Category Archives: Santeria

The Difference between Inspiration and Delusion in Santería and Palo

Not all sources of inspiration are reliable.
This will be a short and targeted rant. This week I have seen a few prime examples of people who act based on emotions; both in Santería as in Palo. I am not going to discuss the particular of each case because I want to respect privacy. People make assumptions. Because they feel something strongly they think that what they are feeling is correct and true and needs to be carried out. Nutty people in the loony bin also can have such feelings and ideas, these are called delusions. A delusion is a false idea about reality; keep this in mind as you read. Let me point out a few things that should be food for thought.

Impulse and Inspiration

Santería becomes Tontería (foolishness) when people read and imitate without thinking. It is lovely to have an inspiration but it does not mean you have to act impulsively and do what your inspiration is moving you to do. Because a book says that Eleguá represents phallic energies it does not mean that you have to surround him with phallic symbols and sex toys. How about engaging the brain before letting the body carry you away with meaningless acts? What an embarrassment to walk into someone’s shrine and find the Road Opener surrounded by such distasteful display.

Palo becomes a threat to personal freedom when people do not respect the law. A person who is barely trained feels an impulse to obtain a kriyumba. Having a dream inspiring you to get a kriyumba or other such objects hardly confers the right qualifications to deal with such responsibility. Furthermore, it does not confer the license to obtain one illegally. Grave desecration is against the law. There are legal ways to procure fundamental materials without risking personal freedom and the reputation and safety of the community at large.

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Emerging Santería Houses: The Sancocho and Palangana Houses

Yemayá Mother of Tradition Protect Your Children from Invention
Santería branches emerge from the structure of Cabildos* and there are various branches from which interconnected houses emerge. Some of the most known branches are identified by colorful epithets: The Culos Verdes (“Green Ass”) which loosely translated means hillbillies or country bumpkins, La Pimienta (“Hot Pepper”) and El Trapito (“The Little Rag”). There is history behind each of these names.

The Culos Verdes, as per William Mudro** is a substitution for the designation previously known as José Pata de Palo who was born in Matanzas, Cuba and migrated to Havana in the late 18th Century and where he was considered a güajiro, jibarito o simply, a country bumpkin.

La Pimienta (where I come from) is also known as El Trapito and La China de Maximiliano. Its founder, the matron of a brothel named Aurora Lamar (Obá Tolá) distinguished herself not only for her passion to the orisha but for lending money to prostitutes to do yoko osha. Her house was in located in a place called Ataré which is nothing other but the Yoruba-Lukumí word for Guinea Pepper. Lamar was a daughter of Aganjú an orisha known for his hot temper and representative of the fiery core of the earth.

As to El Trapito, well that name comes from ritual innovation. The story goes that during one of the yoko oshas a soup tureen broke and they had to improvise using a rag to contain the fundamentals of the orisha in the process of crowning. Therefore, in one of the houses from what came out of Lamar’s Pimienta house, using a rag to contain the fundamentals of the orisha became the norm.

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A Tasty Adimú for my Babá Anganjú

Torrejas in Syrup
Angajú is my babá in osha. For me he is the heart of mysteries in my life, we have a quiet and profound relationship. However, my youngest son, a typically curious 5 years old going on 50 always wants to know more and more about this giant amongst the orishas. There is always a question about the volcano and the lava and the fire and all things related to Anganjú. So one day, he was driving me nuts with questions, I was particularly busy in the kitchen trying to think of what to make for dinner and I said to him. You want to learn about Aganjú, let me teach you what he likes to eat.

In our human condition, food is a great common denominator. We must eat to survive; thus, it is not strange that we make such a big deal out of offering food to our orishas. I asked my son, “what do you think that such a mighty orisha would enjoy eating?” He looked at me and shrugged his shoulders and said, “Volcanos eat land and people.” Flawless logic, can’t argue with that. But alas! These are not times when we offer maidens at the mouth of a volcano.

I found the ingredients I needed at hand and I gave myself to the task of cooking a meal fit for Anganjú while I shared with my little one a few patakís.

Amalá, ogedé sisé and roasted short ribs (beef). This meal consists of cornmeal porridge with sweet plantain balls and ribs and it has a very interesting contrast of sweet and spicy flavors sure to please the giant orisha. I start by preparing a nice dry spice rub for the short ribs (brown sugar, coriander seeds, dried ground pasilla and ancho chilies, cumin seeds, sea salt and guinea pepper) which go in the oven to roast slow and low until tender. The amalá is made traditional and the ogedé sisé I like to make by baking the sweet plantains rather than boiling them, they I season them with honey and cinnamon and form the sweet gooey mash into balls.

The spices I used for this meal are not traditional from West Africa, but neither is corn. I find it fitting to incorporate some dried chilies to stand up to the sweetness of the amalá and the ogedé sisé. It is also a way to pay my respects to my babá by offering something that is hot but not blazing.

