Category Archives: Santeria

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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Becoming a Godparent in Santería, What´s the Hurry?

In a Hurry to Reproduce?

Santería is a religion with a great deal of complexities, protocols and a rather systematic developmental approach related to the formation of its oloshas. However, ambition, communication trends and the hurried pressure of modern life are taking a rather dangerous toll on our communities.

The issue at hand is the hurry that new oloshas have to scratch the itch to ‘crown’ or initiate individuals, when they have barely come out of their own iyawó year. There are steps that iyawós must complete in order to even show their faces inside of a room where an initiation is about to take place.
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Encouraging Self-Expression and Orisha Art

Eleguá by Omimelli

The orishas manifest themselves in many ways. Some people are talented diloggún readers; they can divine with ease, grace and go beyond traditional interpretations to find new perspectives to help others see their way in life. Some others have a flair for ritual or a blessed memory to remember and share knowledge those who surround them. Then there are those whose sense of style and eye for colors help us to add elegance in the form of gorgeous thrones, initiatory tools, beading and clothes.

However, there are many more ways to express creativity in our ilés and certainly elders initiates should set a living example either by finding ways to manifest their creative gifts as well as by motivating godchildren and abures (olosha brothers and sisters) to express themselves.

As I prepared to spend the Thanksgiving holidays with my family, I started to device ways of having fun with my children. This household is always busy with either secular or religious activity, thus it is seldom that we get time to share and I wanted to make it special. I headed to the nearest art supply store with the boys and decided to encourage their artistic side. As I watched the youngest one select an immense box of crayons, coloring books and a sketch book I started to remember how much I enjoyed doodling when I was little.

You have got to love that cute cowrie face!

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Santería and Marriage: How to Increase Chances of Success

Shared Passion and Religion Strengthens a Marriage
The success rate in Santería marriages has not been, to my knowledge, officially studied and measured. However, it is common wisdom that people who share a common faith have more chances of success than those who do not.

Over coffee this morning, my husband and I started to reminisce about our life together. It has been nearly 16 years since we married. Our journey together started by with a simple question. “Do you know anything about Santeria?” We had just met at a party and he learned that I was from Puerto Rico. The conversation took off to a great start. We discovered many spiritual and mundane common interests and our relationship bloomed both spiritually and romantically.

In time I devoted my life to Yemayá and him to Obatalá. Life has tested our marriage in many ways and it is the Egun and the Orishas who keep us strong together as a family by providing us the guidance to overcome obstacles and the wisdom to follow advice even when sometimes it may not be exactly as we have foreseen.

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Lessons in Learning Spiritual Traditions

Teaching, easier said than done
Life´s lessons come from unexpected sources. Recently I had the opportunity to learn a most unexpected and valuable lesson from a person who I entrusted to be my teacher. I was surprised by an overreaction that can only be described with one word: Rudeness.

Rudeness in my book is simply an inner reflection of fears and lack of spiritual advancement. Rudeness does not know the value of temperance; it also does not know when to seek clarification and when to lash out like a bull in a china shop. Rudeness is weakness.

However, in the face of such reprehensible behavior my reaction which can be hot tempered surprised me even more, for it was one of forgiveness. Once the initial shock of the outrage wore out, I felt truly sorry for my teacher. Here is a person with so much to share yet blinded by ego and a fundamental lack of care in the way lessons and corrective courses of action are shared with students.

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Elegua’s Sacred Geometry

An Beautiful Ashó Eleguá
As a religious culture, the Lucumí in the Americas are not particularly attached to sacred temples and fixed structures, at least not as a general practice. Since our structure is based on households or ilés, our homes are literally our temples. Of course, some groups may have established centers or gathering places, but this is more the exception than the rule.

In most religions, places of worship and congregation are designed to uplift and elevate and as they are being created there are elements that go beyond the aesthetics in their creation, such as the consideration of Sacred Geometry.

In Sacred Geometry, symbolic and sacred meanings are ascribed to geometrical shapes. However, in the case of the Lucumí, sacred geometry is more intimate than its influence over grand temples and places of congregation. Sacred Geometry for me manifests in areas such as orisha related art and in my case, I use Sacred Geometry in the design of ashó orisha.

One of my passions in the religion is the design and creation of ashó orisha or ceremonial clothes for initiates. These clothes represent the characteristics of each orisha. Literally each ashó orisha should tell a story visually. This story is narrated through a variety of symbols, numbers, colors, geometric shapes and representations of nature according to the orisha in question.

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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 info@themysticcup.com. 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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Ethics and the Orishas: The Impact of Drugs, Alcohol and Sexual Promiscuity on Initiations

Unbalanced by Alcohol?
Early mornings are great for soul searching. It is in the quiet moments of the morning when I first elevate my prayers to the Orishas and seek their guidance and blessings. This morning, my thoughts gravitated towards a complex subject: Ethics in Santeria.

The complexity of human emotions and interests drive us, initiates, to either embrace tradition or to modify it to suit personal or collective needs. I am not much for the modification of traditions, unless said traditions are flawed and have no logic in their practices. Only then, I will seek a consensus with my elders and the permission of the Orishas to amend practices in the most direct and unobtrusive way possible.

One issue I have been pondering for a while is how the righteousness of our acts as initiates impact the life of those people under our spiritual mentorship, particularly, acts that are born from poor choices. I see the relationship between godparent and godson/daughter as a sacred one, and as such, our actions as initiates must be as beyond reproach as possible if we are to be upheld as models for our godchildren and for the community at large.

Within the realm of reproachable behaviors in our society there are several that aggravate me most and can have a direct bearing in the results of initiations: Drugs, Alcohol and Sexual Promiscuity.

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Chronicles of a Young Awó: Part 7

Chronicles of Ogbe Ate

The next morning brought the sounds from the Cuban kitchen. I could hear the wife of the owner of the house preparing breakfast, setting plates, and organizing other things outside our room. My padrino was nowhere to be found; he must have had awoken earlier. Not wanting to be remembered as a lazy, late riser from that “lazy United States”, I woke up, got dressed, and greeted everyone. There were 2 or 3 Cubans in the living room and we exchanged a few conversations about my arrival and how I had slept (of course, I lied profusely….said it was a very pleasant sleep). My padrino had left earlier to go to the hotel area 15 minutes away to send some messages to his wife in the United States (I had typed out a message to my own wife the night before and he was to send it via email to her). While the island did have telephones, I did not want to burden the hosts with an expensive phone call. My padrino was to get phone cards that could be used at public telephone booths.

I could hear male laughter and gossip, so I excited the living room and stepped outside to get my first daylight view of Cuba. I was surprised at how much it reminded me of Puerto Rico. The construction of homes followed very similar Spanish and American “Miami-style” designs. It was definitely not an affluent neighborhood, but neither did it feel like Third-World hell. The men outside were Eyiogbe, a very large black man that had been playing the Iya at the tambor the previous evening (we will name him Meyu), and other friends of theirs. Meyu obviously grabbed my attention, both because of his size and his personality. He was a braggart…but a funny, good-natured one. They were having a discussion about who was who in the batalero world and he was adamant that if “he didn’t know you, you were not a batalero in Cuba”. It was hilarious how he would proceed to name dozens of bata masters (Pipo, Hector el Negro, Ramon, etc.) that no one except absolutely involved Santeros in Cuba would know. Beyond Cuba’s shores, these would be nobodies. But…it was hilarious to see the intensity of his showing off his experience and knowledge, all justified by his having performed in their ensembles. Cuba was a world all into its own.

Eyiogbe introduced me as a musician and from there, Meyu and I bonded as fellow musicians. I learned that he was also a trained trombonist and graduate from one of Cuba’s excellent music schools. His relationship to Santeria was his personal life, while his nightlife involved performing trombone with a mostly modern-music ensemble. Aside from his trombone chops, he was quite the amazing bata drummer. He talked big…but he could back it up. He was a mouthy Omo-Oggun with a kind soul. He spent the entire initiation making sure I was taken care of and spent several times with me while I trapped in the Cuarto de Santo.

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Chronicles of a Young Awó: Part 6

Chronicles of Ogbe Ate

Four months passed since my Awofakan. I had proudly called Oyugbon and told him, “hey, you’re not gonna believe it. I have a path to Ifa! Hah…of all the unexpected things…”. He was pleased. My music work continued unabated and I proceeded to organize the funds I had left in savings. Call it coincidence or call it destiny, but I had exactly what I needed for the trip left….roughly $15,000 (the cost would be $12,000 for my coronation of Shango and initiation into Ifa, plus $650 for the plane trip and an extra $500 for living costs after my ceremonial days). January 7th came and we began our journey to Cuba via Cancun. I had mentally prepared myself for the eventuality that we’d have problems on our return with U.S. Customs and had rehearsed excuses. We traveled with the money divided among both of us and with my Guerreros and other needed items inside my suitcase. In Cancun, my bag was searched and the perplexed Mexican customs workers pulled out my Eshu (I knew he’d be determined to cause me some playful trouble). They peered into the weird conch shell, with its protruding nails and began to give me the regular excuse, “um sir, you’re not going to be able to travel with this”. After some courteous back and forth about how these were religious items that I had to carry, a supervisor came along. I quickly noticed he had a green-yellow Idde on his left hand. “What’s the problem?….ohhh….ok. Yes, you can let him pass…I know what those are….don’t worry, he’s fine”. I smiled and thanked the supervisor and asked him, “is there a lot of Santeros in Mexico?” “oh yeah…it’s actually growing…lots of Cubans are coming this way…Venezuelans too…have a nice day!”

With that, we were off to the terminal area. With about 40 min to spare, my padrino decided he wanted to eat something before going to Cuba. As I watched him eat and the time kept passing, I was worried we’d be late. We had 10 minutes left. “Padrino, let’s go….we’re gonna miss the flight”. He finally finished and we started walking down to the Cubana airline gate headed off to Havana. As we approached, I noticed the gate seemed empty….I began to worry. A heavy-set Mexican worker in a thick accent said, “are you guys, XXXX and YYYY?” We nodded, “chin@@ su madre…you guys almost missed your flight…we called you guys like 5 times! Run…go down that door, and run down to the tarmac…the plane is waiting.” All I could keep thinking is, “thanks Padrino…you almost made us miss our flight!” We stepped out from the air-conditioned gate and onto the sun-drenched tarmac at Cancun International. A plane was waiting at the end of the ramp. It was the first time I had ever walked onto a plane using stairs…I was accustomed to the American luxury of walking down a tunnel right into a plane. We entered the plane and found our seats. Padrino was uncomfortable…the seats were very tight and he was a tall guy. We smiled at each other and he said to me, “you wanted to visit the Revolution? Here’s your revolution…que viva la revolucion!, as he pressed his legs up uncomfortably.” I laughed…I understood what he was saying…but I wasn’t concerned with temporary discomforts. I couldn’t wait to land on Havana.

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