Category Archives: Santeria

Fundamental Santería Plants: Prodigiosa or Ewe Dún Dún©

Prodigiosa or Ewe dún dún

It has rained quite a bit since I learned about this fascinating plant. Back then, the world of Santería was an unraveling mystery filled with scents, sounds and colors that set my imagination, senses and spirit on fire. I remember with awe the first time I held a Prodigiosa leaf in my hand. I was fascinated by the fact that a single leaf of Prodigiosa (Kalanchoe pinnata o Bryophyllum pinnatum) could easily become micro cosmos of wonders sprouting several offspring’s from the edges of the leaf. Later on I found that this is a common trait of the members of the Crassulaceae family, Bryophyllum section of the Kalanchoe genus, which can grow the plantlets without being potted or having water because of its succulent nature.

It is interesting to notice that a plant that crucial in the process of initiation into Santería is not original from Nigeria or from West Africa. Kalanchoe pinnata or Bryophyllum pinnatum by its scientific name hails from Madagascar and it has spread to other areas of the world where it is also admired by many of its attributes.

This plant is known by several names. Under the title of ewe there are several variants of the name: Ewe dún dún/odún dún,and ewe obamoda/abomoda. In Spanish Prodigiosa is also known as Siempre Viva, Yerba Bruja, Inmortal, Flor de Aire, Hoja de Aire, and Hoja Bruja. In other parts of the world the names go from Love Leaf, Mystical Caribbean in North America, to NeverDie or Armapoi in India, Féy Lougarou in Haiti, and even Q’uora Wayra in Perú, such is the popularity and regionalization that it has acquired.

Overall there is plenty of lore associated to the Prodigiosa. Some people say that if you write the name of a person you love and then place a leaf of Prodigiosa over it, love will grow as well. However, setting aside magical uses, let’s look at this plant from another point of view focusing on some important data on botany. Responsible use of plants should include an understanding that goes beyond hand me down information, it is important to support tradition with science whenever possible, particularly when plants are ingested, such as the case of a plant that goes to making omiero (ritual water for initiation made of plants and many other ingredients).

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Iyawó Basic Rules

A white hat is traditionally worn by male iyawós
When a Santería believer takes the step to become an olosha, the transformation is a delicate one. It literally involves being born again, and not in the Christian sense of the word. Our re-birth is one that carries a transformation of spiritual symbiotic nature. In other words, a spiritual force other than ours is aligned to our force during the kariosha or crowning ceremony and from that moment on, initiate and orisha coexist in a mutual codependent relationship. However, this is my very own point of view and I have yet to hear it being articulated in these particular terms by any other oloshas. Frankly, I am not sure that the scientific/spiritual approach would be one readily accepted by many who have no inclination to study or observation of natural sciences as they apply to religion.

Iyawós enter a period of learning and repose for 12 months, this is known as “The Year in White” and most commonly as “Iyaworaje.” This period is marked by a set of rules and restrictions that are imposed to protect the iyawó. Rules are not arbitrary they are established because they are meant to protect the iyawó from any harm, after all they are the future of our religious community and must be cherished and revered. When an iyawó follows the rules it shows commitment, maturity, responsibility and respect for their new rank, to their godparents and most important, the head orisha. The way in which an iyawó chooses to carry on during this year can and will determine the nature of the relationship with the tutelary orisha for life. Take it from someone who has been there and done that.

Basic Rules
1. Caring for the Head:
The head must be protected and covered at all times during the first 3 months of kariosha. Only elders (godmother/godfather or oyugbonakán) are allowed to touch it with no cover. The Iyawo must put some cocoa butter, and cascarilla (efún) on his/her head every day covered by cotton and then use a hankerchief or cap to protect the head.
a. In case of accident medical staff is except from this rule and they can touch the head, they are blessed by Oragun, orisha that protects internal organs.

