Those who have managed a well run kitchen during a kariosha know that I am about to get into a hot, sweaty and oftentimes thankless territory. It is not enough to have a great sense of taste and to know how to cook during a kariosha (initiation into the Santería priesthood), there are more skills involved to be able to set oneself a cut above the rest when it comes to feeding a small battalion of hungry and demanding people during an kariosha and to cook for the orisha as well.
One of those important skills is to be an olosha and to have under the belt quite a few karioshas worked. This is important because the cook must know the rhythm of the initiation and the timing of when sacrificed animals (cut up in pieces) will start to arrive by bunches to the kitchen. It is crucial also to know how to cook for each of the orishas and how to keep pots and utensils duly separated as every orisha has its own particularities and it would be unacceptable to stir for example Oya’s ashé pot with the same spoon used to stir Yemayá’s ashé pot.
There are many rules in Santería, some are respected by traditional houses or ilés, and some are simply ignored by those who are fond of bending rules. Spiritual incest is a subject that merits careful consideration because it is taboo for a good reason. There are different kinds of spiritual incest the one perpetrated when godparents take on the role of god parenting their own lovers, boyfriends, girlfriends or spouses, and then, there is the case of siblings who are in the same household but involved.
Let’s start with the godparent/godchild relationship. A godparent is absolutely not allowed to initiate his/her significant other, be it giving elekes, warriors or any other simpler or more involved ceremony. If a person has any inkling towards a possible godson or goddaughter the best thing is to come out clean and reject the possibility of a religious relationship all together because life has mysterious ways of testing people’s resolve and destiny.
People who are sexually attracted, involved or romantically involved are strictly forbidden to enter into a godparent/godchild bond because of energetic reasons and reasons that extend beyond that such as placing one partner in a dominance status while the other one remains spiritually (and voluntarily) subservient.
There are taboos that forbid couples from handling each other’s orishas, feeding each other’s orís, and in general having to do anything with the orishas from his/her partner or significant other. We could elaborate on fine points about this rule but they will not change the fact that people who bend this rule commit spiritual incest.
Last fall, to celebrate my 43rd birthday on October 14th and All Hollows Eve I decided to treat myself to a trip to Merry Ol’ England. The highlight of my travels was to visit a place en Wales reputed for being a hot bed of spiritual activity or haunted place. My illustrious blog co-writer Janus, treated me to this wonderful birthday gift.
But this is not a Frommer’s Travel Guide summary of my ghostly encounters at the Skirrid Inn, it is more my impressions on how there is such a hunger to prove the existence of the afterlife and how some are a touch too naïve in the process.
We got there before sunset to have time to see a bit of the country side. As the sun died over the mountains we got to the Skirrid Inn and my eagle eyes spotted a lovely graveyard within walking distance of the Inn, so I said, let us pay respects to Oyá, queen of the cemeteries, and commune with local spirits that no doubt where buried there after they met their destiny at the hands of the infamous Judge Jefferies at the Inn. Curiously I felt drawn to a particular area of the graveyard and I walked there as if pulled by a friendly current, but it was getting dark and it was hard to read the gravestones so I decided to head on to the Inn and start our ghost hunting adventure.
One of the most difficult aspects of any relationship is trust. Having a personal and direct experience with divinity is no exception, particularly when our communication often times depends on a third party interpreting for us an oracle.
True, Santeros can read for themselves and communicate directly with their orishas by means of the dilogún (16-Cowry Oracle) and obí (coconuts), and, Awós divine for themselves with the Ékuele, however there are matters that are so delicate that is wise to entrust to an experienced third party that can place those issues into perspective. Who is the right person for this reading? Ideally it should be one’s godparents, but even in occasion they will seek assistance from a specialist for their godchildren.
There are elements that are keys to success in the process of seeking oracular advice and resolving issues, mainly these are openness of mind, suspending expectations and ability to follow instructions. The best reader in the world will not be able to solve the problems of a person that suffers from a syndrome I call “Acute Selective Listening.” What are the symptoms of ASL? Allow me to illustrate this with an example.
There is a profound fascination with status and finery in the Santería community. This fascination is no accident; it is in essence a syncretism of cultures where the Lukumí evokes notions of royalty inherited from our forefathers in West Africa and merges them with aesthetic sensibilities and materials from Western influences.
In modern Nigeria, initiatory clothes for oloshas are simple by comparison to the Lukumí fashions. The Lukumí ashó orisha are a melting pot of symbols, colors and textures which in the hands of expert seamstresses are transmuted into a costume to complete the spiritual birth of an olosha representing a new king, queen or powerful warrior.
Much can be said about long gone elders such as Omí Tomí, who is mentioned by Lydia Cabrera in her research as a direct descendant of an enslaved Mina Popó woman of the Gold Coast in Africa. Omí Tomí, an oní Yemayá was considered one of the highest skilled seamstresses in Havana in the late 1800s. It was then when the memories of royal life in Africa and the increased availability of fabrics and ornaments from the New World were fused to embody a baroque like sense of aesthetics and to honor new initiates.
