I. Profile Report of Santeria

  1. Name: Santeria (also know as La Regla Lucmi)
  2. Founder: Could not locate
  3. Date of Birth/Death of Founder: Could not locate
  4. Birth place of Founder: Could not locate
  5. Year Founded: Because Santeria is a syncretism of a West African religion and European Catholicism, there is no exact year for the formation of this religion. The closest date available for the founding of Santeria is the years that the slave trade occurred. Cuba, the "birthplace" of Santeria, imported African slaves from the late 1700's until roughly 1870 (Ed. Holloway, J. E., Africanisms in American Culture, p. 122). As African religion and Catholicism were practiced side by side, Santeria gradually evolved.
  6. How/Why Founded: Santeria is a blend of West African religion (primarily the religion practiced by the Yoruba people) and Catholicism. When the African slaves arrived to the New World, they continued to practice their religion, despite the attempts of European plantation owners and missionaries to convert the slaves to Catholicism. As the consequences (i.e. harsh beatings, etc.) of openly practicing Santeria increased, the slaves incorporated Catholic elements into their religion. One factor that aided in this syncretism was the fact that quite a few orishas (Santerian gods) and Catholic saints possess similar qualities. Consequently, the slaves would appear to be practicing Catholicism when they were actually worshipping their African gods and goddesses.
  7. Sacred Text: Santeria utilizes an oral tradition. Their myths are called patakis. A few examples of them are located on OrishaNet, a Santeria homepage.
  8. Cult or Sect: Santeria is a cult because it pulls from African and Catholic faiths to create another distinctive faith tradition.
  9. Beliefs: Santerians believe in orishas or spirits. The orishas are not as powerful or as omnipotent as their more remote God almighty, called Olodumare. Instead, the orishas are the spirits or gods that interact with humans by controlling nature and the attending to the daily needs of humanity. In other words, they are the emissaries of God. Also, each orisha possesses a distinct personality. Their personality differences are prominently displayed during ritual ceremonies. Depending on the particular orisha that they want to please, Santerians use certain colors and certain animals and play particular drum beats during their rituals. The music played is of great importance because it helps to coax the orisha into "mounting" or possessing the priest. As the orisha mounts the priest, the priest's body dances the particular dance of that orisha. Later in the ceremony, people's questions are answered, the orisha decrees that a particular command will be obeyed, or animal sacrifice occurs. All of the formerly mentioned ceremonial actions often depend on the type of ceremony being performed and the attitude of the orisha towards it's worshippers.
  10. Size of Group: The size of Santeria is difficult to determine but the number of people who practice Santeria is believed to be growing globally. Roughly 300,000 Santerians are in New York. Some other places where people practice Santeria are Cuba, Florida, Puerto Rico, New Jersey, Mexico, Columbia, Venezuela, Argentina, (Holloway, J. E., Africanisms in American Culture, p. 122) France, and the Netherlands.
  11. Remarks: Much controversy has surrounded Santeria and the practice of animal sacrifice. Opposing groups contend that animal sacrifice is inhumane and should be stopped. However, Santerians regard animal sacrifice to be an essential part of their religion. Generally, small animals are sacrificed during times of sickness and during initiation ceremonies for the priests. The animals are usually killed in a humane way and eaten later. This controversy escalated into a variety of different court battles. One of the court cases, the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. and Ernesto Pichardo, Petitioners, v. City of Hialeah, reached the U.S. Supreme Court. The Santerians won the case with the court's decree that they should be free to practice their religion as they see fit, including engaging in animal sacrifice.

    Another confusion about Santeria is it's connection to Voodou. Although both religions evolved in the New World from African faith traditions, Santeria and Voodou are not the same religion. Unfortunately, many scholars erroneously use these two words interchangeably to refer to Santeria. Basically, the fundamental difference between the two religions is that a person practicing Santeria sees no division between Santeria and Catholicism. To a Santerian, the Catholic saints and the orishas are interchangeable. When they worship a Catholic saint, they are automatically worshipping the compatible orisha. Although people practicing Voodou worship some of the same gods as Santerians, Voodou and Catholicism are very separate religions to Voodou worshippers. They can be Voodou and Catholic; however, when they practice one religion, they are not practicing the other.

II. Links to Santeria Web Sites

OrishaNet - The Way of the Orishas [size = 2K]
A Santerian priest created this site primarily to educate others about the traditions of the religion. Although most of the information about the ceremonial rites is very simplistic, this web site the most comprehensive source of detailed cultural information on Santeria. (unofficial home page)

Ontario Center for Religious Tolerance - Santeria
General information in regards to the beliefs, the gods, definitions of certain African words, and the conflict over animal sacrifice are presented here.

III. Selected References


Brandon, George, 1993.
Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Gonzalez-Wippler, Migene, 1989.
Santeria: The religion, a Legacy of Faith, Rites, and Magic. New York: Harmony.

Holloway, Joseph E., 1990.
Africanisms in American Culture. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.

Murphy, Joseph M., 1988.
Santeria: An African Religion in America. Beacon Press.

Perez y Mena, Andres Isidoro, 1991.
Speaking with the Dead: Development of Afro-Latin Religion Among Puerto Ricans in the United States: A Study into the Interpentration of Civilizations in the New World. New York: AMS Press.

Santiago, Miguel F., 1993.
Dancing with the Saints. Puerto Rico: Inter American University Press.
"Text of U.S. Supreme Court Decision: Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. and Ernesto Pichardo, Petitioners, v. City of Hialeah." Journal of Church and State 35:668-95.

Arguelles-Mederos, Anibal, 1994.
"Divining Systems of the Santeria in Cuba." Social Compass 41:293-301.

Boston, Rob, 1992.
"Blood Feud." Church and State 45:7-11.

Clary, Mike, 1995.
"Florida's Caribbean Immigrants are Putting their Faith in Santeria." Washington Post: Aug. 9, A, 5:1.

Cruz, R. Ted, 1994.
"Animal Sacrifice and Equal Protection Free Exercise: Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aya, Inc. v. City of Hialeah." Harvard Journal of Law & Public Policy. 17:262-273.

Drinan, Robert F. and Huffman, Jennifer I., 1993.
"Religious Freedom and the Oregon v. Smith and Hialeah Cases." Journal of Church and State 35:19-35.

Gonzalez Kirby, Diana and Sara Maria Sanchez, 1988.
"Santeria: From Africa to Miami via Cuba: Five Hundred Years of Worship." Tequesta 48:36-52.

Gonzalez Kirby, Diana and Sara Maria Sanchez, 1990.
"Cuban Santeria: A Guide to Bibliographic Sources." Bulletin of Bibliography 47:113-129.

Mandel-Campbell, Andrea, 1996.
"Cuba's Visa Seekers Try an Animist Faith." Christian Science Monitor 6:1.

Mason, Michael Atwood, 1994.
"'I Bow My Head to the Ground': The Creation of Bodily Experience in a Cuban-American Santeria Initiation." Journal of American Folklore 107:23-39.

Miller, Russell, 1994.
"A Leap of Faith." New York Times: Jan 30, 9, 8:1

Perez y Mena, Andres I. , 1977.
"Spiritualism as an Adaptive Mechanism among Puerto Ricans in the United States." Cornell Journal of Social Relations 12:125-136.

Prepared by Ericka Sherise Jenifer
New Religious Movements student, Spring 1996