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?
1. Shoddy rituals. When an ilé has a ganso as a leader there is a tendency to cut corners in ritual work. Rules are malleable and adaptable to fit the needs of the moment and inventions are often justified with interesting additions to patakís and oddús.
2. Manipulation through fear. Santeros who are true gansos do not care about teaching fundamentals, or teaching at all. Control is key to gansos, the more ignorant the followers, the more money is to be made, because is easier to motivate through fear than through logic. Gansos are adept in manipulation and bullying. Readings done by gansos will rarely have positive elements and will be loaded with frequent ebbós and initiations not supported by the oddús that fall on the mat if the dilogún is being used. Gansos often times prefer to do ‘spiritual’ readings. The voices of the ‘spirits’ that only they can hear are more subject to open interpretation, and since spirit communication comes through the santero ganso, and not through the dilogún it is very difficult to challenge what is being ‘transmitted’ by spiritual sources.
3. Expensive and frequent initiations. Every santero ganso will want to have a steady source of cash income, thus they become orisha mills. In order to support their pyramid-scheme-like ilé they often times push the limits of new initiates, coercing them to perform in ceremonies without proper training and justifying it by saying, “if the orisha placed this ‘growth’ opportunity in your path, then no further questioning is required because you will learn on the job.” This is a kind of abuse because it places the person seeking initiation in the hands of people who are not ready and experienced to support their spiritual needs in the long term. Furthermore, it deprives new initiates performing in ceremonies from obtaining theoretical knowledge before practical knowledge.
4. Inventions and disregard for tradition. The typical santero ganso loves the expression “In my house…” to justify every single invention and radical deviation from tradition. I have seen such santeros skipping mat duty with their iyawós in the throne, in other words, the iyawó is left to sleep alone on the matt while the godparent snoozes in a cushioned bed. Furthermore, I have had to fix eleke initiations where the person did not even get a proper ceremony done; the elekes were but handed to the aleyo with just a slipshod head feeding at best. The list goes on and on.
In order to avoid the proliferation of gansos in ilés, some elemental steps can be taken. First, elders need to be selective when granting newcomers entry to an ilé. It is healthy to ask questions about newcomers, find out about their character, background and standing in the community.
Are we forced to initiate criminals, spouse abusers, child molesters, drug dealers and abusers, bullies and other undesirable and morally deficient elements in our ilés? I think not, but if we are ruled by a ‘don’t ask don’t tell policy,’ that is exactly what we end up accepting in the heart of our homes and our spiritual houses.
The sad thing is that there are many santeros who are misguided and do not apply selective discrimination before taking a person in front of the orisha to ask for entry in a house. Worse, some do not even ask their orishas because they feel they have a special dispensation to do as they please.
If there are gansos already in the ilé, the proper thing to do is to help them correct their deficiencies and to point out that Santería or the Way of the Orishas is best practiced when iwá pelé (good character) is the ultimate goal.
Second, take the time to test people. See if they are a good fit for the ilé. Potential gansos will most times come shrouded in drama; they come wanting something of the orisha, not wanting to offer devotion for the sake of it.
I have turned away many potential kariosha future godchildren because their motives to come to my ilé followed selfish reasons such as the misguided desire to obtain spiritual domination over other people (chiefly to bind lovers), exact revenge, and, because they wanted to make a living off the religion. I am not afraid to use common sense and select prime candidates to be part of my ilé. After all, don’t we fret about offering the best fruits and animals to our orishas when it comes to placing an ebbó in front of them? Then how about exercising the same care to select the best possible candidates to enter our spiritual houses?
Where did I learn to be so fastidious and discriminating about my religious practices and the entry to my ilé? I learned from Oyá. She said once to the children of our ilé, “There is one door to come in, and two doors to leave this house.” I also learned from Yemayá whose upholding of traditions is paramount in the preservation of our spiritual legacy.
It is incompatible to be devout to Yeyamá and not to live attached to the rules of our traditions, this is why we say: “Yemaya oro mí. Imo si to, mo si to, iyá ladé ko omo sokotó.”
When a society is in decline its members exhibit behaviors that reflect the corruption of values, lack of respect for private and public property, the lack of respect for human life, and the everyday lack of civility, but none of these issues need pollute Santería if we all do our part and start by taking a good hard look in the mirror and analyze coldly and dispassionately what inherent personal flaws can be addressed and improved upon. After all spiritual leaders must show the way using themselves as examples.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá