There are lines that should never be crossed and things I would really rather not address. However, practicing a religion no matter which religion is selected, should lead each practitioner to not only spiritual enlightenment but also moral and personal advancement. Therefore, I consider it an obligation to discuss pitfalls and realities that emerge when lines become blurry and are eventually crossed.
The Way of the Orishas, Santería or the Lukumí faith has plenty of success stories, so do other African Traditional Religions (ATR) such as Voodou and Palo; however, these are also littered with stories that give our religions a bad name. If you have read some of the posts on this blog, you have already noticed that people that rush into unfamiliar practices/cultures, can be the perfect victims of charlatans who want to make money out of commercializing our beliefs. Perhaps the hardest blow is to those who fall prey to unprepared initiates that are ill-equipped to lead their own spiritual lives, much less the life of others, but alas, they have an initiatory title and charm to amass followers.
What is the worst thing that can happen to someone? Material loss is chiefly what I have witnessed; but there is loss that sometimes not even time can mend, the devastation that comes with a loss of faith and a tarnishing of the purity of what started as an honest search for spirituality.
Let me give you a couple of examples and the outcome I have witnessed. One relates to Palo Monte and the other one to Santería.
An African-American young couple found a book on Palo at a local Library and upon reading it, they realized that this was a spiritual path of depth and beauty and they wanted to follow it. They met a Cuban Palero who inspired their trust because he was dark-skinned like them; the guy was a sweet talker and they were charmed. The couple, who I will call Jermaine and Latisha to preserve their identity, ignored the fact that they were little familiar with Cuban culture and that they did not speak Spanish. Those details are elemental to properly evaluate the head of a Munansó (Palo house) and the immediate community a future initiate intends to join. Latisha told me they were too wrapped up on the magic of it all, on having found someone so quickly and on being accepted.
Well they got initiated to the level of Ngueyo and three months later they had been made Tata and Yaya, a month later, ngangas had been mounted and handed over to them. All of this depleted their savings as the initiations were nearly $14,000. Soon their luck started to turn, not really for the better. The Tata continued to prescribe more and more workings, all came with hefty price tags and nothing helped. Latisha became ill and lost her job. Their marriage suffered and finally, Jermaine and Latisha decided to put a stop on their relationship with their Tata upon finding out similar stories in the community.
The couple went to visit relatives in the East coast and while visiting a Botánica they met an elderly Palero who felt a strong impulse to follow his intuition and address them. Over a cup of coffee Latisha and Jermaine decided to trust their instincts as well and share their story. Their friendship grew over the next few months and they finally invited the Tata to visit them and check out their Ngangas. To make a long story short, their ceremonies had been performed incorrectly and upon doing further research they found out that the Tata of the Tata who initiated them was a homosexual which defiled and invalidated their lineage; furthermore their Ngangas were no more than pots with dirt and sticks.
The situation was corrected by re-doing all ceremonies properly over the space of 4 years. The couple moved to the East Coast to be near the new Tata and be active participants in the Munansó. Their luck changed for the better, but the pain of having been abused in this way remains with them to this day.
Santería has plenty of stories of shysters. The most common case is that of people rushing in without proper understanding of the commitments they are about to take on and the lifetime bond between godparent and godchild.
This bond goes beyond obedience and allegiance to an ilé. When a godparent and participants of the Kariosha ceremony place ashé on the head of a godchild, part of the essence of this godparent becomes part of the godchild. Whereas the ashé of a good godparent will uplift the iyawó, the hands of a person with a twisted path or an unkind heart will hurt the godchild in more ways than one. This ashé or energy will become part of the spiritual lineage of the new initiate and could be the source of obstacles to overcome for the rest of this person’s life. This is why it is so important to be very selective when inviting oloshas to participate in a Kariosha.
Addressing the fact of the importance that one must be selective in the invitation process, referred as ‘Levante’, take for example the case of Matilda. She was initiated by an elder iyalosha who with a solid reputation. Their relationship was good and healthy. However, for the Kariosha, Matilda’s godmother hired an oriaté who had no tact even if his knowledge and reputation were astounding.
During the Itá (lifetime reading process where the prohibitions and blessings of the iyawó are revealed by means of the Dilogún oracle) the oriaté for some reason seem to rush through the reading process, but the worst part was how harsh he was while dispensing advice to the iyawó. More than an Itá the process seemed to be a trial and the interpretation of most oddús, even if they came with Iré (good luck) were focused on the negative aspects of the oddú ignoring important qualities that had to be highlighted due to the positive influence of the iré.
Iyawós are very fragile and impressionable and although oriatés must be frank in their communication, they also must have the intelligence to convey difficult messages with clarity, respect and kindness.
Matilda to date has not forgotten the treatment she received from this oriaté and the reaction it caused in the ilé where other oloshas had to intervene to bring balance to a delicate process. Needless to say that oriaté was never invited again to preside over any ceremonies in that household. Matilda never held against her godmother the selection of the oriaté in question and their relationship is a solid. However, Matilda’s godmother has to date regrets about having selected said oriaté for the Kariosha of her goddaughter.
There are plenty of bad things than can happen to a person who is in a hurry to become accepted and initiated, and even to those who try to be careful in the process. People can be crowned the wrong Orisha and become unhinged at best or become mad in the worst cases. When trying to disentangle oneself from a bad ilé costly spiritual wars can start at the cost of materials and spiritual damage which can impact not only the seeker but close family members such as spouses and children.
You are responsible for your own spiritual development, and so are those in whose hands you place your trust, but remember, only fools rush in where angels fear to tread.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá