In the various mythologies around the world, we can find plenty of luck and gambling deities. Yet there are very few gods of outright theft. Saint Nicolas (yes, the Santa Claus guy) comes close with his breaking and entering, but he’s the patron saint of reformed theives. Who exactly are the gods of thieving and outright stealing?
Hermes the Trickster
One of the most famous gods of mischief and trickery is Hermes, who started his career in crime as a baby. It seems the infant god had a hankering for some beef and left his cradle to wrangle up fifty cattle belonging to his brother, Apollo.
To keep the theft secret, Hermes marched the cattle backward, thus disguising which direction the cattle were traveling. Hermes also invented sandals to hide the shape of his feet. All of this so he could roast up a good side of ribs.
He was eventually caught, but Apollo was so amused by the youngster’s trickery that the two became fast friends. Apollo even gave the trickster god a golden caduceus, becoming a symbol for Hermes ever since.
The newest addition to the small pantheon of criminal deities is Santa Muerte, also known as Señora de las Sombras (Lady of the Shadows) or La Santísima Muerte (The Most Holy Death). The phrase Santa Muerte means good death and comes from a Catholic prayer asking for a peaceful passing into the afterlife. Since then, Santa Muerte has become the beloved saint of any who are dispossessed.
Figures of death have been a common fixture in Catholic iconography since the thirteenth century, originating with the European plagues. Santa Muerte’s first appearance was in a 1797 inquisition report on the practices of indigenous worshipers. She was mentioned again in the novel Los hijos de Sánchez by American anthropologist Oscar Lewis.
However Santa Muerte exploded into celebrity with the season three episode of Breaking Bad (No Mas), depicting the Santa Muerte shrine. Since the early 2000s, the cult of Santa Muerte has grown exponentially.
She is popular with migrants as well as sex workers and those in LGBTQ communities. Santa Muerte is associated with those who live precarious lives or are engaged in dangerous undertakings. Worship of her derives from indigenous practices including elements of Spiritualism, Santería, and New Age ideas about spiritual energy.
Santa Muerte’s appeal lies in her non-judgemental nature. She will grant wishes in return for a pledge or an offering. She holds no moral judgment over your actions.
Both the Catholic Church and the Mexican government oppose and outlaw the worship of Santa Muerte, despite the millions who pay homage to her.
Laverna the Lost Goddess of Thieving
Laverna was the Roman goddess who answered the prayers of robbers and thieves. The Porta Lavernalis on Aventine Hill was named after her.
Little is known of this ancient goddess. She may have originated with the Etruscans, where she was venerated as a goddess of the underworld. Since most thieving happens in the dark, the connection is obvious. The word Laverna derives from the Latin latere (to lurk) and levator (a thief).
To honor Laverna, you pour libations with your left hand. This ensures that you have a successful heist without getting caught. She might have also been a goddess of vengeance. In a Plautus play, a cook calls upon Laverna to seek revenge on some thieves who pilfered his tools. Perhaps Laverna served the person who called upon her first (or offered her the most). Or maybe she simply gets annoyed with thieves who were bungling enough to let their crimes be known.