2. Dress Code, Hygiene and Sex:
a. White is the emblem of the iyawó and it must be worn for one year and 7 days after initiation; this is both in public and at home.
i. Female iyawós wear for the first 3 months a shawl, skirt, bloomers, panties, stockings, brassiere, undershirt, slip, long or calf length skirt, shirt with sleeves and no cleavage showing, white closed shoes, handkerchief and hat. She must also wear all her elekes, bracelets and idé.
ii. Male iyawós wear pants, socks, white closed shoes, shirt with sleeves, undershirt, cap and hat. He must also wear his idé and at the very least the bracelet of Obatalá.
b. Shoes or house shoes with socks or stocking must be worn at all times.
c. Iyawós do not sleep naked (they use pajamas, underwear and socks to bed) or parade themselves naked in front of their orisha.
d. Iyawós do not expose themselves to the elements, they use a white umbrella.
e. Clothes must be clean, pressed and not have holes.
f. Iyawós should take care to have a spare set of clothes at hand in case of accidents.
g. Jewelry not represented the orishas is not allowed.
h. The only exception when an iyawo does not wear religious attributes such as idé and elekes (necklaces) is to go to bed.
i. Some iyawós have work restrictions with regards to attire; those must be consulted during the process of itá to seek leniency or modifications.
j. The iyawo does not wear makeup, cuts his or her hair during the first three months and absolutely does not die his or her hair during the first year.
k. The iyawo sleeps in clean white sheets and uses white towels, white toothbrush, comb and any other utensil must be white.
l. The iyawó bathes twice a day, morning and evenings.
m. A female iyawó does not touch her orisha during her menstrual cycle or partakes in any ritual while on her period.
n. Iyawós should not engage in sexual relations for the first 16 days after kariosha, some houses have different rules, follow your house rules.
o. An iyawó should not be promiscuous and engage in sex with various partners at the same time or concurrently.

3. Meals
a. The iyawó eats on the mat for the first 3 months using a spoon, the dish and mug received during kariosha.
b. If the Iyawo is to eat out, the utensils must be carried as well as the matt.
c. The iyawo does not use fork and knife and will not lift the plate from the mat as he/she eats.
d. The iyawó does not interrupt meals to take calls, text on mobile devices or engage in any activity that could cause stress during the meal.
e. Leftover food is to be offered to Eshú or Egún.
f. Exceptions to rules due to work restrictions must be consulted during itá.

4. Day-to-day
a. The iyawó will not touch the uninitiated, this includes taking things from other people’s hands, handshaking, kissing on the cheeks or lips (other than spouse or their own children)
b. The iyawó must be accompanied by the oyugbona when visiting an olosha’s house for the first time after kariosha.
c. The Iyawo must avoid going out before 6 am and should be back in doors before night fall. He/she should also avoid direct sun and being exposed to the sun at noon or to the night sky at midnight.
d. The Iyawo will avoid sitting in public parks, standing on street corners, going to bar, night clubs, cabarets, market places, ruined constructions, jails, cemeteries, funeral parlors, hospitals, burials.
e. The iyawó should never walk over holes in the ground and should be careful when entering a cave, tunnel, or a forest.
f. The iyawó does not smoke or drink alcohol of any kind.
g. The iyawó avoids crowded places such as movies, theaters, parties, raves, masquerades and does not attend parties that are not related to orisha activities.
h. The iyawó should be escorted by elder at all possible times.
i. The iyawó will refrain from using drugs, being involved in illicit activities, killing or doing anything that is outsides of the parameters of the law.
j. The iyawó must have a head feeding done every month by either the main godparent of the oyugbonakán.
k. The iyawó will not curse and will not lie.
l. The iyawó will not carry weapons.
m. The Iyawo must avoid at all cost arguing, being involved in gossips, using profane language and being offensive to others; especially if the other persons are relatives, spouse or religious relatives.

There may be variations to these rules and they will be imposed from house to house, however, if a person is considering dedicating his or her life to the orishas they should be fully aware of the commitment and requirements expected and be able to follow them.

In today’s society, where the common mindset pushes people to rush and to impose their will over that of elders, just because they can or because it is in their nature to be contrary and push the envelope, rules are seen as something to bent and broken. Rules for an iyawó are a safe haven; because an iyawó should be in a state of grace leaving the igbodu (ceremonial room) after kariosha, it is imperative to conform to new habits and continue to purification process started during the initiation.

Only when an iyawó understands and accepts this process and is ready to release bad habits from before, will the iyawó truly profit from the initiation by evolving, growing and intensifying the changes that each tutelary orisha has in store for their new initiate. Following rules and the itá will bring the road of blessings to unfold at your feet, iyawó. Do not ever forget, others may and will judge you during your first year and your behavior will reflect on your elders, but ultimately, your elders already have their path established, yours is just starting. Be kind to yourself and remember no one forced you to do kariosha, or so I hope. Honor your orisha by following rules and avoid a possible public or private embarrassment by either oloshas, or even worse, the orisha themselves.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

The Year in White: Setting Goals for Iyawós

The white shawl is traditional for female iyawós
Becoming an iyawó is a great ordeal for many people. To start, it is hard to save money in this economy to do kariosha (to have the orisha seated in one’s head/body), it is also painstaking to find good godparents who are willing to teach and train a new initiate properly, and finally it is a process of profound change and adaptation like no other, which is not to be undertaken lightly.

