towards such beautiful purposes.”

From her early experience with religion, Rollin recognized she wanted to be a spiritual leader and was devastated when her mother informed her she could not be a priest because she was a woman. “This disappointment clashed badly with the other lessons I had been taught as a child, lessons that told me that I had been made ‘just so’ by God and that I was as worthy a creature like any other. If this was the case, why could I not be a priest? The theological reasons felt like thin excuses and meant little to me. I simply felt rejected by the faith that I had embraced so completely.”

Rollin said the form of witchcraft she practices is sometimes in jest referred to as “witchcraft for engineers incorporated with elements of Chaos magic.”

It is not nature-based, she explains. “When our ancestors practiced magic, they typically used the objects and means that they had at hand. A 9th-century peasant could not seek out a lion’s skin belt and robes of gold to wear before he addressed the spirits, nor could he offer them rare wines and herbs. It just defies logic. How would he even get these things, and why on earth would he think them necessary? Instead, he would use the objects he had around him daily to affect magical change because these objects had deep meaning for him.”

That was the key to the magic’s efficacy, she said, the meanings the objects held to the magical practitioner and how he manipulated them. “This shift in viewpoint makes the magician an essential part of the ritual – the locus of control if you would – and the magical objects the magician uses are far less critical,” Rollin said. “By this reasoning, the objects and places that we see around us that have deep meaning to us are our most vital magical tools. This often puts me at odds with many more nature-based systems, since I’m just not oriented in that direction – roughing it for me is staying at a hotel that doesn’t have room service. I leave the kinds of magical rituals where you get twigs in your hair to other people. Because I do not feel deeply connected to nature or the earth, it makes no sense for me to use these kinds of symbols or connections. Instead of using an egg as a symbol of plenty, I would probably use a pile of grocery store coupons instead.”

She further elaborates on her assessment of “results-based-outcome” magic, “I think of magical success in terms of outcomes of probability – it’s far more likely that I am going to get a free cup of coffee today than I am to win the lottery, so therefore enchanting towards the end goal of certainly getting a free cup of coffee is a more effective use of my time and energy. Besides, if you keep enchanting for ‘the Hail Mary’ success with magic, you’re most likely going to lose. That’s how long-shots work. The problem with that is that you’re going to teach yourself that you’re terrible at magic in the process – after all, your spells aren’t working. This is bad. Enchant for simple things at first. That’s how you build your magical strength.”

Rollin said she hopes her book can be a guide to Santa Muerte, feminism, and social justice through bold, practical and purpose-driven uses of magic. 

SOMOS, aka the Society of the Muse of the Southwest, is a local nonprofit alliance that upholds and nurtures the literary professions, both written and spoken, celebrating cultural diversity in the Southwest. For more information, call (575) 758-0081 or visit somostaos.com. For more in the author, visit traceyrollin.com.

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