SANTERIA RELIGION A COMPLEX FAITH PASSED DOWN THROUGH THE YEARS
Santeria , often referred to as La Religion Lucumi or La Regla De Ocha, is a religion that originated in what is now Benin and Nigeria. This Afro-Cuban religion takes much of its worldview and culture from that of the Yoruba although it does combine them with beliefs from the Roman Catholic faith. As slaves were brought to Brazil, Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico Trinidad and must of the Caribbean , they brought more than just themselves. They brought their religion. Since this time, the religion has spread though the United States and Latin America. It is believed that this religion is still mainly practiced in Cuba where an estimated 75% of followers live.
The slaves made use of a Saint's Day to practice their religion. When the slave owners, who were Roman Catholic, saw slaves celebrating a Saint's Day, they had no clue that the slaves weren't actually worshiping the saint. Instead, they were worshiping their orishas and disguising them as Catholic saints. Orishas have many interpretations and meanings, but all are recognized as deities.
Those who follow this religion believe that they were created by Olodumare, a God. There is no devil though to act as counterpart as they don't have a dualistic philosophy of good and evil. In fact, an action cannot be given either of these labels as right and wrong is dictated by surrounding circumstances. All have the potential for either. A murder may be good when you are killing someone who is trying to harm a child as you save the child's life. It is bad though when the murder is committed for a self-serving purpose such as to get rid of an enemy. The act is the same. Only the circumstances are different.
Ashe is the defining feature of this religion. This is a primal force that is indefinable. It extends from Olodumare and is found in everything, although in different amounts. As this force is found everything, nature is valued and respected as are all things living. All religions are considered to be of great benefit as they recognize the universe is permeated with ashe and that there is a creator. These religions may not realize this, but followers of Santeria do and believe that there is some truth to be found in all religions.
This religion has no central scripture and there is no institution in place to regulate these matters. Information is passed from generation to generation orally in various forms. This may be history, poetry or mythology. In recent times, the information has been written down and the book containing the beliefs of Santeria is known as the Corpus of Ifa, although there are many versions which vary by region and lineage.
Rituals and ceremonies are an important part of this religion. When a ritual or ceremony is to take place, it is done in a house-temple, referred to as an ile or house of saints (casa de santos). These are most often found in the home of initiated priests and priestesses who build shrines to the different orishas. This shrine is known as an igbodu and is used to display three thrones. Each throne is distinct and draped in either red satin, royal blue or white to distinguish between the seats of kings, queens and those warriors who have been deified. Many believe these rituals to be highly secretive.
Some rituals that may be practiced include dance, invocations to the orishas and animal offerings. The most controversial are the animal sacrifices. Followers of this religion point out that all sacrifices are humane and safe and the priests must be trained to treat the animal humanely. After the sacrifice, the animal is cooked and eaten by the followers with chicken being the most commonly sacrificed animal.
Initiations are another part of the Santeria faith. Here certain rituals and ceremonies must be performed and there are periods of abstinence. Anyone who wishes to have a consultation with a priest or priestess may do so though. A donation will be required of those who practice another religion. There are four initiation rites found in this religion and each is marked by different ceremonies and rituals.
Oracles are available for anyone looking to fulfill their destiny, but find themselves struggling to do so. Again, those of any religion may make use of these figures although certain practices may only be engaged in by those who have been fully initiated. Others are available for those who have done only the basic rituals. One such oracle procedure involves coconut casting. Here the coconut is split into four equal parts. A question is then asked and the answer to this question can only come in two forms. The answer may either be positive or negative. The coconut quarters are then cast and interpreted based on how they land. The combination of inner white flesh and husk on the four parts is how the oracle obtains the answer. This is just one example of these rituals.
Dance is another important part of rituals and ceremonies of the Santeria faith. Prayers are expressed using this medium which will then bring on a trance state in the initiated priest. When this state occurs, the priest is said to be possessed with Orisha. He or she can then heal those in the community. The effectiveness of the dance is determined by the skill of the dancers and are only used to summon the deities. There is no guarantee the results will be as desired.
Santeria is a complex religion. As it is so widespread and there is no central scripture, variations will be seen. Similar religions are seen throughout the world also. This is known as parallel religiosity as there are elements of Santeria and other religions also.