I am a Olosha or Santera and for years I have been at the service of the Orisha and the community. I am initiated to Yemayá and my father in osha is Aganjú. I am also an initiate of Palo Mayombe and hold the title of Yaya Nkisi. As part of my daily devotional I spend time at my bóveda and work with my spirits on regular basis.
I have been quiet far too long. But it is not lack of things to say; it is more a matter of finding the time and allowing my words to marinate, to get to the right level of savory before I throw them out to the searing pan of public opinion.
Recently I was at a kariosha, never mind where. I believe what I am going to share is representative of many houses in the United States and in many countries where Santería is practiced.
The Día del Medio feast (or the feast cooked on the day of introduction to the community of an iyawó or newly initiated priest or priestess) should be a grand affair where olorishas (orisha priests and priestess), awós (Ifá priests) and aleyos (believers who have not been initiated as an olosha) come together to admire and pay tribute to the new bride of the orisha wearing his or her new regalia and seated under the protective canopy of a beautiful throne.
It is traditional to serve in this feast all of the animals that were offered to the orisha of the iyawó cooked in a creole (be it Cuban or Puerto Rican seasoned) style. Among those offerings are guinea hens, ducks, quails, pigeons, roosters, hens, goats, she goats and rams.
Running a kitchen during the process of initiation is a very tiring affair. It is an often times thankless task that includes not only cooking for a crowd of anywhere from 12 to 30 people or more as well as preparing breakfast, snacks, lunch and dinners. However cooking for fellow initiates during the course of the seven days of initiatory ceremonies is not the only thing that is under the care of the cook. On the kariosha day, the cook must also prepare the regular meals described but also supervise a crew of oloshas who will be skinning, peeling, prepping and setting the stage for the magnificent dinner expected on the Dia del Medio.
Now here is what gets me. I am sick of seeing perfectly good meat going to waste because people are too lazy to take the time to pluck, gut and prep quails, pigeons and the duck offered to Yemayá. Yes I get it; there are lots of birds to be plucked. Say we are doing a kariosha Yemayá that would imply 10 chickens (hens and roosters), at least five guinea hens, 10 pigeons, two quails, five four-legged animals and the tasty and little appreciated duck.
Why are we wasting a yummy duck when you would pay up to $40 for the same bird at a restaurant? Why are we disposing of pigeons and quails as if though their flesh, once depleted of its life giving blood has no nourishment value?
I will give you a few reasons. Laziness tops the list. Lack of skills preparing said birds is another. Finally, lack of discipline as one must sit in quiet while plucking the duck. Yes, plucking a duck requires tenacity, patience and a shut mouth. Hmmm, that last one is a hard thing to ask to most iyaloshas who use the time to pluck birds to catch up with conversation.
Going back to Mr. Duck, this noble bird is the star of a couple of interesting apatakis or stories. One story is linked to the odú odí melli (7-7). In odí melli Yemayá Asesú, who eats duck or kuekueyé in companion with the eggún, is said to love to count the feathers of the duck offered to her. However, because Yemayá Asesú is said to be forgetful, she oftentimes loses count of the feathers and must start the process all over again.
The other apatakí is related to the odú odí oshé (7-5). In this apatakí kuekueyé was cursed by orisha Erinle. This orisha was in love with Oshún, but he was married to Yemayá and the duck, who is a natural gossiper, could not help himself. He told Yemayá about the affair between Erinle and Oshún and this earned Mr. Duck the death sentence as an offering to Yemayá but not without first having his tongue cut off because of his proclivity to share his ‘knowledge’ of other people’s business. This is why before kuekueyé is offered to Yemaya during kariosha, his eyes are covered with the leaf of a Malanga this way he can’t see his killer, his throat is also severed so he can’t speak about the ceremony or about the things he knows. After the offering he is placed in a bucket with water and bluing and taken outside of the room where he is unceremoniously thrown away. Now that is what irks me!
I will be clear, not all houses work that way. I have had the honor to prepare this most exquisite bird so the iyawó can sample it during the feast on the following day. However, here is where I do not make friends because the person assigned to pluck the duck must observe absolute silence in honor of the sacrifice of Mr. Gossiper.
When one is asked to keep quiet, while surrounded by lively conversation, it is like sitting on an ant hill and trying not to scratch, yes I have a mischievous grin plastered on my face as I type these words.
I have had to pluck a duck or two in my life. Not fun. But it bothers me more to have waste. So last time I assisted during a kariosha I had a whiny helper coming back to the kitchen with a poorly plucked duck complaining there was too much to do to focus on this single bird. What did I do? I armed myself with the most patient look I could muster and then smiled and kindly requested the olosha to return and try to do a better job of not handing me a bird full of feathers, after all this meal was for a new born olosha. How could we fall short of perfection? Next thing I know, I get back the same sassy olosha coming back to me with a bright idea, to skin the duck. To skin the duck!!!! I nearly chased her out of the kitchen with a mad glare. Such ignorance! The duck is a meat that can dry out fast and it is precisely the layer of fat which will keep the delicate flavor and juiciness.
I took the bird out of her hands and stopped the task of seasoning other birds that already had made it to the kitchen. I carefully plucked the downy feathers, repaired the skin that she so carelessly had started to take off from the breast bone and prepared a most delicious marinade with exotic spices and molasses to honor my beautiful iyawó.
Next day, the scent of that duck inundated the kitchen. I could see the expression on the oloshas coming by and wondering what was the glorious scent wafting through the house. The duck was served and there was not a shred of it left. I decided to carve it and leave the carcass in the kitchen while helping to serve the other meats for the iyawó. When I came back from the igbodu (throne room) I discovered that there was not a shred of meat or juice left on the carcass. I wish I could have taken a photo of what I found: by the carcass stood one of my most beloved initiates to Yemayá, sucking impishly on his fingers after having honored kuekueyé in the sweetest of ways, leaving nothing on its bones.
If you are an olosha, next time you are working during a kariosha, be observant. Does the cook of the house prepare all birds, including the duck, quails and pigeons? And if so, are they made in different styles? Now styles of cooking, that my dear readers, is a subject for another conversation. And trust me, it is long overdue.
I leave you to chew on this one for now.
Much love to you all and my deepest appreciation to those who pluck, skin, gut and cook. They are heroes, but please don’t let good stuff go to waste.
The richness contained in these two orishas, Yemayá the embodiment of motherhood and ruler of the oceans, and Oshún, her younger sister riverine orisha and embodiment of womanhood, is as deep as the waters they inhabit.
Many lessons can be learned from their tenacity, intelligence, fierce love for their children, love for community and their graciousness. Their collective wisdom is weaved in stories or apatakis as rich and varied as their avatars representing them in both their might as well as frailties. How do these orishas impact and shape the life of their selected heads or priests and priestesses? What lessons have they shared? How can these orishas teach us about creativity, healing, strength and community empowerment? These will be the subjects that promise to be addressed on a fascinating conversation led by orisha elders in the Atlanta area from Oloshas United Atlanta.
In the spirt of community and sharing what these orishas represent in their lives, the group of oloshas will present a discussion at Clayton State University on Sept. 7, titled Saltwater & Honey: Uncovering the Essence of Yemonja and Oshun.
As a personal note, for many in the orisha community, September 7 is the day in which Yemayá or Yemonja, however it makes you happier to write it, is celebrated. As one of her priestesses and humble servant, my yeye (mother) is celebrated every single day equally. Why? I do not subscribe to syncretism with the catholic saint Lady of Regla. Thus I do not observe September 7; however I do respect those who do.
The panel led by M’Taminika Beatty, Senemeh Burke, Arturo Lindsay, Kemba Mchawi, Rodolfo Ortiz, and Tammy Ozier will start at sharply at 6:30 pm and will go on until 9. The panel will be at the University Center Auditorium 272.
The orisha community in Atlanta is quite active and will also hold a festival on Saturday, Sept. 10. The Yemonja Celebration at Hunting Island State Park on St. Helena Islandwill include singing and drumming to Egun and the orisha on the beach. There will be a special shrine dedicated to our great mother, Yemayá.
The tribute begins at noon and participants will be responsible for parking/entrance fee which is of $5 per adult and $3 per child. They must also pack their own supplies, food and water. Wearing proper white attire is expected. Appropriate, for those new to orisha circles, includes for females long skirts, close top or modest blouses, or a dress and a head cover. For males, long pants and shirts as well as head covering is part of the dress code. If you are unruly like me, not really, a few touches of blue are a must when partying in honor of Yemayá. I can’t help it, love blue! If you want more information about this event, driving directions or have any other questions, please direct them to email@example.com.
May Yemayá and Oshún always show you the sweet side of life and protect you, your children and your loved ones.
Four years ago I came across Miller’s Rexall while looking for botánicas in the Atlanta area. This small drug store founded in 1965 is dead smack in the middle of downtown. The place is packed with history. It has a claim to fame thanks to a Paul McCartney song “Run Devil Run,” and an eclectic and colorful selection of Hoodoo, Voodoo and Santeria supplies. However, for me the true jewel of this store was not a product marketed as ‘good for whatever ails you’, it came behind a pair of heavy rimmed glasses and smiley brown eyes; her name was Mrs. Beverly Jackson. This is how I remember my first look at this talented spiritual reader.
Mrs. Beverly was kind and generous with her spiritual gift. It did not take her but a minute to figure out that there was a good amount of spirits walking by myside protecting and me and sharing information with hers.
Over the course of four years I visited the drug store to buy supplies, and it was always a pleasure to have a few minutes of her time to chat.
In one of those visits, she invited me to visit her reading room. The place was full wall-to-wall with lit 7-day prayer candles, there were statues representing some of her spiritual guides and a very peaceful feeling filled her small quarters. I was in her inner sanctum and felt at home there.
There is something to be said about a person who likes to do good for others. Her temple resonated with that energy and made me feel hopeful and purposeful.
Then again, this is who she was, open, warm, friendly and dedicated to help others.
I never really got a formal reading from Mrs. Bev. She would always exchange a piece of advice with me. She did not waste time. Her words were precise and to the point.
But now, there are no more words to have from her. This month I found out that her time on this earth had been cut short. She passed away from a heart attack at the store on September 3, 2015. I was saddened beyond words. I started looking on line for testimonials about her work, I wanted to hold on to her memories through the eyes of other people who also admired her and appreciated her talents. I found very little of the sort.
Thus, this is my way of paying respects to a person I would have liked to know better, and who with her few words touched my life. I wished I could have shared with her how much it meant to me to hear that I am on the right track and that I should continue doing what I do spiritually and in my private life. I knew and felt that much, but validation is always nice to have, particularly from a kind soul.
Waking up early in the morning is absolutely not my favorite thing to do. However, for the first time in my 18 years as an olosha, I decided to actually go to bed at a reasonable time after welcoming the New Year and take my children to see the ceremony of La Letra del Año at the La Cerámica Community Center in Carolina. I wanted them to experience first-hand this this act of community and to understand the importance of following the orisha’s advice in order to live in grace and balance.
I have to say, the kids were less than enthusiastic at first because there is a considerable amount of wait time while the group of Ifá priests determine the oddú and the corresponding ebós, flags and advice to be shared with the congregation. Fortunately, once the priests started to summarize the reading their attention was fully focused on the oddú: Obara Sá which came with osogbo. To be precise the osogbo is osogbo tiyá tiyá setutu ofo, meaning, adversity and gossip create loss.
Shangó comes out as the ruling orisha assisted by Oyá and defended by Oshún.
Shango is not an orisha to be trifled with as the King does not lie, and in my experience, he does not like to repeat himself either. Thus, when he warns us that gossips are not to be tolerated for they have the potential to create public embarrassment, bring down orisha houses and to create loss and even death, we really need to heed his warning.
It is not the purpose of this article to go over the minutia of the reading for Puerto Rico, for those interested in the details, follow the link to the oddú of the year posted in Spanish by the Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha of Puerto Rico which organizes the reading. However, it is my intention to make us of my personal soapbox to speak my mind about one of my pet peeves: Gossip.
Gossip by the book…
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gossip as the following noun: gos·sip ˈɡäsəp and it is the casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true. Gossip is rumor(s), tittle-tattle, whispers, canards, tidbits, scandal, hearsay, dirt, buzz, scuttlebutt…and more colorfully spoken in Lukumi: tiyá, tiyá or lépe lépe.
I think that the dictionary falls short on its definition of what gossip is. From my point of view, gossip is truly a reflection of the inner state of mind of an individual, of its soul and the feelings it harbors in relationship with other individuals and the community at large. A gossiper is a person who is out of control. When a tongue wags, malice is almost always at play and there is lack of judiciousness and discretion. A gossiper is like an unruly child, willful and irreverent unchaining a discourse that surely will lead to chaos and hurt for many.
Part of the advice given by the awós was to take care of our heads, not to place them in the hands of just anyone, even if they have the best of intentions. Our heads must be treated with uttermost care as to remain balanced. It is crucial to do kaworí eledá with coconut and water, but do it with someone who really knows what they are doing. A person who does not know the mojugba or who lacks the fundamental understanding of the ritual of kaworí eledá can end up doing more damage than good and leaving the person seeking help in worse condition or damaged. When there is no orí tutu (cool head) a person is more likely to engage in gossip and to create chaos.
If you do not have something nice to say…shut up!!!
How do we hurt each other as a community with gossip? Gossip undermines relations between godparents and godchildren and between the members of the ilé. Gossip reflects very poorly on the person who spreads it. I have yet to see a gossiper who is well looked upon by other community members. A gossiper may be tolerated because for many gossip is entertaining but ultimately a gossiper is nothing more than a pathetic human being.
My take on this is that to succeed we are going to have to reassess our inner state of mind and to learn to temper our inner voice as to always express positive thoughts. If negative discourse needs to be brought out in public or in private, then we must do it with temperance, respect and judiciousness. This year it will be more important than ever to behave with maturity and be tactful on our communications with all members of the ilé regardless of their rank and years of initiation in order to avoid friction.
My grandmother used to say, “I am the mistress of my silence and the slave to my words.” Do not be enslaved by your own words and remember that words carry power, particularly for those of us who have accepted the privilege to be oloshas or servants of the orishas. Our words have ashé; they carry the potential of edification or very well could have the seeds of our own destruction. What will you do with your words? Do you choose to edify or to destroy?
As part of the conversation one of the priests who witness the reading said that Oyá would be more than happy to welcome into her domain – the cemetery— those who do not learn to live by the rules. One can easily extrapolate from this and from part of the advice provided to couples (to treat each other with respect and sincerity) that infidelity and gossip could create life threatening situations. Thus, I would warn people to really mind their own affairs when it comes to other’s people marriages and relationships.
The oddú warns us against becoming overheated; gossip can certainly fuel heat and arguments. Also we are warned to be commensurate and keep our tempers in check.
I have to say that Shango is giving us the tools to survive a potentially tough year. However, the King is being more gracious, he is also giving us the opportunity to do self-analysis and to learn that our words are swords, weapons that can either kill us or defend our community. Shangó is teaching us the way to heal the community; he is opening up a constructive dialogue to breech difference in a mature way. Shango is giving us the opportunity to amend our behavior and to learn to live in grace and reflect that inner peace in appropriate constructive speech.
We have the power to unite our voices and silence any malicious wagging tongue that would stop at nothing to saw the seeds of destruction, fear and chaos, sometimes for reasons no better than whim.
Do not be seduced by gossipers, they are like snake charmers; they like to have an enraptured audience and enjoy the results of their maliciousness. There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to gossip, those who spread it are as bad as those who lend ears to rumors.
Thanks to the Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha of Puerto Rico for organizing the event and to the wise counsel from the awós who participated and dedicated their time to this ritual and shared their insights with their brethren.
Eleguá has the last word…
After the event I drove to Bayamón for a Batá de Fundamento given by Eshubí Lona to Eleguá and San Lázaro. Although I had not met him before, Eshubí Lona welcomed my family with most elegance and finesse as a wonderful and gracious host. During the drumming Eleguá, Shangó and Yemayá came down to share with the community. Eleguá took a moment to gather all present and underscored the importance of the oddú of the year, of not engaging in gossip as to avoid loss and of the opportunity we have to be united and heal the community. Modupué Eleguá for reinforcing this message.
“All the world’s a stage, and all the men and women merely players: they have their exits and their entrances; and one man in his time plays many parts…” –William Shakespeare
One could have thought that Oba Ernesto Pichardo had had his place in the sun due to his accomplishment in the championing a landmark case in the Supreme Court of the United States. That was a great deed for the good of all orisha practitioners, and, for freedom of religion overall. However, it seems as though Oba Pichardo is coming back in 2015 with renewed purpose, re-emerging as a strong and incisive visionary ready to help the community maximize the strength of the winds of change.
For those who may not know, here is some historical background before delving ahead into the future and a conversation with this remarkable priest of the Lukumí religion.
In 1993, Oba Pichardo and the Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé, Inc. took on the City of Hialeah in a case (508 U.S. 520) in which the Supreme Court of the United States held that an ordinance passed in Hialeah, Florida forbidding the unnecessary killing of an animal in a public or private ritual or ceremony not for the primary purpose of food consumption, was unconstitutional. The Church and Oba Pichardo filed a lawsuit and won. Justice Anthony Kennedy stated in the decision, “religious beliefs need not be acceptable, logical, consistent or comprehensible to others in order to merit First Amendment protection.”
I would be naïve to think that Oba Pichardo has been resting on his laurels for the last 21 years. As a matter of fact, in 2009 he helped my adoptive godfather Jose Merced, from the Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha to succeed in a similar case in Texas.
His work has not stopped because there are no giants to be defeated in courtrooms. His work has continued diligently building bridges as he likes to categorize it.
His penchant for religious, social and political activism has been revitalized in the public eye since President Obama’s administration announced on Dec. 17th, 2014 the intention to renew relations with Cuba. Oba Pichardo has been since in a storm of action and following a clear vision: build bridges.
TMC: Could you describe what has been your work as of the past 12 months with the orisha community in Cuba?
Oba Pichardo: See illustration below as it summarizes accomplishments.
TMC: Recent public attention has shinned the spotlight on the Orisha and Ifá community. Are you satisfied with the public perception generated with recent press coverage of the conferences held in Miami and Havana?
Oba Pichardo: I am satisfied. The media is evolving and treated us with professional respect. Our message was presented accurately in press, news broadcast, and live programs. The public perception has been unusually positive. In terms of politics we have not received any pushback from the U.S. or Cuba which is a significant change from previous attitudes. It is important to note that for the first time in our history Lukumí is directly associated with a U.S presidential policy. According to several journalists our bridge with Cuba was the first major announcement following the historic presidential policy shift. Our news conference made top news and front page of the Miami Herald. Days later, the news conference from Cuba also made top news and front page Miami Herald.
TMC: What is your ‘to do list’ like? What would you like to accomplish on the next 3 months? On the next year?
Oba Pichardo: We are transitioning into a new paradigm shift. In the past twelve months we have grown our membership in ten countries. The seeds of Lukumí globalization have been planted and we must update the configuration of our Church to efficiently manage our mission. This year we are activating updated modules of education to meet various geographical needs. At our local level lectures, cultural activities, further synchronizing new alliances, and international membership growth, are at the top of the agenda. This includes taking measures of ensuring our Lukumí identity. In the next three months we shall begin recruiting new professionals to fill required church positions for the forthcoming decade.
The seventies was all about educating ourselves and designing a strong church structure. Then came the eighties which was critical period for our religion. That’s when our strength was put to the test facing secular challenges. Our community needed to shed away primal colonial retentions which conformed to patterns of unequal treatment in the society, as well. This crucial period meant changing attitudes and behaviors in the mainstream and within our religious community. It was a time of creating a foundation and pioneering standards. During our Federal trial judge Spellman labeled me as a harbinger. I accepted his characterization on the record.
The seven year legalization process hindered our ability to grow at a fast pace. However, in the nineties we adopted a passive aggressive approach in compliance with spiritual directives. Once the Supreme Court ruled in our favor the benchmark came to a completion. Our new role was focused on sustainability and allow our community to assimilate and randomly grow. The role of harbinger has come to fruition.
TMC: What can oloshas and Babalawos do to support the changes about to take place once the U.S. Government ratifies the reestablishment of relations with Cuba?
Oba Pichardo: I believe it is a historic opportunity for Lukumí to rise onto another level as a mainstream religion. Our religion in Cuba since colonialism has been reduced to a subsistent subculture that endures the trials and tribulations of the broader society. The government has always exercised its formal social sanctions favoring white privilege, and its partner, the Catholic Church-State has always maintained the informal social sanctions, therefore, Lukumí has been denied fundamentals of upper mobility as a mainstream religion. Our religion has survived as a practical socio-magical cult but has not reached its utmost potential as a mainstream religion.
Although some observable gains have taken place our religion in Cuba has been degraded to a folkloric commodity and commercialism. The symbol of Church, prestige of Priesthood, and internalized ideology of religion are still viewed through the prism of the Catholic Church. One example was the refusal of the Archdiocese to allow a meeting of Lukumí leaders with the Pope during his first visit to Cuba. Church authorities said Lukumí were represented by the bishops. Our Church in Miami filed a formal complaint against the Cuban Church authorities.
Compelling evidence indicates that the Catholic Church redemptive movement is well on its ways to regain its colonial Church-State powers at the expense of our African based religions. On the other hand, our people are widely unaware of the manipulation and coercion strategies that are being used. Our people are highly at risk. Our Church mission in Cuba shall focus on the education of our people, empowerment, and preservation of Lukumí identity, free from psychological and religious Catholic schemes.
We encourage our community leaders to educate themselves on the forthcoming sociological reconstructs and support our Church vision. This requires a major shift in the values which we have been conditioned to accept for generations. The community needs to further internalize that we are a religion with our own Lukumí scripture, religious modalities, priesthood, rites of passage, etc. It is critical at this time to focus on our collective mutual interest as a religion and break away from extreme individualism or lower ego values. Otherwise, I believe the condition of our religious leaders and status as a religion will be significantly marginalize and voiceless. Our concern is less about the political changes and more of the re-colonialization of the Catholic Church-State.
TMC: While there are many educated and professional oloshas and Babalawos in our ranks, there is a significant number of people who remain practicing the Lukumí religion like cavemen, meaning in the basest and cruder of forms. These initiates could hinder the image and future of the religion. How do you propose to ‘enlighten’ people who see the religion as a means to their own ends?
Oba Pichardo: The professionals should study the Outlaw Archetype which describes the attitudes and behaviors that shock most of the silent majority. These oloshas and Babalawos that have been empowered through ordination represent corrupt values. It can be reversed if the professionals become visibly active reinstating the values of a religiously thoughtful brand. Standing on the margins and allowing mischief to govern, in many instances supported or rewarded, can only contribute to increasing the numbers of misfits where the jail house attitudes and behaviors become normal. In these terms, the professionals should rethink the sole or exclusive allegiance to their respective elder and implement modules corresponding to universal values as a religion. The cult of personalism, ile or elder, must be modified in order to succeed. Change requires leadership and consistency. Ordination into the priesthood should be a transformational vocation of quality, not quantity.
TMC: On the other hand, there are those who are creating inroads to educate future generations in the proper management and practices of iles. What would be your advice to them?
Oba Pichardo: Management skills differ from religious practices. The leader should establish a clear operational system and group discipline where the collective understand the work flow and protocols. It is similar to business management. The leader should have a systemic training module in place, definable roles, and methodology of addressing grievance. An observable problem in many ile is poor group management skills which leads to dysfunction outcomes where unintentional victimization takes place.
I suggest visiting our Church web page and read “Selecting a Priest” which was published as a guideline for the community years ago. The ile leader may have wonderful skills but it is wise to observe the leader as a religious symbol. Worldview attitude and behavior are important. Often the leader is contaminated with secular values that tarnish the religious symbol. The leader is a person that represents the Lukumí religion 24/7 in a holistic way. For example looking and behaving like a thug is not an appropriate Lukumí symbol regardless of his/her ashe and religious functional knowledge. The leader is a community role model and not a layperson. Cultural values and conduct must honor priesthood.
TMC: You have already created a legacy for generations to come. If you could re-write your legacy, what would you do differently?
Oba Pichardo: I was granted life with the condition of serving the will of Shango. It is His legacy and I am the missionary. The life of a missionary is not easy. There is always sacrifice and, a material and emotional price is exchanged for the deeds. A re-write would ignore the realistic nature of the mission. I look to the past and what I see is a blur. The palpable present is what can be rationalized. What is certain is following the mission every moment that Shango blesses me with new revelations and directives. As the saying goes “cuando hay guerra, el soldado no duerme” when there is war, the soldier does not sleep. I only look forward to our next victory for the benefit of future generations.
TMC: What is your vision for the Lukumí religion for the U.S.? Globally?
Oba Pichardo: My vision is those that recoil becoming more religious and humane shall become the gifted leaders. Those that continue on a path of lower ego will not survive. Our religion will become more organized and institutionalized as we continue to evolve. Our religious community has survived very hard times, in great part, because there has been a select few that unite under common effort. In every period of our history the few made progressive contributions benefiting the whole. Lukumí should not expect to be taken seriously in society without institutional representation. Cuba’s history shows how Cabildo’s and other social organizations benefited the community at large. Our church history has a strong legacy of success that would have not been possible using the ile model. The legacy has proven that institutional approaches do advance community upper mobility while being mindful of preserving ile sovereignty.
TMC: If you could convey a message to the media with regards to the way in which they portray us as initiates and religious community, what would it be?
Oba Pichardo: Although our Church has made significant inroads in media relations and public branding our community shares responsibility for its image problems. The media should consider that most internet blogs are popular sites with much misinformation. Journalist should always maintain contact information of reliable sources. Every sensationalist head line or content offends the sensibilities of our religious members which are part of mainstream America. Whatever may be considered anti-Semitic or Christian generally is afforded respect. We expect equal treatment. The misdeed of one person cannot be used to offend and tarnish a whole religious community.
TMC: Any final thoughs?
Oba Pichardo: Our community should beware of using some contemporary operational terms generally originating in Cultural Anthropology. One example is the popularization of the term initiates when referencing priest or priestess. Our religion has definable terms for every level. When referencing a Catholic priest, Nun, Cardinal, Rabbi, Imam, Pastor, Reverend, the term initiate is not used. When speaking of adherents of mainstream religions the term initiate is not used. Initiate is generally used denoting someone or thing unrelated to religion. Accepting or using the term initiate when speaking of Lukumí unconsciously contributes to the concept of “other” which trigger cultural biases.
Thanks to Oba Pichardo for the time dedicated to answering these questions and sharing his perspectives and vision.
We all have our exits and entrances in this world stage. We all have a role to play. Therefore, it is important for all orisha and Ifa practitioners to always be thoughtful about their role as leaders in the community and to find ways to contribute to improving the future of us all. There are no small leadership roles, we all have the potential to change and inspire others–for better or worse.
The eyes of the world will be focused in the months and years to come on the evolution of the relationship between the United States and Cuba. The intent of changes announced under the current Obama administration have already started a ripple of effects at many levels. Of chief interest to me as an olosha is the impact that this re-establishment of relations will have in our Santeria community at large.
If you have been following The Mystic Cup, you would realize that I have never been one to mince words or to shy away from expressing my concerns and ideas. In this case I have some areas of concern which deserve careful consideration and discussion amongst the leaders of our religious houses, no matter if they are Ifa or Osha-centric.
Perception is Reality
On January 2, Oba Ernesto Pichardo gathered media in Miami to announce that the Church of Lukumí Babalú Ayé (CLBA) will be fostering open relations with over 500 fellow oloshas in Cuba. The Church seeks to open the door for equal treatment to Oloshas as initiates with regards to the freedom that other churches have to carry on their missionary and religious work in neighboring island. The conference also served to announce this year’s Letra del Año in Miami, which is a yearly reading used by Oloshas to guide their actions with the advice of the Orishas.
The Letra del Año is determined in many countries including Cuba. The Island, the bastion of the Orisha religion in the Americas, could not fall short in announcing the most expected results of the yearly reading. This time the reading highlights the importance of socio-political changes between the United States and Cuba.
There were two media powerhouses that reported on the Cuban Letra del Año announcement: Reuters and AP. However, I will not limit myself just to those two, I am also going to analyze coverage done by local newspapers and TV stations in Florida.
Let’s start with the lack of professionalism and disrespect exhibited by the editors of the Associated Press. Let me highlight the deficiencies of the article which even lacks a byline.
The opening paragraph does not mention which is the group that called the press conference. Last time I checked, Who, What, When, Where, Why were of importance when reporting stories. There were two groups that called for a conference, one in Miami and one in Cuba. Attention to details, and, proper reporting generates credibility.
The word babalawo is placed in quotes, this denotes a lack of respect for the religious status of an Ifá priest. Have you ever seen an AP story using quotes for the words “Bishop” or “Minister” unless they are questioning the validity of the rank or initiation? The appropriate course of action is to use italics for a word in a foreign language. By the way, this is as stated in the Associate Press Manual of Style and I do keep a copy on my desk.
On the same paragraph there is the use of a question mark that in my appreciation denotes either lack of proper editing, or a nonchalant attitude towards the information presented by the Ifá priests who determined the Letra del Año. I leave you to that consideration.
