Santeria (I): Saints and Orishas


Santeria is, above all, a cultural migration from Africa to America; It is the religious group that results from the fusion of elements of the African Yoruba religion with Christian elements, a cult initiated by African slaves moved to the American continent, where it is most common today, where their descendants or Hispanic population affiliated with this movement are found. . Cuba is usually considered the cradle of this religious movement, whose nationality in America and Europe is the largest number of faithful. It received the name Santeria in a derogatory manner by the Spanish, since when the African slaves were prohibited from their traditional religion, they took the images of Christian saints as identifications of their own divinities, and the masters, unaware of this transformation, They considered excessive devotion. Faced with this derogatory origin, one can refer to Santeria more properly as Regla de Ocha-Ifá, as will be seen later. In Cuba there are its own variants: the Rule of Palo Monte or Mayombé, the Abakuá secret society and Oggunism or Cuban voodoo.

According to some studies, Yoruba was actually introduced by Nigerians. Yoruba is an ethnolinguistic group from the countries of Nigeria, Benin and Ghana, and this is also the name for its set of beliefs and cults, a pantheon of four hundred and one deities, to whom both priests and physical and religious ancestors and descendants are dedicated. This cultural identification continues within Santería, classifying two groups: the Regla de Ocha, practiced by santeros and santeras, and the Regla de Ifá - a name taken from Ife, an ancient Yoruba city, and which collects the set of spiritual knowledge of those that are initiated to the god Ifá - carried out by the senior santeros, known as babalawos. Rituals include Yoruba methods of worship, magic, religious ritual and divination, as well as theological ideas and social and spiritual objectives such as consecration to a deity or saint who guides throughout life, whose meaning and The goal is happiness and personal fulfillment. Its manifestations occur through natural elements, as a reminder of African animism.

The deities of the Yoruba Pantheon are also called orishas. When any of these are consecrated to practitioners, they are called ochas. Each orisha also has several paths or avatars. This characteristic gave them an extraordinary ability to "exchange" the saints of devotion. Each of them has a story or patakín, which in turn establishes its particular characteristics, which they "donate" to those to whom they are consecrated.

It is at the moment of baptism when the first purification of the believer and the establishment of destiny by Olofi (the owner of the palace) occurs - one of the manifestations of Olodumare, the supreme, creator, unique, celestial god, who It does not receive sacrifices or have temples, it has no physical representation or fetish - as well as the personal characteristics of the ocha that will help the baptized in their spiritual process. Olodumare also does not have a priesthood or prophets consecrated to him. Under his invocation of Olórun (he who inhabits the heavens), he is an omnipotent god, controller of destiny, and who can be resorted to as a last resort when circumstances escape the control of the other orishas. However, Olodumare is not a hierarchical or authoritarian god with the rest of the divinities, but rather, he is a god with paternal and primordial airs. The most intangible and unfathomable facet of Olodumare was identified with the Abrahamic god of the three great religions (Judaism, Christianity and Islam), and he also shares with Judaism and Islam the non-representation of divinity. On the other hand, the three invocations of Olodumare are related to the three persons of the Christian god.

It is difficult to expose in an article the hundreds of Yoruba deities and their correspondences with Christian saints in current Santeria. For this reason, some of the orishas considered most important or frequent in rituals and offerings have been selected, to offer basic notions of the functioning of the pantheon and the associations.

Obbatalá is one of the most important divinities, considered a guide within the Yoruba. He is a dual deity, which in itself contains opposites such as light and darkness, good and evil, and who is the creator of the rest of the orishas, the oldest and a leader for them, since he possesses the power of purification. It is also an embodiment of justice, peace, health and order in all aspects of life. He has three main avatars: Obbamorí, the elderly Obbatalá; Ayyagún, the young and warrior Obbatalá; and Oshanlá, its feminine side. Those who are crowned or consecrated by Obbatalá are very spiritual and intuitive people, with great intellectual abilities and security in their actions, orderly, stable and pure. It is identified with the Virgen de las Mercedes for her intercession before God, for the purity and balance of the universe, and her day is celebrated on September 24. His consecrated people are dressed in white, which is their color and that of the Virgin, and also their offerings: rice, milk, bread, meringue, white flowers, white chickens and doves... Their fetish is white shells or bowls of that color. color, as well as other silver objects, especially bells. In truth, any white object can be used by the devotee, if it pleases the orisha.

