Santeros believe that Orishas are supernatural beings that emanate from Olofi, the creator god of humankind and the saints. They have two noteworthy characteristics. The first is their ability to control a variety of human forces, enterprises, and interests. The second is their representation of the different elements and forces of nature. […]
In addition to the Catholic saints symbolizing these deities, the Orishas are also represented by the fundamentos and secrets of the saints. These fundamentos are one or more stones (otanes) grouped together for someone’s initiation (asiento). Also included are 16 cowrie shells (diloggun) and several atributos – or small figures and objects – that represent the powers and characteristics of the deity.
The consecrated stones, kept in deep bowls colorfully decorated to represent the Orisha, means to obtain benefits and protection for the believer. They are full of ashé – which means they are made of cosmic energy.
The fundamentos are the most basic representation of the Orisha and are treated like living beings. They are even bathed with sacred liquids made from plants, cleaned, rubbed with oil, and fed with the blood of the deity’s favorite animal. After being converted into the abodes of the Orishas, the stones acquire both the personality and power (ashé) of the god that resides within them.
Cowrie shells are used for divination. The initiate keeps them in his house with the other religious objects, instead of in special temples. Most rituals are conducted in the homes of believers.
The bead necklaces (eleke) are made of the characteristic color of each Orisha, and are another important symbol. The colors of the Orishas radiate ashé. When a santero wears an Orisha’s colors, he is protected because any magical spell directed toward him is deflected. Thus, the Orishas are said to protect their children with their colors.
– Source: Santeria: A religion of divination, magic, and animal sacrifice by Donald T. Moore.
Of the many religions in the Caribbean to make direct reference to African culture, Cuban Santeria is perhaps the most significant. Many aspects of Yoruba rites feature in this religion, which is a syncretic mix of Catholicism and Yoruba. Deities and holy figures from each are identified with one another, integrating the two religious traditions. Thus, for example, the Shango god of thunder become St Barbara; Orunmila, of divination, become St. Francis; Obatala is Our Lady of Mercy; Elegba is St Peter. The life and power of the gods reside in stones secured beneath the altar. Animal sacrifice and spirit-possession are also elements of Santeria.
– Source: African Disapora Religion, Ossie Stuart, in A New Handbook of Living Religions, John R. Hinnels, Ed., Penguin Books, 1998
The religion originated with West African slaves who were shipped to the New World and forced by Spanish colonials to worship as Catholics. The slaves eventually adopted the same Catholic saints because they were able to identify characteristics in them reminiscent of their own African gods.
Although many practitioners consider themselves Roman Catholic, Santeria is not recognized as a religion by the Catholic Church. The Vatican warns the faithful against all forms of “divination,” which is defined broadly and includes many of the rites inherent to Santeria.
Santeria is also controversial because of its use of animals for sacrifices. Practitioners gained significant protection from the U.S. Supreme Court, which ruled in 1993 that such rituals are protected by the Constitution.
– Source: The Spirit of Santeria The Washington Post, USA, Jan. 4, 2000
In Cuba, Santería is also known as Lucumí, La Regla de Ocha, and La Regla de Santo. In Brazil, it is called Candomble Jege-Nago. The African name of Santería is Ocha. Literally, the name Santería means the worship of saints. Due to its dependence upon oral traditions and lack of written scriptures, several Afro-American traditions exist.
– Source: Footnote 1 in Santeria: A religion of divination, magic, and animal sacrifice by Donald T. Moore.
Interview with a Santero
Research Resources on Santeria
- Santeria: A religion of divination, magic, and animal sacrifice [Also as PDF] by Donald T. Moore. An informative overview and introduction, followed by an evaluation from a Christian perspective.
- Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America by Miguel A. De La Torre, who was reared in Santeria.
In Cuba, the Yoruba religion of the orishas melded with saint-rich Catholicism to create Santeria, one of the primary Afro-Caribbean religions and an increasingly significant part of American culture. Brought up in a New York family that practiced Santeria–both his parents are santeros, or priests–De La Torre no longer considers himself a believer but remains deeply affected by his childhood experiences. Writing as both an academic outsider and a privileged former insider, he retells Yoruba myths clearly and expressively, and his analysis of religious syncretism is both scholarly and accessible. Detailed descriptions of the various manifestations of each orisha make this one of the most comprehensive books on the subject, while the complex issue of Santeria ritual, which can include animal sacrifice, is handled unsensationally but vividly. This book should be part of any collection intended to represent the breadth of American religious experience. Patricia Monaghan, Booklist, as quoted at Amazon.com