Part 3: 10 Assumptions New Comers to ATRs should not make

Homosexuality and ATRs a Quest for Balance
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.

Non-inclusive ATRs

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

11 Replies to “Part 3: 10 Assumptions New Comers to ATRs should not make”

  1. Greetings,
    I love your article. It is very clear and very truthful. I am the same Jesus Suarez that was involved in the Coral Gables case{ the very one that was happening at the same time as the Euless case} as well as the Member of the church of the Lucumi -Baba-lu-Aye that you can Google with my Name and Santeria. I love your Candid and clear Honesty on this subject. I am a Gay Priest of Yemaya…Baba-Lu-Aye is my Father and a Practitioner of Palo Monte via Brillumba as well as Voudu {with a preference in Petro Fashion} and truly you are correct and clear about this subject. I would love to speak with you personally about this subject and please feel free to contact me I am sure that it will be quite fruitful for us. Thank You for posting this.

    Yours Truly
    Jesus Suarez
    Iya Tobi
    Miami Florida.

  2. Jesus,
    I am glad you enjoy the read. It was not an easy article to write for the variances and complexities of the subject run very deep.

    Drop me a note on and we can chat off line.

    Oní Yemayá Achagbá

  3. Bendicion, thank you for taking the time to post such a wonderful and candid subject. Let me start out to say this, I personally do not have any issue with an individual sexual orientation at all. The problem I have with Homosexual’s, is that they have come to the ATR. Challenging legitimate taboo that have been involve in every rama of Lucumi, Palo, and Ifa for many year’.

    Sexual civil right’s do not belong to the tradition of any ATR. When you take the oath to be a priest of the system that feet, your spiritual genetic makeup. The etheric connection between you and the elder’s that served and still are involve in your rama is solidified by initiation. Let me take a step further there are even taboo for heterosexual practioner’s, which I will touch on briefly.

    How can a homosexual tell me that he/she is initiated into palo. Who is going to respect that? I certaintly would not, Gay simply do not belong in Palo. They need to get that in their thick skull’s. There are treaties that have existed for over one hundred years that upheld no Gays no bisexual initiated to Nkisi Congo. Gay’s are not allowed to even cast their eyes and salute a prenda. Many year’s ago during the eighties in New York City, if you were gay you could not even be at a palo bembe or that was your behind.

  4. Trois Parole,

    Santo and Malekum Salam to you. This answer comes from both Kal and I. We have conversed with many elderly Tatas and heard about how people who ‘turned’ gay are disciplined. First the person is taken and stripped out of his/her title, then they must receive the obligatory planazos (flogging with the flat side of a machete) and then their Ngangas are ritually dismantled. That is the end of it and the person is no longer consider a Palero, they are to be treated as they were dead to the brother/sisterhood.

    It is a heartbreaking situation for we do understand the emotions invested, and if we had a brother or sister in that situation we would be devastated. However, promises are promises and we all come to the Ngnaga eyes wide open and make our pact and peace with it.

    The promises and permissions for initiations, contrary to what common misconception dictates, are not given by the Eggun or the by a person’s spiritual cuadro, or the Orisha or the Npungo, but from the Bakulú. The Bakulú are the oldest ancestors in the Palo lines going back to the Congo people and also includes the founding Tatas of all of the lines of Palo. For the Congo people homosexuality was a major tabú, violation of which would exclude one form initiation. Anyone can claim to have permission from Eggun, but not everyone can claim to have the blessings of the Bakulu coming from an unbroken line. Whithout these blessings there is no true Palo initiation. There has never been a treaty that has changed this rule.

    Like you, we have no issues with gays. We respect their plight, but we simply won’t break our promises to accomodate anyone and for this we make no appologies and we have nothing further to add to the matter.

    Kal & Omimelli

  5. Aboru,Aboye,Abosise…Iworiwofun…Asure,
    Greetings Kal,and Omimelli,
    I hope that the Irunmole are continuing to bless you all. I want to point out to you something that SEEMS to be unknown to you all as Orisha praticioners. You mention that IFA excludes women as AWOS (FATHER of Mysteries).”IF”,you are discussing IFA,as it is practiced in NIGERIA,this is INCORRECT information. BABALAWO= FATHER OF MYSTERIES.AWO is a generic term that WOMAN can HAVE AS well who are IYANIFAS. Women who are FULLY initiated in IFA,and quote me,they CAN and DO in YORUBALAND in NIGERIA (Historical Origin of Santeria,Condomble,Lukumi,and Shango Baptists )are called IYANIFAS (IYA=MOTHER,N’IFA….Mothers of Ifa) Does this mean that the women are then considered IFA’s mother? NO,that is the literal translation.An Iyanifa is a woman that is fully inititated in IFA through the sacred Igbodu in YORUBALAND. THEY CAN throw Opele(Divination Chain).The Iyanifa CAN NOT touch IKIN,or throw OPELE if she is on her menstrual cycle. The difference between the BABALAWO,and the Iyanifa besides the first being male,and the latter being female is that ODU herself(A VERY POWERFUL ORISHA associated with the BABALAWO,and a FEMALE ORISHA,made a contract with Orunmila before agreeing to marry him that NO WOMAN must see her face-IRETE OGBE. I hope that these details clears some erroneous information.


    1. Ashé Babá,

      Indeed thank you for the comment. We both are fully aware of that fact. However, here in the practices followed by our houses, I (Omimelli) would be excluded from all rites and rituals of Awós (male ones) if I dared to ask for such initiation. Even if my numbers in itá support such a path for me, and they do, I would still be seen as someone trying to encroach on the male-dominated Ifá world in the Américas.
      How did women came to be excluded from the Iyanifa practices in Cuba and beyond? That indeed is a subject I would like to see some elders take on.

      Once again, thank you for your contribution.

      Ashe o, iré o.

      Oní Yemayá Achagbá

      1. Alaafia,Omimelli….yes,it would be interesting to see someone explain that with an ODU. Make sure they state the ODU,and the AWO for the Odu,the actions,and the remedy (Babalawos should know to what I’m referring).It will be real interesting to see if your request is answered. As far as IFA as it is practiced in Nigeria-THAT IS NOT THE CASE. WOMEN “DO” hold Chieftancy titles,the highest reports to the OBA(King),IYALODE,is the Chief of the MARKETPLACE,controlled by women. Ire in all your endeavors.

  6. greetings to all.

    I have heard, that gay women can be scratched into Palo because the caballeros still recognize them as women. Gay men cant be scratched though. is this true?

    1. Hijo de Lucero,

      The rule applies to both men and woman. Homosexuality is what it is and the rules do not bend to accomodate gays over lesbians or viceversa.

      Yaya 7 Nkele

  7. im gay and i offer chango his cinamon his plantains and other offerings he may require . im cuban but im not initiated into santeria i just ask him for protection and he offers it to me many times i have just whispered his name in protection and i have been saved by him. i hope i do not offend him for being gay. but my entire life i have fought for justice by that i mean spiritual its the only justice i seek among social justice. but when i hear thunder i call his name and welcome him. my grandmother may have been practacing while i was young but she died when i was about 3 or 4. im just writing this because ive always like to dance , always liked red i have a short temper and get mad fast but calm down just as fast and have always truly wanted justice even to those who do me harm i require no harm but that justice be served and that chango handle it for me as i wish no harm to no one. and time and again he offers me protection. i am confused about this article. is this just for joining a house ? can i continue just offering him and praying to him ?

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