The Case of the Burning Rooster: When Politics, Money and Religion Ride in the Same Cart the Whirlwind Follows

The Case of the Burning Rooster

I am a fanatic of Frank Herbert’s Dune and it is through the words of his character Rev. Mother Ramallo that I have summarized an issue facing us as religious community, the tendency to prostitute religious practices for material gain and the inherent lack of judgment it unchains in many.

The original quote reads “When religion and politics ride in the same cart, the whirlwind follows,” however, in our case, there is yet another volatile element added to the mix, it is called MONEY.

Everything we do in our religious practices is under a magnifying glass. This is a reality that we cannot escape. Our struggle to defend religious freedom and the right to animal sacrifice have seen its day in court not once but two times. The first time was in the Supreme Court case of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah and recently, in the Merced v. City of Euless. Both cases meant blood, sweat and tears for those who championed them, Oba Ernesto Pichardo and my godfather Jose R. Merced. It is thanks to their efforts that we can seek shelter in the law to practice animal sacrifice, but this must be done within the boundaries of the same law that protects us.

Here are more realities we have to live with, African Traditional Religions (ATR) are misunderstood, stereotyped and perceived by the greater majority of people in the world as superstitios practices and not real religions. Therefore, when practitioners of Palo, Santeria and Voodoo or any other ATR step out of boundary and commit acts that shine a negative light over our communities, it is imperative to take action and to analyze the situation as a community. Only those who are initiates and who belong to our communities have the right to determine the course of action that will steer us. Outsiders are free to their opinions but to me that is where the buck stops as I do not rule myself by their criticism, motivations or ideas.

Furthermore, money is not a motivating factor in my religious convictions, practices or blog opinions. I do not use my religion as money-making machine, nor I have clients or read for clients. Fine if others do, but know that when they peddle religion as a good or service they run the risk of missteps and colossal lack of judgments like the one I am about to discuss.

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Hoodoo Nights: Magical Products, Craftsmanship and Pride

A Hoodoo Favorite: Four Thieves Vinegar

The very first time that I opened a package from my Hoodoo product supplier, I was very pleasantly surprised by what I found. A world of different possibilities opened up in front of my eyes as I examined the herb infused oils and the various mineral curios and incenses in front of me. It was then that I realized how much my magical supply cabinet was missing and, how much I could still learn. I felt blessed because I was inspired and resolved to dedicate time to learn the Hoodoo craft.

This is not a shameless plug to promote Ms. Cat´s products, as I don´t even mention her website for three reasons. One, I am still her student and I am in no way or form trying to gain ´brownie points´ towards my graduation—that is only earned through earnest work and turning in assignments. The second reason is because I am not seeking self-promotion by association with her or her products and the third reason is because when a reader of this blog wants more information about a subject or reference they are always welcome to send me a private email at If you write to me I will furnish the data gladly as we really try to make this blog about information and never about pushing products or services that is not our purpose. Our purpose is to share spiritual experiences and discoveries along our various journeys.

As I uncapped one of the oils called “Psychic Vision” my first reaction was one of peace and elation, then then extreme curiosity took over me. I wanted to know more about what went into making the magic I had uncapped. The genie was out of the bottle and I wanted to get to know it.

I instantly started to wonder what it would be like to actually visit her shop and to be able to peruse through the shelves at leisure just like I do when I visit the many botánicas we have here in Puerto Rico.

Certainly, we have not shortage of suppliers of magical or ritual wares, mostly catering to the Santería Spiritist and Palo communities, not to mention other systems such as 21 Divisions which lately has been on a growth spurt in Puerto Rico.

However, when I started to compare in my mind the ¨oils¨ and ´fragrances´ found at local shops, they paled by comparison to the treasures I had just received via US post. So, I went to my well organized magical supply closet and started to pull open drawer after drawer filled with tiny square bottles of oils and fragrances…suddenly my eyes were opened. These were but pale reflections of dreams sold under the names of ¨7 Powers¨, ¨Madama, ¨Lluvia de Oro¨ or ¨El Indio¨ labels, but none of them really had any ´life´ to them, not that I really believe they had from the moment I got them at the various shops I visit. The inferred powers supposedly contained on those bottles were inexistent. They were produced in mass market conditions, labeled and shipped from New York, California and Miami to cater to people who may, or not, know any better but still buy these stuff because they are part of ´spiritual recipes´ for this or that trabajo (working) and for this or that spiritual bath. Bologne!

This was a turning point for me. It was then when I decided that I would learn to make my own blends of oils and fragrances and prepare for myself materials that would indeed be filled with good ingredients that could lend energy and power to help further my workings. No more red or yellow dye with alcohol and generic fragrances for me!

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Animal Sacrifice, a Right not Necessarily Guaranteed

Humane Treatment of Animals is Imperative

There are no absolutes when it comes to rights. The legal system in the United States allows for continuous challenge of all and any laws. Therefore, the hard earn right to animal sacrifice that took years and massive resources to be won at the Supreme Court level is and will always be open to challenge.

It is imperative that all practitioners of the Lukumí community and of all other African Traditional Religions are fully aware that their conduct and behavior when performing animal sacrifice will always be under scrutiny and that it affects not only those around their ilés (osha houses) but also the community at large. There is no way to circumvent this reality.

A recent event such as the arrest on July 11, 2011 of Raúl Armenteros, a Cuban porn star who was transporting animals in a van with the windows rolled up and under sweltering conditions in Miami, Florida, sheds a negative light onto our community, not once but with twice the power.

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First Anniversary of The Mystic Cup

The Mystic Cup Celebrates its 1st Anniversary

Today is the one year anniversary of the launching of the mystic cup. During this past year we have seen a steady and rapid growth in our readership. We have also experienced a growth in the number of contacts with both individuals and groups. We have been encouraged by the many instances of positive feedback from readers. Our aim has always been to write about spiritual experiences, and most of us who are on the Mystic Cups writing crew are in some manner involved with African Traditional Religions (ATRs). Thus, most of our articles reflect this involvement. We also work towards connecting with other members of the broader ATR community and to discuss our shared issues, opinions, gripes and things learned along the way. We have also striven to provide clear and truthful information about the ATR experience so that people outside that community can get a better understanding and a sense of the flavor of practicing an ATR.

We have been especially pleased to see an increase of readership from outside of North America and the Caribbean. We have noticed an increase of interest in ATR’s and Spiritism within Ceremonial Magick, Wiccan and Neo-Pagan circles. We hope that our articles have been informative, thought provoking and entertaining.

In the coming year we will tackle some topics that we initially envisioned writing about but have not yet addressed, some will be rather hot and volatile so be prepare for some healthy debates, after all…the unexamined life is not worth living and certainly spirituality deserves careful and constant examination.

We would also like to see more submissions of articles from others about their own spiritual traditions and experiences. In closing, our core team Janus, Omimelli and I, would like to say thank you for your support and readership. Stay tuned… there is more to come.

Olo Obatalá

P.S. Since Omimelli is our main writer, I want to post one of her favorite songs as a little present for all the long hard hours of gathering and preparing materials for The Mystic Cup.

Into the Mystic by Van Morrison

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African Traditional Religions Overexposed: How much is too much to show?

Fostering Understanding by opening the Igbodu Doors on a Día del Medio or Throne Day

Empowerment in the hands of fools will only lead to the corruption of traditions. I have spoken before about the double edge sword that the Internet represents. It can be a glorious instrument for education, networking and sharing of ideas, but it can also lead us on a slippery road to the destruction of core aspects of African Traditional Religions (ATRs).

There are some houses that want to show off their self-perceived might by plastering on the Internet photographs of rituals that are held sacred to the Santeria, Ifá, Voodoo and Palo communities amongst other ATRs. I find myself thorn on the issue of how much is too much to show. On one hand, some images can open minds and hearts to a better understanding of our religious cultures, but on the other, some images simply go beyond what should be seen by the eyes of those who have not pledged their life to the service of the Orisha, Lwá, Ifá or Nkisis.