The skimpy paragraph mentions the intent of a restoration of ties between priests in Cuba and the U.S. However, the reporter falls short on doing proper reporting by omitting the fact that the Church of Lukumí Babalú Ayé had a conference on January 2 and that the conference in Cuba amplifies the message of unity.
The stroke of genius comes in the form of a closing paragraph that truly denotes how media continues to perpetuate the ignorant concept that Orisha practitioners are in fact all syncretic in their practices. We are not a mix of Roman Catholicism and African Yoruba. African Yoruba is not a religion, it denotes a people.
Talk about irresponsible journalism, the AP has truly done it this time. However, if we do not raise our voices to point out these ‘tiny’ monstrosities, we will be all guilty of continued to have our image shaped by outsiders.
In any case, here is the original link, feel free to read it and leave a little comment to the AP editors if you feel as I do and like to protect the image of our religious practices. I am also posting the article so you can see the reasoning behind my comments.
Cuban Santeria Priests Welcome Closer Ties With US
HAVANA — Jan 3, 2015, 3:55 PM ET
A group of Afro-Cuban Santeria priests said Saturday the path is clear for improved dialogue between the U.S. and Cuba following the two governments’ announcement of plans to renew diplomatic ties.
The “babalawo” priests’ annual “Letter of the Year” also foresaw dangers of epidemics, conflicts, environmental imbalances and the loss of religious or political leaders ? general projections that have been common in past such Letters.
Lazaro Cuesta, one of the founders of the Commission of the Letter of the Year, said the planned restoration of ties, announced on Dec. 17, with the U.S. opens a period “of hope for all the world.”
“Our Cuban brothers who are there (in the United States) will avoid being victims of the walls that separated us until yesterday,” he said. “Those walls collapsed to create a bridge.
The commission represents about 1,000 babalawos and is independent of the government. Another Santeria group, the government-recognized Yoruba Association issued its yearly message on Thursday. It did not mention ties with the U.S. and urged people to “avoid social indiscipline.”
Santeria is a mix of Roman Catholicism and the African Yoruba.
—End of AP Story—
Continuing to break down the day’s coverage of news, let’s take a look at how Reuters, another media powerhouse reports the story. Reuters is of importance because a lot of newspapers and Internet media pick up stories done by them and replicate them all over the world. The same is the case for the Associated Press stories. In the case of Reuters, the reporters are listed and their story is free of huge mistakes. However, let me point out a few things that could have been reported better.
Opening paragraph fails to establish who these priests are. Credibility is key and the writers should present a context. Who, What, When, Where and Why…remember?
On the second paragraph there are two factual errors. Cubans are not the only ones who honor the orishas and there are far more than 3 million around the world that are involved into what the media calls Santeria.
On the fifth paragraph there is a huge mistake: Baba Eyiogbe is not a deity, it is an odú. However, it is even worse to attribute such faux pas to one of the most respected awós, Lazaro Cuesta.
Cuba’s Santeria priests hail U.S. detente in New Year forecast
By Rosa Tania Valdés
HAVANA Sat Jan 3, 2015 2:45pm EST
Jan 3 (Reuters) – Priests offering New Year’s prophecies from Cuba’s Afro-Cuban religion urged old Cold War foes Havana and Washington to continue rebuilding relations, and forecast that detente would bring economic benefits in 2015.
U.S. President Barack Obama and Cuban President Raul Castro announced last month they would move to renew diplomatic ties, potentially paving a way to end decades of hostility.
Many on the Caribbean island eagerly await the annual forecast from the Santeria religion, which is practiced by 3 million Cubans and uses animal sacrifices to contact Yoruba deities originally worshiped by slaves brought over from Africa.
This year the priests, known as babalawos, predicted more conflicts between nations worldwide, the deaths of religious and political leaders, ecological strife and storm surges, as well as fatalities from inter-generational struggles.
One of the priests, Lazaro Cuesta, said building bridges for dialogue was key for the coming 12 months.
“All those who are involved in that, in all aspects of life, are called to victory,” Cuesta told a news conference in Havana. “Those who put up walls and break down bridges are doomed.”
The priest said the ruling deity, Baba Eyiobe, is applauding the rapprochement announced on Dec. 17 by the U.S. and Cuban governments.
Cuesta said Baba Eyiobe was telling world leaders, particularly those in Washington and Havana, “to use their heads as a fundamental basis for relations, their own intelligence, and not to be influenced by the past, nor by circumstances created by some ill-intentioned people.”
He added: “God wants the dialogue to continue for everyone’s benefit.”
The Santeria priests said one of the slogans for 2015 chosen by the faith was: “Wisdom is the force that moves the Earth.”
They also prophesied that 2015 would offer economic benefits thanks to the Cuba-U.S. talks, but gave no other details. Cuba said in December that it expects GDP growth of 4 percent in 2015, following years of economic slowdown. (Writing by Daniel Wallis; Editing by David Adams and Gunna Dickson)
America TeVé, a Miami TV station, also covered the conference live, however the anchors cannot help themselves and interjected their ignorant jokes. Attention News Anchors, if you do not want to look like a bubble head, shut up and stick to introducing your story with dignity. Please, by all means take a look at the video, it is in Spanish, but I have translated the dialogue in question so you can see what outrages me.
The male anchor, Juan Manuel Gaos: “…some have been mounted by the Santo in this beginning of the year Olance, no?”
Fortunately reporter Olance Noguera had the intelligence not to follow the lead of the anchor who was trying to be “funny” and make light of an important story for the Orisha community. He continued to report with dignity and introduce his story from the field.
In the story, which is actually pretty fair and balanced, reports Ogbe-Sa (8-9) as the Oddú ruling in Florida. One of the refrains associated to the oddú says, “If the perception others have of me does not kill me, not even a king can kill me.”
I rest my case, perception is king. If we want to be perceived properly by the world we need to start by examining and questioning the way in which media reflects our actions. Furthermore, we need to be cognizant of who we place in front of a camera or to give an interview. Fortunately, the spokespeople that reporter Noguera selected for his story were eloquent, but this is not the case all the time.