Therefore, if a person has to go through a lot of steps to get to kariosha, it makes all the sense in the world to truly manifest this commitment by not only following all the rules of the iyawó year, but also, by setting up goals to help bring about blessings and ashé during the year.

The goals do not have to be lofty, there is a lot of pressure iyawós will face as it is with keeping up with their taboos, wearing white clothes in public, avoiding being touched, taking things directly from other people’s hands, keeping up with possible food restrictions and much more.

During my iyawó year I did set some goals and this was done on my own, no one told me to do so, it was in my nature to structure this time because to me it was crucial to establish the best possible relationship with my orisha. I had heard many elders talk about the importance of discipline, respect and devotion to the commitments contracted and how this year would set the tone to a life of spiritual grace or else depending on the choices the iyawó made. I was determined that there was only one path for me: To do things right.

Why are having goals important during this first year? Well there is a variety of reasons. I can give you three reasons that are powerful enough for me: Respect, discipline and devotion.

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Two Simple Offerings to Obatalá, the King of the White Cloth

Soursop and Rice Pudding
Getting to know Obatalá is a lifetime process. There is much to be said about his attributes, stories and different manifestations. However in one page I am going to show you two ways to please this orisha with simple and elegant offerings that I have prepared for my orisha and for the tutelar orisha of my husband Elefunké, which happens to be Obatalá.

Soursop and Rice Pudding

Soursop or Annona muricata is one of Obatalás favorite fruits and rice pudding is one of mine, so I decided to combine these two flavors to make a delicate dessert to offer Obatalá for my osha anniversary. I do get tired of the same old recipes and I like to experiment in the kitchen.

a) 1.5 cups cooked rice
b) 1 cup of soursop pulp strained and sweetened to taste
c) 1 cup whole milk
d) ½ cup of heavy cream
e) 1/3 cups sugar
f) ¼cups of white raisins
g) 1 tablespoon unsalted butter
h) 1 egg, beaten
i) ½ teaspoon vanilla
j) ¼ teaspoon of nutmeg

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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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A Tower of Power for Oshún

Oshún loves Sweet Treats
There is nothing that gives me more pleasure than cooking for the orishas, thus I want to share with you a really basic recipe that is sure to please one of the most beloved orishas of all: Oshún.

There are many things that can be said about Oshún. She is the darling of the Orisha pantheon because of her particular domain: Love, wealth, coquettishness, witchcraft, and craftiness in general. She is also the apetebí non-plus ultra and the only female orisha that could drag the Master of Iron out of his voluntary retreat from society into the jungle. Let me see what else I can add to the list of this orisha? Ah yes, but of course she saves Orunmila as well in another patakí.

However, that would be dwarfed by the time when she saved the world when Olofi was ready to destroy it based on his disillusion with the folly of orisha and humanity. Oshún decided to intervene and visit Olofin’s castle herself by transforming into a Vulture (what we Lukumí call Kolé or Igun) and flew for days upon days until she found Olofi and asked for mercy. She was granted her request upon the condition not to say she intervened in the saving of the world. She humbly returned to see that other orisha were laying claim to her success. Tired of seeing lies spread, she was about to break her oath to Olofi when the heavens opened and Olofi recognized her merits and established that even if she was the last and smallest of the Orishas, she would be from that moment on the most powerful due to her humble heart. Or so the story goes…

In any case, who can’t but to love her? Personally, I am nuts over Oshún and as you can see even in my “Omimelli” name, she is reflected, as it means twin waters, ocean and river.

Ok, so here is a little tribute to my beautiful Yeye, it is simple and chances are you have in your pantry and refrigerator all you need to put it together in a matter of minutes. It is non other than home made French toasts but I like to call it:

A Tower of Power (Torrejas)

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Words are always alive: Ashé Semilenú

Great ashé carries great responsibility
There is an old adage that states, “We are slaves of our words and masters of our silence.”
The study of the diverse kinds of ashé is a fascinating subject to me. One that particularly attracts me is the ashé semilenú, or the ashé placed on the tongue, on words. I would like to invite you to meditate on the power that this particular ashé has.

