Sunday, 5 April 2009

Appropriation of the Orishas?

Over the past few months I have been reading about Santería and I have been impressed with how much followers of this religion embed their beliefs into their lives. The Orishas are consulted over every aspect of the adherents’ lives; there are strict rituals to follow, and etiquette to respect. I have had several dreams involving the Orishas. The first such dream occurred a few months ago and it involved Chango, in his form of Saint Barbara. This was a very powerful dream, and I remember seeing St Barbara clearly surrounded by fire and lightning, holding her cup toward me. More recently, I have had two dreams during which a couple of Santeros were debating over which Orisha crowned my head. This was very interesting, given that followers of Santería believe that everybody has a mother and a father Orisha, with one being the primary Orisha, even if that person doesn’t follow the religion or believe in Orishas.

There is a lot in Santería that I would like to adapt and incorporate into my own practices. However, I am worried about cultural appropriation. My main concern is this: if I wanted to invite the power of the Orishas into my life, is there a legitimate way of doing this? Obviously I could try and train in Santería but there are, as far as I know, very few Santeros (if any) in the UK and I am satisfied with Feri being my primary tradition. Also, there are certain things that I do not find appealing about the religion, namely animal sacrifice. Aside from that, is it appropriate to work with the Orishas without observing their traditional rituals? We do it all the time with other pantheons, so why not with the Santos? I would argue that given that Santería is a living religion, unlike Greek/Roman/Egyptian religions, the beliefs of followers should be taken into account, and I’m sure they wouldn’t agree with a Witch working with the Orishas.

But what would the Orishas think?


  1. I have heard of people serving the orishas without having gone through any of the Santeria initiations, people who live in Cuba for example but they don't have the money for initiation. I have also heard of occult shops in places like New York offering classes which deal with "popular" or "ley" Santeria.

    There is a (HOT) Santero in Bristol, or there was a couple of years ago anyway, because he was on a documentary.

    I think if a person finds out who their crowning orisha is, as long as they then follow the ritual given to them in serving their ruling orisha, then, it is considered perfectly acceptable.

  2. Anyone can honor/ work with the Orisha, you just have to be honest about what you are doing. Don't represent yourself as an initiate if you are not, don't try to teach the tradition if you are not authorized to do so. I would suggest reading Luisah Teish's book Jambalaya:The Natural Women's book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals, to learn more about the Orisha and ways of working with them. She is a chief priestess in the Ifa tradition, (the original Orisha tradition- the tradition in Africa before Africans, specifically the Yoruba, were enslaved, brought to the Americas and forced to hide their religion behind Catholicism and their Gods behind the saints). Her book is wonderful and offers suggestions for the non-inititate to work with/ serve the Orisha in appropriate ways. Another good book is called Finding Soul on the Path of the Orisa a West African Spiritual Tradition by Tobe Melora Correal.

  3. Hi, I am studying with Karina BlackHeart who has strong links with this tradition. She is a Feri teacher and has her own WWW and teachers long distance classes. Also she will be teaching at the Feri Camp in September. Might be a useful connection for you?
    :o) Dragonfly

  4. Good to read your recognition of animal sacrifice as an extremely important consideraton. Perhaps your discomfort is a 'red flag'?

    Of course all animal consumption condones animal sacrifice, regardless of whether or not the consumer has any idea how the animal died. So ritualized sacrifice provides an opportunity to take fully conscious responsibility for 'the act'of ending another's life.

    I am not condoning animal sacrifice. Far from it! As a feminist Wiccan I am personally opposed to power-over in all its forms (sexism, racism, homophobia, ageism, speciesism, et),and so could never participate in the ritual sacrifice of a chicken or any other animal.

    IMO, if one is not prepared to sacrifice the life of a beloved family companion like a dog or cat, then why on earth kill an animal with whom one has no personal attachment whatsover? That hardly seems like a sacrifice to me, but I wouldn't pretend to know what is signigicant in the Santeria tradition in terms of a dead animal offering that makes it an unquestioned part of the religion for most practisioners (those perhaps steeped in a culture-specific belief that the lives of animals are appropriately exploitable as mere extentions of human wants and needs).

    What I do know is that there seems to be a dirth of information on the issue of animal sacrifice in Wicca- real reluctance to discuss either the act of killing, or the interests of an animal in staying alive!

    I find this interesting given that Reclaiming, for example, is a feminist tradition which advocates the questioning of authority- in particular, patriarchal attitudes and behaviors that 'power-over' the 'other'.

    Santeria may be home to some empowered women, but any religon that considers killing integral to its practise in this day and age would certainly ring alarm bells for yours truly.

    Good luck on your spiritual journey, and may peaceful, benevolent deities guide you!

  5. Respect, Leaf
    If you want to establish a relationship with the Orishas, I would suggest getting very very very familiar with Yoruba history and tradition. There are Ifa and Santeria devotees of non-African descent, HOWEVER these are often people who've spent a great deal of time learning from and in many cases living around people who are already a part of these traditions.
    In my understanding, non-initiates can and do make offerings BUT just up and deciding to call on the Orishas will be met with a very unpleasant response if any response at all. For example, you don't want to make an offering of sweet honey to a fierce warrior like Chango or invite Yemaya and Oya into your circle at the same time (they don't get along sometimes). A simple case of lack of knowledge could lead to trouble. So I'd say devote lots of time to learning bc above all they need to be approached with sincerity and respect.
    As far as the animal sacrifice goes, that is something you would have to decide whether or not you are willing to accept. It is a part of the tradition; when any living thing is born, blood will be spilled and so some rituals or ceremonies require an animal to be sacrificed so that its spilled blood will symbolize that. If you are adamantly against it, what will you do, if you have a serious issue such as an illness, and you need to sacrifice a chicken as an offering to the orisha whose help you are seeking? Say, "No thanks, I'll ask one of my other nice deities for help"? Lol. You have to decide if this is just a fleeting curiosity or something you will take seriously.

  6. Alafia,

    I am a member of the Santeria/Lucumi community, and I spent several years as a student in the Feri tradition. I'm not a Santero, but I can speak at least as someone who is training within Lucumi.

    It is impossible to truly understand why Santeria/Lucumi is the way it is without experiencing it. Animal sacrifice, the priestly heirarchy, the etiquette that is expected all has a purpose. The religion has emphasis in community, family, and tradition. It is considered disrespectful to take things out of the tradition, or to bring things in that are not of the tradition. Part of the power in the religion comes from its roots, and as such should be respected.

    Dreams of the Orisha and an interest in the religion usually mean that the Orisha are calling you. You should try to find a Santero/a or a Babalawo who can divine for you so you can hear what the Orisha are trying to tell you. If you need to initiate in Santeria you wouldn't be the first person to be interested (and possibly initiate) in both systems.

  7. I'm a Santero and I can tell you honestly that plenty of former Wiccans were told in their ocha (year-long priest initiation) to continue worshipping the Old Ones in addition to the Orisha (which are not gods anyway). The Orisha are more like divine intelligences, but not gods in the European sense.