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Non-Christian Santeria


A synchretistic religion, blending elements of Animism, Roman Catholicism, voodoo, and/or traditional African polytheistic religions.

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.


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News Archive

Database of archived news items
(Includes items added between Oct. 25, 1999 and Jan. 31, 2002. See about this database)

Older items:
(Sep 2, 1999) Sacrifice Zone
(Jun 5, 1999) Santeria stirs suspicions and belief

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First posted: Dec. 2, 1998
Last Updated: May 2, 2003
Editor: Anton Hein
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