2005-12-11 15:07:18 UTC
If you are surfing newsgroups - looking for information and advice
about getting involved in Orisha worship, there are plenty of websites
and newsgroups, and discussion forums to be found on the net - lots of
books to read - and beware, plenty of crooks and charlatans out there
in cyberland (and the real world) ready to take you for a ride. This
is not peculiar to Orisha worship- any religion has members who are
unethical - but since this newsgroup deals specifically with Lukumi
(Santeria) and related traditions - my words of warning, and advice are
targeted to that tradition.
So how do you get started in Lukumi/Santeria?
My suggestion is to do some reading first. Be prepared - don't just
walk into the first botanica (ATR religious supplies store) you find
asking around, or send an email off to a purported priest (anyone can
claim to be an initiate on the internet). Some of the so-called elders
who spend a lot of time dispensing advice via cyberspace aren't
priests at all, and some folks who write books and say they are priests
aren't even initiated. Many are legitimate priests however - you
just need to learn how to tell the difference.
My suggestion is read two basic texts first - Four New World Yoruba
Rituals, by John Mason and Finding Soul on the Path to the Orisha, by
Tobe Melora Correal :
John's book is good because it covers the basics - and starts out with
the ancestors. Tobe's book is a spiritual guide - not a "how to book".
You won't find any crappy recipes for witchcraft (a la Wippler), just
solid advice on how to start your journey.
Another good basic introductory text is Santeria, by Joseph Murphy.
Second. After you have done some reading start looking for godparents
- or at least a godparent. Orisha traditions are communal and
hierarchical. These are not "do-it-yourself" traditions, and you
cannot self-initiate. This is a lineage based system - with levels of
initiation, and it takes time to move through these levels and be
trained. Not everyone has a calling to the priesthood. Some people
are content to join an ile and stay as simple worshippers. Some folks
don't even go that far - they are simply "clients" looking for
advice. Be clear about what level of interest or involvement you want
The godparent becomes your teacher and guide. They are not a
substitute for parents. They aren't medical doctors, therapists or
marital counselors. Nor can they "magically" solve all your
problems. What they can do is guide you through the basic steps of
Orisha worship, teach you about how to honor your ancestors and Orisha,
and guide your spiritual development. Nor do they have the answer to
everything - but they should be part of a structure where they can seek
spiritual advice as well. They don't have to be rich- nor do they
need to have a college degree, or to have written books. Are they
humble? Do they seem to be content with their own lives? Do they have
a sense of humor? Do they seem willing to teach? If they tell you not
to speak to anyone else - not to ever open a book (a better response is
that they can suggest what books are appropriate) be careful. I'd
like to digress here - not all elder priests read books - their method
of teaching is through demonstration - this is a" learn by doing
faith" (experiential learning), and cannot be learned simply by
buying up books. But they should be willing to teach, and answer
questions. Not all questions can be answered in the beginning - some
things are not appropriate for the uninitiated to explore. But there
are basic questions they must be prepared to answer which will provide
First - they should be able to tell you the names of who initiated them
- when and where. And who initiated the person who initiated their
They should be part of an ile (house) and know their lineage (rama).
If they are Lukumi (Santeria) priests they should be easy to check out.
There are only four or five major ramas in the U.S.
Pimienta (sub rama Pirana, Pimienta Coral)
San Jose Ochenta (incluyes Aina)
For the history of all of these groups born in Cuba - get a copy of
David Brown's "Santeria Enthroned". This book is not a basic
text - but has a great index - and you'll find the names of all the
founding ancestors in it.
If the rama is African Traditional - not descended from a Cuban line -
I cannot comment here on methods of investigation since I am Lukumi
But they will have a lineage.
Find out who was the Oriate/Oba (Master of Ceremonies) for their
initiation. If the person tells you that everyone involved with their
initiation is dead (unless they are over 80), and you can't verify
anything about them - get a pair of Nike's and run - in the opposite
direction. The Church of the Lucumi Babaluaye has a list of legitimate
priests - whose initiations are verified.
Legitimate priests usually have godchildren and/or elders around. If
you meet their godchildren - and they look like they are Moonies or are
on drugs, and they start chanting "Nam myo ho rengay kyo" you
missed the Lukumi train and are on your way to either Tibet or
A word of advice. All of these questions must be asked courteously and
with humility. Don't go in "interrogation mode". If the person
is an elder they may take offense. But - get answers - before
committing to a relationship. In these days of instantaneous internet
communication and the proliferation of websites - there are a few good
ones where you can begin to make inquiries. Be aware that there are
legitimate priests who may not be liked by other priests (it's kind
of like the rivalry between and among Protestant sects). Listen and
Some priests are members of organizations which are devoted to specific
Orishas called Egbes. There are also workshops and panel discussions
held in major cities. Some elders - and many younger priests (1 to 20
years of initiation) participate in online discussion groups like OLU
(Organization for Lucumi Unity) or Santeria Lucumi, or CLBA among
others (see websites list for locations).
If online priests take American Express or VISA for ceremonies - get
the sneakers out again. If they say they'll do them by mail or via
internet - run faster.
If they tell you they'll take you on a tour to Haiti or Cuba, or
Africa (along with a busload of others) to get initiated - get track
If things they tell you sound like they come from a cross between
Wicca, Zen, Vegetarianism, Hare Krishna or an Ashram - you are talking
to the wrong person. Botanicas - places that sell religious supplies
to a variety of traditions - Lukumi, Vodou, Palo, Espiritismo, Hoodoo
may be a starting point in your journey - but beware. There are
Espiritistas (spiritualists) who are not santeros (priests) who are
wearing multi-colored bead necklaces (elekes) and who do readings
(consultas). Many people who are new can't tell the difference.