Let us deal with some concrete examples to illustrate when it is necessary to open the doors of a temple to illustrate that there indeed is nothing dirty or shameful to hide in our religious practices.

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Palo and Godparenting Skills

An X-Ray Look into Godparenting in Palo

“A child has no wisdom, only potential. It is up to their fathers to give them wisdom so they may grow.”
– A northern Bantu proverb.

The relationship between godchild and godparent is a very important affair. The survival of our respective traditions depends upon the effective teaching and training of godchildren – of which everyone, regardless of what title or rank we hold, are. There is a frightening trend that seems to only be getting worse as time goes by, and that is the trend of not properly educating those who wind up at your door step. All that this does is waste the time and potential of the respective parties, and only serves to degrade our traditions.

Something that I have been hearing for quite a while is that the parents won’t properly raise their children for fear that the child will outshine the parent. This is ridiculous. We could all only hope that someone we raised grew to be a spectacular priest, filled with a great depth of knowledge, understanding, and good character. If a godparent is not striving to make someone at least their equal – then the time of both parties is wasted. If they are not trying to have their child outshine them, then we are wasting our future. The true genius of all godchildren may very well not be being a priest or an educator. Some godchildren may not grasp some concepts as quickly. Some people may very obviously be in it for selfish purposes. However, it is up to the godparent to assist them through these problems and evolve. There is always a reason, whether obvious or not, that the person wound up in your house.

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Helpful Guide for the Urban Palero

The Laurel tree. Paleros must learn to find resources in suburbia.

The roots of Palo are not in cities, and are definitely not rooted in urban North America. We are removed from the ability to gather many of the sacred plants and woods that grow freely in Palo’s homeland – rural Cuba. This can provide some interesting challenges. Yes, there are botánicas – online and brick and mortar, but for some things the visceral experience of going into Nfinda to gather medicines for nsalas is much more gratifying. In the first part of this series, I want to give some pointers and tricks I have learned from being a Palero in a city. This applies to more than just Palo too.

1. Know what you are looking at!

While we can’t go and find everything in the natural areas within and around our cities, we can always find some of them. For example, lets take the Laurel (for those of you who get the reference, this is where i buried my secret ;-) ). There are many varieties of Laurel in North America, and many of them have something in common. However, if you are used to buying palos in small dried up bits, you may not recognize it. You new best friend is Google Images. Bookstores will often have field guides based on regions as well, and these are pretty cheap.

2. Tools!

Gathering raw materials can’t be done solely with hands. I have a number of useful and inconspicuous things in the trunk of my car just in case i see something. Plastic bags, empty water bottles, an exacto knife (with a pull saw attachment), a very small gardening shovel, tissue paper (for wrapping fresh plants in), and a Swiss army knife, complete with scissors. Having a collection of useful tools can make cutting, digging, loosening much easier…especially when you need to be quick and sneaky.

3. Be mindful of your neighbors – especially…

Being as how Palo is a religion that practices animal sacrifice, it is important to keep this out of the eyes and ears of our neighbors – especially when no one else around us understands what we are doing. Noise complaints, police, evictions, ostracism, scared looks – nobody needs that. Just be quiet, clean, and courteous. Also, the first track of Midnight Marauders by a Tribe Called Quest has some great parts for hiding certain kinds of sounds. This works very well if you live in an apartment.

Stay tuned, there is more to come…

Tata Nkisi Lucero Vira Mundo

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The Challenges of Raising Children in an African Traditional Religion

We are supposed to be living in a time where there is freedom of expression and religion. However, the reality is that as a parent raising children in an African Traditional Religion (ATR) I know that my children will be treated differently if I openly would have said during the enrollment interview in their non secular school, “Oh yes, by the way, one of my children is an Olosha and the other one is preparing to become a Palero.”

I can see the polite smiles and the colors dancing on their faces as they try disguise surprise, contempt and a way to reject a perfectly good check of a few thousand dollars for their tuition. The first reaction for most teachers and school directors is to jump to their own religious roots and to snap quick judgments based on their religious programming, it is a natural reaction. What is not natural is to let that religious programming obscure the fact that all families have the right to religious self-determination and that not always parents are Christians, Jewish or Muslims to name three mainstream religions.

This issue however, goes beyond tolerance. The existence and persistence of African Traditional Religions spits on the face of those who have been programmed to see us as evil heathens who worship the devil. We are not evil, we are not heathens and certainly we do not worship the devil. Nonetheless, our existence challenges their narrow understanding of good and evil because quite frankly, we do not fit the mold of with God and against the devil.

Most private schools, even if they are non-secular, will have some form of ‘values’ included in their curriculum and those as I have seen unequivocally are modeled after Christian values. There is nothing wrong with Christian values, if your child is a Christian. Mine happen not to be, they are Lukumí and they have the right to not be exposed to values contrary to their own, at least during the formative years when they are more impressionable and prone to confusion.

How do we as parents manage to obtain a good education for our children be it in public or private schools, and still keep them away from the religious goody two shoes that believe that proselytizing is their divine right and that our children are a great target to ‘convert’? Here is what I have found to work for my family.
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Palo, Santería, Vodou and other ATRs: Religions or Cults?

It pays to read a dictionary when you practice an ATR!

I promise you a quickie here. I was reading a post done by Amigos del Palo Mayombe y Conocedores de la Briyumba Congo (Friends of Palo Mayombe and people who know about Briymba Congo) where the question of cult vs. religion was raised. The post asked, what are Paleros, a cult or a religion?. However, I think the question has been applied at one time or another to many other African Traditional Religions.

The answers did not surprise me. They show at large several things:

1. Some have never stop to ponder what a religion is, yes, as in pull out your dictionary.

2. Others have never wondered why they should be defined by those who want to denigrate us.

Outsiders who see us as secretive, occultist and therefore, a ‘cult.’ I think they should likewise examine the meaning of the word ‘cult’ its context and how it should or not apply to African Traditional Religions.

It is important not to just have a passion for our religious practices but to also take the time to reflect, analyze and then express informed opinions in public forums. After all, the way in which we express our inner core beliefs helps to shape the way in which we are perceived and understood by outsiders and by our very own brethren, no matter what ATR you follow, or not.

A friendly and enlightening research is in order. Look up the words “religion”, “cult”, “occult”, then write what you understand of each as they relate to your practices and come to your own conclusions which you are kindly welcome to share below, this is after all an open forum. Have fun!

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

Article reference:!/pages/Amigos-Del-Palo-Mayombe-y-Conocedores-De-La-Briyumba-Congo/111153688912316

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Of Royal Titles and Religion

They wear the crowns, we do not.

Today I find myself pondering about humility and love of God. When I came to the orisha, I had one driving desire. I wanted to give my life to the service of the Orisha. For some time, I was eager to find out who would be my main orisha. I fancied myself a daughter of Shangó for some time, and then I discovered that Oyá had some pretty neat attributes. Time went by and I fell in love with Oshún and finally, I came to find out that Yemayá was to be my orisha. I felt lucky and honored to be chosen to serve her. Truth be told I would have been happy with any of them. The force of orisha was what moved and touched me.

However, I never set myself on this path in search of self-greatness, nor to claim or lead anyone. It is not my desire to be better than my fellow practitioners, just to serve the orisha and be a keeper of traditions. Thus, when I see how much folks love to claim lofty titles I get really concerned. Where did humility go? When did being a queen or king got to be so important for my fellow practitioners? I even dislike the term ‘to be crowned’; I rather see it simply as a process, the process of seating the orisha in my head. Not as a status symbol to be shown off. I really despise those who go on and on talking about their “crowns” as if they were pretty shiny tiaras sitting atop their fat heads. Get real people, the orisha is inside, let your actions show for it and not your imaginary desire of grandeur.

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