Babalú Aye or Azuowano, respected and feared in equal measure, is a deity highly worshiped in Cuba and Nigeria. He is an old god who protects his devotees from difficult diseases and other health problems and heals them, as a healer, especially those related to the skin or sex, but which can also cause them. His face and body are covered, usually with straw, due to his multiple wounds, according to one of his patakin, caused after being abandoned among crabs as a baby. Those dedicated to Babalú Aye are people concerned about physical and mental well-being, understanding and willing to help heal. His fetishes are a flat fryer with a lid, two dogs, crutches and a triangular wooden bell. Among the offerings we find necklaces of white pearls and blue marks, dry wine, roasted corn, toasted bread, coconuts, onions, garlic and birds (chickens, doves). He is considered especially miraculous, and is related to death for having cared for the nine Eggún, the spirits of deceased ancestors. Also for this reason and for his "resurrection" after illnesses, he is related to Saint Lazarus, and his festival takes place on December 17.

Yemayá, also called Yembó, Yemmú and Olokum, is one of the most important goddesses of the Yoruba pantheon, since it implies motherhood. She is life itself, creator and mother of the orishas. She is a fortune teller and queen, goddess of love. She is the patron saint of fishermen and sailors, she lives at the bottom of the sea. She likes company and parties, but she can also become angry, like the waters of the ocean. Those dedicated to her, especially women, are great fortune tellers and have a strong and possessive character, authoritarian but maternal. Its Christian identification occurs with the Virgin of Regla of Cuba, patron saint of the Bay of Havana City. Her festival takes place on September 7, which is considered a favorable time for initiation. Among their offerings we find fruits, candles, honey, flowers, money and ducks, among others. Her symbols and fetishes are the sun and the moon, boats, oars, shells, snails (with which he performs divination) and starfish. The colors blue and white are sought in the objects.

Shangó or Changó is another of the most important and well-known orishas, he represents fire and is considered the greatest of warriors, king of the orishas. Despite her Martian side, she is a protective, family-oriented and fair deity, and she has a weak point: her fear of the dead. He is a truly masculine deity, cheerful and adventurous, as well as the best of fortune tellers. He is the patron saint of storms, which is why he is represented as lightning or a candle. Shangó identifies with Saint Barbara, who despite being feminine, has in her story the power of fire through the lightning that killed her father for murdering her for her Christian faith. Furthermore, in a patakin, Shangó visited himself in the clothes of his wife, Oyá, in order to gain time and regain strength for a battle unequal in numbers, and his association with Saint Barbara turns him into a changing deity, half a feminine year and half male year. Those consecrated to him are energetic and passionate people, with an iron will, and who enjoy the present and banal pleasures. Their fetishes are wooden pans, scales, axes and other weapons, as well as lighted candles. Its colors are white and red, so objects of these colors are also used, especially necklaces. Nothing is taken from their offerings, which consist of red wine, fruits, flour, and animals such as chicken, quail, and mutton. Due to its power, Shangó is even mentioned in rituals for other orishas. Its celebration takes place on December 4, the feast of the martyrdom of Saint Barbara. He has an avatar as an infant, which is syncretized in the figure of Saint Bartholomew.