Torrejas Cubanas. This is another favorite of mine, the equivalent of French Toast but made using French bread rather than sliced bread. I like to make syrup to go over the torrejas using with Port wine, clarified butter, vanilla, cinnamon and lots of brown sugar or even maple syrup if I am doing a very special petition.

I must admit, since the ribs take a bit to cook to perfection, I did lose the attention span of my kid for a while, but he was back to the kitchen in a flash once he detected the scent of the torrejas browning on the clarified butter. He insisted in delivering the plate of torrejas in front of Anganjú all by himself in exchange of a little portion which he happily ate sitting on a mat on the floor.

I hope you enjoy trying out these dishes for yourself or offering them to Anganjú in case you have it at home. I will leave you with some music from the late Celia Cruz. Enjoy!

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

Adimú for Oggún the Spirit of Iron

Roasted Yams with Molasses a Treat for Oggún

To my son who is fine young priest of Oggún. True to his babá Oggún he never shies away from hard work, finds clever and creative ways to achive his goals, is very loyal to his friends and family and loves to enjoy a wholesome meal at the end of a day filled with activity.

Oggún is the one that clears the way and is the architect of civilization. He works tirelessly making tools to propel commerce, farming, the military and transportation. It stands to reason that the adimú adún provided to Ogún as well as savory adimús are robust and flavorful.

My son is a Balogún and I have observed him discover slowly those things his Oggún likes, some are of his own domain thus I will keep away from them but will share some general adimú that seem to be sure pleasers for the Spirit of Iron.

Fried Yam- This is relatively easy. Boil yams for about 15 minutes, then pull out; they should not be mushy, slice and fry in lard. Top with a mixture of molasses and a drizzle of red palm oil.

Roasted Yam– Wrap a red yam in foil, bake yam it until tender. Split in half and top with brown sugar, honey and cinnamon. In the photo the yams are topped with molasses, yet another variation of this dish. You can make it even fancier by adding dried cranberries or roasted nuts.

Fried Black-Eyed Peas– Soak peas, then cook until tender. Cut onions, garlic and chilies and cook in lard, toss in the black eyed peas and cook for a few more minutes and then serve.

Baked Fish topped with Curry Sauce– Bake a red snapper and top with a sauce made with onions, peppers, garlic, bay leaves, guinea peppers, ginger and curry powder.

Oggún also favors black beans and rice, guinea fowl, male goat dishes and roasted black rooster and likes to have plenty of rum (100% proof is best) to accompany his adimú.

Personally I like to .serve Ogún’s treats in a rustic manner, no finery such as china or ceramic plates unless I am really wanting to petiton something very special. However, my favorite kind of adimús to offer are those that come from the heart without any desires to obtain something in return because those adimús are a way of conversation from me to the orisha and those I like to dish them out in gourds or igüereas simple and casual.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

Seeking Iré through Cleanliness

Omí tutu a foundation of ebó misí
I was asked last week what sort of prayers or routines a beginner can follow in keeping his or her orishas. I am not much for steady routines, they bore me. However, in keeping to the rules of our religious practices there are some routines that are rather healthy and that I support.

Routines must have a purpose; in this case the set of routines I adhere to have a singular goal: To seek iré, which is nothing other than good fortune. There are many different kinds of iré, but the secret to iré is that it is like a loadstone, it must be fed and it will always attract more iré.

Inviting good fortune into your life is simple, it only takes one word: Cleanliness.

Cleanliness applies to more than our bodies and our physical surroundings. Cleanliness is a state of being and it is reflected on everything we do, but sometimes a simple truth is not readily apparent.

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The Effect of Puerto Rico’s Moral and Socio Cultural Decline on Santería

The Ganso Attitude not one to be Imitated
Puerto Rico’s society is in a state of decline and this decline is impacting every single aspect of our lives, from our families, to our culture and even our religious institutions. Social and moral decline are typically characterized as reduced adherence to cultural or social norms or values and widespread lapses in ethical behavior.

There are many indicators of decline, and crime, is one of them. In Puerto Rico, 2010 became the second most violent year since 1994 with a total of 983 murders. Keep in mind that our population is of 3,949,818. What is truly alarming is that when we compare our population and crime figures to a city like Los Angeles, California, we come out with a black eye. L.A. has a population of 4,071,291 people, and in 2010, the total of murders reached 291. The Puerto Rican daily bloodbath outpaces the Angelinos 3:1. If this does not fill you with dread, shame and worry, then what does?

You may wonder why I open an essay on Santería talking about crime. Crime is an indicator of what lurks in the depth of the collective mind. Our culture has eroded in many ways, one that bothers me the most is the veneration of the “Cultura del Ganso” as a paradigm of acceptable and praiseworthy social behavior.

What is the ‘Cultura del Ganso’?

