Santeria: A Diseased Community

Elegua opens the road to healing

Elegua opens the road to healing

I have been quiet as of late, partly because of my heavy day-to-day workload. Yes, I do work for a living in something not related to Santeria. The other reason for my reduced frequency on posts has been introspection.

Elegua opens the roads to the world, to the mind and to the spirit. The recent initiation of my youngest son to Elegua allowed me to take the time to observe patterns and to reflect upon them. The pattern I refer to is the one of creation, the creation of a new priest. It is truly amazing to observe a young person initiate the steps towards a rich and rewarding spiritual life. Kariosha is not the end of a journey; it is the beginning of an arduous road of self-improvement and spiritual fulfillment. This is what my son understands from his commitment at the age of 8. This is what his godfather, my eldest son, who is 15, is instilling in him as the days go by. It is a blessing to be able to be there to guide and support them. I will make sure that my children carry on a spiritual legacy, but furthermore, that they become the pillars to new houses. In time those new houses will be able to change some of the things that are eroding our current practices.

Here we go to the crux of the matter. Our Santeria communities are polluted with sick people, and I mean sick people in the spiritual sense of the word. In order to heal our communities we need first to confront the malady with open eyes and then to take bitter medicine. Once we are done with the treatment, we need to stay faithful to a rigorous and vigilant regime to make sure we never again allow illness to creep into our houses.

Here is my diagnosis. Santerias communities are suffering from various diseases:

1. Greed (money, power, status, godchildren)
2. Fear mongering (spiritual wars, brujeria paranoia)
3. Inflated egos
4. Spiritual poverty (condescension, curtness, abruptness, gossiping, pettiness)
5. Lack of leaders
6. Hoarding Knowledge

We are going to dissect each of these points together, thus I would like you to be an active reader, not just to read my words, I want you to help to be part of a solution by participating. If we are to lead change, we need to be part of the change. If our communities are to survive and move forward we need all hands on deck at all levels. I need you to care enough to do something about the issues that plague us. Start by getting a notebook and a pen and get involved in this active reading process.

Greed

One of the worst things people can do to a religion is live off it. Why? When people make their livelihood out of a religion they end up prostituting it, making it a business practice, not a system of devotion and spirituality. Quite the opposite, they destroy spirituality by making it a commodity. The drive to obtain more money is linked to the drive to have more godchildren—a larger clientele base, a larger pool of people that idealize the godparent and that lend him or her a status of power. Yes, numbers in our practices equal for most success and power. We need to evaluate success in terms of sustainable houses, houses where people do not leave but stay. We need to evaluate success in terms of producing quality initiates, people of moral fiber, integrity and respect. Not producing masses of followers who lack basic abilities to practice and even to question the knowledge they are being handed down.

There is much more to be said about greed. Go on; take a good look at what surrounds you. Do not be afraid to confront reality, look around you with a critical eye and make a list of instances where you have observed cases of greed. Have you been part of a chain of greed? Have you sold services and initiations when you knew they were not needed or they could wait? Have you been sold a bill of goods and have initiations done that did not deliver against your expectations (real or inflated)?

Fear Mongering

If I had a dollar for each time when I hear that a person went to a reading, a misa or a bembé and was told that ‘so and so was throwing brujería’ at them, I would have a pile of dollars to cover me from head to toe and I am indeed pretty tall. This is what communities with lack of spiritual evolution do; they live in terror of brujería wars. When we have communities that espouse true evolution and spiritual development, when people are more concerned about advancing their own spirituality and not getting involved in petty wars with fellow community members, then we nip in the bud spiritual pettiness and fear mongering. Fear mongering supports greed, the stronger the war, the more need for ebbo and for godparents to stick their hands in the business of their godchildren and to run their life. A strong war means for the greedy godparent more fear mongering and stronger co-dependency.

Look around you. Have you not seen people that feel empowered to hurt others because they have received whichever initiation they think makes them impervious? The orishas are not tools for war. The way in which we treat and care for our orishas is the way in which ultimately our lives will be lived because they are meant to be our north.

Once again, take note on situations where you have seen or heard people feeding the brujeria paranoia.

Inflated Egos

The number one offenders when it comes to inflated egos are the Babalawos. Oh, I know what I am saying is not going to make me popular, but, I am not here to win a popularity contest. I am here to call it as I see it. When we have egos that are disproportionate to the knowledge and to the deeds to reflect our quality as human beings we are but ticking ego time bombs. Granted, we are not a Christian religion, but I can’t help to look at the quality of the teachings of Jesus and his humility. If I want some examples on people who have been virtuosos of humbleness all I need to do is to look into the teachings of Ghandi, a Hindi; Budha who preached active humility and Meher Baba whose life was inspiring in deed and teachings. Where are our virtuosos? Where is the quality of initiates to inspire profound change in our ranks? Show me someone who has given a significant part of their life to work with the poor, to elevate those who hunger for knowledge and who has done it without the elevated price tags that are the trademark of our religion? I know I picked on the awós, but there are plenty of bad examples of inflated egos at every rank.

What are we waiting for to throw the ego out the window and to start living our religion like the mystics have? The ego is the boogeyman of spiritual enlightenment. Spiritual initiations do not purchase enlightenment. If we are to progress, we need to check the egos out the door because they close our eyes and ears and make us self-righteous and self-important, they close us to communication, to inspiration and ultimately to advancement.

Spiritual Poverty

He who is free of sin can cast the first stone. The inspiring words of Jesus summarize the root of the Christian concept of sin, falling short in the eyes of god. In our case, the concept of sin is more akin to osogbo or deeds that make us fall out of balance and grace, deeds that feed spiritual poverty instead of elevating us.

We have all been at one time or another guilty of spiritual poverty. For me spiritual poverty is something we see every day in our houses. Who has not seen someone being condescending towards a fellow brother or sister during a kariosha? I have plenty of times and I do no stand by it. I am sick of backstabbing comments criticizing others for not doing things according to ‘rules.’ I am sick of people who instead of teaching constructively, teach from their condescending soap boxes. “What you mean you do not know this already? You should have learned this a long time ago” that is what I hear from them before giving you their version of reality and procedures with a curt and rude attitude.

People if you want to be teachers, teach from a point of view of humility, without wanting to grand stand and humiliate others, handing down knowledge like it was mana from heaven or from your self-perceived enlightened mind.

Spiritual poverty is reflected in our attitude during ritual, in the way we treat our brethren. Put down the darn mobile device and pay attention to the misa and the lavatorio! Show your spiritual blessings by doing more and gossiping less. Notice the good others do and not the flaws. Address the flaws constructively and not through gossips. If you find flaws in others, teach with kindness and respect.

I am sure that by the time you do the list under this category you will have filled up a page or two or examples. But go beyond listing them, what can you do now that you have identified them to address them and help those in the wrong to grow?

Lack of Leaders

I believe I have touched on this already when I addressed inflated egos. I am certain that there are educated and spiritual adepts out there that love the orishas and who live proper lives following iwa pele. However, I do not see a lot of voices taking the lead to reform houses. Nowadays the norm is to have people who can barely lead their own life, trying to lead others. A messy life is a poor indication of having any ability to be a spiritual leader and having the authority to lead others.

Perhaps is not so much the lack of leaders, it is the apathy of qualified leaders to lead. Where are those who can make a change with humility, with teachings, with respect? Where are our virtuosos? Do we have houses that are geared to produced leaders or followers?

Have you been in contact with someone who inspired you to grow spiritually in our religion? Has that person been available and willing to share more of them without the need to establish themselves as gurus?

Hoarding Knowledge

My last point for this essay is hoarding knowledge. Take a good look at what we do as a community. Our main gatherings as groups are based on two items, celebrations and initiations. When we gather to celebrate a bata, a bembe or an anniversary, there is knowledge that needs to be applied. This knowledge is kept jealously and it is source of interesting conversations that usually go like: “In my house when we do a reading we must first organize a, b, c…” The ‘in my house’ line is what kills me. We all need to be working with the same base of knowledge, with standardized practices based on logic and not on whim and individualized practices. We need to eliminate this ‘in my house’ line out of our collective consciousness because it reeks of fear and lack of standardized knowledge of ritual practices.

We need to move towards a consolidation of practices and away from individualization of trends. We need to move towards training. There are some who have taken the time to develop training curriculums to standardize practices, I applaud that. I would applaud it even more if that knowledge was passed on from house to house in a systematized manner, but ego gets in the way, the desire to control and hoard knowledge gets in the way, the desire to make money also gets in the way.

I don’t have much to offer, but every word, every day I set aside to work on this blog is my contribution and my legacy to others. I do not make a living out of it. If I was to charge for what I do, for the readers who come to the blog and for the hours dispensing advice on chats and on emails I would have made already enough to send one of my kids to college. But that is not my aim. I am here to leave you bothered, to make you think, to break down apathy, and to hopefully inspire you to act for the good of the community.

Pay in kindness; share your experiences and your ideas.

Omimelli
Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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comments 40 people have left their opinions, what is yours?

40 Responses to “Santeria: A Diseased Community”

  1. Dante says:

    Well written, well said. Took the words right out of my mouth. Saludos pa bo!

  2. David says:

    Excellently put! The biggest problem in our community is the parasitic nature of those who rely solely on the religion to pay their way in life. Even the religion in Cuba has evolved for the worse, creating diplo-orishas to cater to the extraneros and giving out half-done or badly-done ceremonies because the religion has become a commodity.

  3. Beth says:

    Well said. This is the lament of so many people I have met – those who feel victimized by the religion, instead of being elevated by it. It’s a call for action, and very, very timely. Let’s demand accountability, responsibility and true spirituality. There is a Yoruba saying:

    Eegun tí a bá so mọ́ ajá lọ́rùn, kì í ṣán an.

    “A dog does not eat a bone tied to its neck.”

    (One may not take advantage of a person or thing entrusted to one’s care.)

    Too many have been gnawed by so-called ‘elders’ – hold these people to account. Let’s be reminded of Iwa pele – good/gentle character and the ethics of the religions origins.

  4. Joann says:

    This is so true. Our religion has turned into a money making pitt for so many. Its so sad. I just know I love my Santos and I have them with all the faith in the world and they know it and that makes me happy. Maferefun la Ocha

  5. ifalola says:

    Applause, many things I’ve been saying for years. That said, I find your focus on Awos a part of the problems you point out. Yes, there is absolutely an ego problem with Awos, but having been in this tradition for over 30 years, I can definitely tell you, for every one Awo with an Ego, ther is one Santero/a with an Ego problem… The prevalence is equal, there are just fewer Awos, so it is easier to spot… That all said, great conversation starter…

  6. Nicole says:

    Excellent post!! It sums up many of my feelings regarding my spiritual community :)

  7. Oshun Kayode says:

    Great post that highlights common problems that are prevalent in this community. it is important to take responsibility, and be mindful and self critical also, ensuring that we live by the concept of Iwa Pele and not fall into the pitfalls of what you call “spiritual poverty”. It is also a good lesson that I have personally witnessed, that you can not expect someone to lead a community or an Ile if their own lives are a mess. It is no good being disappointed with people who you expect to lead if they cannot even run their own lives. Sad bad true.

  8. Fran Ross says:

    Well composed. I think there are particularly factors related to Regla de Ocha that make it more difficult to contain “the disease” and control exploitation; having no centralized governing body, unavailability of well-publicized information regarding acceptable practice, and lack of consequences for blatantly corrupt spiritual practice. There is no Santeria Better Business Bureau. As for egos, I would add that there are egos on both sides. How many Americans have been led to Cuba for initiation or the religion in general because of its “hip counterculture” or “back to roots” appeal only to find themselves w/o responsible U.S. godparents to guide them or once crowned, reluctance to practice because of their underlying “animal cruelty” sensibilities? There is a market for corruption. It remains the responsibility of the discerning baba/iyalorisha to help determine the motivation/caliber of the person seeking initiation and determining the appropriate level of initiation. It is otherwise quite up to the highest bidder; the proverbial “head that sells itself”. I can identify another path to exploitation that was not mentioned. It is the authoritarian enforcement of “respect for elders” seen in some houses where the perspective initiates feel it improper to question practices and a taken for fools. There are also few, if any, encoded and/or enforced consequences for exploitative spiritual practice, including: sanctioning, denouncement or excommunication. And I agree regarding knowledge-hoarding. Women are less likely to be apprenticed and, with few exceptions, the knowledge is largely kept among the dead, dying, or “few and far between”.

  9. Hilda says:

    Wow!! This is such a good read. So true and felt by me as I have had this happen to me over and over. And now I am numb by it all.
    Olodumare, Orisha bless you always.

  10. Awo Ogbe Ate says:

    Very important and very well said. THESE are the main problems in the faith.

  11. T-D. Gonzalez says:

    This religion has ALWAYS contained a mercantilist/commercial component, and a material culture. This existed from the very beginning is Africa, and continued when the African Slaves brought the religion to Cuba, Brasil, Trinidad, Louisiana, and other places. In pre-colonial Africa, there were people who actually sold themselves (temporarily into slavery) in order to pay for their initiations. At the turn of the 19th century in Brasil, there was a group of very astute Iyalorixas, Babalorixas, and Babalawos, who made an absolute fortune by convincing everyone that the Orixas would only accept offerings of the most authentic and “pure” items, which ONLY THEY happened to be importing from Africa. They were selling soap, Effun, Ori (shea butter), Epo (corojo), cloth (panho da costa), Obi (palm nuts), etc.

    While I agree with the issues the author of this blog has with the abuses, the overall article reflects a serious lack of historical perspective, a lack of knowledge concerning the cosmology of this religion, as well as (what seems to me) to be an attempt to place ATR’s in the same philosophical box with Christianity. There is no prohibition in our religion against becoming prosperous through performing good spiritual works. The idea that a priest has no right to profit from religious work is very Christian. In fact, many priests receive Odu in itas that MANDATE them to only work the religion. The problems enter when those priests fail to engage in ethical practices.

    She uses a number of Biblical references, comparisons to the acts and demeanor of Jesus and the Buddha, and general comparisons to other religious traditions; but my main issue with what she wrote is what appears to be (in my opinion) an overall lack of understanding and historical perspective.

    Is a curt or abrupt manner REALLY an indicator of “spiritual poverty”? I think not. I know a lot of older people who are this way. Los viejos son muy majaderos! A lot of people in their late 70’s and beyond are impatient. If your back or your hip is hurting, you might be impatient too! This demeanor can also be an indicator of one’s upbringing, culture, or socioeconomic background. I see a LOT of Cubans who just push past people instead of saying, “Excuse me”, or who just say “MOVE”. As an American I find that to be very rude, but it is probably more of a socioeconomic marker than anything else.

    She also wrote that the Lukumi concept of ” …osogbo is akin to the Christian concept of sin”; and defined osogbo as “deeds that make us fall out of balance and grace.” I could be mistaken, but my personal understanding of osogbo is as a set of possible conditions, many of which do not necessarily result from one’s deeds or actions.

    She also lists condescension and shaming under “spiritual poverty”. While correcting someone in an insensitive manner may not be a nice thing to do, is it truly an indicator of “spiritual poverty”? Condescension and shaming, in my opinion, are more of a teaching-style than anything else. They can be very effective tools for fast-learning. Everyone does not respond well to this style, but it has been used in our religious culture for quite some time. All teachers do not teach with kindness, patience, humility, or respect. As individuals, we each know what educational style we best respond to; but we also know that we must sometimes be willing to put aside our OWN egos in order to gain knowledge and proficiency. It is one of the sacrifices that we make to ensure our progress, and the history of our religion in Cuba is filled with people who made tremendous personal sacrifices of this nature in order to learn at the feet of problematic elders.

