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SAFE Alert! Fraudulent Diloggun Readings / Cold Readings

Santeros Against Fraud and Exploitation (SAFE) is an action committee of the Santeria Church of the Orishas

As part of the Santeria Church of the Orisha‘s mission to educate the public about traditional Santeria (Lucumi/Lukumi) practice, we are issuing a SAFE Alert regarding fraudulent diloggun readings and non-traditional Santeria practices in the greater Long Beach, California area.

Recently, members of SAFE (Santeros Against Fraud and Exploitation) visited an occult store located near our church in the greater Long Beach, California area. Upon visiting this store we were told that they offered Santeria classes as well as cowrie shell readings (diloggun readings) and initiations. We will not reveal the name of the store at this time, but we will discuss what is taking place at this store and the nature of their “Santeria” practice that is not in line with traditional practices as held by the culture bearers of Santeria (Lucumi/Lukumi).

Red Flags

While present at the store we were allowed to see their orisha room. The orisha room consisted of a series of shelves each containing a statue of a modern depiction of each orisha and some trinkets. There were no pots present with the items required for a shrine to be a legitimate orisha shrine. (otas, diloggun and tools were absent.)

Their resident Babalawo (who does all the readings and teaches the classes) spoke to me for a bit and told me some information about Santeria. About 60% of the information was accurate, the other 40% of it was completely incorrect and was either from poorly researched books or incorrect web sites. He also then explained that his lineage does not believe in animal sacrifice and that the religion has evolved past that.

Additionally he claimed that their classes work in such a way that after 12 weeks in their class you’ll receive the elekes initiation and be a Padrino or Madrina (a title only conferred upon a person when they have initiated ANOTHER person – i.e. once they are an olorisha and have godchildren). His class structure made it sound like a wiccan class with three degrees of initiation, only calling them “padrino, santero and babalawo“. He clarified that women were not eligible to be babalawos, but they do initiate gay men as babalawos – something HIGHLY non-traditional and not accepted in Santeria Lucumi. This babalawo claimed to be one of a small handful of gay babalawos in the United States.

The Cold Reading

This is the kind of statue in the store’s orisha room. This is NOT Oshún as received in Santeria.

The reading was conducted by their resident babalawo who apparently is the only person allowed to divine with the cowries in their store. This is not in alignment with traditional Lucumi practice (although they claim to be Lucumi). Babalawos do not read with cowrie shellsOlorishas do. Babalawos read either with a diviner’s chain called an okuele, or with palm nuts and the table of Ifá (ikin and the opón Ifá). During the reading this babalawo never asked for my name, nor did he pray the stipend required for the reading (as is traditional in Lucumí diloggun divination). He did not recite a traditional moyuba prayer where a person’s spiritual lineage is called out to invoke their ache in assistance for the reading. These are required traditional steps for divination with either diloggun or okuele. Instead the babalawo proceeded to touch his cowries to his own body mimicking a Cabbalistic Cross from Ceremonial Magic, transposing improper words in African for the traditional Hebrew words. This is completely illegitimate practice and is not considered valid in any form of Santeria, or other form of Orisha worship.

The reading was conducted on a table covered with a round brown rug. Diloggun readings and Ifá readings are traditionally conducted on a grass mat called an até, or estera in Santeria. This is due to the fact that the até calls down the presence of the orishas to speak. A brown rug does not do this nor is it any part of traditional Lucumi worship.

Additionally, this was supposed to be a reading to discern a person’s tutelary orisha (something they were very enthusiastic to discover). There are two and only two legitimate ways to divine a person’s tutelary orisha in traditional Santeria Lucumi/Lukumi practice.

  1. A minimum of three babalawos need to be present and use the palm nuts (ikin) and the opón Ifá (table of Ifá) to discern a person’s tutelary orisha by consulting Orunmila himself as witness of destiny.
  2. An olorisha, preferably an Obá Oriaté (although an oriaté is not required), sufficiently educated in odu can divine this using either Elegguá’s cowrie shells (diloggún) or the diloggún of the person’s godparent’s tutelary orisha. This is done on a woven grass mat wrapped in a white sheet.

This is Oshún’s pot as received in Santeria. The orishas are made of stones, shells and tools – not statues.

In both instances the divination is done on the floor because the earth is a sacred and holy place and the most important divinations are done seated on the mat. The reading performed by this babalawo was done with cowrie shells (not used by Babalawos), on a table (not done for readings to determine a person’s tutelary orisha), on a brown rug (not used in Santeria for readings), with no ibos (no token items like a stone, efun, aye, goat astragalus bone) which are required for the client’s orí (higher self) to be engaged in the reading and lend its voice. It is also not usually considered a good thing to know your tutelary orisha until you are already making preparations and saving money for your kariocha initiation.

The babalawo threw the shells on the mat only once (two casts are required in Santeria Lucumí practice), he never counted odu, and instead began to perform a cold reading (a technique used by fraudulent readers and “spiritualists” that uses very general statements and watches a person’s reaction until something clicks) telling me general, unfocused and totally inapplicable statements about my past lives (a concept that is not a part of Santeria’s cosmology).

Traditional diloggún divination is a numerical system where the number of cowries that are mouth up are counted to discern an odu (from 1 to 16 – let’s use and example of 5), the shells are tossed a second time to get another number (again, 1 to 16 – let’s say the second toss was 7) and these two numbers become the composite odu. In this example our composite odu is 5-7, and contains a myriad of information, patakis, ebós, taboos, strengths and weaknesses. After the composite odu is determined, the diviner should hand the client two ibo (small items like a stone and a piece of cascarilla/efun) and tells the client to shake the two and separate them with one item in each hand. One represents yes, the other no. The diviner will manipulate the cowries and tell the client which hand to reveal. This indicates if the reading comes with blessings or misfortunes (Iré or osogbo). This also allows the client’s orí (higher self) to partake in the reading and give its opinion. To reiterate, this babalawo used NO IBO in his reading at any time and only threw the shells once.

The diloggún of Eleggua with the four ibo depicted. This is a proper set of diloggun.

After he was done giving me a cold reading the babalawo then declared who my tutelary orisha was. (The entire reading was done without ever having me manipulate any kind of ibo) He also identified the wrong orisha as my tutelary orisha. Had he taken a moment to ask me about my past or about my involvement in Santeria he might have found out that I am an initiated olorisha of ten years, crowned with Shangó instead of with the orisha he was claiming.

Harmless or Harmful?

What pained me the most about this experience is that the staff at the store and the babalawo were very friendly people. They were willing to show me what they had and genuinely have love for the orishas, but their practice was completely incorrect according to the traditions of Santeria. This leads me to believe two possible scenarios. In the best case scenario we are looking at people with real love for the religion being led by someone who was never taught nor initiated properly. At worst case we have a situation where someone is misinforming others who genuinely want to learn about Santeria and giving them fraudulent initiations for money.

While we cannot discern what their intentions may be, it is clear that they are trying to portray this operation as the only legitimate practice of Santeria in Southern California. What we perceived is that the followers of this babalawo seem to be people who come from neo-pagan backgrounds, are primarily anglo in their ancestry and are not familiar with the cultural elements of Santeria and don’t know what warning signs to look out for, but have genuine heart and want to learn. He is offering them an “experience” of the orishas with none of the uncomfortable things their pagan tenets won’t accept: like blood sacrifice or the dedication required of a year in white as an iyawo, etc.

The spiritual practices of this lineage (ilé) are not traditional according to those who bear the cultural values of Santeria, nor is it in alignment with the core concepts of Santería Lucumi/Lukumí. Yet, these individuals who have paid for classes and been initiated consider themselves Santeria initiates and will never be accepted by the public for what they practice. Worse, they’ll go into the public touting their “credentials” and be quickly shamed once they realize they are not practicing African-based spirituality, nor do they have a true priesthood in Santeria.

Education To Prevent Abuse

At the Santeria Church of the Orishas, we seek to educate the public about what proper practices look like in Santeria so that you have the tools needed to discern what is legitimate practice and what is unconventional, untraditional, illegitimate practice. We hope with this SAFE Alert that you’ll have a better understanding of what a real Santeria diloggún reading looks like versus this fraudulent practice being conducted at this store in our area.

Keep in touch with our SAFE Alerts and read all about our Santeros Against Fraud and Exploitation church action committee by clicking on the “SAFE Alerts” category on the right hand navigation.

**Follow Up**

We recently revisited the shop and discovered that they no longer offer Santeria classes nor do they have a Babalawo reading at their shop.

13 comments

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  1. Oñi Osun

    Thank you Dr E for making us aware of the misguided practices and misinformation of some. Many people are now searching for new spiritual paths and are easy prey to these types of charlatans. This article will help many to identify the questionable signs to watch out for.

  2. BIBI

    Sounds like Philip Neimark initiates.

  3. Yansa

    but he knows better

  4. Ayedina

    Unfortunately this is the case in many places. But with the assistance of informative websites with proven initiation, ancestry and knowledge of the religion, we can educate the world as well as help those seeking spiritual guidance.

    It would also serve those PROPERLY initiated but lacking the necessary tools and knowledge to practice their religion; obtain what they need to move forward.

    We can make this unfortunate situation less likely to happen if we come together as a community and share the history accordingly.

  5. Eshulade

    Obarameji : a king does not lie. That from the lie ,the truth is born!

