Narco-Cults: Understanding the Use of Afro-Caribbean and Mexican Religious Cultures in the Drug Wars, 1st Edition (Paperback) book cover


Understanding the Use of Afro-Caribbean and Mexican Religious Cultures in the Drug Wars, 1st Edition

By Tony M. Kail

CRC Press

345 pages | 261 B/W Illus.

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Those who know about how spirituality plays into the world of drug smuggling have likely heard of Santa Muerte, Jesus Malverde, and Santería, but the details of the more obscure African religions and Latin American folk saints and cults often remain a mystery. While the vast majority of these religions are practiced by law-abiding citizens with no connections to the drug trade, their religious beliefs and practices are often appropriated by drug cartels and used to psychologically empower members of these organizations. Therefore, knowledge about narco-cults and spirituality related to the drug trade can be incredibly useful to narcotics officers, military and intelligence agents, and even the average street cop.

Narco-Cults: Understanding the Use of Afro-Caribbean and Mexican Religious Cultures in the Drug Wars looks at the growing phenomenon of narco-cults and the use of indigenous spiritual traditions among drug trafficking organizations. Based on two decades of experience from one of the top consultants in the field, it provides investigative agencies with a means of identifying symbols, rituals, artifacts, and customs endemic to various drug trafficking organizations. The book features illustrations of altars, shrines, and tools along with detailed descriptions of their cultural significance and practical application in rituals and customs.

Derived from empirical research, this sourcebook provides reliable information taken from ethnographic fieldwork, police reports, and interviews with practitioners. The knowledge contained herein will help build cultural competency among the many agencies investigating drug crimes.


"…an accurate and graphic description of life on the street in many parts of Mexico and even sporadically inside the United States as it relates to criminals who have fully embraced the darker side of narcocultura. …a highly useful resource that will educate and inform law enforcement officers who have found themselves up against the violent cultures (on both physical and spiritual levels) of Afro-Caribbean and Mexican drug gangs and cartels. The book will also have great utility for academics, policy analysts, and U.S. military and intelligence analysts conducting Mexican cartel and drug war research."

—Robert Bunker, in Small Wars Journal

Table of Contents

Mexican drug trafficking organizations (DTOs)

The war on drugs in Mexico

Mexico’s drug war

The cartels

Street gangs


Narco violence


Narco terminology

Narco corridos

Narco entertainment

Narco fashion


Defining narco-cults

The function of the narco-cult




The business of protecting drug traffickers

Protection from law enforcement

Protection from rivals

Additional functions


Types of narco-cults

The role of religious culture in narco-cult investigations

The importance of culture

Defining culture

Cultural competency

Culture shock

Family resemblances

Sources of cultural intelligence

Analyzing cultures

Cultural context

Anthropological terms

Afro-caribbean religious cultures and african traditional religion

Magico-religious cultures

Spells and workings

Magical mindset

The effect on drug traffickers

Santería (Regla de Ocha)

Traffickers and the religion (case examples)

Historical background


Deities of santería

The ancestors


Group structure

Rituals and ceremonies

Decoding the libreta


Offerings and sacrifices

Trance possession


Festivals and holidays

Incident and crime scenes

Appropriation by DTOs

Cultural terms

Palo mayombe and bantu traditions (Las Reglas de Congo)

Traffickers and the religion (case examples)

Historical background


Deities of palo mayombe

The nganga

The cultural use of bones

Sacred spaces

Group structure

Rituals and ceremonies


Sacrifices and offerings




Working the nganga

Appropriation of the religion

Incident and crime scenes

Cultural terms

Mexican folk religions and practices


Historical background


Group structure

Patron saints and folk saints

The cult of Santa Muerte

Saint death

Aztec religion

Cultural terms


Traffickers and the religion (case examples)

Historical background



Spiritual bodies and guardians

Group structure



Sacred days

Altar and shrines

Dominican voodoo (divisions)

West african voodoo

Cultural terms

Christian-based groups

La familia michoacana

Coercive behaviors

Divine justice

Caballeros templarios

Group structure

Group practices and mythology

Code of the knights templar


Undercover operations

Understanding cultural networks

Interviewing subjects



Cultural reactions to law enforcement

Intelligence gathering

Interviewing cultural informants

Deciphering communications


Crime scenes

Traffic stops

Case law involving Narco Saints

Grow operations

Clandestine labs

Customs protection

Spells involving the law

Officer perception and personal beliefs

Dealing with the media

A field guide for identifying artifacts



About the Author

Tony M. Kail is a trainer and subject matter expert in the area of esoteric religions and security threat groups for a number of agencies, including the National Gang Academy in Orlando, Florida, and the Symbol Intelligence Group. Kail has spent 25 years researching and training on the subject of religious groups and criminality. He has conducted ethnographic fieldwork among a number of esoteric religious communities throughout the United States and Africa. As a former law enforcement officer, Kail has provided training for state and federal agencies, including the U.S. Army, U.S. Capitol Police, Federal Bureau of Investigation, and several state gang investigator associations.

Subject Categories

BISAC Subject Codes/Headings:
COMPUTERS / Security / General
LAW / Forensic Science