    I also have some serious issues with what the author wrote about the idea of “hoarding knowledge”. When does personal responsibility come into play? How does one select an employer, a childcare provider, or a university that they will attend? Doesn’t each prospective initiate bear some responsibility for who they give their head to?

    • babañá says:

      Fantastic comment I agree completely!

    • Alamu says:

      Exactly!

    • Oshun Miwa says:

      I agree with the author of this blog…and the issues with abuses she cites. I just want to share some thoughts about some of the points you make in your comment. I agree that the idea a priest shouldn’t profit from spiritual works is a very Christian idea and doesn’t have bearing in our religion.

      What I find hard to stomach is the idea that there are good or acceptable reasons for being curt, abrupt, condescending or shaming others. And yes, I believe that correcting someone in an insensitive manner is always wrong to do. No one is perfect, but it’s never a good “teaching method”. In fact, it’s the opposite of effective. It inhibits questions which could lead to a full understanding, it prevents the student from seeking confirmation of what they have learned from elders, it encourages the student to draw conclusions without discussion which could be erroneous. All of these situations need to be avoided in our religion whose continued existence is contingent on a priesthood that is able to hand it down intact. Why should someone who is working hard, has been initiated, and is respectful and upright have to make “tremendous personal sacrifices of this nature” (which sounds to me like an abusive relationship) in order to learn things correctly? Yes, the tremendous personal sacrifices are going to be time spent, travel, study, work, study and more work. But being treated badly? Why? The over-arching theme of the post is that people in positions of authority sometimes abuse those who have come to them for help. As for “hoarding knowledge” I believe the author was referring to that idea of “tremendous personal sacrifices”. When a person in position of authority who holds a commodity (knowledge) and uses the possesion of it to control, exploit, or abuse another person, it’s wrong. Always. This is of course different from a discerning elder who is teaching according to the student’s needs. The difference isn’t a subtle one, I’m sure.

  12. Iyawo says:

    I agree with much of what the author said, however this is but a reflection of the greater sickness that is present in all mankind. There are no cure all or fixes, other then people wanting to raise their own consciousness and change their ways. Aside from that, I would say perhaps find the people and houses with good character and develop community activities and solidary with them. Otherwise, we personally can’t flush corruptness out as long as a person chooses to be corrupt. All we can do is unite good people together and tell new people that this is the way the religion is supposed to be and what exactly are the good ethnics and good character traits people should show within the religion.

  13. Scipio says:

    In any religion or order you are bound to find those individuals who abuse the gifts that they were born with. As sad as that maybe, one thing we all have to remember is that those individuals play an important role in the development of our spiritual fabric. I say this because there are many fakes, cheats, liars and abusers in the religion (any religion) that take advantage of those seeking religious guidance. Taking advantage of their situation, simplicity, and innocence to the religion. At many times we do not know that we are being taken advantage of until we start doing our own research and embark on our own quest for spiritual guidance. Such as reading, reaching out to other houses, prayer, and meditation and speaking to religious figures in our religion. So in many ways these individuals present to us two options: 1- To continue the vicious cycle and be like them carrying negativity and poison or 2- understand that that is not how one conducts themselves in the religion and pursues a life of good character. It is from that point on that in my opinion will set the tune for not only how that person in their life will conduct themselves but also how they will act and lead in any house or in a house of their own. The author mentioned a standardization of procedures and I can see the argument in that and all though I would agree that certain basic ceremonies should be standard. I however feel that we shouldn’t lose sight of the real issue over little problems about doctrine and procedures. Everyone and anyone who has studied religious practices especially the African based religions and the occult understand that there are 1,000 ways to skin a cat. If one house does things one way and the other does things that way, it doesn’t really matter as long as the rituals and rights are practiced consistently, correctly and most importantly with meaning. Our traditions were passed on orally from generation to generation, when the Africans arrived to the new world they found a world that was similar to theirs but different in its own respect. A world that had already had its own spiritual people (the native Indians) with their own practices that were reaching out to gods, spirits and ancestors similar to their own. Many of the original traditions have merged with what was already here, other traditions stayed intact. How those traditions evolved varies according to their regions and their specific locations but it doesn’t make how one priest in Cuba does a ceremony any better than how a priest in Dominican republic does theirs or as a priest in Miami. Flora and fauna that are essential in certain ceremonies can’t be found in certain regions and thus they have to be made up for. So what is a priest/priestess in Alaska is suppose to do if he or she doesn’t have the necessary items that are common in more tropical areas? So the point I am making is that when one is given the required knowledge through apprenticeship, developed spiritual maturity and blessed with the powers that they need, then with the guidance of the orishas they will be able to better lead their house in whatever location they are in and whatever customs they follow. Just like the African slaves did when they came to the New World. In the Diaspora all houses already do things differently from the original African based religions to begin with. So if the author wants to see standardization, then great, do so and properly train and develop your own godchildren so that they can carry that legacy to whatever corner of the earth their destiny brings them.

  14. Charles Spencer King says:

    Part of this response has been edited out as this blog does not lend itself to commercialism or to promote product, services or any propaganda. The author of the response has been notified of the impending edits prior to posting of the response.