Brothers and sisters of stone and blood, perception is reality. Take care of your actions, think carefully before you express yourself in public, but most important, let the head lead the body and act according to your rank and status. What you do or not do reflects on all of us and this year can be a turning point for our religion if we do not take care of portraying ourselves with dignity and propriety.
To those who are leading, lead on. To those who are good at questioning the actions of others looking in, continue to raise the right questions. To those who like to talk and not think before speaking, keep quiet until you know what to say, who to say it and when.
One of the most anticipated events for the Orisha community worldwide because it establishes the pattern that its practitioners will follow for the next 12 months. When the Santeria community was less globalized, the Oddú of the Year or Letra del Año would be done only in Cuba. With the migration of Cubans and Cuban Ifá priests to the United States, there was the unavoidable additional Oddús of the Year determined. Nowadays, you can find groups of Ifá priests in countries around the world, and thus, the Cuban Oddú of the Year is no longer the only voice to guide Orisha followers in their daily life. I see nothing wrong with having regionalized readings, it is quite logical that what impacts one region may not necessarily be the reality for others regions, not to say other countries. Even in Cuba, there used to be one official group of Ifá priests, now there are more than one. Granted, the emergence of multiple voices is due to various reasons. One of them is the proliferation of Ifá priests, in the past the numbers of Ifá initiates were limited. Another reason is the desire to establish a powerful voice and presence in the community and to influence thought currents and households adhered to the Ifá group in question. Also, there could be political reasons at play, and the list goes on. I will post as many of the Oddús as I can find. However, since I post the articles both in English and Spanish, the process is time consuming and it may take me a few days to round them all up and translated them. I will also post the original sources of the different Oddús. Oddú of the Year as per the Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha in Puerto Rico The original post comes from their blog and it is solely in Spanish. I have translated the salient parts for the benefits of the readers of The Mystic Cup and made a few edits not in content, but in style. Here is the original link: http://temployorubapr.com/?p=922Oddú of the Year: Otrupon KosoProphesy: Osogbo Eyó Kafetileri (conflicto or discussions generated by one’s own head) First Witness: Irete Ká Second Witness: Ogbe Wale Ruling Orisha: Yemayá (adimú of fruits with ice and molasses, on the same day the offering is place is taken to the ocean). Assistant Orisha: Shangó (adimú is amalá ailá with opolopo epó, this offering is also taken to the ocean on the same day in which is offered). Defending Orisha: Obatá (Obatalá receives a female goat as well as the other feathered animals that go with feeding the King of the White Cloth). Flag: Rectangular flag with white background. Inside it has another rectangle divided in two triangles. The top one is blue and the bottom one is red and white, there is no specification on the pattern of the red and white side, I have taken some aesthetic liberties to illustrate it. Flag: Rectangular flag with white background. Inside it has another rectangle divided in two triangles. The top one is blue and the bottom one is red and white, there is no specification on the pattern of the red and white side, I have taken some aesthetic liberties to illustrate it. Orí: Prayers over the head with obí, omí tutu. This should be repeated several times during the course of 2015. Ará: Ebbó misí ewefá (baths with omiero of plants consecrated to Ifá, must consult a babalawo). Ebbó: Akuko fifeshu (feed a rooster to Eshu), ailá ará (measure your body-height), ailá lerí (measure your head), malaguidi okuni y obini (use a doll representing a male and a female), atitán batá (soil from your shoes), ashó timbelara (colored fabric: white, red, yellow and blue), gbogbo tenuyén Ifá (all the basics ingredients to be used for an ebó with Ifá. It is recommend to consult with your babalawo of preference or the one affiliated to your household. Working for business: Kasheoro gbogbo tenuyén Ifá (a working with little packages on the Ifa board or Tablero de Ifá), 3 baby chicks for Eshu-Eleggua and deposit the small packages on the four corners of the building where the business is situated. Introduction: 2015 must be faced with lots of patience, with conviction and perseverance and being very aware of your actions. The challenges announced on the oddú Otrupon Koso represent a year of many trials, tensions and hard situations. The prophesy determines that there will be debates or discussions and discord caused by one owns head. This refers to conflictive situations that could arise due to the way in which we behave, the decisions we take and how we treat others. Ifá says that when facing conflictive situations it is better to be calmed. The key of success lays on temperance, one cannot be impulsive or capricious. It is advised to avoid imposing one’s will on an abusive manner. How we treat others will make the difference in how day to day situations can be improved or worsen. There will be a need for great perseverance, sacrifice and patience to improve those circumstances that surround us. Ifá advises to try to be understanding and have compassion instead of judging others. Ifá points out to the need of self-flection to improve and enhance our won spiritual development. It is important to be an example of good values for our children, so they can learn to solve situations using dialogue. For our children, the best lesson is to be learned is how to live a healthy life for the good of all. It is important that children learn to recognize their limitations and the repercussions of their acts so they stay on track. This year will be very hard for relationships between couples. Economic, social and day to day circumstances are creating a lot of lack of tranquility, anxiety and unrest. This is why it is important to treat each other with great respect, to be understanding and have solidarity. Trying to be forceful or to impulse one’s will would create more losses than winnings. In other words, treat others as you would like to be treated. Puerto Rico needs to learn to live with atmospheric phenomena related to climatic changes. The sign talks about atmospheric changes, particularly cold fronts. It is important to have lifestyles that honor a balance with Mother Nature. The resolution of conflicts of social and economic nature in the country will depend on the good will of all parties involved. If there is no will to solve difficult situations, all will continue to be in a state of putrid stagnation. Our wellbeing depends on focusing in productivity and what is for the common good of the people. We exhort all of those in a position of authority in political and economic matters to transcend their own interests and to seek a dialogue with the commitment to achieve concrete solutions for the wellbeing of the country. Finally, good character, patience and perseverance will be the tools that will help us face those difficult situations that will arise throughout the year and will help us keep peace and tranquility. It is with this mental balance, with a cool and clear head that will be able to find solutions to the problems that impact us on a personal level and in society. In this oddú are born the following:
The poles of the earth and ice
Expressions associated with the Oddú:
Do not do to others what you would not like done to you.
