The Future of the Orisha Community: Strategy, Politics and Action

Oba Ernesto Pichardo Church of the Lukumi  Babalu Aye
Oba Ernesto Pichardo
Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye

“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.

See the following link for further background: http://www.becketfund.org/merced/

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.clba leadership 2014

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.

Omimelli

Oni Yemaya Achagba 

Start the Year Refreshed: Baths for Cleansing, Love and Peace

Days of Wine and Roses Love Bath

Days of Wine and Roses Love Bath

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.

Ingredients:

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

rose bath 3
Ingredients ready
Bath at the bóveda
Bath at the boveda

 

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.

Ingredients:

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.

Ingredients:

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.

Omimelli
Oní Yemayá Achagbá

Continue reading “Start the Year Refreshed: Baths for Cleansing, Love and Peace”

Musings on Dates, Relations and the Future of Afro-Cuban Religions

Babalu Aye
Babalu Aye
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.

Continue reading “Musings on Dates, Relations and the Future of Afro-Cuban Religions”

The Story of Diana Rosado: Santeria Fraud and Extortion in Orlando, FL

SAY NOThe story you are about to read is an example of why people need to research carefully before becoming involved in a Santeria house or ilé.

It has been about two months since Diana Rosado contacted me on email wanting advice. I am overly cautious to learn slowly the facts before sharing advice with a person or even recommending their case to a fellow orisha practitioner near the individual seeking assistance.

First, I want to make sure there is a real spiritual need. Second, it is important to match properly the level of skill of the olosha to be recommended to the needs of the person seeking help. If possible, I do try to find people whose temperaments are suitable to provide assistance to someone who has faced abuse. Dealing with someone who is hurt, whose faith has been shattered and trust violated, requires kindness, knowledge and a great deal of patience and empathy.

Maybe some would consider this too much caution, but when someone has been victimized, the least they need is to place their shattered faith and their mounting problems they face, in the hands of someone who can’t lead them to a proper solution.

In a nutshell, Diana made a few errors in judgment which lead her to trust an alleged Palera and Santera. I have no way to validate the initiation of the person who conned Diana. However, I can say that from Diana’s emails, the woman describes herself as gay and Palera. There lays the first warning bell for me, as no legitimate Palo house would initiate a gay woman or man. If you want to read more about that subject go to the area which highlights Palo articles, as this in itself is a complex and controversial subject.

The second warning sign I want you to pay attention as you read Diana’s story is about the ‘initiations’ and the constant feeding scheme the alleged Santera devised to conn money out of Diana. The third item of interest is the modality this person wanted to establish of having Diana pay ‘rent’ or ‘upkeep’
I do have photos of the person who allegedly extorted money out of Diana as well as documents (bills) the woman sent charging for payments to ‘feed’ her orisha. However, I have agreed with Diana to simply present her side of the story as a warning for others and not to make an accusation through the blog using names and evidence. If Diana wishes to place a claim, she can certainly do so through a Small Claims Court, she is in her right to do so.

This in itself should serve as a warning to those who may be out there abusing others and defrauding them of their hard earn cash, as they are legally responsible and can face the law for their actions.
Her story is still unfolding and hopefully it will have a good end as she now is being properly advised by an obá oriaté of solid reputation and experience.

Having made these observations, I leave you to her story:

“I write this story with the hope that my experience will prevent another person from making the same mistakes.

Four years ago I was having problems with my daughter. There was a lot of discord between my daughter and my husband. We had decided to let our daughter live rent free in our house in Orlando, Florida. She was struggling working part time and going to school part time and unable to keep up with rent and utilities on her apartment. In return, we wanted her to finish school and only pay her utilities and the property taxes on the house.

We added her to the deed so she could get homestead on the house’s property taxes. These taxes are due once a year and the homestead gave her a break on the amount of taxes charged on the house.
It all started out well. However, she soon quit working and was not maintaining the property as we had done. My daughter wasn’t taking care of the pool properly or keeping the grass mowed. The inside the house was no better than the outside. It was like she didn’t care about anything. This was the source of all disagreements between us and I became desperate about this situation.

I found myself seeking guidance from someone with a spiritual background. I found someone who claimed she was an active participant in the Palo and Santeria religion. She convinced me that she would be able to help me with my problems and I agreed to let her help me.

Soon I found myself receiving Warriors and Yemayá. My daughter also ended up with the same (Warriors and Yemayá) and also ‘received’ a Gitana.

Keep in mind that no ceremony was performed prior to us receiving the Warriors and Yemayá and my daughter’s Gitana. This should have been my first clue that something was not correct.

My first major mistake for not researching the person (who also happens to be gay and supposedly practices Palo) and what to expect before receiving the Warriors and Yemayá. The funny thing is a part of me felt uncomfortable but I thought I had found someone to help me.

My second error was not listening to my instincts. At first she was very understanding and comforting, but things changed. I could not keep my Warriors and Yemayá at home because my husband does not support my religious practices. He had a bad experience with a spiritualist he thinks that anything spiritual outside of the church is ‘evil voodoo stuff.’ I was unable to keep the Warriors and Yemayá in my home and she offered to keep them at her apartment for me. Thus, this woman was ‘tending’ to my Warriors and Yemayá and feeding them every three months with animal blood. This started a series of hefty payments done to keep up the Warriors. I had to pay both for my daughter’s as well as mine every 3 months. Whenever I could not meet the payments a fine or multa for ‘disrespect’ was added as well. The average payment each three months was of $2,600, plus a fine for alleged disrespect of $421. Continue reading “The Story of Diana Rosado: Santeria Fraud and Extortion in Orlando, FL”

Palo Mayombe 101©

A few words about Palo by Ta José
A few words about Palo by Ta José
I have dedicated these last few years of my life to investigate and study Afro-Caribbean beliefs and practices. I am initiated in some of these practices, and, as an initiate I am amazed about the level of profanation and the selfishness that exists in many of them. People want to initiate others, but they seldom take the time to teach.
Thanks to the research I have done I have met a few Paleros and the information I am about to share is essential to help others to distinguish between a real Palero and a shameless charlatan.

Palo comes from the Kongo region and has nothing to do with Santerismo or with Santería. Santería comes from Nigeria and has very little in common with Mayombe, if nowadays there are points of comparison is because of syncretized practices created when practitioners of Mayombe married to Lucumi folks and practices were mixed. Palo alike Santería is learned orally from elder to new initiate of Pino Nuevo.

There are many that say they practice Palo and have Ngangas which they put together themselves with ‘help’ from their spirits or the dead. This is wrong, the dead do not have the power to teach paleros how to put together a Nganga, those have to be constructed according to the Rama or branch where that Palero comes from. The Kongo did not believe in deities like Shangó or Yemayá, the Kongos venerated their ancestors and would worship according to their tribal customs. The first Ngangas in Cuba did not had names like 7 Rayos, Mama Chola, etc. These are names given to Prendas after being syncretized with elements from Santería using borrowed tools that are typical of Orisha pots.

Continue reading “Palo Mayombe 101©”