    Greetings and ashe to all. I thought the article was well written and obviously well thought out, however I am not fond of criticism without accompanying solutions or at least suggestions for them. I have a few (OK several) comments that I hope will be welcome here at the Mystic Cup.

    The reason for this is that Lucumi credentials should always be shared when asked, those who are reluctant to share their credentials run do not walk away from. Secondly apart from my book XXXXXX I do not have many of the conflicts or bias that other practitioners may. I do not have or accept clients, for divination or ceremonies. I do not participate in public ceremonies. I do not and will not have godchildren. While there is much I like about this post, there are also several things I disagree with. These I will be addressing today.

    THE PREFACE:
    1) Just for balance I would add that Traditional or Yorubaland IFA, and the many various traditions that make up West African Traditional Religion in both West Africa and diaspora are all polluted with most of your 6 grievances, the exception being hierarchy in Yorubaland.
    2) After a nice lead in on your expectations for your sons (though I do not agree a teenager should ever be a Padrino (even a brother). You have omitted the most important of all grievances, education. The lack of education is the root of the majority of these grievances. Permit me to spend a bit of time on this one because it is important and as you ask for active readership and solutions, I can dissect the problem further and provide a few solutions.
    Rank ( and yep many hate this term, yet it is what it is) is made up of two components level and tenure, while tenure is much more respected than rank or level, rank ultimately trumps tenure. Those on the ocha side will never be pleased with this fact. However, ocha and IFA can exist apart, yet it is certainly not how it should be. The fact is Americans (in particular) have a culture of circumventing protocol or laws for that matter, we see this with lawyers and accountants for example in their constant search for loopholes that the letter of the law may accept, yet that trample the spirit of the law. Normally this is accomplished because the tenets or laws are antiquated. This is true with the Lucumi rank system, and is true with politics as well. Frankly we in IFA chuckle at the invention of Santeros/ Santeras doling out the first hand if IFA (isefa, mano or cofa de Orula). Y et I am not here to argue the case for IFA, nor support the Esu/ IFA warriors vs the Eleggua/ ocha warriors, nor the invention of the Lucumi oba to sacrifice 4 legged animals, because we will get woefully off topic if I start…..(for the record my personal feelings are both warriors are acceptable, first hand of IFA requires 3+ Awo to bring Orunmila down to determine an initiates ruling odu and personal Orisha. Neither am I fond of the oba, that was created not as a substitute for a Baba Awo (con cuchillo), but as a compliment and second choice) But back on topic…..Each rank has three basic components 1) Ashe and the lineage of that ashe 2) training or education 3) permissions. The root of the educational problem stems from these three components. We will return to these after I offer my first solution. All of these are talked about in terms of years and this is a huge mistake in today’s world, it should be hours not years, be training on the mat or from assisting and participating in ceremonies. Both ocha and IFA are guilty of accepting this whitewash, and it is consistently something that our Yorubaland cousins exploit in their marketing pitches. The omo awo who after five years gets his cuchillo (wanaldo) and is a tourist sure is not spending every day for 6 hours at the feet of his elders, is he? Shame on us. The newly crowned Santera who hangs her virtual shingle out on Facebook is certainly not qualified to do much of anything with “clients”. Shame on us.

    The way and spirit of the convention we call Lucumi is again based on Ashe, these include you lineage ancestors, who sadly few even know of their existence, let alone their tremendous power we can access. These are on the ocha side the liniage of the santero or santera who gave you the warriors (or necklaces) and later the santero or santera who ashe was used to crown you. It is not just them, it is the santeros and santeras who “made” both of these going all the way back generationally. If you are not accessing this significant corpus of knowledge and power you are woefully under educated. The same is true on the IFA side who gave you the ashe in your isefa, mano or cofa de Orula and that Padrino’s , Padrino’s Padrino etc all the way back, and for those in the priesthood who the ashe came from in their itefa and again going back, back back to the beginning. Obviously, these also are part of our credentials (that as I mentioned we not only are required to share, but that any solid practitioner should be damn proud of and tout !