  6. gachogavacho

    After reading this article, I can pretty much guess this was the people at XXXXXXX (Name omitted out of respect for the shop). I saw them this weekend at the day of the dead festival in Hollywood. The employees were nice. I saw Lots of “interesting” things. They had “orisha” soaps and “protection” bracelets. I picked up a bracelet that in a plastic baggie and asked the employee what it was he said it was “chango’s bracelet” and that he represents masculine power. Red flag!! Twice he told me to talk to their “babalao” He asked me if I had any questions and I said, “well, actually I’m confused. I don’t understand what purpose the orisha soap has, or the “obatala” incense that I hear the woman behind me selling to a customer. Does any of this stuff have any Ashe? What about these pots back here?” pointing to what looked like Oya. Then he said, ” I don’t have to explain anything to you, in fact. GET OUT!” I just smirked at him and Grabbed a flyer from in front and took my leave. What an asshole! I was so angry that this place is misleading people that I left them a wonderful review on their Yelp page. People need to know what they are up to. As soon as I started asking questions and appeared I had an idea of what I was talking about, he wanted me leave. It would have ended differently if perhaps he would have told me that the items there are selling are just jewelry and of no real religious significance. The poor employees here have no idea how mislead they are. They need to read a book and do some research rather than continue to be lead on blindly.

    1. Santeria Church

      Lots of botanicas out there sell orisha bracelets that are little more than one string with beads on them in the colors that correspond with different orishas: red and white for Chango, yellow and amber for Oshun, all white for Obatala, etc. What people do not understand is that without the proper ceremonies (washing the bracelet with omiero – a ritually prepared herbal infusion of water) that bracelet is nothing more than costume jewelry. Wearing beads in the color of an orisha without receiving the proper ceremony is just vanity.

      Additionally, there is no such thing as an orisha soap or an orisha incense. Incense is not used in Lukumí initiations or rituals. Some spiritists (espiritistas) will burn incense in their homes or when they do spiritual masses (misas espirituales) as offerings of fragrance to the spirits of the dead, but the orishas are not interested in incense. It is simply not used in our practices for those purposes.

      The only soaps used in any of our ceremonies are used during initiations to ritually wash the initiate and it is traditional to use castille soap (or some folks use black African soap in the more African-traditional lineages) but never a scented soap. Using scented soap for the orishas is contradictory to the initiation. Any new initiate is forbidden from wearing or using perfumes because scent is a person’s spiritual marker and the orishas follow that new initiate’s scent. That’s why iyawós can’t wear perfume for their year, nor use any scented body products. Why then would anyone make, let alone use an orishas soap and what the heck is it even made of?!

      It sounds like you presented a little bit of knowledge when you challenged their leaders, and they in turn drove you away for fear of being exposed for their highly questionable practices.

      1. anonymous

        I was initiated into traditonal Yoruban Orisa worship as an Orisa Priest. I was bathed in prepared African black soap that had ceremony done to it with certain herbs and things added to it. With that and what has been stated already, I don’t see how people would consider buying “Orisa Soaps” other than the fact that they’re uneducated.

    2. Truly

      I wanted to thank you both for this knowledge. You are right we have been mislead. I would however ask that you no longer associate that person with this shop, he is no longer associated at all with our store. I understand your situation, but please understand ours. If you want to talk personally call us please! would love to talk

  7. nena

    how do you know which botánica is legit? how do you know if the padrina or padrino is very honest or looking for money?!!! i really need to know!!!!!

    1. Santeria Church

      The best thing we can recommend is to read the information we are providing on our website for free so that you can tell what is authentic and legitimate practice, and what isn’t. Take your time and don’t jump into anything too quickly with any godparent. Take time to observe how they conduct themselves with their godkids and see if they are patient, kind, giving and understanding. If they are hot-headed, impatient, rude, demeaning or expect to be waited on hand and foot then you should walk away. That person will just pe a problem for you in the long run. It is also a good idea to ask around and see if they prices they quote for work are reasonable and comparable to what others would charge. While each priest has the right to charge whatever they want for a ritual, it should still be a reasonable amount. And above all, never allow anyone to scare you into doing a ceremony or initiation that you don’t want to do. An ethical priest or priestess will let you make your own decisions without any kind of pressure or scare tactics.

  8. Edward

    Hey Dr. E,
    After reading this it makes me worried who I go to now, I sadly know that there is alot of fakes in the Santeria faith. Which Botanicas and Babalawos are legit then? Could you reccomend a few? Your help would be most appreciated as I am a strong believer in my faith but have taken the recent steps in finding a place and people who are honest in the traditional ways of Santeria. I do live in the greater Long Beach are and would be happy to commute anywhere in Southern California to be around honest followers of Santeria. Thank you Kindly.

    1. Santeria Church

      As a church we don’t make recommendations for particular botanicas or supply shops to go to. You can identify a legitimate babalawo or olorisha by reading our articles here and knowing that is proper procedure versus what isn’t. We are here to educate people as to what is traditional Lucumí practice so that the public can decide for themselves whether someone is legitimate or a fraud.

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