Not above the Law: Sacrificing and disposing of Animals in Orisha Rituals

Disposing properly of ritual remains is a matter of respect.

Disposing properly of ritual remains is a matter of respect.

When it comes to disposing of animal remains used in rituals, oloshas face a manifold problem. Recent articles posted in The Miami Herald (, The Huffington Post ( and other mass media outlets portray Santeros or Oloshas as brutes who abuse animals torturing them in bizarre rituals and then dispose of the carcasses on an unsanitary way in public places. Guess what? The articles portray with a good deal of accuracy some of the realities of the Santeria community.

Sacrifice, even done by the most expert of hands is not an act of gentility. A sacrifice is an exchange of life-force; a life must end so another one goes on improved. This end comes accompanied by pain; there is no question about it. Thus the word sacrifice, otherwise, we would call it party. Would we not?

However, sacrifices must be done in a humane fashion and the remains must be discarded following health and safety local rules. Here lays the crux of our manifold problem:

(1) Proper handling of animals prior to sacrifice. It is the duty of godparents to train future oloshas in how to properly keep animals that are to be sacrificed. Animals must be transported safely in well vented and size appropriate cages. They should also be fed and have access to water, they need to be kept clean and not piled atop each other. Animals are not stupid; they should not be allowed to watch other animals being sacrificed ahead of them. They can sense fear and will react accordingly releasing excessive amounts of adrenaline and spoiling the meat which when not used for a cleansing can be cooked and eaten. Furthermore, mishandling an animal and creating undue stress on the creature can indeed be a generator of osogbo as it will needlessly heat up the animal and thus the blood to be offered.

(2) Disposal of carcasses used during celebratory, initiatory and propitiatory rituals. I will offer some suggestions here that could very well ease the process of disposing of carcasses. There is a fair amount of animal remains after a kariosha. It is the responsibility of the officiating elders to locate a dumpster or an appropriate disposal facility where to take these remains. It is unacceptable to invade private dumpsters, leave carcasses in thoroughfares, wooded lots, beaches, rivers, crossroads and other public places. If there is a ritualistic need to take the remains to, let’s say, a railroad track, let’s be smart about it. Why not ask if for example the remains could be presented at the tracks and then taken to a dumpster or an appropriate place according to local health and law standards? This would meet the ritual requirements and also keep us from issues with the law. What could be more ironic than to do a ritual to save oneself from legal problems, but end up being arrested for public littering or for sanitation violations?

(3) Devaluation of life. When an olosha stops seeing these living creatures (goats, chickens, turtles, pigeons, lambs, etc.) as the sentient beings that they are, they begin to lose their value. When a life stops being appreciated and respected, then we are in essence devaluating the offering we are about to give. Guess what? This can short-circuit the very sacrifice a person is about to perform. When a sacrifice is done from the heart, with full appreciation of the life about to be extinguished and with gratitude for this sublime exchange of energy, an alchemic transformation takes place and the heavens above open up to accept the life we offer with a humble and gracious heart.

(4) Shaping Public Perception. The media shapes public perception with their stories. Contrary to what most think, the media’s function is not to inform people, it is to sell papers and drive up ratings. The media teases and taunts audiences with their carefully crafted informational packages filled with entertaining and titillating facts carefully chosen to veer the masses’ attention like cows to the slaughterhouse. So here we are as a religious community, giving the media ammunition to erode our already precarious reputation. If we want to be perceived as brutes and savages, then by all means, keep on disposing of carcasses in the ocean, in rivers, in public places…keep on serving on a silver platter a veritable informational banquet to help media shape our nefarious reputation and satiate the public’s need for gruesome stories.

We need to admit we have issues and be determined to resolve them as a community. If this means we need to police each other, so be it. It is best to be accountable to our own kind than to be accountable to others who care not to understand our religious points of view and simply dismiss us as ignorant cult followers which we are not. Oloshas need to be aware of local health and safety codes and adhere to them. We do not live in a vacuum and having orisha crowned does not make us impervious. We need to train our godchildren from the very first day they become part of our houses so they know they are responsible to elders and to the community at large. We have the constitutional right to animal sacrifice, but no right comes without responsibilities and we are certainly not above local laws. A perfect example of how we will have to address local statutes can be seen in the Euless Vs. Jose Merced case in Texas. That was a hard fought battle that was lost at local level and had to be appealed for it to be overturned.

In summary, egbons and abures, we need to play by the rules and use our Olofi-given head not only to brandish our “Santero crown,” but also to figure out creative ways to accomplish rituals while at the same time obey the law and improve our public perception. Enough said, at least from this opinionated and passionate oni Yemaya.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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4 Responses to “Not above the Law: Sacrificing and disposing of Animals in Orisha Rituals”

  1. Baba Oke says:

    Exelente abure…Mis mas cordiales Saludos…

  2. Related says:

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    Good article! We will be linking to this great post on our website. Keep up the great writing.

  4. omo shango says:

    Thank u, im new to all of the ceremonies but I agree that the offerings should be cared for properly and disposed properly. some say if you care too much about the offering it will not be accepted by the I grow and learn things I know from the heart is the way u care for their offerings is how they will care for u.

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