Friday, February 10, 2012

Santeria: Occult Syncretic Religions

Syncretic Beliefs:

Syncretic belief systems are religions that have combined two or more different cultural and spiritual beliefs into a new faith.

 Santeria, Voodoo, Hoodoo, Palo Mayombe, Candomble, and Shango are some of the syncretic Afro-Caribbean religions. Brujeria, a form of witchcraft, has distinctly Mexican cultural and religious roots. Afro-Caribbean faiths originated in the 18th and 19th centuries during African slave trading when owners imposed Catholicism on their slaves and forbade traditional religious practices. In an attempt to maintain their cultural and religious beliefs, Africans disguised their religion by assigning each of their gods the image of a Catholic saint. The name of the religion corresponds to the geographical location it evolved in and the African region it derived from. For example, Santeria (the way of the saints), emerged in Cuba and derived from the Southwestern Nigerian Yoruba tribe. This new faith was eventually introduced to other Latin American countries; in Brazil it became known as Candomble and in Trinidad, Shango. Voodoo, often referred to as Hoodoo in America, evolved in Haiti and originated in Dahomey, today referred to as the Republic of Benin, and was practiced among the Fon, Yoruba, and Ewe. Magic and the belief in supernatural intervention occupy a significant place in the worship of all occult syncretic religions.

SanteriaSanteria combines the cultural and spiritual beliefs of the Southwestern Nigerian Yoruba tribe with the religious practices of the Catholic faith; it consists of using magical rituals to worship or satisfy a pantheon of gods and goddesses known as orishas. The following web site provides a complete description of the Santeria pantheon of gods ( In Cuba, where Santeria developed extensively, the Yoruba became known as Lucumi, a term derived from the Yoruba word akumi, which refers to a native of the Aku, a region of Nigeria where many Yoruba come from. OrishaNet provides excellent articles on the history, theology, and rituals of Santeria (
Santeria is an earth religion, a magical religious system that has its roots in nature and natural forces. Santeria still retains the fundamental precepts of the ancient Yoruba tradition which includes the concepts of ashe and ebbo. Ashe is a Yoruba word that literally means "so be it," but it is the symbol of divine power and energy, a term used to describe the energy that permeates the universe. This is a cultural variation of the Melanesian concept of mana or the American Indian concepts of wakan and manitu. Ashe is the power of the Supreme God who created the universe; everything is made of ashe and through ashe everything is possible. Ashe is manifested in persons, religious paraphernalia, invocations in the Yoruba language, the sacred stones, the herbs, the ngangas (sacred cauldrons), and almost anything connected with Santeria magic.(1) The gods of Santeria are the repositories of ashe, the divine power/energy and Santeria spells, rituals; invocations are all conducted in order to acquire ashe from the Gods. This ashe is the power to change things, to solve all problems, subdue enemies, and acquire love and money. Ebbo is the concept of sacrifice and is the way that the orishas are worshiped so that they will give their ashe. Every rite and spell of Santeria is part of the ebbo concept. Fortunately sacrifice does not always require a sacrificial victim. Ebbo can be an offering of fruits, flowers, candles, any of the favorite foods of the orishas or a blood offering. The orisha determines what type of ebbo is required to solve a specific problem and the priest ascertains what the orisha wants by questioning him through the Diloggun, the divination system known also as the seashells.(2)
Santeria is essentially based on natural magic, and all of the basic elements of worship can be found in nature. The foundation of Santeria worship can be found in four natural elements: water, herbs, seashells, and stones. The bases of many of the major spells of Santeria are herbs, plants, roots, and flowers, each of which is believed to have a spiritual entity that guards it. Each root, flower, tree, or plant is believed to be full of ashe and belongs to one of the orishas who must be asked permission whenever the plant is used. Santeria rituals also require the use of sacrificial birds and animals. Each of the orishas is "fed" his/her favorite food or sacrifice in the ebbo rituals. The blood of roosters and goats is the most common sacrificial offering. Birds (pigeons, canaries, hens, etc.) are used in rubbing rituals where the client is cleansed, the function of which is that any negative feelings caused by evil are passed into the birds.(3) The magical practices of Santeria are a method for believers to gain control over their lives by invoking the proper gods who will effect changes. To truly comprehend this religion it is necessary to understand that for Santeria believers every aspect of human life is controlled by the pantheon of gods. For a complete description of Santeria magic, the following book entitled Santeria, A Practical Guide to Afro-Caribbean Magic by Luis M. Nuñez is online in its entirety. (
Priests in the Santeria religion are known as Santeros (male) and Santera (female); they are also known by the Yoruba name of omo-orisha, which means child of an orisha. There is a sophisticated hierarchy of Santeria priests and high priests are known as Babalawos. One of the strongest precepts in Santeria is that the dead come before the orishas, hence ancestor worship is central to the practice of Santeria. The dead in one's family, known collectively as eggun, must be fed periodically, just as the orishas are given offerings. "Therefore we have in Santeria a religious system that honors the ancestors and recognizes a direct contact between mankind and the forces of nature, which are seen as direct manifestations of God himself. This contact between God and mankind through nature is enforced through ebbo, sacrifice, for the purpose of receiving ashe, power."(4) The fundamental basis of Santeria is a personal relationship with the orishas that will bring the believers happiness, success and wisdom. This devotion or ritual worship occurs in four principal forms: divination, sacrifice, spiritualism, and initiation.
Until very recently, Santeria rituals were shrouded in a tradition of secrecy that was not part of the original Yoruba religion. Although the Yoruba were successful in hiding their orishas under the guise of Catholic saints, it did not take long for the Spanish settlers to realize what the slaves were doing, which resulted in severe persecution that forced them to cloak their religion in secrecy. This secrecy, which never existed in Nigeria, is still observed by many practitioners of Santeria today and is one of the reasons the religion is often misunderstood and viewed as dangerous.(5) Recently there have been organized attempts by Santeria practitioners to refute the stereotypes, superstitions, and fears associated with the religion. Many Santeria web sites are appearing that involve individual houses, religious supplies, and even bulletin boards and chat rooms. The O.L.U., "Organization for Lukumi Unity," is a nonprofit cultural organization formed by Olorishas, Babalawos, and Aleyos who want to see all practitioners of the Lukumi Culture and Religion come together in brotherhood. (, Excellent websites containing descriptions of various ceremonies, links and photographs are ( and ( The following web sites belong to botanicas (religious supply stores) ( and (
Currently there are several million people living in America who practice some sort of Afro-Caribbean faith, most of whom are not involved in criminal activity. Because of the growing population of Santeria practitioners, many officers routinely discover the remains of sacrificed goats, chickens, roosters, and other animals covered in sacrificial matter in areas such as cemeteries, beaches, near railroad tracks, and other places that have magical significance to the believers. Although it is illegal to discard animal corpses in public places, most of these cases are not indicative of violent criminal behavior but are remnants of ritual ceremonies. Controversies associated with the practice of Santeria most often involve misunderstanding of the use of magical spells, amulets, and food offerings, or the debates surrounding the practice of animal sacrifice.

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