Santería and the Shakespearean Paradigm

To be or not to be, that is the question

Inspired by the famous and profound words from Shakespeare’s Hamlet, who while facing his moment of doubt in confronting the adversities in his life; I am drawing a parallelism with the adversities and challenges that many of us have faced as oloshas, babaloshas and iyaloshas in the Yoruba Religion. Although we could apply this statement to multiple subjects in our religious surroundings, I propose that we take a look at what we can do to BE better godfathers and godmothers.

We live in an era of fast communications, of Internet sites, social networking, iPads, digital telephones and thousands of other technological marvels. The accelerated pace and commercialization of life, which are intrinsic characteristics of modern culture in the United States, has had a profound influence on the entry process of neophytes to Osha houses or ilés. Nowadays, those who wish to be part of the religious community can search for godfathers and godmothers online, go to a botánica or simply attend a few Orisha related events and then in mere days, weeks or perhaps a month later they already have Osha crowned. It seems as though everything has a price, every head seems to have a “path” towards the Yoruba priesthood.

I have heard many times elders reciting like parrots, “the head searches for a home”, however, I have seen very few work with dedication to ensure that each head that comes to their house accepted by the Orisha, reaches their maximum potential. That is what being a good elder is about, helping to develop human, intellectual and spiritual capital. As elders, we cannot sacrifice quality for quantity. If someone is in a hurry to become an olorisha, to belong to the Lukumí community and to go show off their “crown” , those should not be reasons to rush through the consecration process. Eventually the result of sacrificing steps in the much needed learning process is the breakage of relationships between godparents and godchildren as well as a loss of traditions.

On the other hand, new generations who want to belong to the Yoruba Religion seem to arrive accompanied by the most persuasive of orishas, ‘Babá Dollar.’ Moreover, I have observed the particularly annoying tendency that people from Generation X bring along. They have less appreciation towards tradition, elders and respect, they have an entitlement mentality: they deserve it all and deserve it right now. Many of them think that because there is a lot of material about the Regla de Ocha already in print and online, they have the ‘right’ to get to learn it all immediately after just getting the elekes . These new generations do not have the patience to be raised, they are impatient when learning and they are not satisfied progressing by levels. They want to BE now.

As priests, are we or are we not responsible and able to put a stop to these tendencies? Where are we failing? Based on my experience and observations, the problem is complex and it is not only based on a combination of factors, but it is also rooted in attitudes learned from our own elders, attitudes that we must revisit and in some cases, eradicate. We should not allow a “consumerism and collector mentality” to cloud our perspective as keepers of a religious and socio-cultural legacy.

It is based on my observations of what a functional ilé should be, that I offer some ideas that could BE valuable when evaluating the current condition of our Orisha houses.

Some of the pillars of a well built ilé are: Intelligence, discernment, dedication, discipline and obedience.

As godparents we depend on intelligence to recognize our limitations. As olorishas, how many people can we educate concurrently and responsibly in order to make of them the future stewards of the religion?

It is equally important to have discernment. As I mentioned, not everyone who comes to an Osha house is destined to become an olorisha. We have the responsibility to discern who has and who does not have the capacity to follow properly with the demands of the Regla de Osha, whichever may be the initiate’s level of commitment. Nowadays, the consumerism mentality and the proliferation of oloshas that live off of the religion have created an absurd lack of balance in the process of ordination of oloshas. There is an abundance of iyawós that have been abandoned to their own devices and others who learn on the Internet because their godparents do not teach, and others who have been victims of rackets or exploitation. There are many other cases such as those of committing terrible aberrations and demonstrating lack of responsibility. However, it is important to mention that there are also cases of iyawós, who once initiated become rebellious and become lost in a sea of self-sufficiency. Thus, we must learn to discern to avoid casting pearls to swine.

It is vital to have dedication as a godparent in order to have a stable ilé. When as olorishas we commit to ‘raise’ a religious congregation, then we must do things properly and become living examples for those who look up to us. However, in order to achieve that goal one must commit to a lifetime of study, and on the same token, a lifetime of contribution to the spiritual and intellectual development of our godchildren. Let us be an example when following intelligently the commands of the orishas. Let us show our godchildren that we all have the potential for positive change through a balance between faith and action, by development of good character.

Another cornerstone is discipline. Discipline is necessary to follow the rules of the orishas, to know when to contain ourselves and when to act, to know how to follow elder’s commands and when to open a dialogue to face conflicts. Discipline forges character. What would the Regla de Osha be without it?

Discipline and obedience walk together. It is through obedience we show to our orishas and our elders that we will be able to inspire trust among generations. Let us inspire confidence in our own godchildren by means of our actions and examples, thus gaining their obedience and respect.

Perhaps some would think that there is no reason to have so many rules and that everyone must have the opportunity to ‘make Osha’ to ‘change their life’ or to ‘save themselves out of X or Y situation’ by means of making Osha. Sometimes an individual faces the prospect of having to make Osha (and that has been proven by means of an appropriate reading), thus this HAVING to make Osha leaves the Olosha with no alternative. However, we still have the responsibility to warn the person that ‘making Osha’ is not a panacea, it only provides a push of energy that must be well utilized by following the advice given in the Itá ceremony and the continuous coaching imparted by elders.Lastly, I propose that as oloshas instead of following and obeying blindly, we obey intelligently. Let us help those who are about to enter the ranks of the priesthood to enter prepared, clean and making not only an act of priestly consecration but also an act of surrender and devotion. This way, when we have to settle accounts at the foot of Olofi, we would have achieved to capacity our commitment as priests of the Yoruba Religion. We would have had a hand not only in the development of people but also a positive impact in the future of generations.

By Sarah, Omí T´oñí
Originally published on

One Reply to “Santería and the Shakespearean Paradigm”

  1. Very good blog! Do you have any helpful hints for aspiring writers? I’m hoping to start my own website soon but I’m a little lost on everything. Would you suggest starting with a free platform like WordPress or go for a paid option? There are so many choices out there that I’m completely overwhelmed .. Any ideas? Appreciate it!

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