According to, a religion is a “set of beliefs concerning the cause, nature, and purpose of the universe, especially when considered as the creation of a superhuman agency or agencies, usually involving devotional and ritual observances, and often containing a moral code governing the conduct of human affairs.” Therefore under this general understanding I will refer to Santeria as a religion, although I do not give it any credence.

When the Spaniards were establishing a colony in South America and the island of Cuba, they brought slaves with them to do the hard labor. These slaves came largely from West Africa in the 1600s and 1700s, and they brought with them much of their folklore, culture, and religious practices. The slaves were polytheistic, but soon the Spaniards tried to encourage them convert to the Roman Catholic Church; yet, the West Africans continued to persevere in their practices. Therefore, the Spaniards began persecution of the slaves that included many of the atrocities we are vaguely aware of such as beatings, whippings, rapes, and other forms of torture.

Instead of converting, the West Africans began to take notice that some of their gods and goddesses looked vaguely like some of the better known Catholic Saints which the Spaniards put into their churches and chapels. So, what looked like Catholic converts to the Spanish, were really African slaves practicing the same pantheistic, animism and ancestor worship.

The main god is Olofi (aka, Olodumare or Olorun), but of the 400 minor gods and goddesses, only 16 are popularly worshipped and practiced: Obatala, Yemaya, Oshun, Oya, and Chango, to name a few. These five form the foundation of the practice of Santeria. The will of Olofi is manifested through the forces of nature. In exchange for total submission, observation of feasts, obedience to orders and rituals, the follower is promised supernatural powers and protection from evil in most major domains: influence/power, health, position, and ablitiy to see and modify the future. The “priests” of this religion are known as santeros.

The practices are supposedly limited to white magic and excludes black witchcraft.

Obatala is associated with Our Lady of Mercy and is the origin of the other gods and godesses and creation, but is not the creator (Olofi). He is also the patron of purity and peace. Orunla (aka, Ifa or Orunmila) is the patron of the high priests and the principal magician. He is associated with St Francis of Assisi. Yemaya is associated with the Virgin of Regla and is the patron of the sea and motherhood. Oshun is the younger sibling of Yemaya and the queen of love, marriage, gold, and the rivers. She is also the favorite concubine of Chango and is associated with our Lady of Charity. […] More information: here.

How do I convey how familiar these names are, if not in print from the numerous trips I’ve made with my mom to the santero shops, to perhaps hearing some of them? Like, I’ve seen the names of Eleggua, Oggun, Ochosi, and Osun at different times as well as those mentioned above.
The Orishas, or gods, are represented by 16 cowrie shells and small figurines which represent the powers of each deity. These have to be wahed with sacred liquids made from teas and juices of plants, rubbed with oil, and fed with the blood of the deity’s favorite animal (most typically chickens, pigeons, and other fowl). These objects have to be kept in the personal home. The bead necklaces and bracelets are made of the characteristic color of each Orisha, which protects the wearer from any magic spell via deflection. The Orisha protects it’s “child” with its color.

There are initiation practices involved which are long, complicated, costly, and completed in a series of phases. First, the santero needs to learn which gods correspond to the initiate, which begins with the necklaces (which were constructed and then soaked in animal blood – and the smell is never lost) and ends with the asiento. The process is as follows: the wearing of old cloths (they are cut off of you), the bathing (a tea/infusion), and changing into white clothes to symbolize new life. An Orisha is assigned to the person to watch and protect and initiate. There are prayers in a foreign tongue (not Spanish), and animal sacrifices. Usually a second phase includes the divination of the initiate’s future in which stones are thrown into a bowl filled with sand. Then the initiate is given the santeros’ reading of his/her future. Then the initiate recieves his/her own set of cowrie shells, on which blood poured and a home for his/her Orisha, a decorated box containing food and oil for the seed. The seed is the home of the Orisha.

The Orishas are subject to human weaknesses: material greed, incest, adultery, drunkeness, violence, etc. Most of them “practice” witchcraft, divination, and magic. Necromancy also exists in Santeria along with the use of amulets and creating prayers or changing the fate of others (i.e., setting up white magic ‘hexes’ for someone, much like the Mormons can ‘baptize’ the dead). The whole focus of Santeria is the betterment of a single person, using prayer/hexes, magic, and divination of the person and others close to them to change their destiny which was created before they were born.

I’ve been involved with this stuff against my will, and often deceptively brought to participate in the initiation events – as in the the true nature of the outings were revealed to me.



Liturgical Dancing

Excerpt from Karl Keating’s E-Letter on 05/09/2006

Inculturation has come at a high price.

When you watch the liturgical dancers, you will shake your head over the lack of good taste. You will not mistake these folks for the June Taylor Dancers. Even if you make allowances for the dancers being amateurs, the video is painful to watch.

The dancers are predominantly women, but there are a few men. The women wear floor-length dresses that billow out as they move. The men wear slacks and sport shirts. They all hold something in their hands–perhaps votive candles, it being hard to tell because the videographer sat far from the action.

The dancers swirl clockwise, lifting their hands high over their heads, first to the left and then to the right. Then they swirl in the other direction. Since their hands are occupied, there are few variations in their arm motions: stretch high to one side, then to the other, then bow low and bring the hands close to the floor, then do it all over again.

The footwork is simple, not even to the level of a three-step. Still, it is too much for some of the dancers. One of the men, although moving slowly, manages to trip over his own feet and almost falls to the ground.

Only a heartless viewer would not feel embarrassment on behalf of the dancers. Only someone with no appreciation for either liturgy or dancing would think that this was a successful melding of the two.

Here is what then-Cardinal Joseph Ratzinger wrote about liturgical dancing in “The Spirit of the Liturgy”:

“Dancing is not a form of expression for the Christian liturgy. In about the third century, there was an attempt by certain Gnostic-Docetic circles to introduce it into the liturgy. … The cultic dances of the different religions have different purposes–incantation, imitative magic, mystical ecstasy–none of which is compatible with the essential purpose of the liturgy. … “

It is totally absurd to try to make the liturgy ‘attractive’ by introducing dancing pantomimes (wherever possible performed by professional dance troupes), which frequently (and rightly, from the professionals’ point of view) end with applause. Whenever applause breaks out in the liturgy because of some human achievement, it is a sure sign that the essence of liturgy has totally disappeared and been replaced by a kind of religious entertainment. …”

I myself have experienced the replacing of the penitential rite by a dance performance, which, needless to say, received a round of applause. Could
there be anything further removed from true penitence? …”

None of the Christian rites includes dancing. What people call dancing in the Ethiopian rite or the Zairean form of the Roman liturgy is in fact a rhythmically ordered procession, very much in keeping with the dignity of the occasion.”