You can ask the person if they "have ocha made". Even if they say
"yes", if you are naïve, you could be in for a rude awakening down
the road. See later details in this post for more info on
For many people entering the religion - the first thing they do is get
a basic reading (divination). If the priest says it costs more than 50
bucks - keep your money in your pockets. The East coast average is 21
dollars. For some reason I can't fathom it's 50.00 out west -
probably because there are far fewer diviners.
When I mention readings here - I'm referring to cowry shell
divination. The costs of an Ifa reading with a Babalawo may be a bit
higher. If they say they are going read you with tarot cards - or
dominos - get out the sneakers again.
The first ceremony most folks go through, to join an ile is to receive
elekes (beads/collares). A person I know paid 1,000 a piece for his
(total $7,000). The crook in the Bronx (who claimed to be a Santera
and wasn't) who lifted his wallet this way should be jailed. The
receiving of beads - though not a must, is like a contract - or entry
into an ile (house) and the basic costs range from 121 dollars to
421.00 ( though I think 421 is way too high) - but - it's your
money. Some (mid-west and west coast) houses have a more elaborate
ceremony which can cost up to 600.00. There are regional and ile
If you are gay - and they are homophobic - exit stage left. If you are
white and they keep referring to "white devils" - get to
steppin'. If you don't speak Spanish and they hold conversations
with everyone around you without translating (or having someone there
who can translate) - either take a total immersion language course, and
come back later - or find a house where you can figure out what the
heck is being said around you. Rude is rude - no matter what language
If they read/divine for you and pick up a mass produced book in order
to do the interpretation - beware. You can buy your own book and be
just as mis-educated. If they immediately tell you, "you are
cursed" and will die in three weeks if you don't cough up 12 to 20
thousand dollars for an instant initiation - take your money and get an
IRA. Or go out and buy the Brooklyn Bridge.
For some people an introduction to santeros or santeras (priests)
happens in spiritual masses (called misas). This is an outgrowth of
Kardecian spiritism which was grafted onto Lukumi in the last 40 years,
called 'Espiritismo" - and is often confused with Lukumi. They are
separate - but often practiced dually. Also grafted onto Lukumi
practice is a distinctly different faith originating not from the
Yoruba - but from the Congo - referred to as Palo or Palo Mayombe. To
honor your ancestors - you do not have to become Catholic (if you
aren't already Catholic) nor is it a prerequisite that you must be
"scratched or cut" in Palo in order to honor Orisha. Espiritismo
(Puerto Rican Spiritism) may attract you - and you may have a path in
Palo - but neither is a must. It depends on the ile you select, and
the godparent. If you don't feel this is your road - look elsewhere.
Another way people get introduced to the religion is through music
(drumming) or Orisha dance classes. They then wind up attending a
"tambor"(a drumming ceremony for Orisha) . If everyone is wearing
black - you've gotten the wrong address and are in a coven.
Women wear skirts (usually) and men wear pants. White, or light
colored clothing is predominant at Lucumi events (or African fabrics in
traditional houses). If everyone is wearing glitter spandex disco
pants -you are at Studio 54.
Once you think you have identified a potential godparent, get yourself
invited to events of the ile. Lukumi priests hold a variety of events
open to non-initiates. They celebrate their birthdays of initiation
each year. They hold drummings for the Orishas. Many have spiritual
masses for the ancestors. None of these events cost money to attend.
You may make offerings - fruit, flowers, small amounts of money (a
dollar) to contribute to the event, but this is not mandatory.
In fact at Ocha birthdays - you, as a guest are fed and given fruit
from the altar.
See how they deal with their godchildren, and elders. This is really
important. Chat with other attendees.
If you are in a major city like New York, Philadelphia, Miami, Tampa,
San Francisco, Los Angeles, Atlanta, Houston, Chicago, or Detroit there
are established iles - and elders around. If you are in a small town
no where near any of the aforementioned cities, you'll have to do
some traveling. Beware of solitary practitioners. This is a communal
religion. There are NO solitary practitioners. No initiations can be
done in this practice without a group.
When you get a reading - our tradition is one of reciprocity and
balance. In order to achieve balance there are sometimes "ebos" or
"cleanings" marked. These "ebos" or cleanings may involve
buying fruits, or herbs, or items necessary to complete the balance.
This in not a religion that is free. I am going to be blunt here. A
large number of people are involved in conducting every major ceremony.
The costs of ceremonies, as you become more involved can range from
simply buying candles and coconuts and flowers to thousands of dollars
- with over 20 to 30 priests participating for initiation to the
priesthood. People eat - and yes we sacrifice animals which are cooked
and offered to Orisha and then feed the participants (with a few
exceptions). The average college student in America these days spends
about 10,000 a semester for schooling. A wedding reception can be
10,000 to 20,000 dollars. Initiation to the priesthood is a wedding.
And costs. Be clear about this. But since I'm addressing entry
level here - I won't go into more detail. But keep this in mind.
All churches require tithes, offerings or monetary support from the
congregation to sustain themselves. This faith is no exception. In
the future I'll discuss more about this - but thought it would be
important to make clear from the start.
If you still feel you have been drawn to Orisha and want to go further,
let me offer a welcome. Many people who live in the modern world have
either been disillusioned by non-culturally sensitive faiths, are
seeking a connection to their ancestors, or alternative spiritual
paths. I love my faith and am proud to be a priest. But as a priest,
I feel it important to offer as objective an introduction - with
provisos, as I can.
The opinions I have expressed here are my own - based on 7 years as an
initiated priest, and 25 years as a devotee/participant. When I
started this newsgroup, I was an aborisha (non-initated devotee). I
am still learning - and will be as long as I live. I am not an elder,
I'm a very young priestess. I'm close to sixty in earthly years
however, and don't want to sit idly by and watch others distort the
faith that I have found to be so beautiful.