Santería is a syncretic religion of West African and Caribbean origin influenced by Roman Catholic Christianity, also known as Regla de Ocha, La Regla Lucumi, or Lukumi.[1][2] Its liturgical language, a dialect of Yoruba, is also known as Lucumi.



Priests are commonly known as olorishas or owner of Orisa. Once those priests have initiated other priests, they become known as babalorishas, "fathers of orisha" (for men), and as iyalorishas, "mothers of orisha" (for women). Priests can commonly be referred to as Santeros and Santeras (depending on gender), and if they function as diviners (using cowrie-shell divination known as Diloggun) of the Orishas they can be considered Italeros, or if they go through training to become leaders of initiations, Obas or Oriates. Considered to be highest in rank are priests of Ifá (pronounced ee-fah), which in santeria is an all male group. Ifá Priests receive Orunmila, who is the Orisha of Prophecy, Wisdom and Knowledge. Once this happens they are known by the title Babalawo, or "Father Who Knows the Secrets". In recent years, a particular practice of the traditional Yoruba Ifa priests (from Nigeria) has come to the diaspora of initiating women to be Iyanifa or "Mother of Destiny", but Lucumi practitioners do not typically accept this practice due to their interpretation of the Odu Ifa Irete Untelu which states woman cannot be in the presence of Olofin (otherwise known as Igba Iwa Odu) and so cannot be initiated as divining priestesses. This is a major difference between santeria Ifa practitioners, and traditional Yoruba practitioners from Nigeria (though it should be noted that not all areas of Nigeria have this practice). Instead, a woman in Lucumi is initiated as Apetebi Ifa, a "bride of Ifa", and is considered senior in Ifa to all but a fully initiated Babalawo. There was little evidence of Iyanifa existing in West Africa until very recently, so the existence of the Iyanifa is likely to be of modern origin in Yorubaland, and it is probably due to this reason that it does not appear in the Cuban variant. The foremost Western academic authority on Ifa, William Bascom, traveled throughout Yorubaland studying the Ifa cult in a series of visits in 1937–1938, 1950–1951, 1960 and 1965, and never encountered a single Iyanifa nor was he told of their existence by any of his informants.[3] However, it must be noted here that Maupoil, in his work in the early 20th century, does speak of the office of the Iyanifa[4]. In addition to this, Chief Fama is a Nigerian born Iyanifa with several books on the subject of Ifa that are considered to be of great academic worth.[5]


Santería is a system of beliefs that merges the Yoruba religion (which was brought to the New World by slaves imported to the Caribbean to work the sugar plantations) with Roman Catholic and Native Indian traditions.[2] These slaves carried with them various religious customs, including a trance for communicating with their ancestors and deities, animal sacrifice and sacred drumming.

In Cuba, this religious tradition has evolved into what we now recognize as Santería. In 2001, there were an estimated 22,000 practitioners in the US alone,[6] but the number may be higher as some practitioners may be reluctant to disclose their religion on a government census or to an academic researcher. In Puerto Rico, the religion is extremely popular, especially in the towns of Loiza and Carolina.

Of those living in the US, some are fully committed priests and priestesses, others are godchildren or members of a particular house-tradition, and many are non-commital clients seeking help with their everyday problems. Many are of Black Hispanic and Caribbean descent, but as the religion moves out of the inner cities and into the suburbs, a growing number are of African-American and European-American heritage.

"The colonial period from the standpoint of African slaves may be defined as a time of perseverance. Their world quickly changed. Tribal kings and their families, politicians, business and community leaders all were enslaved and taken to a foreign region of the world. Religious leaders, their relatives and their followers were now slaves. Colonial laws criminalized their religion. They were forced to become baptized and worship a god their ancestors had not known who was surrounded by a pantheon of saints. The early concerns during this period seem to have necessitated a need for individual survival under harsh plantation conditions. A sense of hope was sustaining the internal essence of what today is called Santería, a misnomer (and former perjorative) for the indigenous religion of the Lukumi people of Nigeria.

"In the heart of their homeland, they had a complex political and social order. They were a sedentary hoe farming cultural group with specialized labor. Their religion, based on the worship of nature, was renamed and documented by their masters. Santería, a pejorative term that characterizes deviant Catholic forms of worshiping saints, has become a common name for the religion. The term santero(a) is used to describe a priest or priestess replacing the traditional term Olorisha as an extension of the deities. The orishas became known as the saints in image of the Catholic pantheon." (Ernesto Pichardo, CLBA, Santería in Contemporary Cuba: The individual life and condition of the priesthood

As mentioned, in order to preserve their authentic ancestral and traditional beliefs, the Lukumi people had no choice but to disguise their orishas as Catholic saints. When the Roman Catholic slave owners observed Africans celebrating a Saint's Day, they were generally unaware that the slaves were actually worshiping one of their sacred orishas.[7] Due to this history, in Cuba today, the terms "saint" and "orisha" are sometimes used interchangeably.

