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Santeria notes


Santeria: African Spirits in America, by Joseph M. Murphy

  • Santería originated in Africa, and means “The way of the saints, a reminder of the religion’s history of struggle and adaptation.” page 2
  • Yoruba (nigeria area) worshiped Olodumare (the ultimate destine of all creation) & ashe, or the world force.
  • The ways of ashe:
    • Ara Orun/Values: The experience of the elders provides precedents and authority. The Egungun are the ancestral spirits that appear at festivals.
    • Orisha/Power: The personification of ashe. Established farming, hunting, and divination. Shango is the most worshiped– he was a former king who now gives royal justice. Orishas mount bodies– generally only the trained. Plant and animal sacrifices are made with the idea of a life for your life.
    • Ifa/Order: The path of divination. Done by babalanos with palm nuts, opele (a chain of nuts), or cowrie shells. Done in market squares. 16 is the number of the Ifa and the the cosmos. Odus are sets of poems that are recited after and that have clues for problem solving. Ifa structures Orisha worship.
  • During the civil war, many yoruba were enslaved and sent to Cuba and Brazil. Cuba needed slaves for their sugar mills. Slaves often revolted, destroying machines and burning fields. Slaves had rights to property, proper marriages, and security. Coartación was the act of buying ones freedom from one’s master. “La gente color” made up 1/3 of the colored population. In Havana the yoruba were called Lucumi, and formed refuge from the harsh world in their guilds and dance clubs.
  • Cuba required all slaves to be baptized as Roman Catholics. Cabildos were small ethnic clubs that were started by the Catholic church for religious instruction and aid. They arranged funerals, raised funds for slaves’ freedom, and were social clubs.
  • Nacións chose patron saints and celebrated with feasts and African dances using drums. The greatest feast was the celebration of the epiphany, or día de reyes.
  • Santería, the way of the saints, melds the yoruba tradition of devotions to the orishas under the images of the Catholic saints.
  • In the 20th century, it was not based so much on origin and more on congolese and lucumi (spiritual paths). It became less about heritage/lineage and more of a cult initiation
  • Botánica: Small retail stores that sell candles, beads, herbs, oils, cauldrons, crockery, and plaster statues of saints. Everything is colored and number coded for the Orishas
  • Page 42 (major list): Eleggua (aka Legba): Nino de Atocha, Anthony of Padua/ way-opener, messenger, trickster/ #3, red, black/ white chicken, rooster, opossum, rum/ buffoonery/hooked staff
  • Each catholic saint is a public face for the orisha
  • Soperas: Large lidded bowls that contain holy stones. These stones are living embodiments of the Orishas and are bathed in herbs, cleaned/oiled, and fed animal blood.
  • Herbs are very important. They are used as medicine, spiritual medicine, sacrifice, osain (a protective medicine bundle)
  • Canastilleros: a shelved cabinet that contains shrine things. Can be very decorated or plain.
  • Babalanos must know the entire language of the Orishas/ ese divination verses, prayers, songs and praise names. They are priests, doctors, and counselors for the poor.
  • “It’s a happy religion, a beautiful religion”
  • Coconut shells are used for communication with the Orishas
  • 3 ethnohistorical factors to the survival of Orishas:
    • Yoruba religious heritage, social environment of colonial Cuba, and the influence of the Roman Catholic Church.
      • The yoruba were used to urbanism- they lived in cities
      • The African presence in Cuba was strong
  • Free “people of color” made up 1/3- ½ of the african descent due to coartación. This was particularly important in Havana where the Cabildos formed
  • Catholicism was key to Santeria forming and Protestant is why it died in the US. The catholic church protected sacramental slave communities and stabilized the community
  • page 110
  • saints were familiar to them because they were everywhere- holidays, towns, names, and stories, as well as statues of the catholic symbolism.
  • Santería practices syncretism, it is a form of symbiosis, or mosaic syncretism because two religions are coexisting
  • Olodumare, or the owner of heaven/destinies is the ultimate harmony and direction of all forces. Every being is a caminos, or way of ashe that can be liberated and channeled. This is done by santeros. It is a danced religion- dancing expresses the dynamic of ashe.
  • Eleguua page 133
  • 4 principle ritual ways:
    • Diviniation: the means for interpreting the meaning of random events
    • Sacrifice: A way for the devotee to show the relationship with the Orisha. It creates bonds and is a way for human beings to give back the ashe that is the sustenance of life
    • Trance: an altered state of consciousness caused by the drums and dances of the bembe. This collapses the sacred dialogue of divination and sacrifice into a ritual encounter.
    • Initiation: More women are initiated than men. Each initiation brings the devotee more fully into the community.

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