Tag Archive: misconceptions

Destiny and Sacrifice: Initiations of Santeria – by Rev. Dr. E.

Pantheacon is an interdenominational convention discussing various earth-based religious and spiritual paths held every year in San Jose, CA.

Pantheacon is an interdenominational convention discussing various earth-based religious and spiritual paths held every year in San Jose, CA.

Rev. Dr. E. will be presenting a lecture titled “Destiny and Sacrifice: Initiations of Santeria” at Pantheacon in San Jose on Feb. 16th, 2013. Registration for Pantheacon is required in order to attend.

Destiny and Sacrifice: Initiation of Santeria

  • Saturday February 16, 2013
  • 9:00AM
  • DoubleTree by Hilton Hotel
  • San Jose, CA
  • San Juan Room

Some people bring good destinies from heaven, others bring bad destinies, but with the intervention of the orishas, and support from the community through rituals of sacrifice we can exchange our destinies for better ones. Join Dr. E, founder of the Santeria Church of the Orishas, as he demystifies the initiations of Santeri­a and explores the function of ritual sacrifice and tribal unity within the Lukumi cosmology.

For more information visit Pantheacon’s website.

SAFE Alert: Mixing of Santeria and Palo Practices

SAFE Alert! Palo Mayombe practices are being mixed with Santeria Lukumí practices.

A common problem our SAFE members have been observing online and in botanicas around the country is a blending or superimposing of the religious practices of Santeria with those of a separate religion known as Palo Mayombe. Thus far we have seen examples of “Palo elekes” being given for the mpungos, “orisha signatures” culturally appropriated from Brazilian traditions, people being told to be initiated in Palo through diloggún divination, and people being told they need to receive “Palo warriors“. Additionally, there is a growing trend in the USA of people being told they must be initiated in Palo (scratch in Palo) before they go through the Kariocha initiation, whether or not divination is performed to validate that initiation is needed by that person.

What is Palo Mayombe?

A prenda or nganga. The focus of Palo's magical work and worship. This is not Santería!

A prenda or nganga. The focus of Palo Mayombe’s magical work and worship. This is not Santería Lucumí!

In order to understand the differences between Palo and Santeria it is important to understand the different points of origin for these two religions. Palo Mayombe is a religion that evolved in Cuba out of the native religious practices of the Bakongo speaking people of Africa. The Bankongo-speaking people (commonly called Congo) originated from modern-day Congo, Angola and further south on the West African coast. The Bakono-speaking tribes were some of the first slaves taken to the Americas in the slave trade and their religious practices were well-established in Cuba long before the Yoruba people arrived with their Lukumí religion.

To contrast, Santeria Lucumí evolved in Cuba out of the traditional religious practices of the Lukumí/Yoruba people who were from the Yoruba-speaking lands of Africa (centered around modern-day Nigeria and Benin) – further north along the West African coast. In Africa, the Yoruba and Congo people were always warring with one another. They were mortal enemies and their religious systems were in direct opposition from one another.

Palo Mayombe is also called by other names (depending on lineage) including: Palo Monte, Palo Kimbisa, Palo Briyumba, or La Regla del Congo. Palo’s religious function revolves around the prenda or nganga – a magical cauldron composed of different soils, stones, wooden sticks, tools and bones. The prenda is a microcosm of the world, and contains a powerful pact between a spirit of the dead and the mpungo (force of nature) who rules the prenda. The Palo priest – called a Palero or Palera – directs the spirit of the prenda to perform works of magic, to heal, curse, make magical changes happen or to make pacts with new initiates. Palo’s worship is very necromantic and heavily involved with working with spirits of the dead.

Palo’s primary initiation is the Rayamiento (scratching) in which the body of a new initiate is ritually prepared by forming a pact with the nganga for protection and spiritual evolution. The Rayamiento derives its name from the ritual practice of lightly cutting the skin of the initiate. Such cuts are never performed in any Lukumí rituals.