This historical "veil" characterization of the relationship between Catholic saints and Cuban orisha is made all the more complicated by the fact that the vast majority of santeros in Cuba today also consider themselves to be Catholics, have been baptized, and often require initiates to be baptized aswell. Many hold separate rituals to honor the saints and orisha respectively, even though the the faith's overt links to Catholicism are no longer needed.

The traditional Yoruba religion and its Santería counterpart can be found in many parts of the world today, including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and even the United States, which was mainly the result of mostly Cuban and Puerto Rican migration. A very similar religion called Candomblé is practiced in Brazil, along with a rich variety of other Afro-American religions. This is now being referred to as "parallel religiosity"[8] because some believers worship the African variant that has no notion of a devil and no baptism or marriage, yet they belong to Catholic or mainline Protestant churches, where these concepts exist.

Operating independently of the historical syncretism described above, there are now individuals who mix the Lukumí practices of Cuba with traditional practices as they survived in Africa after the deleterious effects of colonialism. Although most of these mixes have not been at the hands of experienced or knowledgeable practitioners of either variant of the system, they have gained a certain popularity.

In 1974, the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye became the first Santería church in the United States to become officially incorporated.[9]

Controversies and criticisms

  • In 1993, the issue of animal sacrifice was taken to the United States Supreme Court in the case of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah. The Supreme Court ruled that animal cruelty laws targeted specifically at Yoruba were unconstitutional[10] The Yoruba practice of animal sacrifice has seen no significant legal challenges since then.
  • There have been a few highly publicized cases where injuries allegedly occurred during Lukumi rituals. One such case reported by The New York Times took place on January 18, 1998 in Sayville, New York, where 17-year-old Charity Miranda was suffocated to death with a plastic bag at her home by her mother Vivian, 39, and sister Serena, 20, after attempting an exorcism to free her of demons. Police found the women chanting and praying over the prostrate body. Not long before, the women had embraced Lukumi. It should be noted, however, that Lukumi doctrine does not postulate the existence of demons, nor does its liturgy contain exorcism rituals. The mother, Vivian Miranda, was found not guilty due to insanity, and is currently confined in a New York State psychiatric hospital for the criminally insane.[11]

See also


  1. ^ Santeria Religions of the World. Retrieved on 4 January 2009.
  2. ^ a b LUCUMI REL'GION New Orleans Mistic. Retrieved on 4 January 2009.
  3. ^ Bascom, William. Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa. P. 81
  4. ^ Maupoil, Bernard. "La Geomancie L'ancienne Côte des Esclaves"
  5. ^ Chief Fama: Books
  6. ^ American Religious Identification Survey, 2001.
  7. ^ [1][dead link]
  8. ^ Perez y Mena, SSSR paper, 2005.
  9. ^ Richard Fausset (2008-08-10). "Santeria priest won't let religious freedom be sacrificed". L. A. Times. Retrieved 2008-08-10. 
  10. ^ 508 U.S. 520 Full text of the opinion courtesy of
  11. ^ John T. McQuiston (January 28, 1998). "Mother who called daughter possessed pleads not guilty to her murder". The New York Times: pp. B/5. Retrieved 2007-07-26. 

