I became involved in the religion of Santeria around ten years ago and was fully initiated to the orisha ‘Obatala’ 3 years ago. I use the name Santeria because although this was originally used as a put-down by the Cuban church/authorities who frown(ed) on the religion, it is still the name that most people are familiar with.
Santeria is an African diasporic religion that came into being through the forced displacement of West-African ‘Yoruba’ enslaved peoples to the Caribbean island of Cuba as part of the ongoing transatlantic slave trade. Many of them had no choice but to convert to Catholicism and hid their Yoruba religion behind Catholic saints. The syncretism has remained until this day, although it is becoming weaker as time goes on and more practitioners find the associations with Catholic saints unnecessary.
Although many of Santeria’s practices are quite different from those of the West-African homelands, many are also very similar or intact, and Santeria contains an immense body of knowledge and wisdom. From its birth in the nineteenth century, Santeria has always had to struggle to thrive and adapt to changing times, and for me it is essential that this aspect of the religion is kept alive, honoured and respected. In the US, where Santeria has grown and is much better known than in Europe (mainly due to the Cuban diaspora and African-Americans converting), it is both increasingly gaining in respectability while remaining culturally subversive.
For me, although I am a white person with European ancestry, I felt drawn to the religion from the start. And it has given me everything I could not find for myself but was also looking for in Western-based spirituality. However, it’s not for everyone, neither would it pretend to be. At the same time, the basic teachings of the Orishas, the ‘deities’ of Santeria closest to humankind, are valuable in themselves and may be a source of wisdom and healing to anyone.
“At the crossroads”
Central to Santeria is the deity of the crossroads, Elegba. Elegba is said to have been present when God, (Olodumare) created the universe, and is all-knowing and all-perceiving. He is also a phallic trickster who challenges us, often by unorthodox methods, to open our minds and live life more fully. Nobody can bypass Elegba, and he is often one of the first Orishas ‘received’ when entering the religion. If you are willing to listen and learn, working with Elegba brings self-knowledge and self-illumination. From his position at the centre of the crossroads, from where he oversees all, he will make you aware of the different choices you have in life, and open or close doors as he sees fit, all for your greater good.
Anyone with a genuine interest in Santeria is welcome to contact me for more information.