My secular life is marked by words because I am in the field of communications; therefore, I have always been aware of the power they carry. My religious life is also marked by words but on a broader range of levels because not only do I use words for my rituals, but also for creation of clothes and implements to protect iyawós- to- be and to bless those abures who will use them for their orishas. You may say I am fastidious about not only what I say, but when and to whom I say it. Words will never be light for me, or casual, they will always carry underlying meaning, reasons within reasons, and I hope they are always doorways to my soul and thought processes.

I am poignantly aware of ashé semilenú because as a Santera I realize that this ashé continuously is at work manifesting, transmuting and altering spiritual and material reality. Take for example the start of my day. Every morning I like to ask for blessings from my spirits, from my elders and as part of it, I like to stand at my doorway, gourd with omí tutu (fresh water) in hand to invoke blessings for my household, to freshen the roads I have to travel and the paths of those I love and honor. Words energize, words attract and repel, words manifest: Words are always alive.

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A Non-Nonsense Guide to Eleguá and the Warriors

The Warriors: Eleguá, Ogún, Oshosi and Osun.

If you have made the commitment to receive the Warriors from a Lukumí house proper training is important. I realize that from house to house there will be some variances as to how to do things, but the fundamentals remain the same.

There is no substitute to the direct relationship between godparents and godchildren, your first line of knowledge practice and instruction must come from them. Whatever you learn on the Internet, my words included, always take with the proverbial pinch of salt, particularly because I am not an ‘Internet Madrina’ nor I seek to substitute the guidance of any bonafide godparent.

However, I am concerned for those who have taken initiations and then do not know what to do with the warriors because either they are no longer in touch with their godparents and ilé or for a myriad of reasons. There is no excuse to slack on commitment to Eleguá, Osun, Ogún and Oshosi.

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Speak Lukumí, Yoruba or Simply Tong Twisted in between?

Master Akpwón Lázaro Ros, Osha Niwé Igbaé Bayen N'ntonú

Oral tradition can be like playing telephone, the kids game when you pass along a message from one person to the next, and at the end of a long line of ear-to-mouth communications, the original message normally is pretty different than what you had at the start.

To a great extent that has happened to the liturgical dialect used in Santería known as Lukumí (some say this word means ‘my friend’). What we have today and what is used in many ceremonies is broken down, mixed with Spanish and in some cases with English and it is a huge goulash that makes no proper sense in many cases to people who know Yoruba.

I am going to illustrate my point with some travesties I have heard over and over during batá drumming and osha initiations, where even the akpwón or the oriaté, depending on the occasion is singing something that does not make sense.

Let me make clear that my intention here is transparent; there is simply no need to continue on repeating things like a parrot without understanding what we are saying when we have now more contact with Yoruba speaking people and there are many good quality books and recordings that can help us fill in the knowledge gap where needed.

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Eleguá in a Flash

Eleguá the King of the Roads

Dealing with Eleguá is dealing with succinctness. Yes, he can certainly like to make you go round and round in long elaborate ceremonies, but in my personal experience this orisha goes to the point, cuts through the chase and gets stuff moving pronto. So in honor of that speed I am writing brief today, June 13th, a day in which many salute the Orisha of the Roads.

Eleguá is my personal hero, the protector of my home, the one that walks with me and travels wherever I touch foreign soil. Eleguá listens carefully, acts swiftly and forgives my flaws, kicks me in the rear every now and then some, teaches me lessons in unexpected ways, blesses me just as well.

Our relationship is one of comfort but not of routine. It has the familiarity of decades yet remains fresh and flexible like new friends who seek each other to enjoy life and discover things with fresh eyes.

I don’t bother Eleguá with requests I can’t take care of by myself yet he is always aware of my needs. He has given me great proof of his impact in my life. Modupué babá mi Eleguá you placed your hands on the fire to defend my honor when slandered, you protect my home when required, and your love is the foundation of my home.

Babá mi you are the babá orisha of my iyá may you always protect her and keep her roads open. You are the strength of my husband may you always give him the wisdom to deal with life and the many challenges his beloved wife throws his way :-). You are the inspiration and joy of my children, keep them always in your heart like they keep you in theirs.

Babá mi Elegua fun mi iré, fun mi iré omá, fun mi iré arikú babagwa. Modupué!

Oní Yemayá Achagbá