The Way of the Saints

Photo Credit: Nicolas Pascarel

Photo Credit: Nicolas Pascarel, BBC

Santería, meaning the way of the saints, is a syncretized religion born in Cuba. Santería has since spread to the United States and other areas. This proliferation primarily occurred following the Cuban revolution. 

Its religious orientation derives from Roman Catholic and Afro-Caribbean beliefs. Santería came to Cuba as a direct result of slavery, and its origins trace back to the Yoruba tribe. Santería is a marriage of religious worlds and is deeply integrated into the fabric of Cuban culture. It relies on no holy scriptures, but instead proliferates through word of mouth and shared and practiced ritual. 

Alternative names for this religion include La regla lucumi and the Rule of Osha. These names are often favored by those who believe Santeria is a politically incorrect name; the original name focuses on the Roman Catholic origins of the religion’s founding, rather than the deeply rooted Afro-Caribbean orientation it carries. 

According to Santería, a single god, Oluron or Olodumare, communicates to the world through a number of orishas. Orishas are generally directly linked to a comparable Catholic saint. As described by BBC, “The religion focuses on building relationships between human beings and powerful, but mortal, spirits, called Orishas. An Orisha is a manifestation of Olodumare (God).” This is a mutual, symbiotic relationship, as these deities need humans to keep them in existence.

It is believed that everyone is born under the guidance of a particular orisha, and a process of initiation into Santería helps individual followers uncover their guardian orisha. It is not uncommon to find an altar to an orisha in a Cuban home.

Santería rituals accompany most special events, including weddings, birth, and death, in addition to daily activities.  Rituals of santería are led by babalawos (priests), and often include drumming, singing, and dancing. Animal sacrifice, known as ebó (offering), plays a crucial role in these activities. Ebó is believed to nurture the orishas by way of the blood while also providing meat for the followers to eat.

What does 2013 have in store for los cubanos, according to priests of the Yoruba Cultural Association of Cuba? You can learn more here.



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