SANTERíA, also known as REGLA DE OCHá, LA REGLA DE IFá , or
LUCUMI is an
Afro-American religion of
Caribbean origin that developed
Spanish Empire among West African descendants. Santeria is a
Spanish word that means the "worship of saints".
influenced by and syncretized with Roman
Catholicism . Its sacred
language , a variety of Yoruba , is the
Lucumí language .
* 1 History
Rituals and ceremonies
* 2.1 Obtaining the ilekes
* 2.2 Medio Asiento
* 2.3 Los Guerreros
* 2.4 Asiento
* 2.5 Post-initiation
* 3 Lucumí traditional healing practices
* 4 Current distribution
United States court rulings
* 6 See also
* 7 References
* 8 Further reading
* 9 External links
Santería is a system of beliefs that merges aspects of Yoruba
religion brought to the
New World by enslaved
Yoruba people along with
Christianity and the religions of the indigenous peoples of the
Americas . The
Yoruba people carried with them various religious
customs, including a trance and divination system for communicating
with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice, and sacred
drumming and dance. The need to preserve their traditions and belief
systems in a hostile cultural environment prompted those enslaved in
Cuba, starting from as early as 1515, to merge their customs with
aspects of Roman Catholicism.
This religious tradition evolved into what is now recognized as
The colonial period from the standpoint of enslaved African people
can be defined as a time of perseverance. Their world quickly changed.
Tribal kings and their families, politicians, business and community
leaders all were enslaved and taken to a foreign region of the world.
Religious leaders, their relatives and their followers were no longer
free people to worship as they saw fit. Colonial laws criminalized
their religion. They were forced to become baptized and worship a god
their ancestors had not known who was surrounded by a pantheon of
saints. The early concerns during this period seem to have
necessitated a need for individual survival under harsh plantation
conditions. A sense of hope was sustaining the internal essence of
what today is called Santería, a misnomer (and former pejorative) for
the indigenous religion of the Lukumi people of Nigeria. In the heart
of their homeland, they had a complex political and social order. They
were a sedentary hoe farming cultural group with specialized labor.
Their religion, based on the worship of nature, was renamed and
documented by their slave owners. Santería, a pejorative term that
characterizes deviant Catholic forms of worshiping saints, has become
a common name for the religion. The term santero(a) is used to
describe a priest or priestess replacing the traditional term Olorisha
as an extension of the deities. The orishas became known as the saints
in image of the Catholic pantheon. — Ernesto Pichardo, CLBA,
Santería in Contemporary Cuba: The individual life and condition of
In order to preserve and shield (mask) their traditional beliefs, the
Lucumí people syncretized their Orichás with Catholic saints . (As
a consequence, the terms "saint" and "orichá" are commonly used
interchangeably among practitioners.) Spanish colonial planters who
saw the enslaved African people celebrating on saints' days did not
know that they were actually performing rituals related to Orichás,
and assumed that they were showing more interest in Catholic saints
than in the Christian God—hence the derisory origin of the term
The historical veiling of the relationship between Catholic saints
and Orichás is compounded by the fact that the vast majority of
santeros in Cuba, Puerto Rico, and the Dominican Republic, are also
Roman Catholics, have been baptized , and often require initiates to
be baptized in Roman
Catholicism as well.
The spread of
Santería beyond the Spanish-speaking parts of the
Caribbean, including to the United States, was catalyzed by the Cuban
Revolution of 1959. In 1974, the
Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye became
Santería church in the
United States to become officially
RITUALS AND CEREMONIES
Santería does not use a central creed for its religious practices;
though it is understood in terms of its rituals and ceremonies. :102
These rituals and ceremonies take place in what is known as a
house-temple or casa de santos (house of saints), also known as an
ilé. Most ilés are in the homes of the initiated priests and
priestesses. Ilé shrines are built, by the priests and priestess, to
the different orichás , which creates a space for worship, called an
igbodu (altar). :102 In an igbodu there is a display of three distinct
thrones (draped with royal blue, white, and red satin) that represent
the seats of the queens, kings, and the deified warriors. :168
Each ilé is composed of those who occasionally seek guidance from
the orishas, as well as those who are in the process of becoming
The many cabildos and casas that bridged the 19th and 20th centuries
are fondly remembered by contemporary priests as the origins and
strongholds of Cuban Lucumí culture and religion. :57
To become a Santero or Santera (Priest or Priestess of Santería),
the initiator must go through an intensive week-long initiation
process :165 in which the teaching of the ritual skills and moral
behavior occurs informally and nonverbally. To begin with, the
initiator goes through what is called a cleansing ritual. The
initiator's Padrino (godfather) cleanses the head with special herbs
and water. The Padrino rubs the herbs and water in a specific pattern
of movements into the scalp of the head. However, if a person is
Santería for the need of healing, they will undergo the
rogación de la cabeza (blessing of the head), in which coconut water
and cotton are applied on the head to feed it. :26–28 Once cleansed,
there are four major initiation rituals that the initiator will have
to undergo: obtaining the elekes (beaded necklace), receiving Los
Guerreros (the Warriors), making Ochá (Saint), and Asiento (ascending
the throne). :107
OBTAINING THE ILEKES
The first ritual is known as the acquisition of the beaded necklaces
(known as ilekes); according to De La Torre, "the colors and patterns
of the beads on the ilekes will be those of the orichá that serves as
the iyawo's (bride) ruling head and guardian angel and so the first
thing that must be done is to determine who the orichá is. The ilekes
necklace is bathed in a mixture of herbs, sacrificial blood, and other
potent substances and given to the initiated. :107
The initiate most often receives the necklace of the five most
powerful and popular oricha, as the multicolored beads of the elekes
are each patterned for the primary Orichás (
Eleguá , Obatalá ,
Yemayá , Changó , and Ochún ), and they serve as a sacred point of
contact with these Orichás. When the necklace is received, the
initiated must bow over a bathtub and have his/her head washed by the
olo orichá. The elekes :28 serves as the sacred banners for the
Orichás and act as a sign of the Orichá's presence and protection;
however, it must never be worn during a woman's menstruation period,
nor during sex, nor when bathing. :107
The second important ritual is known as medio asiento, the creation
of an image of the orichá Eleguá. The individual will go through a
consultation with a Santero, where all the recipients' life, past,
present, and future, will be reviewed. During the consultation, the
Santero determines which path of
Eleguá the recipient will receive.
Then, based on his findings, he chooses materials that will be used to
construct the image of the Eleguá, a sculpture that is used to keep
evil spirits away from the initiator's home. This ritual is only
prepared by men as the orichás take some of the Santero's "manly"
spirit in the process. :xi
The third ritual, known as "receiving the warriors", is a ritual
where the initiated receives objects from their padrino that
represents the warriors; Iron tools to represent Ogún; an iron bow
and arrow to represent Ochosi; and an iron or silver chalice
surmounted by a rooster to represent Osún. :112 This ritual begins a
formal and lifelong relationship that the initiate will have with
these Orichás, as the orichás devote their energies to protecting
and providing for the initiate on their path.
The last ritual of the initiation process is known as Asiento
(ascending the throne), and is the most important and the most
secretive ritual in Santería, as it is the ceremony where the iyawo
(bride of the oricha) becomes "born again" into the faith. This ritual
is a culmination of the previous rituals, and cannot be made unless
the others have been completed. Asiento is a process of purification
and divination whereby the initiated becomes like a newborn baby and
begins a new life of deeper growth within the faith. :112
Once the initiation is completed, depending on the individuals
"house", there is a year-long waiting period, known as iyaboraje, in
which the newly appointed Priest and Priestess can not perform
cleansings and other remedies. It is a time where the Iyawo or Bride
of the Orichá must follow a strict regimen of wearing all white and
must avoid physical contact with those who have not been initiated.
Once the ebo del año has been completed there will be an end of year
ceremony, which will enable the Priest or Priestess to consult
clients, perform cleansings, provide remedies and perform initiations.
And according to Gonzalez: "they are also regarded as royalty in the
religion, as they are considered representatives of the Orichás and
are vested with the power to work with the forces of those Orichás in
Santería rituals there are musical ceremonies and prayers that
are referred to as bembé, toque de santo, or tambor. It is a
celebration dedicated to an Orichá, where the batá drums (set of
three drums known as the iya (the largest drum), itoltele, and
okonkolo) are played in the Orichá's honor. :11 Through these sacred
drums, messages of worshippers reach the orichás and the orichás
respond to their devotees. These drums are used only by men and must
always be treated with respect; for example, dancers must never turn
their backs towards the drums while dancing, as it is considered
Priests are commonly known as Santeros or Olorichas. Once those
priests have initiated other priests, they become known as
babalorichás, "fathers of orichá" (for men), and as iyalorichás,
"mothers of orichá" (for women). Priests can commonly be referred to
as Santeros (male) and Santeras (female), and if they function as
diviners (using cowrie-shell divination known as Dilogun) of the
Orichás they can be considered Italeros, or if they go through
training to become leaders of initiations, Obas or Oriates.
LUCUMí TRADITIONAL HEALING PRACTICES
Lucumí traditional healing practices are rooted in the spiritual
influences of America ,
Europe , and
West Africa . Having a strong
spiritual component, these traditional healing practices also use the
pathways of the herbalist , psychologist , ethicist , and that of a
respected spiritual medium interceding between
God and human beings.
Du Toit refers to Cuban traditional healing practices as ethnomedicine
, which taps on the biodynamic chemical properties of certain plants,
from which some commercial drugs were derived, such as the cardiac
medications, digitalis , quinine , and curare – chemicals causing
neuromuscular paralysis. :19 Du Toit categorizes Cuban ethnomedicine
as having health specialists, which are el yerbero (the herbalist), el
curandero (the curer), el santero (the religious healer), and el
conocedor (the botanist). Du Toit continues, "
Cuba is one of the
regions in which a great deal of ethnographic and ethnobotanical
research has been conducted." :21
Du Toit cites the studies of
Lydia Cabrera on the religious and
healing role of indigenous medicinal plants, and Jose Gallo on the
900-page compilation of folk medicine, and also mentions that with the
31 herbs prescribed as bronchodilators , only
Datura candida was
effective, due to its contents of scopolamine and atropine in the
leaves. Lemongrass or caña de limón is used for low blood pressure
and anti-inflammatory effects.
Thyme tea and castor oil are used to
speed the delivery of babies and the broomweed (
induces the quick expulsion of the placenta. :21 Herbs are also used
to create a trance possession using the hallucinogenic properties of
Datura metel and
Datura stramonium (both have scopolamine and
atropine, causing amnesia), the psychoactive ingredients from the cane
toad (Bufo marinus). :23
Aside from being herbalist,
Santería traditional healing practice
has a spiritual aspect.
Santería has a holistic approach,
acknowledging the connection with heart, mind, and body. :50 In
Santería, the world flows with the primal life energy called aché or
growth, the force toward completeness and divinity. Aché is the
Santería initiates channel so that it empowers them to
fulfill their path in life, because aché is connected to all that has
life or exhibits power; aché comprises blood, grace, and power. :12
When a person is sick, the healer thinks, interprets and reacts,
considering the illness not just a physical dysfunction but also an
interface with suffering and bad luck in life, believed to be brought
on by the activity of bad spirits.
Caribbean cultures, espiritismo is a part of the Latin
American traditional healing practice. Du Tout reveals that Santería
has a "strong element of spiritism." :26 McNeill also concurs that
some Santeros have the power to communicate with spirits asking for
guidance to improve the situation of a person consulting. :69 However,
in general, the Santeros of the Regla de Ochá primarily turn to
religion as their practice to address personal challenges and identify
means to improve a situation. :77 Many people may go and see
espirititas who don't see a Santero. Also, espiritistas may work hand
in hand with Santeros.
While psychotherapy tends to use mostly allopathic principles,
spiritism uses homeopathic principles that aim to reduce the anxiety,
or permit the patient to acknowledge pent-up emotions, unexpressed
guilt, or repressed behavior through catharsis meant to release
emotions the patient may not even be aware of. :25 It is said that
"healing can occur when the spirit medium assists the sufferer to come
into harmony with the spirit world so as to change his or her physical
condition, emotions, way of life, or destiny." :25
The reputation of espiritistas was tinged with negativity, being
accused of witchcraft because they deal with health through the
unfamiliar paradigm of the spirit world, which was not understood by
either the medical doctors or the Catholic priests. Consequently,
espiritistas or traditional healers of
Santería and other Latin
American cultures working with healing through the spirit world are
attacked as "works of the devil" from the pulpits of the Catholic
Churches and labeled as "quackery" from the journals of the medical
profession. This unique system of knowledge is appreciated as
ethnopharmacology or ethnomedicine. :25
Aligning and harmonizing with the forces of nature, practitioners of
the Regla de Ochá invoke on the guidance of Orichás. There are three
foremost orichás that are predominantly concerned with folk-healing,
however, other orichás may be invoked to help a person with a
specific problem. These main orichás are: OSAíN, the orichá of the
herbs; BABALú-AYé, the orichá of contagious and epidemic diseases;
and Inle , the patron of physicians. Osaín is the patron of
curanderos or traditional herbal healers, also called Osainistas. :78
According to de la Torre, Osaín is believed to be embodied in the
omiero, which is a combination of "blood from sacrifices offered