    Moving to training (the second of the three components that make up our credentials) again this is something we share and tout not hide or sweep under the carpet ! Training is a bit of a misleading word because it is all of our obligations to continue to train until our last breath. Therefore, in point of fact there is no such thing as a “fully” trained practitioner, so I prefer to cal the training we receive on each level or rank or power we obtain being formal training. Obviously the harder the the training (rigorous, lengthy and arduous), as well as the better quality of the teachers, the better it is for one’s credentials. There are Ivy League type houses in ocha and Community Colleges of training. Sure a great santera or Awo can come out of the Community College, but more often it is one who went to Oxford or Cambridge. It also has to do with respect of your peers. Indeed, a new initiate rarely knows or sees the value of this, yet we elders sure do (and not the self anointed, appointed variety the real elders). You can not imagine how frustrating it is for me or a real elder to have some teenage IFA “priest” tell us he has wanaldo….it is a sad joke. You see earning your fourth odu in Lucumi is no joke, and sure it allows us to sacrifice 4 legged animals, yet that is the TIP of the iceberg. It is a conformation that an omo awo has earned the right to be called a Baba Awo (yeah we use the term lightly in Cuba “Babalawo”, but it is a courtesy, just as some call an omo awo Baba, nothing more.) . This goes to the point our host is speaking to, only a fool or a fraud would call themselves Baba or Baba Awo with out having impeccable credentials, strong ashe, lengthy training and from a ile IFA with very difficult to obtain permissions. Let me share an example or an irony. While my personal odu call for primarily global education of those new to our religion and those outside of it, my secondary role is to expose fraud, abuses, and general bullshit in our religion (but not to judge it) . Yep, that makes be at odds with many under educated and frauds or greedy bastards in our religion. (Perhaps now you see Orunmila’s wisdom in my odu with suggesting no godchildren nor clients nor public ceremonies…..and having strong credentials, I am not an easy target) In any case I have lived in Mexico for the last 10 years on the border with Arizona, USA. There are santeros and santeras here in Nogales, and perhaps a few awo, yet how many would you imagine have dropped by my office or apartment (after repeated invitations)? I am well known in the community as an author and as a Baba Awo. Well the answer is not a single one ! They avoid me like most frauds do or those who abuse with over charging. I guarantee you I am the highest ranking, practitioner in these parts, yet not a single visit…..LOL. What does that tell you? …..yeah, me too ! The Catholic bishop is a frequent visitor though ! Back to the 4th odu, the cuchillo (wanaldo)is most of all that the omo awo has completed their formal training (normally five years on the mat, daily), and obtained the permissions to be inducted in this fraternity. Of the four levels of Awo in Lucumi two are omo awo and the higher two are Baba Awo. In summation let me just say that because ocha has less levels in theory the formal training and permissions should be more difficult. I would advocate for more tiers in ocha.

    The last component is permissions. If those above you prostitute themselves shame on them and shame on you for not doing your due diligence and checking their references, credentials, formal training methods and permissions before you agreed to be a part of their spiritual family. It is not all their fault, you share some blame too! “A fool and their money are soon parted”. Obviously the more difficult the permissions are to obtain the better santera or awo you will become. Just like Oxford, you want a tough exam, you want the leader of the house or ile peppering you written, oral and on the mat, you want the council of elders to vouch for your training and recommend you. Like I said there is Oxford and there is the Community College of Timbuktu, and there are also mail order degrees you can simply buy, or ceremony without training. However we elders know the difference, just as you all may one day.

    There is no substitute for education, none. Take a look at even the best intended Facebook or internet group, we have to sadly laugh out loud when we see not only absurd questions like “tell me about this or that odu” without explaining the context or if it is with ire or osogbo or with other questions the person fails to even identify themselves or what their tradition is ! Asking odu or mechanical related questions is the height of not only ignorance but arrogance. The only topper is the person who answers the question with out asking at leas what tradition or without identifying themselves or their qualifications !

    When I wrote my books I was a novice Baba Awo, I had just earned my wanaldo and largely it came because I had a demand odu for it (not a suggested one). Of course I am still learning yet I do share many free notes on my Facebook page in the note section, just send me a friend request. I never discuss odu or mechanics unless face to face, I don;t often venture off Facebook, yet I saw this post and decided to respond. I thank you for the opportunity and ashe to all. Lucumi Baba Awo ogbesa (Charles Spencer King)

    • Omilade says:

      Iboru Ibora Ibocheche.

      I have been a Santera for 44 yrs, crowned “Awo Yemaya” I believe a Babalowu / Olowu deserves respect, now that is not to say that there are some who use this title as a “Money-Maker” but it does not mean all of them are the same. My Padrino is a Babalowu and my Husband is an Olowu. They don’t use their titles as an income, and can count their Godchildren scarcely.

      Ifa is the divination of Orula and one that deserves the Utmost respect, and any one that can diminish that can not possible be on the path.

      Bendiciones a Todo
      Omilade

  15. Diana says:

    I left the religion a few years ago, after a crazy divorce and a break up with my second house, so confusing too remember the details. My original godparents didn’t seem truly spiritual only financially driven and then Upon the divorce the 2nd house instructed me to maintain my husbands warriors, bury his egun and maintain my warriors together. As of late Yemaya is calling me and I want to service the warriors and strengthen my honor of Yemaya but I am confused to begin and if the advise I received re: my ex was correct. So I can use some words of guidance from a lost lamb trying to find her place.

    • Omimelli says:

      Hello Diana

      Thanks for trusting enough to share the issues on this forum. It is interesting that you were left to keep the Eggun and the warriors of your husband. Be it that the Warriors where not made for you, it really makes no sense to be tending to them, particularly because it is not traditional that a wife or ex takes care of the sacred items of her mate.

      You mention that you want to honor Yemaya, are you fully initiated as an olosha to Yemaya?

      This will help me try to better guide you.

      Omimelli

    • Omilade says:

      Hi Diana,

      On this one point I can’t agree with the other comments made, In my years (44) as a Santeria (Awo de Yemaya) I have seen this on few occasions, although rare.

      There is a very simple process that needs to come to pass and the reasons/understanding of why the Eggun and the Warriors would be placed with you for your care.

      Nothing is impossible and the Saints and the Egguns have a reason for everything they ask for.

      Seek out wisdom of a Olowu or an experienced Santera / Santero, many might have different answers for you.

      An Olowu can ask Orula or a Santero / Santera can “tire coco” (talking to the Saints) Give it thought and ask questions. Not everything may be as it seems.

