When it comes to Santeria, I still consider myself a baby. At 12 years as an initiate of Yemayá I am barely scratching the surface of all there is to know and to do. Therefore, I am constant in my studies and always seeking opportunities to share ritual space with true elders. I also keep at arm’s length bookworms and internet junkies that are nothing but arm chair magicians filled with regurgitated knowledge. In any case, no matter how much I apply myself to my studies, I am never where I would like to be. Proof of it is what I just learned, two novel and brilliant concepts: The Catholic Osobgo and the Christian Iré.
How did you come to learn about this Omimelli, you may wonder? Let me tell you the story. I was doing my nightly reading on a closed room for oloshas and Ifá initiates only, and there it was, an interesting subject like a beacon in the night luring me into its shining light.
The question to the initiates’ forum was: What is a ‘water baptism’? But then the thread evolved to include what I considered the true center of the debate. Is there a need for baptism before a person does kariosha? or even receives the elekes?
The water baptism is nothing other than a simple ceremony to bless a newborn which can be done by anyone. This is a vestige from the days when oloshas had to hide behind the skirts of the Catholic Church to keep their practices alive. It also rings of Spiritist undertones, yet another practice that has been superimposed over Santeros as a sort of prerequisite to initiations and which is but a shadow substitute of the Egungun cult. I think it is enough that we still call ourselves ‘Santeros’ which is reminiscent of that syncretic past, but then again, a name is what we want it to be…and that is a story for another day.
Let me state this again, from my point of view, neither Catholicism nor Spiritism has any relevance or should be imposed as prerequisites to the practices and reverence to the Orishas. To affirm this is to continue a form of spiritual slavery, nothing more nothing less. Besides, in the case of the Catholic Church, why should we do moforibale (pay respects) to a church that classifies us a heretics and witches?
Now that is a good question. I can only answer with an unpalatable example which is a page from my life as an oloshas and for me it was a test of loyalty. It was the fall of 1998 and I was at a Wemilere (batá with Anya or consecrated drums) in San Antonio, Texas which my godfather Omí Oké had offered to Yemayá. The children of the ilé had been assembled in a room at the request of Yemayá who had mounted an olosha. She was dispensing advice to some, scolding others and praising those who had earned it. She asked another priest who was mounted by Shangó to bring something or another; I could not hear what it was amidst the buzzing of the crowd in the small room. Yemayá then turned her attention to me; I was paralyzed under her deep gaze. I felt I was in a trance looking into the olosha´s eyes, knowing full well that something majestic and imposing was staring back at me from beyond their glazed veil.
¨Do you believe in me?¨ the Orisha asked. I responded without flinching that I wholeheartedly believed in her. So she said to me, ¨Then take your newborn into the waters of ilé Olofi, ¨ this odd request was like someone pouring a bucket of cold water over my head. I wanted to argue with Yemayá, to plead and explain to her that I had left Catholicism for good years ago and had never looked back. I wanted to tell her I would gladly do anything else to prove my loyalty, but if this was what she asked, this is what she would get from me. As a good obedient daughter I am to my yeye, I was resolved to please her.
As fast as I became the center of attention, she left my side and went about her business. My head was still trying to comprehend what just happened when from behind, I felt a cold weight placed on my shoulders and saw an impressive blue and white beaded mazo (ceremonial necklace) fall over them. With this act she sealed a promise I had long made to her in silence, to serve her for life. I nervously stated that I had no money to make kariosha, yet she assured me all would be as it should be and I needed only to obey.
A month later I had my son baptized and two months after my financial affairs were resolved and I had enough money to buy a house and make kariosha. Why Yemayá demand this of me? It was a test of loyalty and obedience. I do not believe that she meant that everyone indeed must baptize before having kariosha done or any other initiation into Santería.
Interestingly enough at the age of 6, my son insistently requested to be initiated as an olosha, which we gladly did, since he has come to profoundly dislike the rigidity of the Catholic Church and anything associated to churches in general.
Now, going back to the concepts of Catholic Osogbo and Christian Iré, those were the terms used by an initiate when trying to state his deep seated belief that everyone must be baptized as a Catholic before going through any initiation into Santería to be in iré (good luck) or else you would be in osogbo (bad luck). I know my list of osogbos and irés as good as any competent dilogún reader, but I had never encountered such terms before or such nonsense. I would rather live swimming in osogbo than kneel at the wrong altar!
I don’t need the Catholic Church or any other church to validate my practices. For that matter, I do not need to have my children get any Spiritual Crowning before Kariosha, if they want to practice Spiritism, fine by me. If they want a Spiritual Crowning, I am ok with it, but it is not a pre-requisite to initiation, just a nice to have, icing on the cake. What I will absolutely not do is to take an iyawó to a Catholic church to get a blessing on the Día de la Plaza (the day where they go to the Market). They are blessed enough and in a state of purity when they come out of the igbodu (initiatory room) and to be presented to the world which is represented by the Market. If there is a need to be presented anywhere, let’s take our iyawós to the temple of an Olofista, that is what we need to do and not to continue bending our knees like subservient children of a lesser god to another religion, much less any that thinks we are heretics.
I want to close this post with some words of inspiration by Emilianio Zapata: ¨It is better to die on your feet than to live on your knees¨
Oní Yemayá Achagbá