during the ceremony and juices extracted from herbs that are sacred to
the Orichás with water (from rain, rivers, or seas) honey,
aguardiente, powdered eggshell, corojo, and cocoa butter." :78 The
forest has everything that would maintain a robust health and keep a
person away from malevolence, thus,
Santería practitioners would
agree that no spell will be able to work without the sanction of
Osaín, the master herbalist commanding the healing secrets of plant
life. :50 Osaín is syncretized with
Saint Joseph , Saint Benito, or
Jerome . Babalú-Ayé is revered by its victims and survivors
like smallpox , leprosy , and skin diseases. Babalú-Ayé has become
the guardian of those with
HIV/AIDS . He is syncretized with Saint
Lazarus . :78 Inle is the patron of physicians, known as a healer who
favors scientific methods. Inle is ranked as one of the orichás that
is approached for very specific health issues. Thus, Inle is also
known as the protector of homosexuals and feminosexuals . :82
People go to a consulta for many reasons, mainly for health-related
issues. Divination is a means that traditional healers utilize to
inquire further on the details of a problem. Divination may articulate
the origin/cause of the problem; in addition, it may include
prescriptions for solutions/suggestions to certain difficulties. :96
Divination establishes an interpretative frame for the situation a
person finds himself in. :97 Hence, the Santeros offer cowrie-shell
divination or other appropriate traditional practices.
Rituals , or
the reading of patakís may be done to clarify a problem, of which
sometimes the person consulting may not even be aware. Passed orally
from many generations, patakí are parables used by diviners to guide
or give insights or moral lessons to a person who came for
consultation. The patakí recited by the Santero corresponds to the
number that the cowrie shell divination brings.
Aside from the use of herbs and divination, the
healing is achieved through rituals that include animal sacrifice,
offerings, altar building, music, dance, and possession trance. :108
When the patient is a child, the Santero uses the curative system
known as santiguo, which means "to heal by blessing". Perceiving
health problems, most Santeros recommend that the client seeks a
medical doctor. Parallel to the medical treatment, the patient might
be prescribed some herbal teas, cleansing baths, or a special diet
from the traditional healing practice. Sometimes, a Santero might
advise a client to receive omiero, whose efficacy is widely disputed
by many in the medical community. An omiero is claimed by believers to
be a sacred mixture that is made for specific
Santería ceremonies and
to embody the orichá ruler of herbs, Osaín. :108 Most clients who
see Santeros would never be told to drink it.
Santería traditional healing is just one of the many traditional
healing practices used in
Caribbean and Latin American cultures.
Traditional healing practices are practiced side by side with
mainstream medical practices through the
Cuban healthcare system.
Traditional healers recognize but do not compete with Western
Santería is mainly found in the Spanish speaking
Caribbean ), including but not limited to
Puerto Rico ,
Dominican Republic ,
Venezuela , and
Mexico , as
well as in the
United States , mainly as a result of migration from
these countries, especially
Cuba and Puerto Rico.
In 2001, there were an estimated 22,000 practitioners in the US
alone, but the number may be higher as some practitioners may be
reluctant to disclose their religion on a government census or to an
academic researcher. Of those living in the United States, some are
fully committed priests and priestesses, others are godchildren or
members of a particular house-tradition, and many are non-committal
clients seeking help with their everyday problems.
A similar religion of Yoruba origin called
Candomblé Queto is
Argentina , and
Uruguay . This is referred to as
UNITED STATES COURT RULINGS
In 1993, the issue of animal sacrifice in
Santería was taken to the
Supreme Court of the
United States in the case of Church of the Lukumi
Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah . The court ruled that animal cruelty
laws targeted specifically at
Santería were unconstitutional.
In 2009, legal and religious issues that related to animal sacrifice
, animal rights , and freedom of religion were taken to the United
States Court of Appeals for the Fifth Circuit in the case of Jose
Merced, President Templo Yoruba Omo
Orisha Texas, Inc., v. City of
Euless. The court ruled that the Merced case of the freedom of
exercise of religion was meritorious and prevailing and that Merced
was entitled under the Texas Religious Freedom and Restoration Act
(TRFRA) to an injunction preventing the city of
Euless, Texas , from
enforcing its ordinances restricting his religious practices relating
to the use of animals, (see Tex. Civ. Prac. padding:0.4em 2em">
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