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Six slain at Day of the Dead altar in north Mexico town

TORREON, Mexico--Six men who were holding a ceremony before a Goddess of Death (Santa Muerte) altar were slain in a town in northern Mexico, authorities said Saturday.

The occult figure, with its roots in indigenous Mexican culture, is worshipped in Mexico and the United States. Although not part of the Christian religious tradition, it is widely seen as a sort of “patron saint” of drug traffickers and criminals.

The men were holding the ceremony on Friday, a day after All Souls Day, in a town near Torreon, Coahuila state, prosecutors said. Two carloads of men rolled up, got out and opened fire, gunning down the six, prosecutors added.

Mexicans celebrate the Day of the Dead (All Saints Day) by decorating the tombs of their deceased kin. The six men slain were decorating a Goddess of Death altar in similar style when they were killed, but the motive was not immediately clear.

In 2003, the government recognized the Goddess of Death as a religious organization but then under pressure from the Roman Catholic Church, withdrew their recognition.

All across Mexico, people decorated graves and put up altars in their homes on Thursday and Friday, placing photos of their loved ones along with gifts such as sugar skulls, tequila and cigars.

Mexicans believe that the souls of the deceased return during the night to enjoy this feast with their loved ones. They sing and laugh, and some even sleep in the cemetery next to portable stoves with burning incense.

Mexico's massive drug war has claimed an estimated 60,000 lives in the past six years.

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