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.
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)?
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.
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.
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?
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.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá