Santeria is an African diaspora religion that arose due to the forced displacement of West-African ‘Yoruba’ enslaved peoples to the Carrebean island of Cuba as part of the ongoing transatlantic slave trade. Many of them had no choice but to ‘convert’ to Catholicism and to hide their own spiritual practices behind images of Catholic saints. The resulting syncretism is still with us today, but is weakening as times goes on. An increasing number of practitioners and devotees consider the associations with the Catholic saints unnecessary, and focus exclusively on the Orishas, the  real ‘deities’ of the religion. Others argue that syncretism represents the history of the religion, which should not be forgotten.


It’s important to know that Santeria and its African Mother religion are monotheistic, as just one Supreme God is acknowledged and worshipped as the creator of all. The  Orishas are ‘lesser’ deities closer to the Earth. Their relative closeness to the Earth and humanity means they are able to help those on Earth, while the Supreme God is more remote.

Although the name ‘Santeria’ was originally used as a put-down by the Catholic church/authorities who frown(ed) on the religion, it is still the name that most people are familiar with. Another name is Lucumi. A name used by initiates is commonly ‘Ocha’.

Growth and spread

Some of Santeria’s practices are quite different from those of where the religion originated in West-Africa, namely among the Yoruba peoples of Nigeria. But many are also very similar or intact, and Santeria contains an immense body of knowledge and wisdom derived from the African continent. From its inception in Cuba in the nineteenth century, Santeria has always had to struggle to thrive and adapt to changing times and it is essential that this aspect of the religion is kept alive, honoured and respected.

In the US, where Santeria is still growing and is much better known than in Europe (mainly due to the Cuban diaspora and African-Americans converting), the religion is much more respected and accepted, while remaining culturally subversive.



Central to Santeria is the deity of the crossroads, Elegua (or Elegba). Elegua 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 by unorthodox methods to open ourselves up and live life more fully and more in line with who we really are. No-one can bypass Elegba, and he is often the first Orisha one ‘receives’ when entering the religion. If you are willing to listen en learn, Elegua  brings self-knowledge and self-illumination. From his position at the centre of the crossroads he oversees all. He makes you aware of the different choices  you have in life, and opens and closes the doors as he sees fit, all for your greater good.