The concept of death and rebirth is one shared by many religions; Santeria is no exception to this ritual. Crossing the threshold of the Igbodu and coming out successfully from Kariosha means massive changes for the iyawó. The crucial change is one of re-birth and every newborn needs a name. The process of selection of the name of an iyawó requires careful consideration and not just the alliteration of words that sound cool in Yoruba or in Lukumí depending on the linguistic knowledge of the Oriaté (officiating priest) and the godparents.
There are two main elements that must be considered when naming an iyawó:
Today, as my mother, who has barely come out of her iyawó year and prepares to become a godmother doing kariosha to her first goddaughter, I woke up thinking about her, about my own godfather and all the turns of events which lead me into my religious path, nearly 15 years ago.
Why must we struggle so in our ilés? Why must we have chains of dominance and control? Why must we amass people like they are collection items and then, relegate them as soon as new person comes into the ilé? Why must we deny ourselves the grace of self-assurance and collaboration between godparent and godchild? These are questions I like to consider. Particularly when relationships are at their best, it is wise to ask the difficult questions as communications are open between godparent and godchild, rather than later on, when struggles emerge and ears are shut tight to reason.
Let me start by setting some perspectives:
Godparents: Do not yearn to keep your godchildren obedient and subservient for life. Provide them proper and diligent guidance- as you would do with a child of your own loins -then, give them the world to explore and discover armed by the solidity of religious conviction and knowledge.
First things first, Spiritism is not a part of the Orisha practices in West Africa. However, in the great melting pot from which the practices of Santería emerge in Cuba and the Americas, Spiritism has come to fill out a void that emerged from the lost of the traditional practices of Egungun practices. The integration of Spiritual masses prior to kariosha also serves other functions that Spiritism fills in for those who follow it. Spiritism in many communities goes beyond its natural spiritual development functions and extends its reach to serve non affluent communities with alternative medicine and psychological functions. Yes, there are many who come to Spiritists to seek healing from physical maladies and emotional wounds.
There are several functions that spiritual masses accomplish depending on the skill level of its practitioners: (1) Research (2) Development (3) Crowning.
Research: The ideal research mass should have at least a talented clairaudient, a clairvoyants and at least a physical medium in addition to the person presiding the mass. This Spiritual Mass is meant to investigate the spiritual framework or cuadro espiritual of a person, be it an iyawó-to-be or not.
One of my godchildren wanted to talk to me today. His conversation was not a surprise; I had seen it coming for a while. He wanted to know the best steps he could take to prepare for kariosha.
Additional to the fundamental steps of (1) determining the orí of the individual, (2) taking the person formally to Yemayá (my guardian angel) for permission to initiate as priest in her house and then (3) repeating that process with head orisha of the oyugbonakán, there are a series of additional procedures that are customary. Some of those procedures can be done early on and some are done close to the kariosha day.
Before I dive into those steps, I want to share some things I told my godchild to financially ease the burden that kariosha will place on him. Most things to simplify your path can be summarize in one word: Preparation.
If kariosha is impending, the logical thing is to start gathering white clothes. In the case of my husband, I got a couple of large plastic containers and started filling them out with the items he would need during the seven days of the initiation and for the year after it. These things included mainly clothes, utensils and items that were harder to find out of season, such as summer and winter wear in white. If I knew there was a sale on sheets and towels, I was there to buy the best value items. If there was a sale in socks and underwear I made sure to get some and check them out off my list. By the time the date of the kariosha arrived, I had the equivalent of a trousseau but for a different kind of bride, a spiritual bride. I packed all items in a nice wicker trunk as it is traditional to have the iyawó present his clothes in a basket.
“A child has no wisdom, only potential. It is up to their fathers to give them wisdom so they may grow.”
– A northern Bantu proverb.
The relationship between godchild and godparent is a very important affair. The survival of our respective traditions depends upon the effective teaching and training of godchildren – of which everyone, regardless of what title or rank we hold, are. There is a frightening trend that seems to only be getting worse as time goes by, and that is the trend of not properly educating those who wind up at your door step. All that this does is waste the time and potential of the respective parties, and only serves to degrade our traditions.
Something that I have been hearing for quite a while is that the parents won’t properly raise their children for fear that the child will outshine the parent. This is ridiculous. We could all only hope that someone we raised grew to be a spectacular priest, filled with a great depth of knowledge, understanding, and good character. If a godparent is not striving to make someone at least their equal – then the time of both parties is wasted. If they are not trying to have their child outshine them, then we are wasting our future. The true genius of all godchildren may very well not be being a priest or an educator. Some godchildren may not grasp some concepts as quickly. Some people may very obviously be in it for selfish purposes. However, it is up to the godparent to assist them through these problems and evolve. There is always a reason, whether obvious or not, that the person wound up in your house.