I am not talking here about a farm animal (goose) to be sacrificed in a Santería ritual. No. The ‘ganso’ for Puerto Ricans is the personification of social, cultural and moral decline in our Island. The ganso is a person adept at bending the system to materialize any desire. Selfishness and greed are two of the main drivers in the ‘ganso’ mentality. The ganso feels that every whim is justified because they are creatures driven by shrewdness. To cheat, steal and lie are but badges of honor acquired in the process of doing a ‘gansería’ (a shyster maneuver). The ganso feels that because someone else got away with a ‘gansería,’ then, it is justified to do it as well, no matter if it is against the most basic norms of civility and honor.

El ganso does not care about tradition, about tomorrow, or about legacies for that matter. The ganso does not worry about ‘do onto others.’ The ganso lives a selfish vida loca (crazy life) where consequences are hardly pondered. Puerto Rico is filled with gansos, and sadly, so are many ilés (orisha houses).
How do you recognize the presence of gansos in an ilé orisha?

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Santería’s Growth Dilemma: The Balance between Theory and Practice

African Traditional Religions face growing pains in the Americas and abroad. Because most practices are centered in small communal and house oriented structures, some groups are seeing through these pains intelligent and systematically. However, there is an alarming trend to simply fall prey to the speed of growth. This tidal growth gives way to inventions and ill prepared practitioners and leaders and has as results the creation of not households but shanties of destabilized groups populated with yet more new initiates lacking fundamental teachings but are all too eager to continue the accelerated and mindless growth.

Obatalá grants wisdom to those who need to make the right choices

In the face of these changes, it is crucial to exercise reflection and self analysis. Here is a dilemma that could threaten to pull Santería’s core apart and at the heart of it, there is a matter of prudence and self restrain. Ask yourself this question: When are new initiates ready to initiate others?

There are different schools in Santería. To place matters in perspective one could start with two questions. Are we blind servitors where the body controls our head? Or, are we wise servitors, where the head controls the body?

When the body controls the head…

Those who do not value patience tend to walk this path. For them, everything is about collecting godchildren and praising uncontrolled growth. It is about the ‘honor’ of being singled out to become a godparent or an oyugbona. Here the definition of success is not based on quality of initiates; it is based on quantity of initiates. It is about going in front of the orisha and simply throwing out the question “Can I initiate this individual?” I have heard all sorts of arguments to substantiate this ‘fast track’ growth such as “If my orisha has placed this opportunity in my path, then it must mean I am ready for it”, “I will learn by doing”, “It came in my itá that I would be initiating people immediately after my year in white or within my year in white” and the list goes on. Prudence and self analysis by damned, it is all about the initiator and its potential as new godparent and not about the needs of a person who entrusts in the initiator-to-be their spiritual growth and pocketbook.

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Rogación de Cabeza: The Importance of Feeding Your Head in Santería

Kaworí Eledá a Most Important Ritual
For those who are new to Santería or Lukumí spirituality the concept of ‘feeding’ one’s head could sound pretty alien. However, lavishing attention on the cranium (eledá) as the repository of orí (guardian angel or higher self) is something of importance not only for oloshas but also in other African Traditional Religions such as Voodoo where the Lave Tete process also is centered around the head as a seat of power in the body.

In the body, eledá is the seat of the orí, thus it stands to reason that special care is given to it because an orí out of balance could cause difficulties. There are multiple reasons and instances when orí must be fed. Chief reasons fall under three main categories: Strengthening, cooling and balancing. The two main ritual instances that call for kaworí eledá are: Initiatory and expiatory, however it can be part of a preventive healthy spiritual regime.

There are many different ingredients that are used during kaworí eledá (head feeding) but the fundamental one is done with coconut, water, efún, cotton and cocoa butter among other ingredients. Some head feedings are done with ejá (blood of a sacrificed animal) and some with different fruits depending on the prescription that originates from a proper reading done by an italero or an awó Orunmila. Speaking of awós, they have their specialized head feedings as well, such as the head feeding with ejá tutu (fresh fish) in most cases a red snapper or a fresh water fish, once again depending on the reading.

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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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10 Sweet Treats for Eleguá

Candy Corn and PopCorn Balls for Eleguá
When I started to develop a relationship with my Eleguá at first I was very much buttoned up, then as time went by, I started to feel as though this mysterious orisha was pointing things out to me in subtle ways. Then I decide to just let go and listen, it is not like I became wildly experimental. Of course, as an aleyo I made sure to follow my godfather’s instructions to provide the basic service every Monday first thing in the morning.

However, there is a great deal of uncharted territory that aleyos must discover when it comes to managing their very first orisha, and having Eleguá is a trial by fire. I have not seen an aleyo yet that stays within set parameters of a traditional service and does not try to go overboard to please Eleguá. It is just part of the developmental process of that aleyo to learn to listen to its first set of orishas and to discover what is his or her own inspiration and what are clues placed out there by that particular Eleguá. It is also an important task to learn to differentiate between whimsical ideas and what is logical and reasonable. Aleyos are open to many influences as they are still trying to sort out spirit voices, inspiration from orishas and their internal voice.

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