Palo is Not a Precursor to Ocha (Santería)

In modern-day Cuba and in the United States it has become more and more common for people to be initiated into both Palo and Lukumí. Lucumí and Palo often exist in parallel within the lives of many adherents to both faiths. Unfortunately, this has led to the modern innovation that a person MUST be Rayado (scratched or initiated in Palo) before undergoing Kariocha, or that once a person goes through a Rayamiento in Palo that they will naturally make their way to Kariocha in Santeria Lucumí. This is misinformed and is not traditional by any means – though it is a very common practice.

To be perfectly clear, initiation in either religion can only be determined through their respective divination systems. It is not correct to assume that someone will be initiated in both or either religion. If a person’s destiny, as revealed through divination, is one where they will only participate in Palo, that is perfectly acceptable and traditional. Similarly if a person’s destiny, as revealed through divination, only requires them to be made a priest in Santería through the kariocha initiation, then that is perfectly acceptable and traditional. One does not automatically lead to the other.

There is one thing to keep in mind, however. According to the Lucumí religious beliefs, kariocha seals the body’s energy systems and must be the last initiation ever conferred upon a person. To cut a person’s body open and make them open to ritual energies after they receive kariocha is very dangerous. Therefore, it is best to make sure any obligations or requirements in Palo are met and completed prior to going through the kariocha ritual – if it has been divined that it is part of your destiny.  There are some religious lineages who do not think there is any risk in undergoing Palo rayamiento after kariocha, but we at the Santeria Church of the Orishas do not recommend that. If this is your desire then it is best for you to consult your elders and follow their advice, and at least bring your tutelary orisha’s diloggun down to the mat to receive their permission before undergoing any such initiation.

Palo Elekes Do Not Exist

This is a Collar de Bandera used by Palo initiates. It is worn diagonally across the chest and reaches from a person's shoulder to their opposite hip.

This is the Collar de Bandera used by Palo initiates. It is worn diagonally across the chest and reaches from a person’s shoulder to their opposite hip.

One of the fraudulent initiations that SAFE recently came across was the practice of giving out “Palo Elekes”. Elekes are beaded necklaces given in Santería, not Palo. The word eleke comes from the Yoruba word “bead”; note, YORUBA word, not Bakongo. Elekes are one of the first initiations given to most adherents of Santeria and they are typically given as a set of 5 beaded necklaces (elekes for Eleggua, Obatala, Oshun, Yemaya and Chango) that are worn around the neck and hang down to a person’s mid-torso. A person can also receive a singular eleke if they need that orisha’s protection and cannot afford the complete elekes initiation.

Such elekes are never given out in Palo Mayombe. Palo Mayombe initiates who have been scratched in the Rayamiento ceremony do receive one necklace that is called a Collar de Bandera (banner necklace). This is worn diagonally like a sash across the person’s body from their shoulder on one side down to their hip on the other side. It is a mark of that person’s status as an initiate and confers upon them the protection of the nganga. These are usually beaded in one long strand of multi-colored beads, or with segments of different patterns for each of the nature forces in Palo (red/black for Lucero Mundo, green/black for Sarabanda, white for Tiembla Tierra, etc.) There are variations of this necklace depending on whether an initiate has received a nganga of his own and typically this includes a series of coins linked into the necklace or three cowrie shells on a segment of chain.

The individual giving out “Palo Elekes” is giving necklaces in the Lukumí/Santeria style but claiming that each necklace is for one of the mpungos: Lucero Mundo, Sarabanda, Chola Wenge, etc. This is simply not a traditional practice within Palo and there is certainly no such practice in Santeria as the mpungos are not a part of Santería. It is a pure invention of someone who is trying to cross up or blend the two different religions. (Keep in mind that the Bakongo and Yoruba people in Africa were mortal enemies and would never have done this.)

Palo Trazos and Brazilian Pontos Riscados Being Called “Orisha Signatures”

This is a ponto riscado from the Brazilian traditions of Umbanda. It is NOT anything used in Santería Lucumí!

This is a ponto riscado from the Brazilian tradition of Umbanda. It is NOT anything used in Santería Lukumí!

Another amazing phenomenon we’ve witnessed is the mixing of Palo trazos and pontos riscados from Brazilian Umbanda with Lukumí practice. In Palo, trazos (sometimes called firmas, or patipembas / patimpembas) are ornate drawings usually drawn on the ground with chalk that act as instructions for the nfumbe (spirit) that lives within the palero’s prenda (pot) to go accomplish certain magical acts. These are characterized by their use of arrows, circles and crosses. (You can see an example of a Palo trazo to the right.)

The members of SAFE recently heard of a “babalawo” teaching students that these were “orisha signatures” that were to be used in spell work as a way of calling the orisha. He also culturally appropriated the pontos riscados of Brazilian Umanda for the same purpose. There is one prolific author who is well known for mixing up the practices of Brazilian Umbanda and Kimbanda into Santeria Lucumí and such practice would never be accepted by either Brazilian or Lucumí practitioners.

Within Santeria/Lucumí we do not utilize such “orisha signatures”. The only type of drawn symbol used is the ozun (or Osun) which resembles a bullseye made up of concentric circles painted in the colors white, yellow, red and blue (in an appropriate combination for that orisha’s initiation). These are seldom done outside of an initiation, however.

This is a trazo (also called a patimpemba or firma) from Palo. These are NOT used in Santería Lukumí

This is a trazo (also called a patimpemba or firma) from Palo. These are NOT used in Santería Lukumí

There is one instance where people use symbols that may resemble palo trazos, and those are specifically related to working with the orisha Osain in front of his cauldron. The instance we observed regarding “orisha signatures” was not this situation. It was clearly someone who was perpetuating illegitimate practice.

Cross-prescribing Rituals/Ebó Through Divination

This practice is very common to find amongst paleros and olorishas, yet it is not appropriate and not-traditional. Occasionally, paleros will indicate through a Palo divination that a person has to undergo kariocha to be an orisha priest. Similarly, some olorisha diviners will tell people that they have to receive a nganga in Palo. This cross-prescribing of ritual practices across religious lines is not acceptable and is completely inappropriate.

The divinatory tools of Lucumí (diloggún, obí, Ifá) should be the only ones used to determine the religious and initiatory needs of a Lucumí practitioner (not Palo divination nor Spiritist readings). Similarly, the divination tools of Palo (chamalongos, nkobos, vititi mensu) should be the only ones used to determine the religious and initiatory needs of a Palo practitioner (not Lucumí divination nor Spiritist readings).

This is a very common occurrence that we at SAFE have witnessed in both the Santería/Lukumí community as well as in Palo and Espiritismo. The best recommendation we can give to avoid any complications or disrespect of priests, is to receive the information you are being told as a suggestion, then go get divination done in the appropriate religious tradition to confirm that suggestion.

For example, if in a Lucumí diloggún reading you are told that you need to be rayado in Palo (initiated), do not accept this as fact – simply as a suggestion. Then follow up by going to a Palo priest and having him do the appropriate divination to ask whether you need to be rayado in Palo (initiated). If the Palo priest confirms it, then consider it as fact. Similarly, if you go to a Palo priest and he tells you that you have to go to an Olorisha and receive warriors (or undergo some initiation in Ocha), do not accept this as fact – only as a recommendation. Follow up by visiting an Olorisha and having them perform diloggún divination to find out if you do indeed need to receive warriors. If he confirms that you do need warriors then it is marked as fact. If he says no, then you are not required to receive them. This is the best way to make sure you work within the lines of each religion in a multi-cultural world, and respect their traditions without mixing them. Diviners within both traditions would do well to respect the authority and jurisdiction of their counterparts and simply refer the client to a priest of the other religion to let them find out what needs to be done.

The Story of Obí – The Coconut / Kola Nut Oracle

In Santería Lukumí, Obí divination is performed using four pieces of coconut meat

One of the most familiar tools for divination in Santeria is the oracle of Obí (sometimes called Biague). Obí divination’s primary use is to answer simply questions with “yes” or “no” answers. It is most typically used to confirm if offerings are accepted by the orishas or egun, if ceremonies may proceed, or to get a simple yes/no answer to questions about a person’s life. Obí is one of the most widely used forms of divination in the orisha religions, yet it is also one of the most widely misunderstood or misused oracles. We hope to clarify some of the misconceptions around the use of Obí as well as give you a newfound appreciation for this simple but effective divination system. In the future we’ll share an article about how Obí divination is performed, but this article is focused around who Obí is.

The Evolution of Obi from Kola to Coconut

Obí divination is performed using four pieces of coconut meat in Santería Lukumí, but this oracle has a much older tradition originating in Africa utilizing four pieces of kola nut meat. The kola nut has a brown rough exterior that naturally breaks open revealing lobes of white nut meat inside. In Africa, they use kola nuts that have naturally divided into four lobes.

When the Lucumí people were abducted to Cuba, they found themselves in a different climate where many of their native plants did not grow. Kola nuts do not grow on the island of Cuba, and yet the Lucumí people needed to perform Obí divinationto begin restoring their religious practices. They decided to innovate and used coconut meat instead of kola nut meat for Obí.

In Africa, kola nuts are used for Obí divination. Kola nuts do not grow in the Caribbean.

Coconut was something familiar to the Lukumí people; they called it agbon. By cracking open a coconut and extracting its meat then dividing it into four pieces, they developed a suitable alternative for Obí divination. Over the years, and with the loss of fluency in the Lukumí dialect, Santeria adherents fell into the habit of referring to coconuts as obí since they were being used in the Obí system of divination. But in the strictest sense, the Lukumí word obí actually refers to kola nuts, and agbon is the proper word for coconut. (although you’ll rarely hear anyone call a coconut agbon these days).

Obí divination is most properly conducted using four pieces of coconut meat (Lukumí style) or four pieces of kola nut meat (for folks who want to try a more African style of divination). It is completely inappropriate to use four coconut shells – that is an oracle from a completely different religion (chamalongo divination from Palo Monte). It is also inappropriate to use four cowrie shells for obí divination. This seems to be a fairly modern introduction into the United States by groups seeking to reconstruct a system that is closer to traditional Yoruba worship – however a cursory understanding of odu and the patakis associated with Obí will quickly teach you that using items like shells, pennies, buttons or coconut husks is not only improper, but does not even consult the orisha Obí. This pataki (legend) explains why.

Pataki: The Birth of Obí (found in the odu Obara’sa 6-9)

Obi was an orisha, created by Olofi, who embodied the best of his blessings he could give the Earth. He was kind, patient, always gave to the poor. His spiritual purity made him radiate the purest of white light. All others who men Obí were in awe of his perfection, kindness and wisdom. Obi was sent to act as a remedy for all of the troubles of the world; he was an agent for blessings and goodness. Obi always wore white robes as his preferred garment for they were the color of Olofi’s cool and giving energy. Obi was handsome, with dark black skin, a youthful face and kind eyes.

As Obi travelled across the lands all would throw themselves at Obi’s feet, seeking a blessing, a word of wisdom, or perhaps getting the opportunity to touch the hem of his robes. With all of this attention, Obi began to grow vain and arrogant. He started thinking of himself as the most perfect thing alive, rivaling Olofi himself! He began dressing in the most lavish of white robes made in celebration of his own perfection. His giving nature faded and he began scoffing at the poor who would approach him. But Obi didn’t care what those “lesser than” him thought. He was living high on life and he was going to let everyone know about it.

Obí is an orisha who was punished for his arrogance. He now only speaks on behalf of the other orishas and has no voice of his own.

One day Olofi threw a party and invited all of the orishas to attend. Obi spent weeks preparing for the party. He felt that physical beauty was a blessing from Olofi and he was the most blessed of all. He wanted to make sure everyone in attendance knew it. He dressed himself with extravagant white robes stitched with silver thread and moisturized his cocoa skin with the finest shea butter he could buy. His radiant robes were only eclipsed by the beauty of his flawless black skin. He knew he would make an impression at the party for sure.

Word spread across the villages that all of the orishas would be visiting Olofi’s palace that day, and many of the poorest people lined up outside to beg for alms. They hoped they would see Obi and perhaps he would give them a coin or two as was his custom. As Obi approached Olofi’s palace he saw the poor and destitute people outside begging for money and he was disgusted. “How dare they approach me with their filthy clothes and their dirty faces!” he said. He went up to Olofi’s palace guards and told them to keep the poor away from the party.

Obi entered the party and saw the orishas arrive one by one. Each orisha wore their finest clothing, but Obi’s sparkling white robes were the most impressive of all. Obi was satisfied with the attention he was receiving, then someone knocked at the door. He answered the door and found a poor, smelly beggar with his hand held out begging for coins. Obí recoiled in horror and shouted “How dare you approach Olofi’s home and stick your filthy hand out at me. You are disgusting and vile! GET OUT OF HERE VERMIN!!!” He shouted so loudly that most of the party’s guests turned to see what was happening. Even Olofi saw what Obi had done. The orishas were horrified at Obi’s conduct. How had an orisha that was once so perfect become so arrogant?

The beggar’s appearance at Olofi’s party was such a great irritation to Obi that he couldn’t stop thinking about it. He decided to hold a party of his own in Olofi’s honor and he was going to make sure his guards kept all vagrants far away. Nothing was going to ruin his party. It would be even grander than the one Olofi threw. He decorated his home with gossamer white silk. He had the finest of white exotic flowers imported to grace the halls of his marble mansion. He had his servants sew him a new set of robes made of iridescent white cloth, silver thread and magical fibers so that they would glow like the sun itself. He invited all of the orishas and Olofi. This was going to be the greatest gift he could ever give Olofi and it would prove to everyone that he was the greatest of the orishas on Earth.

At the party all of the orishas arrived to see the spectacle. They enjoyed the finest refreshments, food and decorations. They were truly stunned at the gala that Obi had put on for Olofi. They were even more amazed at his garments that seemed to rival the very radiance of Olofi himself. Yet Olofi had not arrived yet. Obí assumed he would arrive last as was custom for the guest of honor at any function.

As Obí was mingling with his guests he heard a knock at the door. He opened the door and found a dirty beggar dressed in rags at the door with his leprous hand held out asking for alms. Obí was furious! He had taken every precaution to make sure the poor wouldn’t mar his event like they had the last. He blew up in the face of the beggar. “WHAT ARE YOU DOING HERE YOU FILTHY DISGUSTING VAGRANT!? GET OFF MY DOORSTEP!! YOU ARE THE WORTHLESS SCUM OF THE EARTH!” and he slammed the door in the face of the beggar.

He turned to face the other orishas and they were stunned. Many stood with their mouths wide open in horror. Elegguá spoke up and said, “Obí, how could you address our father Olofi like that?!” Obi was so enraged that Eleggua’s words hadn’t registered in his mind. Another feeble knock came at the door and Obí spun around and flung the door open saying, “DIDN’T I TELL YOU TO GET THE HELL OUT!!?!” When Obí looked at the vagrant on his doorstep, the man’s image dissolved away to reveal the glowing purity of Olofi standing in his place. Realizing what he had done, Obí threw himself on the floor at Olofi’s feet.

Olofi picked him up and said, “You have lost your way Obí. You were once my most beloved and perfect creation. I gave you my ashé, a sweet voice, a beautiful face and the purity of heart to act as my ambassador on the Earth. But you became vain and arrogant with time. Because of your arrogance, I take away your voice. From now on you will not speak for yourself, but you will only speak what the other orishas want you to speak. As you have thrown yourself at my feet, from now on you will only communicate when you are thrown on the floor in deference to your master. I strip away your exterior beauty, but I cannot take away the ashé I have given you. From here forward you will be ugly and your skin will be coarse and dark, but inside you will always be white as a reminder to the world that your original intent was to represent my purity. As your punishment you will always fall to the earth, over and over again, as a symbol of your fall from grace.

Thus was born the coconut (or kola nut). The coconut which is dark and coarse on the outside but white on the inside. Obí only speaks when it is thrown on the floor and even then, he only says what the other orishas say. Yet, in spite of his divine punishment, his nature is still to be pure, and his purpose to take away the evil of the world carries on. As such, obí can soothe osogbo and remove spiritual heat, but his only purpose is as a servant for the orishas.

When is Obí Appropriate to Use

The legend of Obí clearly explains what is and what is not acceptable to use for Obí. First, it must be dark and coarse on the outside, white on the inside, and fall every day to earth (like a seed or nut from a tree). It can only speak for other orishas – it has no voice of its own. In fact its voice was taken away as a punishment from Olofi. It can only speak when it is thrown on the floor – not a table. This is a direct reference to Obí prostrating himself on the earth before Olofi when he realized his shameful actions. Obi can only be used for yes/no questions. Utilizing Obí to answer deeper questions beyond yes/no is a complete misuse of the tool. Attempting to use Obí to conduct an entire reading for a person’s life circumstances is also inappropriate. That person should instead seek a diloggún reading or a reading from Ifá.

Who Can Perform Obí Divination?

This is a bit of a complex question to answer. Obí, by its nature only speaks on behalf of other orishas. In order to communicate with any orisha, a person must be able to recite the Moyuba prayer (also called Mojuba or the Juba prayer). One of the requirements for a Moyuba is the ability to call upon one’s initiatory lineage. Without kariocha, a person has no initiatory lineage, and therefore they cannot Moyuba, and they cannot divine with Obí. In our church lineage we do not allow aborishas to read Obí, we only permit Olorishas to read Obí. There are some lineages who permit those that have received warriors (aborishas) to read Obí to determine if an offering is acceptable, but they should limit their readings to simple things, and they should most certainly NOT use Obí to read for others as they have no lineage or ashe to be solving other people’s problems. This is the role of a priest or priestess, and not a layperson like an Aborisha. We do not recommend the use of alternative methods of reading “Obí” like tossing four cowries or four coins because these methods are not Obí and as such, there is no assurance that the oracle will answer truthfully – it is not a dependable oracle for it is not supported by pataki, nor by the information contained in odu.

An offering of obí and fresh water is given to the orisha Yemaya. One half is filled with honey, the other is filled with cane syrup.

Obi as an Addimú to the Orishas

Obi is energetically cool and has the power to placate osogbo. As such, Obí is a good offering to the orishas in the form of addimú. When offering Obí to the orishas it is common to simply take a coconut (or kola nut) and crack it open into two pieces. I often fill each piece with some of the items that orisha would enjoy. For Elegguá I would fill one half with rum and the other half with honey. For Changó I might fill one half with white wine and the other with honey. It is also a good idea to offer a gourd full of cool fresh water at the same time the opened coconut is offered to the orisha. Leave the offering there for the required number of days as determined through divination, then dispose of it in nature where the divination indicated would be appropriate. This is a great way to soothe and cool any osogbos (misfortunes). It also gives the orisha Obí an opportunity to be of service to the orishas, and to reveal his true nature as a representative of Olofi’s ashe whose original intent was to soothe all that ails the world.

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