Santeria is the common, familiar name for a religion whose formal name is Regla de Ocha or Regla Lukumi.
Those names mean, Rule of the Orisha, or Rule of the Lukumi. Orisha is what we call the Divinities. Lukumi is the word used to call the people from whose ethnic/tribal group this religion emerged.
This religion is an initiatory, mystery religion. In that sense, it is not unlike the Eleusinian mysteries of Clasiccal Greece. A person undergoes a special ceremony in which they have certain experiences which are indescribable in words. This initiation ritual is not merely a validation, or simply some public ceremony, but changes the person spiritually and metaphysical. It tempers the person, and gives them the authority to call on the Orisha, perform Divination with cowerie shells, and work in the ritual room (Igbodu).
The initiation takes 7 days. During those days, the new initiate, called an Iyawo, must stay in a decorated space in one room which is called the Throne (throno in Spanish). After those seven days, they are permitted to leave, but have certain taboos and restrictions. For three months, the Iyawo must keep his or her head covered and may not look in mirrors, and must eat on a mat on the floor from a special cup, plate and spoon and must wear all white clothes. At the end of the three month period, the Iyawo's godparent does a simple ceremony which allows the new initiate to remove the hat and look in mirrors. There also is another ceremony usually done at three months, appropriately called the 3 Month Ebo, which takes a full day.
The word Iyawo means wife. Thee Priest of the Orisha is married to the Orisha. She or he becomes the Wife of the Orisha. Even if the new Priest is a man, and the Orisha is male, he is a wife of the Orisha.
For the remainder of the year, the Iyawo must continue to eat from special utensils set aside for him, must continue wearing all white, and must not take any object directly from another's hands, it must be placed on a table first, and she/he may not shake hands with anyone. The Iyawo must also stay inside at night time, must not go to fairs or outdoor market places, and must stay away from crowds and other places where there is tumult and noise. The Iyawo must also spend that year working hard to avoid getting angry, and should learn calmness. At the end of the year, the Iyawo celebrates his or her first Cumpleaños, or anniversary of his/her birth. For, initiation is a second birth. Seven days after that, the Olorisha may now wear colored clothes and may go outside at night.
Initiation is the most important ritual we Santeros have. But, we are a religion of rituals and initiations. The bead ceremony, or what we call receiving your beads is like a little initiation. Although, it would be very wrong for someone who only has beads to claim that they are either initiated or half initiated. Another initial ritual we have is that of receiving Warriors.
Each of the Orisha is represented by a number and various colors. For example, the colors of Shango are red and white, of Elegba red and black (or sometimes black and white), Yemaya is blue, Oshun is yellow, and Obatala is white. Other Orisha have there distinguishing colors two.
In Yorubaland, beads were prized for being representative of wealth and children and beauty and prestige. Their beaded artwork is famous among collectors of African art. The Beads a follower of the Orisha receives are five necklaces of beads, each representing each of the five Orisha mentioned above. Each necklace is born from the Orisha of the Godparent.
The accolyte receives beads from his or her godparent. At least two initiated Priests are required to give beads, although, because of the work involved, typically four or five people are required. If done right, the beads ceremony takes about 5-6 hours. After this, the person may wear his or her beads when she/wants. No one else should touch the beads, and they should not be worn by anyone else. They should be removed before having sex. The beads ceremony formally binds a godparent and a godchild. That is a very important relationship in our religion. The godparent teaches you and does divination for you and guides you spiritually. You must have a godparent to become initiated in this religion. In fact, it takes between 16 to 25 other initiated priests and priests to initiate a new priest, so community and witnesses are very important to us.
Sometime you might hear the Beads also called Collares, in Spanish, or Ilekes in Lukumi/Yoruba.
Beads formally binds you and a godparent together. But, there is another ritual which marks a person as a believer in this religion. That is Receiving your Warriors (Guerreros, in Spanish). Several of the Orisha are warriors. Shango is both a king and a great warrior. Oya is also a warrior, too. Her other attribute is being Orisha of storms and wind. But, when THE Warriors are referred to, what is meant is Elegua, Ogun, Ochosi and Osun. The role of these Orisha is to guard one's house, protect you and give you an introduction to the Orisha. If you have Warriors, you can do coconut (Obi Agbon) Divination for yourself to them. Both Babalawos (Priests of Ifa) and Olorisha (Priests and Priestesses of the Orisha) can make and give Warriors.
Once you have Warriors, you can talk to them, give them appropriate offerings and perform divination for yourself.
Many people get Beads and Warriors and have no intention of becoming initiated. That is perfectly fine. I know of several Wiccans, some HPS's who have Beads and Warriors, and go for cowerie shells readings with their Godparent in Santeria on a regular basis, but who have no intention of becoming initiated to the Orisha. They honor and respect their Warriors and practise Wicca as their main path.
There are several things that should be noted. You cannot make your own Warriors, they have to be born from the Warriors of a Priest/Priestess. Until you are initiated, you may only do divination for yourself with Elegua. You may not put beads on yourself. The ritual is actually quite long and intense. Also, you cannot have beads from two different Santeros, and you only ever receive one set of Warriors. That is, you do not collect them from as many people as you can. Elegua and the other Warriors are always the first Orisha anyone receives. I have heard of Wiccans who say they have put up a shrine for Oshun or Shango, (Oshun and Yemaya seem to be favorites of Wiccans) but that shrine is empty. You need to have an Orisha born from another. And before you can have any Orisha you must have Elegua since he represents the cross roads , the opening of the path, and he is propitiated at the start of all things.
© 1999 Ewetuga Atare — This may be quoted from only with permission from the author. Permission will be given to quote from this if you send email to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you include the proper citation and credit. All citations must include the original author's name, his email address and home page (Ewetuga Atare, email@example.com, http://www.lukumi.nu)