You’ve heard in a Sublime song, but what is Santeria all about?
Santeria is an Afro-Caribbean religion that formed out of the slave trade in Cuba. Santeria is translated to “Way of the Saints” and it has some Catholic influences. It is considered “syncretic” because the religion blends elements from many different faiths.
Santeria is based on the relationships between humans and powerful spirits called Orishas. Those who practice Santeria believe that Orishnas and the manifestation of Olodumare, their God. They believe that certain rituals can enlist the help of Orishas.
The religion is area in Cuba through Yoruba traditions that were brought to the country by the enslaved Africans. Santeria is an interesting blend of religions, because the enslaved did not convert, but instead blended religions. For a long time Santeria was a secret religion, but over the past 15 years it has expanded. The slaves kept their own rituals like dancing, drumming, speaking and eating with the spirits. Since the Cuban Revolution in 1959 it has spread to many other countries including the United States. The population of those practicing Santeria is unknown and there is no central organization. Santeria also does not have holy scripture. The religion is based in oral tradition and is passed through word-of-mouth.
Some of the blending in Santeria comes from Catholicism. There are some Catholic influences on Santeria including the incorporation of some Catholic symbols. Sometimes those who follow Santeria are also Roman Catholic. Santeria also worships some of the Catholic Saints:
- Saint Barbara/ Shango: justice and strength, associated with lightning and fire
- Our Lady of Charity/ Ochun: Yoruba goddess of the river, associated with water, yellow, sweets, money and love
- Saint Lazarus/ Bablu-Aye: associated with the sick
One central element of Santeria is animal sacrifice. Followers sacrifice animals as food in order to build a good relationship with Orishas. The process of sacrifice brings the worshiper closer to the Orishna. Those who practice Santeria believe that Orishas are similar to living beings. They need food, nourishment and praise in order to stay alive. Sacrifices are performed for life events like birth, marriage and death and also for healing. Animal sacrifices are completed in a certain ways; the animal is killed by cutting the carotid artery with a knife. After the ritual is performed, the animal is cooked and eaten. Those who practice Santeria see it as sharing the sacrifice with the Orisha. The Orisha is nourished by the blood and the worshiper is nourished by the meat. Sacrificial animals include: chickens, pigeons, doves, ducks, pigs, goats, sheep, and turtles.
Although there is no central organization, there are a some buildings and houses devoted to the faith. Rituals are usually done in a house called the casa or ile which is generally the house of a senior Santeria priest. Santeria priesthood includes both men and women because they can either be called babalorisha which means Father in the Spirit or iyalorisha which means Mother/Wife in the Spirit. They are also sometimes called Santero and Santera which is the Spanish translation of the work priest in the masculine and feminine forms.