The Catholic Osogbo and the Christian Iré: Do Oloshas need to be Baptized before Initiations into Santería?

Is this Yemayá to You?


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¨

Omimelli
Oní Yemayá Achagbá

About Omimelli

I am a Olosha or Santera and for years I have been at the service of the Orisha and the community. I am initiated to Yemayá and my father in osha is Aganjú. I am also an initiate of Palo Mayombe and hold the title of Yaya Nkisi. As part of my daily devotional I spend time at my bóveda and work with my spirits on regular basis.
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12 Responses to The Catholic Osogbo and the Christian Iré: Do Oloshas need to be Baptized before Initiations into Santería?

  1. Yeye Ifafunke says:

    Well written! I really enjoyed it and can’t wait to see more! Daughters of the the divine Iyemoja /Yemaya’s are always controversial to a world that can not break away from their captives. We see the damage our captives did to our ancestors and how to survive they had to hide behind the “Church” that was so eager to suppress and kill them. Ase to you for stepping forward and showing your feelings and I know I am not alone as well. May Olodumare continue to bless you and give you the words to write to the world! Ifa a gbe wa o!!!

    • Omimelli says:

      Yeye Ifafunke,

      Thank you for your kind words. I woke up with a loud bee in my bonnet and just let it out. 🙂

      We all need to continue joining voices and opening eyes for we have a great religion and it should make us proud every single day of our lives.

      Ashe o, ire o

      Omimelli

  2. OmiAiye says:

    For my own two cents, I was baptized sufficiently when I was presented to Ochun the day before Kariocha. And, by recollection such as it is on the day of Kariocha we are washed again so there is no need for presentation to the church before, during, or afterwards.

    • Omimelli says:

      OmiAiye,

      I think there is no need at all to have any Catholic elements mixed with our practices during a most sacred time like a kariosha is.

      Omimelli

  3. Patricia Alade says:

    *Jumping up and down and clapping my hands* Wonderful post! I’ve been saying the same thing for years. I was baptized as a child, but I had I not been, I wouldn’t have been willing to do it prior to my Ocha. Thankfully, my godparents are of the same opinion.

    • Omimelli says:

      Hello Patricia Alade,

      Glad to hear that you enjoyed the article and that we are of the same mind. It is good to have godparents who also share your thoughts and religious purpose.

      Ashe

      Omimelli

    • TriniOrishaGyal says:

      * Jumping up and down and clapping my heads with my best friend Patricia*. HAHAAHAH. Thank you. THIS article said it ALL. Glad to see others of like mind, to share and not get beat up for bowing down to the rituals of Catholicism in this African based religion. WOOO HOOO!

      • Omimelli says:

        Hi TriniOrishaGyal,

        I am getting too old to jump up and down, but I am glad to clap for you guys and keep the rythm going. 🙂

        Omimelli

  4. Awo Ifagbemi says:

    Ase OOOO!!! I enjoyed the article very much, I can relate to this article because I grew up Catholic. Contrary to popular belief I did not grow up in a family that forced Catholicism on me. I felt a unique connection to Catholicism, to the point that I almost became a reveren. With so much information and truth flooding the internet about the history of Christianity. Alot of people are no longer finding resolution in the church anymore. Being involve in any ATR, is an inate invocation that pull us to reclaim our destiny. Christianity is still the youngest religion only, ten thouand year’s old. Ifa is older than christianity, this article raises a very good question. When we pratice christianity are we reclaiming the osogbo that come with it? Are we reclaiming the osogbo that the egregore of Chrisitianity had given to Non-Europeans???

    • Omimelli says:

      Awo Ifagbemi

      You pose a really interesting question there! I have not seen it that way….makes me go hmmmmm (I think for the rest of the night). 🙂

      I too considered becoming a nun when I was 15, but alas, I discovered that guys could also be a lot of fun, so my stage of religious devotion to Catholicism was shortlived. I am glad I did not became a nun, I am happier as an olosha.