Further reading

  • John Mason and Gary Edwards, Black Gods — Orisa Studies in the New World, Yoruba Theological Archministry, 1985. ISBN 978-1-881244-02-8
  • John Mason. Olokun: Owner of Rivers and Seas ISBN 1-881244-05-9.
  • John Mason. Orin Orisa: Songs for selected Heads ISBN 1-881244-06-7.
  • Charles Spencer King, Nature's Ancient Religion ISBN 978-1-4404-1733-7
  • Charles Spencer King, IFA Y Los Orishas: La Religion Antigua De LA Naturaleza ISBN 1-46102-898-1
  • Cabrera, Lydia (1995). El Monte: Igbo — Finda, Ewe Orisha/Vititi Nfinda. Ediciones Universal. ISBN 978-0-89729-009-8. 
  • Chief Priest Ifayemi Elebuibon, Apetebii: The Wife of Orunmila ISBN 0-9638787-1-9.
  • J. Omosade Awolalu, Yoruba Beliefs & Sacrificial Rites ISBN 0-9638787-3-5.
  • Baba Ifa Karade, The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts.
  • William Bascom, Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World. 1980
  • David M. O'Brien, Animal Sacrifice and Religious Freedom: Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah.
  • James T. Houk, Spirits, Blood, and Drums: The Orisha Religion of Trinidad. 1995. Temple University Press.
  • Baba Raul Canizares, Cuban Santería.
  • Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit.
  • Miguel A. De La Torre, Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America.
  • Miguel R. Bances, Santería: El Nuevo Manual del Oba u Oriaté.
  • Baba Esù Onàrè,, Tratado Encilopedico de Ifa.
  • Mozella G. Mitchell, Crucial Issues in Caribbean Religions, Peter Lang Pub, 2006.
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena" Speaking With The Dead: Development of Afro-Latin Religion Among Puerto Ricans in the United States" AMS — Press 1991 ISBN 0-404-19485-0.
  • Anthony M. Stevens Arroyo & Andres I. Perez y Mena, Editors "Enigmatic Powers: Syncretism With African and Indigenous Peoples'Religions Among Latinos" Bildner Center for Western Hemisphere Studies 1995 ISBN 0-929972-11-2 (hbk.) & 0-9657839-1-X (pbk.)
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena, "Understanding Religiosity in Cuba" in Journal of Hispanic/Latino Theology. February 2000. Vol 7 No. 3 Copyright: The Order of St. Benedict, Collegeville, Minnesota.
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena, "Cuban Santería, Haitian Vodun, Puerto Rican Spiritualism: A Multicultural Inquiry Into Syncretism." 1997. Journal for the Scientific Study of Religion. Vol. 37. No. 1.
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena, Santería: in "Contemporary American Religion", an encyclopedia. Wade Clark Roof, Editor in Chief. Macmillan Reference, Macmillan Publishing. New York, New York, Fall, 1999.
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena, Animal Sacrifice: in "Contemporary American Religion", an encyclopedia. Wade Clark Roof, Editor in Chief. Macmillan Reference, Macmillan Publishing. New York, New York, Fall, 1999.
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena, Religious Syncretism. 1996. "The Latino Encyclopedia" by Salem Press, Suite 350, 131 North El Molino Avenue, Pasadena, California, 91101.
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena, John Paul II Visits Cuba, in "Great Events of the Twentieth Century." 2000 Edited by Salem Press, Pasadena, California.
  • Andres I. Perez y Mena. 1982. "Socialization by Stages of Development into a ‘Centro Espiritista’ in the South Bronx of New York City." Special Collections, Gottesman Libraries Archive Historical Dissertations. Teachers College, Columbia University.

External links

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Look at other dictionaries:

  • Santería — Santeria Eleggua, divinité (Orisha) du destin La Santería (Lukumi, La Regla Lucumi ou regla de Ocha) est une religion originaire des caraïbes dérivée du Yoruba (interdit aux esclaves) et pratiquée à Cuba, en Colombie et au Venezuela …   Wikipédia en Français

  • santería — sustantivo femenino 1. (no contable) Área: religión Pragmática: peyorativo. Devoción exagerada o falsa. Sinónimo: beatería. 2. (no contable) Forma de religión practicada por personas que creen tener contactos con diferentes tipos de e …   Diccionario Salamanca de la Lengua Española

  • Santeria — or Santería [sän΄tə rē′ə] n. a religion of the Caribbean region that originated in Cuba, based on Yoruban deities worshiped as Roman Catholic saints in rites that sometimes include the sacrifice of animals …   English World dictionary

  • santeria — Afro Cuban religion, 1950, from Sp., lit. holiness, sanctity …   Etymology dictionary

  • santería — 1. f. Cualidad de santero (ǁ que tributa a las imágenes un culto supersticioso). 2. Am. Tienda en donde se venden imágenes de santos y otros objetos religiosos. 3. Cuba. Sistema de cultos que tiene como elemento esencial la adoración de deidades… …   Diccionario de la lengua española

  • Santeria — 1. Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre in der katholischen Kirche und 2. Ochún in der Santería Die Santería ist eine afroamerikanische Hauptreligion in Kuba, die ihre Orishas (Götter der Santería) mit katholischen Heiligen (spanisch santos) ver …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Santería — 1. Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre in der katholischen Kirche und 2. Ochún in der Santería Die Santería ist eine afroamerikanische Hauptreligion in Kuba, die ihre Orishas (Götter der Santería) mit katholischen Heiligen (spanisch santos)… …   Deutsch Wikipedia

  • Santería — Este artículo o sección necesita referencias que aparezcan en una publicación acreditada, como revistas especializadas, monografías, prensa diaria o páginas de Internet fidedignas. Puedes añadirlas así o avisar al autor …   Wikipedia Español

  • Santeria — Eleggua, divinité (Orisha) du destin La Santería (Lukumi, La Regla Lucumi ou regla de Ocha) est une religion originaire des Caraïbes dérivée du Yoruba (interdit aux esclaves) et pratiquée à Cuba, en Colombie et au Venezuela …   Wikipédia en Français

  • Santería — /sahn teuh ree euh/, n. (sometimes l.c.) a religion merging the worship of Yoruba deities with veneration of Roman Catholic saints: practiced in Cuba and spread to other parts of the Caribbean and to the U.S. by Cuban emigrés. Also, Santeria.… …   Universalium

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