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Santería is a religion originating in the African diaspora, reflecting African religious practices that have been transplanted into the New World in the Caribbean area, particularly in Cuba and Puerto Rico. It is based chiefly but not exclusively on transplanted YorubaWikipedia beliefs. Santería is an initiatory religion, but it has a following that extends beyond the group of people who have been formally initiated.

The name Santería is a Spanish language word that literally means "devotion to the saints", with connotations of excess, unorthodoxy, or superstition. Believers also call the religion Lukumi, believed to be a place in Africa; or Regla de Ocha, the "rule of the orishas", the gods of Santeria. However, the "saints" worshipped by Santeros, practitioners of the religion, are in fact African deities assuming their attributes.


The Yoruba people, taken to the New World as slaves, managed to preserve many religious customs, including trance and a divination system for communicating with their deities and deified ancestors. They also practiced animal sacrifice, and sacred drumming and dance.[1][2] The need to preserve their traditions and belief systems in a hostile cultural environment prompted the enslaved Africans to syncretize their gods with the saints of Roman Catholicism, which struck them as a similar pantheon of quasi-deities.


A variety of deities (called orishas or orichas) are worshipped by Santeros. The primary ones are:

A tray of palm nuts is used in Ifá divination.

There are many other such deities and lesser spirits also worshipped by Santeros. As is typical of the religions of the African diaspora, one important ritual act of worship is music and dance, which the initiates use to enter trance states in which they are believed to become possessed by the spirits they worship. While being possessed, or 'ridden', by these spirits, the mediums of Santeria alter their behavior and deliver various oracles to the believers who come to consult them.[3]

An elaborate tradition of ritual practices including herbal cures, and ritual candles and scented oils, is also a part of Santeria belief. The botánicas and bodegas that sell these herbs, candles, and other religious supplies are indicators of the presence of Santeria and similar beliefs among the local Latin population.[4] These practices have a clientele that extends well beyond the numbers of initiated Santeros, and these remedies and spells are resorted to by members of the communities in which Santeria is practiced.[5]

Divination, also, is a Santeria practice that attracts a clientele to Santeria beyond its formal initiates. The basic oracle of Santeria is called IfáWikipedia. It is consulted by using a number of palm nuts or cowrie shells to create binary data in a manner similar to geomancy. From 16 basic figures, a total of 256 symbols are generated, each of which corresponds to an oracular verse typically directing the consultant to perform sacrifices and other devotions to obtain good fortune and avert evil.[6]

St. Barbara, now suspected to be mythical by the Roman Catholic Church, is identified with the male deity Changó in Santeria.

A variety of initiations can be sought by the practicing Santero. The most basic confers ritual necklaces called ilekes, which are sacred to the oricha (or orisha) who is the initiate's patron spirit.[7]

Santeros also build elaborate home altars to the deities, typically containing a mixture of African and Roman Catholic cult images. The rites of Santeria are generally performed at the private homes of initiates. [8]


The basic impulse that differentiates Santeria from the African religions it derives from was the condition of enslavement.

The colonial period from the standpoint of enslaved African people can 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 no longer free people to worship as they saw fit. 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 pejorative) for the indigenous religion of the Lukumi people of Nigeria.

In 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 slave owners. 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.

After the revolution in Cuba, the Communist government of Fidel Castro went through phases of persecution of Santeria. At times, the religion was persecuted as an example of superstition incompatible with the state atheism of the Communist Party. At other times, the religion has been celebrated as a part of Cuban folk life and lore. The music of Santeria has influenced Cuban popular music.[7]

More recent persecutions have used animal cruelty laws to attempt to forbid the ritual sacrifices of Santeria. A series of court cases in the United States has established that the sacrificial rites of Santeria are protected under the First Amendment as the free exercise of religion.[9][10]

See also[edit]


  1. Lois Ritter, Nancy Hoffman (April 18, 2011). Multicultural Health. Jones & Bartlett Learning. p. 268. 
  2. Abiola Irele, Biodun Jeyifo, ed (April 27, 2010). The Oxford Encyclopedia of African Thought, Volume 1. Oxford University Press. p. 305. 
  3. See generally, Andrés I Pérez y Mena (1991). Speaking with the Dead: Development of Afro-Latin Religion Among Puerto Ricans in the United States. AMS Press. ISBN 978-0404-19485-7.
  4. "The Botánica as a Culturally Appropriate Health Care Option for Latinos" by Alfredo Gomez-Beloz Ph.D., M.P.H.,1 and Noel Chavez Ph.D., R.D., L.D.2, The Journal of Alternative and Complementary Medicine Vol. 7, No. 5, 2005
  5. See generally, Lydia Cabrera (1968). El Monte: Igbo, Finda, Ewe Orisha, Vititi Nfinda. Rema Press. ISBN 978-0-89729-009-8. OCLC 644593798
  6. William Bascom (1980). Sixteen Cowries: Yoruba Divination from Africa to the New World. John Wiley & Sons. ISBN 978-0253-35280-4.
  7. 7.0 7.1 Miguel A. De La Torre (2004). Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America. Wm. B. Eerdmans. ISBN 978-0802-84973-1.
  8. David H. Brown (2003). Santería Enthroned: Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion. University of Chicago. ISBN 978-0226-07610-2.
  9. Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah, 508 U.S. 520 (1993).
  10. Merced v. Kasson, 577 F.3d 578 (5th Cir.m 2009)