      May Yemaya and all of The Orishas Bless you on your path…
      Omilade…

  16. Awo Ogbeka Ifalori says:

    I stumbled upon this article while doing research since I will be tentatively moving to the US and wanted to see how things were religiously up there. I’m a babalawo from Venezuela who was born into the religion and my parents are older than me in it. I have to agree with the unfortunate state in which our religion is in and I am quite sad to hear that there is no geographical exception to this deterioration.

    I also agree with most of the comments made by the author except for the religion not being able to be pure when living off it. My parents have lived off religion for 34 years as have I since I received my IFA. The problem comes from the origin rather than the livelihood of religious work. I can attest that if you work true to religious concepts and with respect to the orichas and to your religious family, there is no need for all those perverse practices that we see so much. Ifa and the orichas will take care of you and will allow you a good life. Maybe you won’t be a millionaire, but you will live comfortably and peacefully since this is a rewarding job.

    The true problem can be seen when people are initiated into the religion. We often do not ask for the intentions of an initiate when entering our inle, but we always can see it through their odus. In order to begin a purification of this religion we must abstain from initiating those who we see are initiating with mercantilism in mind. Or with superiority complex. This kind of aleyo will grow to be just what you mentioned, iyalochas or awoses that care only for money or for power. And the worst part, they will continue the vicious cycle by creating more clones, because they only care for money or for number of initiates in order to please their own egos and wallets. This problem is not exclusive to any inle or santeros or awoses. If this problem wasn’t so generalized there wouldn’t be such a breach between ocha and ifa. This breach is attributed to both sides, awoses abuse authority (without having the knowledge) and santeros deny hierarchy (some for mercantilism and some because of awoses’ faults). In the end this has created a schism in our religion and some of the most stupid inventions justified using the most harmful words which the author has so correctly named (…in my house we …). This frase is used to justify incorrect things done for mercantilism, ego and some even for simple laziness. It is our obligation to teach our decedents proper work ethics and study. And it is our obligation to weed out aleyos that we know are going to take the wrong road.

    Having said this, I do have another profession (lawyer) but I have lived all of my life from religious work and aspire to do so, if olofi allows, for the rest of it. However, I have seen others who, despite having other careers, still incur in all those vices which the author mentions. So doing IFA as a hobby is no cure either, there’s always an ego to be inflated or extra money to be made, and in some very extreme cases, sexual perversions to be pleased.

    A problem I see growing in Venezuela that really exasperates me is the lack of hierarchy and respect amongst the religious community. People seem to forget that this religion has survived and grown for thousands of years through the mentoring form. And that is the main reason that the godparent-godchildren relationship is so sacred and important. Now I see godparents that initiate only for money or numbers and then dispense the godchildren or teach them nothing at all. And then I also see godchildren who irrespect their godparents and even go to extents of denying them, claiming superiority over them, or even using ogu on them. Respect is a two way street.

    That being said, I do hope that we can all find a way to cleanse this beautiful religion, and also hope that each one of us finds a way to abstain from incurring in these vices and perpetuating the vicious cycle of corruption.

    Iboru Iboya Ibochiche to all and specially to Onimelli for this article. I hope we can establish contact in order to continue productive discussions on this kind of topics.

    • Omilade says:

      Iboru Ibora Ibocheche,

      I agree with the fine writing of Onimelli… “BRAVO”

      I have been a Santera for the last 44 years and Crowned with Yemaya when I was 3 yrs old “Maferfun Yemaya” My husband is an Olowu and I have seen over the years the amount of people who use their title as a “Money-Tree” its sad and unfortunate that this happens.

      An ILE should not be recognized by the amount of Godchildren it hold but rather the Honesty, Commitment, and the wisdom that is passed down from the Godparents (Padrino – Madrina) of that ILE.

      The ILE where my husband was born is an older ILE and they are very traditional in their teachings. When my husband did his Saint (Chango) he had the path to IFA. Now in some ILE’s they will let you pass right on to IFA, its called by some “Brinca Cuarto”

      The Godparents of my husband immediately said “No” his Padrino who is a Babalowu told him this would hold him back from learning so much and he went through his year of his Yaboraje and then he moved on to his IFA.

      Its only my opinion that in our religion we continue to learn and grow. So in retrospect I agree with the above writings and I hope with all of what’s written and the communication we all have with each other we can somehow share more wisdom, experience and grown in the path of the Orishas and IFA…

      Bendiciones a Todo…
      Omilade

  17. Ochaalainu says:

    My first post was deleted but thank you for telling the truth and for being brave enough to but it in writting. My experience with this tradition has been just as stated above. Some other sub topics are:
    1. Ethnicity and “race” relations
    2. Origins (of tradition and traditons in each Ile)
    3. The concept of : Not going any where else for knowledge (our house is the ONLY WAY)
    4. No responsibilty at the top: Elders acting reckless beyond religious issues complete human degredation

    theres more but BRAVO!

