to the worship of one God, named Olodumare, the Yoruba worship dozens
of deities known as "Orishas" who are personified aspects of
nature and spirit. The principal orishas include Eleggua, Oggun, Ochosi,
Obatala, Yemaya, Oshun, Shango, Oya, Babalu Aiye, and Orula.
was spread to the new world through the slave trade. In order to preserve
their religious traditions against Catholic repression, the African slaves
syncretized the orishas with Catholic saints. Thus Shango came to be depicted
as Sta. Barbara; Obatala as Our Lady of Mercy, etc. The religion took
deep hold in African communities in Brazil and Cuba especially, and eventually
spread to mixed race and European-American communities in these countries. After the Cuban revolution of 1959 the religion, known in Spanish as Santeria
or La Regla de Ocha, spread to the United States (especially New York
City and Florida), Puerto Rico and Venezuela.
of the religion are its drumming and dancing celebrations known as tambors.
At the tambors elaborate altars are created, and then food is offered
to the Orishas. Depending on the nature of the celebration, percussionists
and drummers (often playing the sacred 3-piece bata drums) play precise
rhythms directed to specific Orishas while those present sing call-and-response
songs in archaic Yoruba (called Lucumi in Cuba), causing the Orishas to
descend and possess initiated priests and priestesses of the religion.
The rhythms and forms of Yoruba religion are said to be fundamental to
the development of many forms of African American music from gospel to
blues and jazz, and to musical forms such as Salsa and Latin Jazz.
excellent resource documenting the roots of African-American culture
in Yoruba and other African religions is "The Flash Of The Spirit" by Robert Farris Thompson,
available in paperback. Many well-known Latin musicians are devotees
of Santeria. Carlos Santana, for example, has incorporated Orisha-themes
and rhythms into several songs, including "Hannibal,"
which includes a Yoruba chant to Shango.
while in the New World Yoruba religion is in a period of modest
ascendency, in Nigeria itself it is being eclipsed by forms of Islam
and Christianity, especially evangelical protestantism.
of the Group
Santerians have five different levels of power in the Yoruba cosmology:
Olodumare , the Orisha, human beings, human ancestors, and the lowest
group (which includes plants, animals, natural entities, and manufactured
items) They believe in one supreme god, Olodumare (also known as
is the supreme source of ashe , the spiritual energy that makes
up the universe, all life, and material objects. He coincides with
Jesus Christ in the Catholic religion
with the world through emissaries called Orisha. Orisha rule over every
force of nature and every aspect of human life. They can be approached
through prayer, ritual offerings, and trance possession, and can be counted
on to come to the aid of followers and guide them to a better life and
spirituality. Each Orisha is attributed a special number and color, among
other "favorite things," such as a food or day of the week.
The member utilizes the colors by making beaded necklaces according to
which Orisha they wish to worship. These distinguish the Orisha from one
another when someone wants to make an offering to a certain one.
is guardian over a certain aspect of human life. The significant Orisha
are listed below, as there are literally thousands of Orisha 10 . The
first three Orisha listed - Elegba, Ogun, and Oshosi - are guardians over
battle affairs and are called the Guerreros or Warriors.
Orisha of the Crossroads.
(Eleggua) - the owner of the roads and doors in this world. He stands
at the crossroads of humanity and the divine, the intermediary between
Olorun and the Orisha and humans. When one wants to pray, they call
on Elegba first, as he opens the doors of communication between
this world and the Orisha.
can be done in either world without his permission. The Catholic
saint he represents is Saint Anthony.
His colors are red and black and his number is 3
The god of iron, war, and labor.
clears the roads with his machette after Elegba opens them. He embodies
violence and creativity, yet also integrity. He is the only Orisha
with the right to control life and death. He depicts St. Peter.
His colors are green and black and his number is 7
The hunter, scout, and protector of the warriors.
is in a close relationship with Obatala, and is the translator for
him. He is the provider of direction to human life -- he advises
humans to follow the rules of the social institutions in which they
find themselves. He represents St. Norbert.
His colors are blue and yellow and his numbers are 3 and 7
Father of the Orisha and all humanity.
is the creator of the world and enforces justice in the world. He
is the source of all that is pure, wise, peaceful, ethical, moral,
and compassionate. The saint he stands for is Our Lady of Mercy.
His color is white, as he contains all colors, but is above them
all; his number is 8
Ruler of lightning and thunder.
is also a warrior, like the three above, and is well known for his
many wives. He demands involvement in life and living life to its
fullest. He deals with the day to day challenges. He is attributed
to St. Barbara.
His colors are red and white and his numbers are 4 and 6
Ruler of winds and whirlwinds.
rules over the dead and the gates of the cemeteries. She is a fierce
warrior and was once the wife of Chango. She represents Our Lady
of the Presentation of Our Lord and St. Theresa.
Her colors are maroon and white, and her number is 9
Rules over the water of the world -- rivers, streams, and brooks.
embodies love, beauty, and fertility. She represents the blood flowing
through and creating human life. She is also associated with culture
and the fine arts. She is the youngest of the Orishas and the messenger
to the house of Olorun. Her saint is Our Lady of Charity, Cuba's
Her colors are yellow and gold and her number is 5
Rules over seas and lakes.
is the Mother of all and the root of all riches. She is deep and
unknowable, like the waters which she rules. She is also the queen
of witches and of secrets. She is considered the Orisha of mercy,
while she never turns her back on her children. Her saint is Our
Lady of Regla, the patron Saint of Havana's port.
Her colors are blue and white and her number is 7
Associated with disease (specifically smallpox).
sick pray to him in hope of recovery. He has simple tastes and does
not expect much. He is associated with St. Lazarus.
His colors are white and light blue and his number is 17
Rules over crops and agriculture.
he is in charge of all the tools of the gardeners. He settles fights
among the Orisha, especially those between Chango and his wives.
His saint is St.Ysidro. His color is lilac
The doctor of the Orishas.
controls all the medicinal and magical herbs. The drums used in
ceremonies are consecrated to him. He represents St. John (when
in the city) and St. Ambrose (when in the country). His colors are
white, red, and yellow
Children of Oshun and Chango.
are identical in many ways and are the so-called children of the
Orishas. They are associated with the acquisition of material property.
Their saints are St. Cosme and St. Damian.
They have the same colors as their parents -- yellow and gold (Oshun),
red and white (Chango)
Encompasses wisdom and divination; makes our destinies.
is the only Orisha who witnessed the creation of the universe, and
is essentially next in line to Olodumare. He is the Orisha of the
priests (Babalawos), whom he manifests himself to only intellectually.
abide by the Table of Ifa, where the secrets of the universe and
our lives are held. Oshun is knowledge while Orunmila is wisdom.
These two must work together for "wisdom without knowledge
is useless -- one who has knowledge without wisdom is a danger to
themselves and others".
He respresents St. Francis of Assisi. His colors are green and yellow
and his number is 16
with the Orisha is accomplished through several means, including prayer,
ritual divination, and offerings (ebo - sacrifice). Although ebo sometimes
refers to the practice of animal sacrifice, it encompasses a larger definition.
Animal sacrifice is usually only used in important situations, such as
death, sickness, or misfortune. Offerings can be made to the Orisha, with
items such as candy, candles, and fruits, to name a few. The individual
characteristics of each Orisha are important, as they give the people
a way to distinguish how they contact the Orisha they wish to pray to.
A person wears a beaded necklace with elaborate patterns of beads of the
colors of the Orisha they wish to pray to. The numbers, colors, and also
certain animals instruct the person on how to sacrifice to each Orisha.
Because each Orisha represents a different aspect of life, a person can
selectively pick an Orisha or several Orisha to pray to, depending on
their needs. A participant can give up things, such as a Roman Catholic
would for the season of Lent. They can also heed advice given by the Orisha
in this manner
created the earth, he created the eleven commandments, and handed them
down to Obatala. These he created to ensure that the people would not
succumb to evil, and that they would live prosperous lives in union with
the Orisha. The eleven commandments are:
- 1. You
will not steal
- 2. You
will not kill, except in self-defense and for your sustenance
- 3. You
will not eat human flesh
- 4. You
will live in peace among yourselves
- 5. You
will not covet your neighbor's properties
- 6. You
will not curse my name
- 7. You
will honor your father and mother
- 8. You
will not ask more than I can give you and you will be content with your
- 9. You
will neither fear death nor take your own life
- 10. You
will teach my commandments to your children
- 11. You
will respect and obey my laws
are strictly observed in Santeria. They have been preserved for almost
500 years. Prerequisites to a deep involvement in the religion include
full knowledge of the rites, songs, and language. The participants must
follow a strict regimen, and answer to Olorun and the Orisha for their
actions. When initiated into the religion, the participant becomes a member
of their Godparents house (or Ile), and a member of that extended family,
as well. These people oversee that the participant is continuing the traditions
and wishes of the Orisha.
The magic of the religion is based on knowledge of the mysteries of the
Orisha and how to interact better with them. This correct interaction
helps to better the lives of the participants and those around them. Santerians
believe the world is magical, but in a natural sense, rather than the
supernatural. "The most basic spell in Santeria will always require
a plant, an herb, a stone, a flower, a fruit or an animal. The belief
in the power of herbs is an intrinsic part of the religion."
many categories of sacrifice and offering to the Orisha. "There are
offerings such as addimú which can include candles, fruits, candy,
or any number of items oractions that may be appreciated by the deities
or orishas in the religion. In divination, the orishas may ask for a favorite
fruit or dish, or they may call for the person to heed advice given. At
times they may ask that a person give up drinking or other practices that
are unwise for that individual. They may request a person to wear certain
jewelry, receive initiations or any number of other things. Or they may
request an animal, usually a chicken or a dove, so the orisha will come
to that person's aid. As a rule, animal sacrifice is called for only in
major situations such as sickness or serious misfortune. Animals are also
offered when a new priest is consecrated in service of her or his orisha
during the birthing process of initiation. In every birth there is blood".
Animal Sacrifices are essential to winning favor with the gods, and must
be performed by a santero (priest).
plays an integral part in the religious life. This occurs during a drumming
party known as a bembe . "The purpose of a bembe is to honor the
Orisha by playing specific drum rhythms, performing specific dance postures,
and acting out in pantomime of the behavior of the Orisha." An Orisha
may be persuaded to enter the body of a priest, if enticed by the proper
drum rhythms associated to that spirit. The songs, rhythms, and dances
are calculated to entreat the specific Orisha. "The drum rhythms
and the dance postures are not ends in themselves, but are utilized to
attain a sacred state of consciousness, manifested as a trance state or
spirit possession. Spirit possession is desirable because it opens the
channels of ashe as the dancers merge with divine rhythms." This
bembe to Elegua demonstrates the typical songs and drum beats utilized
for the trance possession.
It must be
stressed that Santeria and Voodoo are similar, but not the same thing.
"Their similarities come from their origins in contiguous parts of
West Africa, while the differences stem from their historical developments
in the Americas." Both recognize the existence of a higher, supreme
being, and the fulfillment of destinies with the help of what Santeria
calls Orisha. Both also believe in the trance possession and choosing
a specific Orisha to call upon. But, with reference to the Orisha, Santerians
believe Catholic saints and Orisha are interchangeable. There is no division
between Santeria and Catholicism. Voudoo, on the other hand, worships
the same spirits as Santeria, but there is a separateness to Catholicism
and Voudoo, thus they are not worshiping the same gods.
- Animal Sacrifice
as stated earlier, is a type of Ebo. "Animal sacrifice is one of
the most controversial aspects of this religion. Sacrifice, the giving
of natural and manufactured items to the Orisha or ancestors, is viewed
by practitioners as essential for human well-being. Through sacrifice,
it is believed, one restores the positive life processes and acquires
general well-being. To fulfill the wants and needs of the Orisha and the
ancestors, practitioners make sacrifices to them. In return, the Orisha
and ancestors are expected to meet the needs of the practitioners. This
is believed to be the mutual exchange of ashe."
"When the religion requires the sacrifice of an animal, it is offered
to the Orisha or the ancestor with respect. It is killed quickly and with
as little pain as possible." The meat is usually eaten by the participants
of the sacrifice. "Sometimes an animal is sacrificed as part of a
ritual cleansing. It is believed that such animals absorb the problems
and negative vibrations of the person being cleansed. In such cases, the
animal carcass is disposed of without being eaten."
It was on
this aspect of the sacrifice that the >The Church of the Lukumi Babalu
Aye received much criticism from the city of Hialeah. The city was concerned
that by disgarding these carcasses from the ritual sacrifices, the church
was creating a public health hazard. "In the early 1990's, the city
of >Hialeah, Florida , passed a series of ordinances that made it illegal
to unnecessarily kill, torment, torture, or mutilate and animal in a public
or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption."
From the onset, it appeared that the ordinance was targeted at the Church
of the Lukumi Babalu Aye for their practice of killing the animals for
sacrifice. Other forms of killing animals, such as an owner tiring of
caring for the animal, were permissible.
founder of the church, decided to fight the ordinances, claiming it was
a violation of their First Amendment right to freedom of religion. He
claimed that animal sacrifice was an integral part of the religion. The
church took the city to the Supreme Court, who ruled in favor of the church.
The brief of the case of The Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v.
City of Hialeah explains the proceedings in great detail. A summary of
this brief can be found on The Religious Freedom Page . One justice, Justice
Anthony Kennedy, was quoted, saying, "Although the practice of animal
sacrifice may seem abhorrent to some, religious belief need not be acceptable,
logical, consistent, or comprehensible to others in order to merit First
brought up about the method of sacrifice of Santeria, is presented by
the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals . "They
argue that Santeria is less humane than methods used in licensed slaughterhouses.
They note that animals die slowly and painfully and that they are often
kept in filthy conditions before ceremonies." "Protection of
public health and prevention of cruelty to animals could have been addressed
with less sweeping ordinances. General standards for the disposal of organic
garbage and for the humane slaughter of animals might have been imposed,
but they were not." Practitioners claim that the methods they use
during sacrifice are no more cruel than the legal types of slaughter.
They die quickly and painlessly and are generally eaten afterwards, like
any animal killed for food.
the oddity of animal sacrifice to most Americans, mainstream religious
groups have weighed in to support the Lukumi Babalu Aye church. Jewish
organizations feared that Hialeah's law might have ruled out kosher slaughtering.
Christian groups like the Presbyterian Church and National Association
of Evangelicals want to prevent the Supreme Court from further restricting
to Judge a Babalao
If a Babalao
asks the wrong questions, he will get the wrong answers! "How can
this be," you might ask, "isn't it Orunmila talking?" The
answer is that yes, Orunmila is talking, but he demands an intelligent
as there are incompetent lawyers, plumbers or physicians, there are
incompetent Babalawo. Simply because you have been initiated, doesn't
make you competent or wise. That may be a heretical thing for a Babalawo
to say, but it is not only true, it is way past time someone said
it. And, the danger of being guided by someone who doesn't know what
they are doing, or, equally frightening, has their own agenda, primary
to yours, can be absolutely catastrophic.
Yoruba were a very wise people. In the cultural context of their time,
they created a system that tended to weed out the incompetent, unintelligent
and those of questionable character and dedication before they could be
unleashed on the populace with the title of Babalawo. The arduous apprenticeship
period, where the would be Awo was asked to do menial labor to assist
the Babalawo, extended for years. The strict disciplines of having to
learn and memorize hundreds of pataki as they applied to specific Odu,
to learn the sacrifices, herbs and medicine, went on for an equally long
period of time. In the end, ONLY the word, or approval, of the Babalawo,
based on judging the knowledge, character and dedication of the apprentice
determined if they would go on to practice. While surely, some rogues,
dolts and incompetents undoubtedly slipped through the net, they were
by far the minority.
In our culture,
no such safeguards exist. With the exception of the Ifa Foundation, which
grants scholarships to those deemed worthwhile, but who lack the financial
where with all for initiation, the office of Babalawo has become a strictly
cash business. If you can afford it, someone will initiate you. Worse
yet, for the most part, the individuals leave their initiations with no
real training, or foundation, for future learning. This is not an indictment
of all those doing initiations. Many, such as the Ifa Foundation, try
and work with those of good character, offer the follow up training and
growth.but the singular truth in our culture of short term gratification,
is that too many use their initiation as a stepping stone for personal
power, enrichment or control, rather than as a never ending journey of
wisdom and knowledge.
expression: "It is easier to change a man's destiny then his character,"
might well have been constructed to highlight this danger.
it is a question of character, there is little that can be done. Those
that use their power for their own personal short-term gratification
ultimately do themselves and the philosophy no good. Yet, they leave
a host of victims in their wake. Honest, needy and trusting individuals
who have come for the universal guidance and wisdom of Orunmila are
stripped of their dignity and dollars by the unscrupulous.
When it is
a question of competence, something can be done.both for them and to protect
you. In order to understand this, you must understand the power and meaning
individuals have taken the paternalistic view of Western Religion, and
attempted to transfer it to Ifa. They would like the Babalawo to magically
cast, magically fix, and magically protect them. It does not work that
way.and anyone trying to tell you, or sell you, that it does, is either
fooling them or you. Ifa is about personal empowerment, and the Babalawo's
role is to ascertain how you can reach the balance in your life to achieve
it. While it is true that the changes can be magical, they can only be
consistently achieved through your personal growth and development. The
Babalawo that attempts to infantalize you, through the use of fear, dependence,
or power, is denying you your basic rights of growth, wisdom and development.and
generally doing so for his personal gratification and desires.
So, you must
go to the Babalawo looking for growth as well as solutions. Looking for
personal development and fulfillment is as important as looking to fix
whatever is troubling you.
still another area that can cause individuals grief. That has to do with
the training and modality of the Babalawo. Another incredibly profound
Yoruba saying is: " A Babalawo is as good as the questions they ask."
a Babalawo asks the wrong questions, he will get the wrong answers!
"How can this be," you might ask, "isn't it Orunmila
talking?" The answer is that yes, Orunmila is talking, but he
demands an intelligent conversation! If a Babalawo asks that that
they already know, or if they go to illogical extremes of questions
and specificity, the answers will not only be suspect, they will generally
be totally wrong!
is designed to help the individual achieve balance in their life, not
to select between the red or yellow blouse. It is the assumption, and
a correct one, that once your life is in balance, the specifics will tend
to fall into place. Yet, young, or uneducated, Babalawo after Babalawo
become so fascinated with the concept of being able to ask questions of
the Opele or Ikin, that they turn a profound communication with a divine
energy into a chat room gossip exchange. When they do this, the perfection
of the information evaporates and becomes as silly and meaningless as
the questions they ask.
can go down this road for two reasons.each, equally destructive to the
client. First, they may do so because the client wants (and believes)
the Babalawo can fine-tune their universe for them. This occurs most often
when the client wants to go beyond the overall advice and wisdom of the
reading. For example, if they have come because a monetary issue is troubling
them, they find it not enough that the Babalawo casts and finds them on
path, with good monetary implications. They hear the answer to their problem,
but they insist on fine tuning the advice. They want to go on to see,
" is my sales call to ABC Corp. going to be successful? " will
I get the $4500 raise?" can I re-finance my house?" When you
bring this kind of specificity to the table, after having received the
critical information that "you are on path and money will be favorable,"
you are making two critical mistakes. Initially, you are confining your
view to those areas that you know about.while Orunmila is looking at a
much bigger picture. You may win the lottery, your great Aunt Nellie may
die and leave you a fortune, you may have a new job offer coming, yet
you want to know how the next 20 minutes on YOUR agenda is going to go.
Well, that's not what divination is about. Also, in some way you are questioning
Orunmila. He has just told you money will be fine, but you know want to
"make sure." That is insulting to Orunmila, and may well be
rewarded with wrong answers. The wise Babalawo should attempt to dissuade
the client from this questioning, but too often simply lets the client
run amuck in their desire for absolute certainty.
That is not
to suggest that there are no issues where specificity of questioning isn't
appropriate. What it is saying is that if a competent and well-trained
Babalawo looks at the overall energy of your Odu, and ascertains your
path, that 90% of the time the solution to your specific questions will
be contained in the advice given. The advice is designed to bring your
spiritual and temporal energy matrixes in balance. The specifics will
fall into their proper place once this balance has been achieved. The
untrained Western Babalawo, who has grown up believing that our world
is a result of accumulating things, will unwittingly follow this worldview
to the detriment of the client.
and more frightening reason, is because they are attempting to gain power,
control or influence over the client. In this case, by continuing down
the path of asking enough questions (which they "know" are not
true) they will eventually be able to show the client that Orunmila has
supported their contentions. This occurs as a result of Orunmila providing
the wrong answers to questions for which the trained Babalawo should have
known better than to ask, or to which they already knew the answers. The
Truth of Orunmila is not available to the untruthful behavior and bad
character of those whose primary interest is their own personal satisfaction
rather than improving the client's life. The number of Babalawo who have
bedded clients, slandered other professionals, and generally used the
assumed power and accuracy of divination for their own enrichment, anger
or self gratification is astonishing. It is also reprehensible. . In a
universe constructed by an all-knowing and powerful God, it would be logical
that one of the primary tools He provided for our guidance would function
only when treated with, and used with, the respect, knowledge and good
character that benefits all. So, quite simply, Babalawo of bad character
or improper training will not receive the clarity and accuracy of Orunmila's
How do you
protect yourself from this? How can you make a judgement about the individual
in whom you place your trust? Just as you would, or should, not go to
a doctor, attorney or stockbroker without carefully examining their background,
you should do the same with the Babalawo you deal with. Talk to some of
their clients, ask those who have dealt with them what their results have
been. And, you should go one step further. You should examine their lives.
If their lives do not reflect meaningful and loving relationships, general
success and happiness, then you are at the very least dealing with someone
who has not yet learned the proper use of Orisa energy.. And, at very
worst, misuses it. Look, if they can't make their own lives good, how
in the world can they help you?
as the Ifa Foundation and others organizations and individuals of good
character continue to bring our work proudly to a public forum, as opposed
to hiding in secrecy, more and more people will see that objective judgments
regarding talent, training and character can, and must, be made if our
use of this divine energy is to lead us to fulfillment and wisdom.