Santería 101


Throne for an Iyawó Obatalá

It has been nearly 20 years since I started to walk on this path.  However, for the sake of newcommers and of folks gathering wool and comparing notes about the subject, I will retrace some of my zig-zaggy steps into what is my main religious system.

At first, when one tries to explain a non-main stream religious system to an aleyo (a non practitioner or believer) there is always a fear factor that the ideas exposed will sound really off the wall.  However, I am parting from the premise that if you are here, reading my words, there is a spark of interest that leads you to be open about the subject while I pour you the first Mystic Cup of personal Santería knowledge. 

Journeys rarely follow a straight-lined path. It was thanks to Wicca that I came back to Santería. Exploring around San Antonio during my lunch hour, I came about Unlimited Thought, a small independent book store crammed with all sort of books and New Age artifacts and music. Their Wicca book selection was peppered with some good books and an impressive amount of asinine fluff. However, on my way out the door I noticed a post about Wicca classes that night, and I decided to drop by that evening and see what it was all about.

Little I knew that upon returning to my job from my lunch hour explorations, I was a news anchor for a local Spanish TV station back then, destiny would hand me yet another little surprise: an assignment to write a Special Series on Santería, and that mean research and preparation in a flash.

So that night, I went back to the bookstore, bought all the Santería titles from Migene González Wippler they had available and a title by Raúl Canizares, and mosied over to the Wicca circle.

Attending Wicca groups was a mixture of exhilarating and challenging because the system was pretty much alien to me and my English knowledge of ‘magical jargon’ was pretty skimpy. Rarely we stop to think that language can throw a pitch curve at you when choosing a religious path. However, Wicca was a great experience and opened doors to new discoveries and meeting new friends, but that is a to-be-continued story.

In the meantime my research was pretty advanced, I had read enough and childhood memories from Puerto Rico where I had attended Santería wemileres for the orishas (Santería celebrations in honor of its pantheon of divinities) and other events were starting to surface in my mind, and, I had lined up an exclusive interview with a Santero from Cuba.

Meeting José at his magic shop, Botánica Yemayá, was a trip. This middle-aged Cubano was not only very confident in his beliefs, but also, he had an odd mix of self-assurance and shyness I found endearing. Professionally, being an impartial observer is a must, but my curiosity was peaked beyond the confines of the story. The series were centered around the basic principles of Santería, the growth of the community beyond Cuba and his relationship with his spirit guide. During the interview he did a reading for me with the merindilogún (sixteen cowries, the main divination system for Santeros) and that really got my attention. His reading pointed out to a knowledge that I had kept quiet but that had started to bubble under the surface while I researched for the series. It was impossible to ignore this knowing that Santería held many things in store for me.

When I was done with the shooting and editing, and the series was set to air, I contacted him to let him know the air date and time and to make an appointment for another reading, this time with a friend. His reading expanded on the fact that I was meant to be a Santera, that Yemayá (orisha associated with the oceans and motherhood) protected me fiercely and that it was my spiritual destiny to devote myself to be a priestess to her.

I was swept with a sense of foreboding and a humbling desire to learn more, I will make a pause on my journey and continue on the narration at a later time.

Omí Toñí

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5 Responses to “Santería 101”

  1. Bozanfe Bo Oungan says:

    “At first, when one tries to explain a non-main stream religious system to an aleyo (a non practitioner or believer) there is always a fear factor that the ideas exposed will sound really off the wall.”

    Its funny you mention that… my House brother and I have a running joke regarding dating and informing your date that they’re across the table from a Vodou priest as “Dropping the V Bomb”. For a while he and I had an almost-joking running bet about how soon after telling a prospective date that crucial piece of information would we see them running for the hills or finding some way of letting us know it just wasnt going to work.

    The guy Im with now, it was on date number 2 that the kick in the back of my head said “Tell him! Tell him! THIS is the time for honesty and full disclosure!”… so I did; only to find he was a religious studies/syncretism major for his graduate program and the he thinks its absolutely wonderful that he gets to date a Houngan. (He even passed his mother and her church lady friends copies of “Mama Lola” to read and discuss, and so far even they love the idea).

    Im incredibly thankful to Spirit for bringing me this guy, and also incredibly thankful that Spirit simply took away the V Bomb moment, but I had to at least share in the giggles some of us have about those times where we do find ourselves sharing a “secret” that the dominant culture does not share.

    -Houngan Matt

  2. Omimelli says:

    Hello Houngan Matt,

    Thank you for sharing some of your journey. I have been out of the dating scene for quite a bit, however, I do remember the pick up line my husband had for me during a O.T.O. event, “So you are from Puerto Rico, do you know anything about Santería?”. Little we knew of the journey we would take on together. I guess that was the “S Bomb” for me. :-)

    Stop by again any time, you are amongst friends.

    Oní Yemayá Achagbá

  3. Hanna says:

    Could this be the way for me?; …!

  4. Hanna says:

    would U like to mail me for a chat?
    yours H

  5. Christi says:

    all the time i used to read smaller posts which also clear their motive, and that is also happening with this paragraph which I am reading at this place.

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