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Santería

Santería

WORLDVIEW

RITUALS AND CEREMONIES

CONTEMPORARY ISSUES

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Santería has long been called an Afro-Cuban religion: This designation highlights the origins of many of its elements and early founders but also obscures the fact that Santería has long been a major religion in Cuba practiced by diverse people and has become a global religious movement. Between 1780 and 1850 the Atlantic slave trade transported approximately 1 million enslaved people to Cuba. Nearly 500,000 came from West Africa, where they were in the process of forging the culture now called Yoruba. In Cuba they intermingled with others and forged a popular religion, related to but distinct from the traditional religion of the Yoruba.

WORLDVIEW

The world in which Santerías followers live overflows with diverse kinds of spirits and divinities, and this theodiversity reflects and embodies the natural biodiversity of both tropical West Africa and Cuba. The supreme god, Olodumare, created the natural world in which humans now live as well as a host of orishas (divinities, called orichas in Cuban Spanish) responsible for its various aspects. Most orishas lived in heaven with Olodumare before descending to the earth. Here they revealed outrageous personalities, led phenomenal lives, and did memorable deeds, and then they ascended into heaven, turned into natural features (e.g., rivers), or disappeared into the earth itself. The stories and rituals for the orishas reveal their specific personalities, complete with foibles, virtues, and preferences for specific foods, objects, metals, and colors. Each orisha rules a specific part of nature and some aspect of human life or society. Most people consider the orishas to be divine representatives or facets of Olodumare.

Elegguá, the mischievous messenger of the other orishas, wears red and black, carries a hooked stick for grabbing things, drinks rum, and smokes cigars. He lives in the forest, the savannah, bars, and crossroads. Always generous, Yemayá is the maternal ocean. A Great Mother figure, she dresses in blue and white, rules motherhood, and eats rams, ducks, pineapples, and watermelons. Obatalá, the father of the orishas, has clean white clothes and a cool, even character. He resides in high places, patiently forms human bodies and other creations, and eats white animals and fruits with white flesh. The sensual Oshún lives in the river and rules childbirth, dance, and erotic love. She loves brass, gold, pumpkins, oranges, and mangoes. Shangó is a fiery king invoked as the fourth ruler of the Yoruba city of Oyo. He wears red and white and makes his presence known through thunder and lightning. In Cuba approximately thirty orishas make up the pantheon, but people acknowledge the existence of an even greater number.

Each human being has a patron orisha and an innate spiritual component thought to reside within the physical head. Chosen by the individual before birth and authorized by Olodumare, this inner head (orinú ) contains the individuals destiny, character, and special talents, and it reflects the persons essence (aché ). The individuals aché continues after death and becomes an ancestral spirit (egun ), whom the living acknowledge and venerate through ritual.

Aché, the inherent essence and power to make things happen, exists in all natural objects and life forms. Certain herbs heal specific illnesses, and healing is their aché. A mixture of herbs sacred to the orishas helps consecrate priests and priestesses, and this is also called aché. Particular individuals have special talents that transform circumstancestheir aché. Words, spoken or sung, carry aché, and thus the Lucumí language (derived from Yoruba) remains an important part of the religion. Similarly animal blood and certain key parts of sacrificed animals have aché to engage the orishas and the ancestors in human affairs. Santería conceives of the natural world and its aché through polarities: Heaven and earth, white and red, and male and female are just a few of the oppositions that organize the religions rituals.

RITUALS AND CEREMONIES

Santerías followers mount complex ritual performances to interact with the orishas and other spirits. Through offerings of objects, foods, and animals, people make ebó to placate and petition the spirits. In divination they use traditional mechanisms (coconut pieces, cowrie shells, or palm nuts) to learn the disposition of the spirits and what sacrifices will create the appropriate balance between humans and the spirits. Most divination results in an odu, one of 256 possible divination signs thought to be spirits in their own right; odus contain proverbs, allegories, advice, and myths about the orishas, used to orient people to their circumstances. Specific songs, drum rhythms, and dance steps call the orishas to possess their followers, and the orishas use the human body to dance, sing, salute community members, and give advice. Through rituals and ceremonies, Santería initiates channel the aché of the orishas.

Through various initiations, people intensify their relationships with the orishas. The ceremonial receiving of consecrated necklaces (elekes ) for the principal orishas creates a link between the individual spiritual head and those orishas; similarly it forges a bond between the individual and the initiators (godparents) and their ritual lineage. The warriors ceremony gives the new initiate sacred objects (fundamentos ) through which to engage four important orishas who guide, protect, and invigorate the individual. The initiation of a new priest or priestess unites a large number of participants in a complex seven-day ceremony (kariocha ) that begins a year-long process of transformation. These rituals forge intense, intimate connections between people and the orishas, and Santería often becomes an encompassing way of life.

Santerías followers have often embraced other religious traditions and sources of divine power. Santería emerged in proximity to the Catholic Church, and the similar spiritual hierarchies made for easy comparisons: Orishas have long been compared with saints. While many scholars imagine Santería simply as a syncretism, a mixture between Yoruba religion and Catholicism, the religion focuses on worshipping the orishas and allows its followers to include or exclude links to Catholicism and other traditions, like the Afro-Cuban religions Palo Monte and Abakuá, which have their primary sources in other African cultures. People often extend the veneration of the ancestors to include spiritism (from France), and its rituals have evolved to include some specifically Cuban forms. Some people borrow ideas and symbols from Freemasonry and astrology.

CONTEMPORARY ISSUES

Cuban immigrants carried Santería beyond the island, and it now enjoys great popularity in the Caribbean, Mexico, Venezuela, Colombia, and the United States, while smaller active communities exist all over Canada and Europe. As in Cuba, the religion unites diverse people, transcending racial and economic differences. Discrimination against the religion has led to strong movements for legal recognition, and in 1993 the U.S. Supreme Court recognized Santería as a religion and its followers right to sacrifice animals. Followers of the religion have begun exchanging ideas, images, and ritual practices with both Haitian Vodou and Brazilian Candomblé, each sharing strong historical ties to Yoruba religion. As Santería becomes a global religion spread by traveling elders, published texts, and the Internet, face-to-face relationships remain central to learning the world-view and rituals. Both the orishas and the odus provide flexible conceptual systems with which people can understand and respond to their diverse circumstances.

SEE ALSO African Diaspora; Animism; Religion; Rituals; Vodou

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brown, David H. 2003. Santería Enthroned: Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion. Chicago: University of Chicago Press.

Clark, Kamari Maxine. 2004. Mapping Yoruba Networks: Power and Agency in the Making of Transnational Communities. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Mason, Michael Atwood. 2002. Living Santería: Rituals and Experiences in an Afro-Cuban Religion. Washington, DC: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Matory, J. Lorand. 2005. Black Atlantic Religion: Tradition, Transnationalism, and Matriarchy in the Afro-Brazilian Candomblé. Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press.

Palmié, Stephan. 2002. Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition. Durham, NC: Duke University Press.

Michael Atwood Mason

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Santería

SANTERÍA


SANTERÍA is a religious tradition brought to the United States by immigrants from Cuba in the latter half of the twentieth century. It originated among the Yoruba peoples of present-day Nigeria. The Yoruba were enslaved in large numbers in the first decades of the nineteenth century and brought to Cuba to labor in the island's expanding sugar industry. Perhaps as many as 500,000 Yoruba men and women came to Cuba, where they were called "Lucumi." The Lucumi established a strong ethnic presence in Cuba and created important cultural institutions that survived their enslavement and flourish today.

The word "santería" means "way of the saints" in Spanish and reflects the tendency of the Lucumi to correspond their deities from Africa, called "orishas," with the saints of the Roman Catholic traditions into which they were indoctrinated. This tragic history of forced acculturation has led some contemporary practitioners to reject the name "santería" as a colonial misnomer for an independent African tradition that might preferably be called "Lucumi religion," after its ethnic heritage, or "Orisha religion," after its deities.

The orishas are personal, cosmic forces that inhabit and energize the world of nature: mineral, vegetable, animal, and human. In theory, there are innumerable orishas1,600 is a traditional number used to show the vastness of the pantheonbut in practice there are some sixteen that are widely known and venerated. Each orisha has a distinct personality, and is approached through its own songs and dances with appropriate ritual foods, plants, and altar displays. The orisha Ogun, for example, is a hard, masculine deity, who as the cosmic blacksmith transforms the world through metals and tools. The orisha Oshun, by contrast, is a cool, feminine deity of the river, who works through the pliant, but no less powerful medium of water. Each orisha offers blessings and benefits to its devotees ranging from spiritual experience to practical assistance in finding jobs or maintaining health. The lore of the orishas contains a very large pharmacopoeia and this tradition has been of inestimable aid in providing medical and mental health care to the urban poor. In the late twentieth century, hospitals in Miami and New York established cooperative programs with orisha devotees to try to meet the needs of people often poorly served by established health institutions.

Since its introduction to the United States in the latter half of the twentieth century, the veneration of the orishas has spread well beyond the original Afro-Cuban population. In the early years of the twenty-first century, Puerto Ricans, Dominicans, and other Latin Americans, as well as significant numbers of African Americans and white Americans have embraced it. It is difficult to estimate the number of practitioners, as there are few public organizations or groups of congregations beyond the individual "houses," which typically claim twenty or thirty active participants. In the United States, the number of initiated priests and priestesses may number 50,000, while active participants are likely ten times that. As for those who might consult a priest or priestess for help, they number in the millions. Kindred orisha traditions are practiced throughout Latin America, particularly in Cuba, Brazil, Argentina, and Venezuela, making "santería" a world religion of growing influence.

BIBLIOGRAPHY

Brandon, George. Santería from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 1993.

Murphy, Joseph M. Santería: An African Religion in America. Boston: Beacon Press, 1988.

Joseph M. Murphy

See also African American Religions and Sects .

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Santería

Santería (Cuban, ‘the way of the saints’). A complex of religious cults in the Afro-Cuban population, combining Yoruba African and Spanish Catholic traditions, especially concerning the saints (santos) who are identified with the spirits (orisha) of the Yoruba pantheon. Worship features prayers and songs in Yoruba, drumming which may speak for the spirits, and sacred stones of power, associated with the spirits, kept under the altar, and ‘baptized’ and fed annually with herbs and blood.

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"Santería." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Encyclopedia.com. 17 Dec. 2017 <http://www.encyclopedia.com>.

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"Santería." The Concise Oxford Dictionary of World Religions. . Retrieved December 17, 2017 from Encyclopedia.com: http://www.encyclopedia.com/religion/dictionaries-thesauruses-pictures-and-press-releases/santeria

Santería

Santería (săn´tərē´ə, sän´–), religion originating in W Africa, developed by Yoruba slaves in Cuba, and practiced by an estimated one million people in the United States. Blending African beliefs with those of Roman Catholicism, it fuses Christian saints with African deities (orishas). Rites are led by a priest or priestess, and reincarnation is a main belief. One of its most important rituals involves animal sacrifice, which was ruled a constitutional religious practice in a 1993 Supreme Court decision.

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