Santería or La
Regla Lucumí originates in West Africa in what is now Nigeria and
Benin. It is the traditional religion of the Yoruba peoples there.
The slave traders brought many of these people to the shores of
Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad and Puerto Rico. With the people came
their religion - known today as Santeria..
Santería is not a 'primitive' religion. On the contrary, the
Yorubas were and are a very civilized people with a rich culture and
deep sense of ethics.
The followers of Santeria believe in one god
known as Olorun or Olodumare. Olorun is the source of
ashé, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe, all life and
all things material.
Olorun interacts with the world and humankind through emissaries.
These emissaries are called orishas. The orishas rule over every
force of nature and every aspect of human life. They are
approachable and can be counted on to come to the aid of their
followers, guiding us to a better life materially as well as
Communication between orishas and humankind is accomplished through
ritual, prayer, divination and ebó or offerings (which includes
sacrifice). Song, rhythms, and trance possession are also means with
which we interact with the orishas and how we are able to affect our
day to day lives so that they we may lead deeper and fuller lives
during our stay in this world.
In the New World the orishas and much of the religion was hidden
behind a facade of Catholicism with the orishas themselves
represented by various saints. The slaveowners would then say "look
at how pious this slave is. She spends all of her time
worshipping Saint Barbara." Unbeknownst to them, she would
actually be praying to Shangó, the lord of lightning, fire and the
dance, perhaps even praying for deliverance from that very
slaveowner. This is how the religion came to be known as Santería.
The memory of this period of our history is also why many in our
religion regard the term Santería as a derogatory.
The traditions of Santería are fiercely preserved and full knowledge
of the rites, songs, and language are prerequisites to any deep
involvement in the religion. Initiates must follow a strict regimen
and are answerable to Olorun and the orishas for their actions. As a
person passes through each initiation in the tradition, this
knowledge deepens and their abilities and responsibilities grow
accordingly. In fact, during the first year of their initiation into
the priesthood, the initiate or Iyawó or 'bride' of the orisha must
dress in white for an entire year. The iyawo must not look into a
mirror, touch anyone or allow themselves to be touched, and they may
not wear makeup, or go out at night for this year.
La Santería is famous for its 'magic'. This magic is based on a
knowledge of the mysteries or orishas and how to interact with them
to better our lives and the lives of those who come to us for the
aid of the orishas. We live under the premise that this world is a
magical one. This knowledge seems 'supernatural' only to those who
don't understand it, but it really is quite natural.
Although the people were yanked away from their homes in Africa and
enslaved in the New World, the orishas, the religion and its power
could never be chained down and the religion survives now. Not as an
anachronism, but ever growing even now in such places as France and