Assumption #3: The entire ATR community is gay friendly.
If you are a gay man or woman or a transgender this article will present some down to earth point of views on how you will be perceived by various African Traditional Religions, which paths are open without struggle and confrontation and which will certainly create heartache and strife.
It is not our place to judge spiritual callings, but as elders in at least one of the ATRs that exclude homosexual participants, traditional Palo Mayombe, we do have some points to make to contribute to this subject. It is our role to uphold traditions while trying to help gay brothers and sisters who have a simpatico for a particular path closed to them to find alternatives where to express their devotion.
As we have learned the hard way, this does not always work. Exclusivity has an unsurpassable allure for those who seek to belong. The proverbial forbidden fruit begs for a bite and fire some people up to charge like a Pamplona bull, no matter what cost. Sadly sometimes the cost is high both for seekers as well as for gatekeepers.
We do not claim to know everything about every ATR practice there is out there, and as promised we will deal with these 10 most common assumptions from the point of view of Orisha and Palo, but we can certainly list those ATRs who we know that exclude gays in their practices: Abakuá, traditional Palo Mayombe houses, Ifá, Kimbisa, and Masongo.
You will find that each of these traditions have gays that claim to practice them. This is entirely possible as commercialism has opened the way for priests who have violated rules to sell initiations at random. Some other gay practitioners have gotten included in the practices by simply keeping their preferences quiet, while others came out of the closet much later having perhaps been initiated as teens or younger.
There are other Palo houses that have decided to change their rules to admit gays, without establishing a treaty involving elders going back to Cuba cutting across houses and lineages as it is our custom when powerful issues hang on the balance. The fact is, you will find where to practice if you look close enough, but you certainly will not be able to belong to a true traditional house. Even in Habana you will find houses that initiate gays, but in the country side particularly in Eastern Cuba—the stronghold of traditional Palo houses where elders still hold sway—you will not find yourself welcomed.
There is absolutely no way we are going to come out of this blog post unscathed. This is a controversial issue and our words are sure to ruffle feathers, even though it is not our intention to provoke discord or offend. Pondering these issues requires more than one blog; it requires elders and the whole village. The results may sit heavy no matter how delicately or politically correct are presented. There will always be some who want to mix politics and religion and come out with a winning hand or at least brandishing the card of gay rights. But the fact remains the same, when you mix politics and religion in a blender; the results are often times rather unpalatable.
Why is it that there is such blatant exclusion of gays in other practices besides Palo Mayombe? The matter is complicated; I will leave to elders in those traditions to come forth with their comments, starting with Ifá who not only excludes gays but also women as awós (fathers of mysteries).
Inclusive ATR practices:
There are numerous ATRs and associated practices that openly embrace gays, lesbians and transgender practitioners, some of those are Voodoo, Umbanda, Macumba, 21 Divisions, 7 Divisions, Spiritism, and Orisha, or, what is commonly known as Santería or La Regla de Osha.
Some of the most devoted babaloshas (father of the saints) and iyaloshas (mother of the saints) I have met are homosexuals, they have a sense of style and grace that is both refined and acute. They embrace tradition and try to keep it for the most part, but that is also true of their heterosexual abures (brothers and sisters).
In Orisha, homosexuals can achieve any rank from an aleyo (a believer with lesser initiations) to an Oriaté (master of ceremonies and expert in Dilogún readings). I am very proud to have an adoptive godfather who is gay and who has done so very much to make sure our religious rights are uphold along with other priests who pioneer the way over two decades ago. If you are curious about it Google “Euless and Santería.”
One of the most fascinating aspects I have observed over the years is that the Orisha makes no distinction in their selection of heads. For example, I am a priestess to Yemayá. I am into a bond that is considered as sacred as a marriage. In fact, in my mind there is no distinction between the strength and depth of the love I feel for my husband and the emotions I have for Yemayá. Only one thing makes a sharp distinction when I compare those two deep loves in my life: The love for Yemayá is asexual and so is my emotional attachment to any other Orisha.
However, I could have been a priestess of Aganjú (my father in Orisha) and as such, have been selected to be a horse for a male Orisha. But that is a phenomenon that is worth examining on its own.
The heart of the matter is that there are options open to gays in the practice of African Traditional Religions and the issue is truly finding a household that not only accepts them but values their contribution. Furthermore, upon finding such household, it is important to remember to function as an integrated member of the community and to uphold the values of the group and the teachings of the spiritual entities they have selected to follow above personal agendas. In the case of Santería, it is all about good character; a person with good character will shine, excel and be a productive member of the household no matter what his personal sexual preferences are.
Kal & Omimelli
Olo Obatalá & Oní Yemayá