Orula, Divine And Wise
The religious practice of Santeria originated in West Africa and was seen mostly in the region of southwestern Nigeria. Due to slave trade that took place in the eighteenth and nineteenth centuries, the religion also took hold in Cuba.
Traditional Yoruban religion mixed with other African traditions and was influenced by the Roman Catholic religion that was so prevalent in Cuba. This fusion blend of various religions took the name of Santeria. The term Orisha to mean the divine religious figures became "santos", the Spanish word for saints, causing the change in terminology and religious name.
In the Yoruba religion of Cuba, there are many significant figures who are very important to the priests, priestesses and the followers. The fundamental basis of the religion is that there is only one true god, Olodumare. This god is responsible for creating the universe and is the most powerful of the divine figures. Along with Olodumare, the figure of Olofi is considered to be responsible for the control of the world and to be acting as a direct arm of Olodumare's power.
The grand priest of the Yoruban religion is known as Orunmila and is seen as the source of all knowledge. The priest is said to have revealed the oracle divinity to the world and the name of Orunmila is used to mean both the figure of the person, as well as the body of work that is written and known as the Oddu de Ifa. The followers and priests of Orula are known as babalawo.
The divinities that are known as Orishas or Santos are held responsible for the daily goings on in human lives. There are ten primary Orishas, they are thought to be humans who were made into deities after their deaths. Each of these Orishas are associated with a natural concept or phenomenon such as lightning or the sea.Every person who is a follower of the Yoruban religion has their own Orisha, and they show their devotion by wearing the proper colored beads on necklaces, observing significant dates on the calendar and by holding ceremonies to show their devotion to their Orisha.
One way in which religious people can show their devotion to their orisha Orula is to wear the yellow and green alternating color beads on necklaces, the colors that signify his presence. This is the saint who represents divination and knowledge. Priests and priestesses often worship this orisha to gain more knowledge and seek guidance in their spiritual lives. The practice of carrying river rocks that are smooth and round also is a way of showing the presence of Orunmila, whose presence is thought to be contained within the stones themselves.
The orisha religion is very much structured on the concept of families. The person's entire family originates from an ancestor long ago and it includes all the people who are both alive and dead. The orisha for a Yoruban religion follower is a person from their family who has passed on and who has become a deity. The ancestor possesses superior skills in an area such as hunting or fabrication of items and they also have a full knowledge and understanding of the use of herbal remedies and plants as medicines. After this deified ancestor's death, they can possess the body of the living relative which they can induce in order to bring their powers to bear amongst the living. This is the power of the Orisha as it relates to their living relative.
Cuban Santeria has ten major Orishas and each of them holds a different set of specific powers. Worshippers can pray to the specific Orisha who can help them with their life situation and ask for help. The orishas symbolize all areas of concern and for any life problem, there is one that can be addressed and honored to humbly ask for their help in getting out of difficulties.
The religious traditions are colorful and filled with elaborate costumes that are very much related to the original location in West Africa. The fabrics are extremely colorful and very elaborate with the definite appearance of royal garments. When a new priest or priestess is being consecrated, the clothing they are dressed in is kept very private and even the person who is being dressed is not permitted to see their garb. They are kept blindfolded as they are being dressed for the ceremony and no mirrors are permitted near them.
Many pieces of heavy jewelry are placed on the initiate and a crown is worn as well. They are kept in anticipation of their consecration clothing until they are ready to undergo the ceremonial transformation to priest or priestess. The garments themselves are infused with the power to carry the new priest or priestess into their next stage of life, that transformation is aided by the garments themselves. These same exquisitely ornate garments will also become their burial clothing, they are consecrated and very revered.
The traditions of Santeria are elaborate and quite magical in many ways, the history is rich and the culture is one well worth studying to unlock its wisdom and its allure.