The Gifts of Santeria

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The Gifts of Santeria

Modern practitioners of Santeria may be attracted to the religion for a variety of reasons, notable among which are curiosity with secret rituals and the longing among many immigrants and people of color to get in touch with Caribbean and African roots. What each specific individual wants from a religion is difficult to generalize upon, but Santeria offers a way for people to achieve harmony in their lives through communication with and obedience to orishas, the divine beings that act as intermediaries between humans and the Supreme Being, Olodumare. Santeria teaches how to know and appease the specific desires of a pantheon of orishas who alert devotees to problems in their lives and protect them from harm. In addition to a distinctive and demanding set of rituals that requires a commitment of time and energy from believers, Santeria offers a rich history and a supportive community that make it a way of life and not just a passive belief structure that bears little relevance to the daily life of its adherents.

The foremost way to communicate with the gods is through divination. When one is having a problem, an italero or babalowo can divine what is causing the problem and what must be done to correct it. On special occasions, or just for good measure, divination can reveal problems that the supplicant is not aware of beforehand. One santera, Awolowo, had this to say about the power and relevance of ita, the divination performed when a person is initiated into Santeria during the asiento ceremony:

You will learn how to avoid sicknesses, how to get money and keep your husband happy. You will learn who are your friends and who are your enemies. You will learn what are you lucky and unlucky d...

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...teria in the US is based around the Ile, the community of believers. The santero/a who leads an initiate into the faith becomes the godfather or godmother to the new member, who joins the godparent’s Ile. A system of hierarchy exists within the Ile based on how long ago members were initiated. The Ile gathers together for festivals and to celebrate new initiations into the religious community.

Participants in Santeria, as in any faith, can be involved to a greater or lesser degree in the practice of their religion. However, serious believers who want to gain the benefits of divine revelation and protection must be willing to listen to and obey the will of the orishas. Through ritual purification and communion with fellow believers and orishas, santeros can taste what Murphy calls “the heart of religion…a harmony of the human and the divine in dance and joy.”

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