Prayers over the Womb

Maferefún Yeyé mi Oshún

Long time ago a work colleague of mine came to me with a great concern, she was pregnant and her baby was at risk. Her body for some mysterious reason had stopped producing amniotic fluid and the doctor had done everything he could, yet the situation was getting desperate.

Marie (not her real name) knew I was a Santera, although she was not a believer, she was a mother willing to do anything to protect her unborn child. Shyly she came to me and asked to speak in private. Upon confiding in me, I agreed to help her under two conditions, to first obtain the blessings from Oshún and second to bring her mother along for the ceremony.

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Bring Back the Fines

Fines: The Reward for Shameful Conduct

One of my first lessons upon coming to practice the Way of the Orishas or Santería was the concept of ‘multas’ or fines. Since our practices are based on oral tradition, for me every opportunity to listen to elders talk about how things were back in Cuba was always a welcome treat. So when the subject of fines came about one afternoon, I seized the opportunity to volunteer to bring a round of coffee to keep the chat going.

This is how I came to hear for the first time about Cabildos de Nación and their role in the development of our modern ilé orishas. Cabildos, literally a town council based on the Spanish model, were mini neo African monarchies or ‘kingdoms’ founded in Cuba as early as the 16th Century. The Cabildos de Nación, made of African-born slaves and sanctioned by the Spanish government and the Catholic church, were intended as mechanisms of control over slaves who congregated in them as a religious fraternity. Each cabildo was dedicated to honor a Catholic saint. But really, the Cabildo had many other functions that were not the intended by the Catholic Church. Slaves were resilient and improvised quickly, thus, for them the cabildos became a place of protection and freedom within their repressed lives. These groups were ruled by a hereditary king and had other officials who helped the ruler to organize its members. There is much to be said about Cabildos, but for the purposes of this article, it is important to point out that these cabildos in due time would transform into the ilé or house structure under which we currently function, but that is another story.

It was from this structure that the concept of fines emerged. When a person crossed the line, the king or queen of the cabildo could impose a fine for the infraction. Godmothers and godfathers, which are the modern equivalent of ‘queens’ and ‘kings’ of ilés, can impose a punishment or fines when godchildren break rules. Fines can be anywhere from bringing a small gift to the orisha such as a candle to feeding the head orisha of the house birds or even a four-legged animal, depending on the infraction.

In my years in Osha, I have never had to pay a fine, I have not even come close to hearing “If you don’t mind the rules I will fine you,” I guess I have done fairly well staying out of trouble. But what troubles me is that I have seen plenty of conduct that merits a fine, yet I have seen no elders stepping up to the plate and punishing misbehaved oloshas, oluwos and aleyos. Take for example a batá I attended some years ago in Texas. There was an olosha supposedly mounted with Aganjú, but in the middle of the possession the olosha ‘mounted’ stepped on a sharp object and said “oh shit”. In the ‘good old times’ a person committing such infraction, faking a possession, would have been humiliated in public, but nowadays no one bothers to call fakers out.

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Building Better Ilés the Pillars of the Lukumí Religion©

Part of this chapter in Cuban history was the Operation Peter Pan where 14,000 Cuban minors were sent to the U.S. by parents that feared the impact of the Cuban Revolution in their children.

This is the introduction to a series of articles dedicated to explore the background of our religious main structure: The ilé. The articles are meant to be not only a social and historical commentary, but also, to be a thought starter and perhaps even a guideline for those heads of households that are facing the task to hold together the fabric of our communities. The articles will examine the changes impacting the core structure of our religious engine and how those in turn have repercussions on our tribal (household oriented) religion.

The Lukumí are not unique as a religious group facing the challenges of our demanding society and its accelerated changes. All African Traditional Religions (ATR), and overall, all religions face changes and challenges every day. The difference with centralized religions is that the power of their organizational structures has helped them, thus far, to withstand the brunt of changes. However, much is to be said about the flexibility ATR’s posess as smaller decentralized units (where the power resides in the hands of head of households and the elders of those sprouting ilés) and their agile position to respond and adapt quickly in the face of critical changes in society. However, our very own flexibility can also be an Achilles heel if not kept under a tight system of check and balances.

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Learn Iyawó: Why the Twelve Steps Process is Important for You©

The basic ingredients for obo orí eledá

No, we are not talking here about an AA (Alcoholic Anomymous) like program. What I call the Twelve Steps Process is more like a spiritual tune up every iyawó should have throughout their year in white. The process consists of twelve obo orí eledás or Head Feedings also known as Prayers over the Head. Although simple, the ritual is of great importance as it provides not only an opportunity to balance the head of the iyawó with the growing energies of the orisha that has just been seated, cool and cleansed the iyawó from any negativities attracted, but also, it provides for a time for communication and learning between the initiate and initiators.

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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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Love + Bindings ≠ Freedom of Choice

Bindings, the heart of the matter.

Over the last few months I have received more inquiries about how to bind a romantic interest than I care to count. The person requesting this type of working seems to be in a desperate frame of mind in which all measures of logic and reasoning are ignored. It is at most times an exercise in futility to try to enlighten an individual so enthralled in their own desires as to ignore the basic dynamics of a healthy relationship. What are some logical parameters for a healthy relationship? If a romantic relationship is to be constructive and fruitful for both parties then it stands to reason that it should be based on two key dynamics: Attraction and freedom.

The attraction part can be enhanced by means of workings to highlight positive aspects in a person as to be more appealing to prospective partners. I have nothing against trying to spruce up spiritually to be “lit from within” and attract a mate. When a person is spiritually uplifted through workings or spiritual discipline, they become a center of light and positive energies and that in itself creates a desirable magnetism that will indeed make people gravitate towards said person. They key here is to focus on a desirable type of individual to attract, otherwise, one may end up attracting the unbalanced and undesirable type and squandering.

However, I draw the line on workings when it comes to retaining a romantic interest against one or both parties involved. The freedom of choice in a relationship should be respected at all cost, particularly in the practice of African Traditional Religions which in the Americas survived at the expense of the freedom of our elders. What sort of hypocrites would orisha and palero priests be if we emotionally enslave a person for money when we owe the freedom to practice our religions to the sacrifices and dedication afforded to us by our slave ancestors?

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Lava over the Ocean

Yemayá and Aganjú at their best

Recently, Willie Ramos (Ilari Oba), one of my most admired oriatés sent me an article from Modern Ghana. The article spoke about the preponderance of foreign religions in Africa and its impact on tribal and native religions. The author, Farouk Martins Aresa, also pointed wisely that the Santería community had managed to become a storehouse of faith and resilience that apparently seems to be lacking in today’s Africa in the face of growing Christian and Muslim spiritual domination. This is due to the fact that the people who came through the Middle Passage fought tooth and nail to preserve their religions. They were ingenious, tenacious and indomitable in their convictions.

Thanks to our ancestors, we have the jewels of practices like the Lukumí, Kimbisa, Umbanda, Macumba, Voodoo, and many other African Traditional Traditions (ATRs) in the Diaspora. I am including a link to the article at the bottom of the post, because I want you to read it and make up your own mind about this subject. However, here are two key paragraphs to whet your appetite.

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Mo júbà: The Power of the Voice, The Spirit of Tradition

The mo júbà is an act of praise.

There is power in words. Our grace as humans is to convey the full complexity or simplicity of our thoughts and emotions for others to understand. There is a primal need for humans to be heard, appreciated, and remembered. Words illustrate chapters of our life; they describe our deeds for the eyes of posterity to behold. Words are bridges to a multidimensional world where time, space, spirit and emotions intermingle and define our essence one sound at a time.

When we open our mouths to speak, pray or sing and we know what we are intoning, to whom we are conveying our message and why we are sharing it, a river of power flows from within our being and travels in waves that surround and penetrate our target no matter in which parallel universe it exists. Such is the case of the mo júbà.*

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The Queen of Herbs

Ocimum sanctum, Holy Basil, Albahaca santa or Tulsi

One of my first memories of Spiritism comes from having visited an old lady who had a rather healthy reputation for her spiritual and herbal remedies. For me back then, to go visit her meant sitting for hours on end waiting to get spiritual advice, but it was also an opportunity to run my fingers over a literal forest of the medicinal plants that were planted in the little garden in front of her house. One in particular would awake my senses, its scent sweet and intoxicating, its color bright green and with happy little purple flowers. It was years later when I would learn about the true power of this herb as I started in earnest my path in Spiritism and Santería.

Some know it as the Queen of Herbs, in India they call it Tulsi (Ocimum sanctum) and in the Caribbean and the Americas most know it as Albahaca Santa or Holy Basil. This brilliant creation from Olofi has so many uses spiritual, medicinal realms, and of course, in the kitchen, no wonder it is known as the Queen of Herbs. In India, Tulsi has been used for centuries to heal body, mind and spirit.

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Oddú of the Year, Puerto Rico

Oddú of the Year, Puerto Rico

Some of the most important items from the advice shared on this video for those who do not speak Spanish.

1. Avoid drinking and getting into arguments
2. Talk to Orunmila and speak of the things that bother you
3. Take extreme caution when swiming in the ocean
4. Lots of deaths and murders will happen due to hot tempers
5. Learn to be thrifty and save, learn from the ants.
6. It will be a hard year, but it important to do ebbó and be patient
7. We must learn to watch after the wellbeing of the religion as a whole
8. Teach our children, keep family unity and protect the home
9. Pay attention to the mental wellbeing of children
10. Be patient and perseverant
11. The heads of Lukumí families must do ebbó to avoid death
12. Strengthen the ant hill (ilés) by doing ebbó

Thanks to Mase Lobe for posting the video on Youtube.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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