      Alafia

      Omimelli

  5. ONI SANGO says:

    Alaafia Ni…These views expressed here will ruffle some feathers,they were not intendede to but hopefully cause you to come at it from a different angle but This continued idea that this ”Way Of Life(ORISA)” need some sort of Validation from the Catholic Church is absurd,insulting and racist.I know in this age of Political Correctness and Obamaism the thought of Racism is considered a thing of the past,gone with Independence,Civil Rights Movement,Civil War.It says to me a lot bout those who continue to force this stuff down the throats of others.It says they don’t understand the history,they don’t understand The Africans Story,they don’t understand there is a difference between An African and a slave, it says even thought you have embraced an African Way Of Life you still see Them as Less Than ( A SLAVE ) Inferior..Slaves NEVER GAVE US THIS ! AFRICANS DID ! and so there’s this constant need to validate that which is perceived to have come from slaves with the Church,Legitimize it,the concept of White Ideal Value System Being The Ultimate( based on racism/supremacy). Personally and i could be wrong but i find most of these people came on the Quick Fix Express. their faith is not in question.I do believe we are all on this path for a reason and so everyone what ever there reasons or motives,Egun and Orisa brought/chose us for a reason….It’s a clear indication that people that continue to promote the Catholic Thing,still don’t get it,they defend the Catholic Church Ideals /Supremacy and it’s rightful place within the African Context,like the missionaries,priest did when trying to save the supposedly savages/slaves/ of Africa and every other New Land (to them) they set foot on.They want to be apart of something as beautiful as this, but think very little of it and those who it came from(conditioning /racism) . BAPTISM,HOLY WATER,SAINTS,SPIRITUAL CROWNING,or ANYTHING or IN PART of the church,as a must within LUKUMI at this point in time. Is based on choices made on a lack of understanding of the African Story,and it says you don’t get it,This insanity has got to stop. NOT A PREREQUISITE TO ANYTHING THAT IS LUKUMI,REGLA DE OCHA,SANTERIA,IFA,YORUBA….ORISA DON’T NEED ROMAN CATHOLIC CHURCH TO VALIDATE THEM… EXAMPLE OF THIS INSANITY AND NEED THE CHURCH TO VALIDATE/ RACISM,WHITE SUPREMACY ….. I been around many priest(iya/babaloshas) that suffer from this illness,can’t do much without the use of holy water.One day i happen to be at one of these priest’s home, as usual they were always giving those that visit the home bottles of holy water(nice and well intended) as they were leaving.One day panic set in at the fact there was no more h/water and she had some godchildren who she had to gave some to…Frantically on the point of pulling her hair out,sending someone(husband) to get some from the church,or going herself..i politely said to her as i led her to the sink in the kitchen ,” you are a priest are you not”,she said “yeah”,as i turned the water on i said,”is this water”,she said “yeah”. now you would figure that 1+1=2…answer here is NO!I then said to her you are a iyalosha/priest bless the water….she couldn’t get the idea that a IYALOSHA/BABALOSHA/OLOSHA AND A PRIEST IN THE CHURCH WERE EQUALS IN EVERY WAY,EVEN THOUGHT SHE HAS BEEN CROWNED WITH ORISA-THEY WEREN’T ,SHE STILL SAW HERSELF AS LESSER THAN/INFERIOR..THIS COMES FROM RACISM,THIS COMES FROM STILL SEEING ORISA ,THOSE THAT PASSED ORISA ON TO US,THIS WAY OF LIFE EVEN THOUGH THEY FOLLOW IT AS NOT EQUAL TO…..AND SO THE NEED TO VALIDATE WITH THE CHURCH…..
    I know some of us cause of Ancestors have to do stuff with the church,honoring our Ancestors who were a part of that is a must..ASHE..for that matter with any other religion,that’s what they need then that’s what they get….

    • Omimelli says:

      Oni Shango,

      My feathers are all nice and smooth. I am there with you 100%. Thanks for posting and for illustrating with examples.

      Ashé

      Omimelli

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