  18. Obatala_Orula_Angel23 says:

    THANK YOU SO VERY MUCH FOR TAKING THE TIME TO WRITE THIS POSTING. IT RESONATED WITH ME ENORMOUSLY AND HOW I HAVE FELT WHEN I FIRST BECAME AN ABORISHA.I WAS MISLEAD TO PAY A RIDICULOUS AMOUNT OF MONEY TO RECEIVE MY ELEKES AND WARRIORS AND WAS IGNORED BY MY “GOD PARENT” IMMEDIATELY FOLLOWING THE CEREMONY. I WAS MISINFORMED ON HOW TO SPEAK WITH ORULA AND IT WAS AFTER MONTHS OF PRAYERS AND TEARS THAT I AM NOW LEARNING ON MY OWN, OF COURSE WITH THE HELP OF MY ORISHAS AND SPIRITS, AND THANKFULLY TO SITES LIKE YOURS THAT SLOWLY BUT SURELY SHOW ME THE WAY. I APPRECIATE YOUR WORDS OF WISDOM TREMENDOUSLY AND LOOK FORWARD TO READING ALL THAT YOU HAVE TO SAY. THANK YOU AGAIN. MAY YOU, AND YOUR FAMILY, CONTINUE TO BE BLESSED.

  19. Meinda says:

    It’s funny, this article could have been written about the New Age community, or any other “spiritual” community I’ve encountered in my short life. I’m a working spirit medium (by ancestry mostly- my grandmother is a Puerto Rican Espiritista and Santera), but I was raised in CA and since I’m half American found my way into the New Age community looking for support and answers after my grandmother’s dementia worsened. I was so off put but all of the behaviors in the New Age communities (all that you listed above), that I came back to my “roots” of Santeria to find the same thing. It seems, from what I’ve observed, that it is simply human nature, and it becomes extremely prevalent when ego and money get wrapped into spirituality.

    At this point I only read for clients by word of mouth, collect no money from it personally, and request donations go to a charity of their choice. It’s the only way I can feel good about being able to pick and choose who I read for and when. I think that is part of it too- when people are paying, teachers who may come initially into the practice well intentioned are kind of commissioned to become lenient about integrity when they have bills to pay and demanding students and clients. Not that that is ever an excuse, of course. My grandmother always did her Spirit work for free, although she did accept donations. Spirit has blessed me in my life that I prefer to keep money completely out of it.

    Thanks for giving us an opportunity to add our $0.02 :) I appreciate your blog and your wisdom!

    • Meinda says:

      Correction- my grandmother was a practitioner of Santeria, not sure if she was an initiated Santera. Her work was more active in Puerto Rico and NY, so I was never exposed to the entire community. Apologies for misspeaking, I wanted to be clear but don’t have the knowledge of the various titles well enough to always understand completely. Still learning..

  20. Carrie says:

    Thank you for so much information. As one who is longing to join but geographically distanced (Vancouver, Canada) I am wondering if you can point me in the direction of a house or Santero in Seattle (I could go as far as Oregon if necessary but would prefer WA. Thank you for any help you may offer.

  21. Jozy DeFord says:

    I was sharing my life with a man here in Miami Beach for over a year. I knew his Orisha was Elegua. I thought the fact that he was having an affair with a “friend” of mine was ur good old fashioned betrayal. Little did I know that since the day the first met that they had not only had sex but started their quest to break me down as an offering. You may ask how I can be sure. Ill tell you why because early in our relationship he and I decided to record our conversations as to make him a better communicator and he not be able to say ” didn’t say that”. However something strange happened my phone started recording without me doing it. I had no idea just how important these recordings would be. From the next day after they met he starts his trickery. By telling a story that of course was about he her and I and the previous day. For the next 8 to 9 months there are various recordings that range from his visions or stories to him flat out admitting that he is with her loves her hates me will make me a “manje sec” bandalos, mariani but in a context of how he can speak different languages. Never straightforward unless I was in the other room or he said it quickly or under his breathe. He use to say I was a baby and would stay a baby. The more and more I research this I believe there is a very serious attempt at sacrificing me. I have battled dreams and obsessions since I vanished hi from my life. Also the woman has satanic worship in her past and evidently present. I don’t want to confuse Santeria with Satanic worship I know it is not the same. However as your article has pointed out if two individuals have a similar taste for darkness the lines can be blurred or crossed. I am asking you to please contact me and refer or give me the help I need to defeat this attempt on my spirit and mind.—CONTACT INFO DELETED. THE BLOG DOES NOT SHARE PERSONAL INFORMATION AS THERE ARE MANY FOLKS AROUND LOOKING TO SCAM PEOPLE IN NEED.—THANKS OMIMELLI

  22. Amenta says:

    This post is very important. As Meinda noted it can be extrapolated into many other communities. At this point, this time, we are experiencing a changing of the guard away from ANY organised forms of “religious” service to ANY of the “Natures.” It’s human to naturally gravitate to asembol with others of the same mind. The changing of the era is opening many up to Spirit and this post is one that expresses that. I am a lone practioner and will meet from time to time with others of the same mind no matter their “religious” preference or style. I think this post is more than spot on but a view of what we must do in the future.

    Peace and Harmony.

  23. Ade Ibu Okan says:

    Bendicion.
    I read the whole blog and agreed with 99% of it except the assertion about people who live off the religion. People have made religion their career, and depend on it for their livelihood. I would have said that people should not try to get rich from it, because then you truly prostitute the religion. Other than that, I loved the blog, it was certainly on point.

  24. Alefa Ayo says:

    It is for similar reasons that I left the Christian Church, though my story goes deeper. My heart desires the ideal you speak of. It is my prayer that I am led to the family, the house, the God Parent that is in my highest good and for my most elevated development. I will keep my eyes open to what has been said above, because nothing is ever perfect. These are some words of wisdom. Thank you for this article. VERY Courageous.

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