Respect others as you respect yourself.
Oddú speaks of mistreatment between couples
Avoid all manners of vice because they will bring physical and moral destruction
Tamarinds were sweet and how to turn sour to survive
Avoid exaggerated ambition
Respect your elders
Couples need to treat each other with respect
Communication and dialogue is fundamental to solve conflicts and problems
It is a good year to receive the Warriors, to make Kariosha and for those who have a path of Ifá to become priests
2015 is upon us and there are many ways to start anew and here is how I like to receive the New Year: Clean, at peace and surrounded by love.
I am going to share with you three bath recipes that I have tested and work like a charm. They are for cleansing, to bring sweetness and love to your life and, if peace is what you need, do try the other baths outlined below.
Remember to pray as you prepare the bath and to stay focus on your intention, be it cleansing, love or simply to obtain some peace.
Days of Wine and Roses Bath
If romance is what you are needing, here is just the thing to start a good spark. Now, bear in mind that the best way to find love is to love thyself and a bath like this gives you ample reason to pamper yourself and to give love to the person who deserves it the most: You.
For this bath I like to use red wine, however, rum can be a perfectly good substitute. I like to set this bath on my bóveda overnight or at least for a couple of hours, but you can simply prepare it and use it right away. I find it that it is more effective to set a candle and pray on it and let it be for a few hours before using it.
The process to make a bath is simple. Place all ingredients in a bowl, pour some of the water and macerate the rose and leaves with your hands until they are a pulp. Set the bath on your bóveda or if you do not have one set up, place a candle and glass of water by the bath atop a table. Call upon your protector spirits to bless your endeavor and ask for love and happiness to come to your life.
2 sprigs of fresh mint or spearmint
8 to 10 large sweet Basil leaves (Queen of Siam is also very good)
1 stem of Basil flowers
1 large red rose
8 to 10 Sage leaves (I had regular Sage and also Pineapple Sage, so I used both)
2 large sprigs of Tarragon
½ cup of Bledo Blanco or white Crape Myrtle flowers
Cinnamon powder (if possible, grate your own)
¼ cup Red Wine
1 teaspoon honey
Remember to strain this bath and to wrap the solids in a piece of brown paper. I like to use them to cleanse myself by passing them over my body and discarding them in the trash before showering. Once you are done with the shower, wash your face with this bath and the back of your neck and pour it from the neck down. Air dry as long as you can and then pat dry.
Shiny Penny Cleansing Bath
This bath makes you feel like a shiny new penny once you take it. Yes, it is very simple but it is quite efficient in its simplicity. The difference between this bath and the other ones that I am recommending is that this one requires soaking in your tub, while the other ones are simply poured over you.
You will find variations of this bath recommended by Spiritist and Hoodooists alike. I have seen it done with both ½ of alum as well as 1 teaspoon of ammonia. However, I prefer just to use the alum powder as it is an ingredient geared for protection. Ammonia in general is a powerful cleanser and some old fashion folks like to substitute it with an equal portion of their own urine. However, I don’t quite fancy taking a soak on pee, not for New Year’s Eve.
A full tub of warm water (make it as hot as is comfortable to you)
½ a teaspoon bluing or a small ball of bluing
2 tablespoons white sugar
½ teaspoon of alum powder
5 tea light candles (white or blue, your pick)
Omimelli’s Little Helper: Make yourself a delicious libation, in my case I made a cup of warm chocolate milk to sip while I soaked in the tub.
Sit on the tub of water and simply relax and enjoy time to think, have a nice warm or cold drink and pray for protection and to have negative thoughts stripped away from you. Time is a wonderful thing to have and to use wisely and meditate on those things that are negative and that need to be left behind or set aside in order to leave a better and more peaceful existence.
Cleopatra’s Milk Bath
Cleopatra, the last Egyptian pharaoh, used to bathe in Donkey’s milk to keep her skin soft and beautiful. However, donkey’s milk is not a runoff the mill item at most Walmart’s. Seriously, it is pretty hard to get, so in my book, this bath received a makeover. As you will see, Cleopatra is not really the center figure here, because she was not a particularly pacific historic figure. However, she is a fascinating one and I could not resist the story telling on the use of donkey milk for baths. The bath described below is mostly for peace, but is also does wonders for your skin. The elements are associated with Obatalá, King of the White Cloth and ruler over all white things in the body, amongst them the brain and bones. Obatalá blesses us with knowledge, patience and intelligence. Hopefully if you have some or all of those, you will also have peace of mind.
2 cups of warm whole milk
2 cups of coconut milk
2 cups of goat milk (if you can find donkey milk all the better)
1 cascarilla grated
2 tablespoons of cocoa butter grated
Combine all ingredients on a large bowl and wash your face, the back of your neck and pour the rest over your body once you have showered as usual. Let this bath dry over your skin as long as you can and then towel dry.
I like to pray to Obatalá before pouring it on me and I do like to dress in white after I take it and go to sleep if possible. You can offer a glass of water and a candle to the orisha as a thank you for his protection.
I sincerely hope that the New Year blesses you with love, joy, stability, health and that time is always kind to you and those you love.
I have been meaning to write this post for days now, but lately time has been at a prime for me as you may have noticed by the reduced frequency of my posts on the blog.
A week has gone by since the U.S. Government announced its intention to resume relations with the Cuban government.
It was clear to me that the date for the announcement had not been selected at random. December 17th holds a very special place in the mind and hearts of Cubans and of anyone who professes faith in the Orishas because it is on this date that we honor Babalu Aye (syncretized with San Lazaro) and the patron orisha of those who are sick or suffering misfortune.
The relationship between Cuba and the U.S. is one that has been ailing for quite some time, since before I was born. It has been one that has created so many tear, hardships and list of horrors far too long to account and even harder to forget.