Santeria is an integrated system of beliefs from the Yoruba religion, Roman Catholic and Native American traditions. The elements of Yoruba religion were imported to the new world in the Caribbean by the slaves from Nigeria (People form Nigeria, West African country) who were ferried to Caribbean to work in the sugarcane plantations. As these slaves were being transported to their new destination, they carried out with them their traditional religion. These traditions included the manner of praying to their ancestors and other many deities. Given their religious and ritual nature of their religion, Santeria is fully infested with animal sacrifice and sacred drumming just the same way its mother Yoruba religion does though Santeria shares in other doctrines of the Catholic, and Native American traditions.
The incorporation of the three religions has evolved over time and today it has taken a form called Santeria as it is today in Cuba. However, it is noted that the religion continues to extend to other parts of the world for instance United Sates of America given the migration of the believers from areas it is dominantly practiced like Cuba. As reported today, the followers of this faith are not only Africans of West Africa origin but large numbers are of Hispanic and Caribbean descent. In United States of America, increasing number of African- American and European-American heritage has been recorded so far.
Ritual Performance Traditions of Santeria: Ascension, Divination and Sacrifice
This research paper attempts to put into focus the ritual performance of Santeria in the light of Ascension, Divination and Sacrifice. These three are the major pillars of the Santerian traditional ritual performance.
Unlike other world religions of Western origin, Santeria lacks an organized central creed for its religious practices. It is best known for its unique rituals and ceremonies. Most remarkably, these rituals and ceremonies are conducted within the house temple also known in Cuba as the casa de santos translated in English as the house of saints. The house temple is also called ile from the Yoruba dialect. It is a common observation that ile are located in the homes of the initiated priests and priestesses (Mason, p. 123). In addition, ile shrines are strictly constructed by the consecrated priests and priestesses themselves.
Different orishas are assigned different ile shrines depending on their commands of their deity. The shrine creates a space for worship referred to as igbodu otherwise an equivalent of alter in Catholic religion. Every igbodu (alter) is characterized by the display of three distinct thrones marked by royal blue, white and red satin. The three thrones represent that of the queen, kings and the warriors deified. The composition of ile is made up of the following:
Individuals seeking guidance from the orishas.
Followers who are awaiting consecration to become priests.
In the history of Santerian, cabildos and casas constructed between the 19th and the 20th centuries provides fond memories of the contemporary priests and the priestesses who are the key pillars of the origins and strongholds of Cuban Lucumi culture and religion.
The first ritual is Santera is the acquisition of elekes (beaded necklaces). The colour patterns of the beads on the elekes will be similar to those of orisha that primarily serves as the iyawo’s (bride) ruling head and the guardian angel (Brown, p. 35). The acquisition of the elekes mustbe done by babalawo, the divine fortune teller, during the divination ritual called bajar a Orunla translated as “to bring down Onrula”. During this rite, the elekes is soaked in a mixture of herbs, a sacrificial blood and other substances given to the initiated. In ordinary circumstances, the initiates are required to receive elekes of the five most powerful and influential orishas. These particular elekes given to the initiates have multicolored beads on the elekes patterned to represent all the five primary orishas: Ellegua, Obatala, Yemaya, Chango, and OShun. The beads act as the sacred points of contact with the named orishas. From there on, the initiate will now be consecrated to handle the divination of the Orishas through the elekes.
During the reception of the elekes, the initiate bows over a bathtub and then his head get washed with the mixture of herbs by the Orisha himself. This is a sign of submission to the high powers of the orishas and other deities y the initiate. Throughout the life of the initiate (now a follower), the elekes will act as the holy banner for the orishas, and a sign for the mighty presence of orishas. In the Santera, elekes play a very significant role because it is perceived as the sole provider of mighty protection to the followers in the event of any looming misfortune therefore it must be worn at all times. According to Oguta, elekes is considered one of the holiest tools in the said religion. Therefore it must never be worn by a menstruating woman during her periods.
This is the second ritual in command in the religion of Santera. It involves the creation of an image of the Eleggua, a powerful orisha who keeps evil away from the life of every believer. During the creation of this image, a person consults with a Santero and his life is reviewed afresh including the past, present and the future. The Santero then dictates the 21 paths of Eleggua the recipient will receive and he also choose the materials to be used in the making of the image of Eleggua. The sculpture is purposed to keep away evil spirits from the initiator’s home, family and life. The ritual is panned by the Santera and the orishas only comes in to preside over the process.
The third ritual is called “receiving of the warrior”. Here, the initiates receive objects from the babalawo, an orisha that represents the warriors. Iron tools and weapons are used to represent Oggun, the Lord of Iron; iron bow and arrow represent Ochosh, the divine hunter; Osun the messenger of Obatala is represented by nairon chalice with a little rooster at the tip. This particular ritual marks the beginning of a formalized life-ling relationship between the initiate and the orishas. Similarly, the orishas declare their full time protection and provision on the initiate’s path. The ritual raises the level of commitment between the Santeria/initiate and the orishas whereby he is officially inducted into the religion because this ritual is binding and is life-long in nature.
Asiento is the last ritual in Santeria. It is translated as ascending to the throne. This is the most crucial and secretive ritual of all and it occupies the highest level of ritual in the spiritual realms in the religion of Senteria. During the ceremony, the iyamo (bride) confess his submission into the faith and this point he is declared “born again”. This particular ritual culminates all the previously conducted rituals, in this way it cannot be conducted unless the prior rituals have all been conducted. Right before the ritual is performed, an individual is regarded as impure and unholy thus it is recommended that he “dies” from his old personality. This is the ritual that significantly marks the process of purification and divination (Houk, p. 145).
The new convert or rather the initiate becomes born again in the faith, young and ready to begin a new life of growing deeper in the faith. This is the most meaningful and mature stage of faith that every initiate in expected to reach. At this stage, an initiate can graduate into priesthood upon their consecration by other senior and prominent orishas.
The Santeria is dominated by the offering of sacrifices especially during the ritual ceremonies. It widely believed in the faith. Every time a ritual is done, an animal must be killed to shed some blood which is used for cleansing purposes. Most if the concoctions used by the orishas during these rituals contain some percentage of blood from the slaughtered animals purely for cleansing purposes.
Santeria being a religion whose roots are deeply rooted in Africa and Caribbean cultures thought with negligible percentages of western religious cultures, rituals plays significant religious and cultural roles in the lives of its believers all over the world. Though it lacks organized creeds of faith like the western religions, its members find due fulfillment in accomplishing the series of it rituals stipulated in the traditions of faith. Most notably, Santeria is not a lesser religion among its believers given its ritual nature and it is increasingly becoming popular in the world. Real religion for sure.