Close to Shangó is the orisha Algallú or Aggayú Solá (the one who covers the desert) is a saint who manifests himself through the volcanoes and the inner fire of the earth. He is a path-opening god, who offers transportation, and is sometimes represented as a river boatman. It is said that he walks taking tall and giant steps, avoiding obstacles, and that is how the dances are in his honor. He lives or lives near Shangó, and he offers similar goods to his protégés, but unlike Shangó, the power and energy he offers to his consecrated ones can become angry and explosive, although his positive emotions, such as kindness, love and generosity, , also manifest themselves greatly. Their offerings are made in numbers of 9, since all colors are associated with them, generally reduced to the idea of nine, not including black. Their fetishes are wooden bats, canes or other objects painted with these nine colors. They offer fruits and vegetables, as well as roosters and guinea fowl. Corojo butter (for its orange and reddish fruits) and cocoa butter are common. It is related to the patron saint of Havana, Saint Christopher, protector of roads and walkers, and his day is celebrated on July 25.

Oshún or Ochún, whose name means "queen", is a typically feminine divinity. Her delicacy and sweet treatment make her the patron saint of honey, love, gold and fresh water, that is, drinkable for humans. She is a goddess who allows amorous and illicit adventures, she is flirtatious and likes grooming and jewelry. She likes gold, dresses in yellow and wears a crown - hence her title as queen. She protects pregnancies and romantic relationships, but she can also punish by sending sexual diseases and drowning in rivers. To communicate with her you must go to the rivers. She is a messenger of Olofi, she was the wife of Shangó and the lover of many orishas, so she knows the secrets of all the deities. In Cuban Santeria it is said that Oshún converted from a black African into a Cuban mulatto Creole, appropriating it. She has multiple paths or avatars, as a sorceress, lover, dancer, owner of drums, wealthy woman, and comforter of the dead. Her protégés are kind and loving, sensual, happy and libertine people. Her devotees usually wear five gold bracelets. Her fetishes are jewelry, peacock feathers, bees, honey and amber. Their offerings are also golden: corn, honey, pineapple, rice, coconut, "blonde" chickens and other animals of that color. Oshún is identified with the patron Virgin of Cuba, the Virgin of the Charity of Copper. Following Natalia Bolívar (1992), this syncretism occurred in 1620 when two Cuban aborigines and a black man found on the beaches a small carving of the Virgin Mary carrying the child and a golden cross. His holiday is September 8, although every Saturday is a day for his devotion.

Oyá or Yanza is a goddess who exists united with Oshún, and vice versa. She represents wind, hurricanes and flames, and can be fragile and delicate or fiery and violent. She was the wife of Oggún, whom she abandoned for Shangó. She lives near or in cemeteries, he works with the dead, since in his patakin, his sick body in straw clothing. Then the goddess Oyá approached him and danced with him, and as she danced she raised the wind, and when the straw clothes flew away, Xapaná's body was healed: somehow, Oyá had danced with death and had won. She is a goddess of sadness, so she doesn't really like parties, dance or music. She also didn't like children. Her face is painted white and she decorates herself with white snails. She has multiple paths or avatars: Oyá Funké, the fortune teller; Oyá Nike, as a sorceress; Oyá Tola, as queen; Oyá Dira, as a warrior; Oyá Yanzá, as a mother. Those crowned by her are restless, loving, adventurous, impulsive and conflictive, as well as authoritarian. His fetishes are a nine-pointed crown, tureens and jars, the machete and a spear with a horse's tail, the iruke, which he uses to contact and drive away spirits. Jer offerings are flowers and flowery handkerchiefs (their colors are white, pink, purple, red...), snail necklaces, pomegranate, camphor, plums, cherimoya, purple avocado, doves, chickens and goat meat. She is identified with the Virgin of Candelaria, perhaps because a formal rite took place in Candelaria, west of Cuba, lighting and monitoring the fire of two candles, a symbol of redemption and guidance, in this case syncretic, for the spirits of the cemetery.

Elleguá-Eshu is a small divinity, to whom precisely for this reason offerings are made in the first place. He is Olofi's messenger, and nothing is done without his permission, as he personifies destiny. However, Elleguá is the most human orisha, since his virtues and defects are identified. He is a multiplied god, watching over the entrances and exits, so he opens the door to luck and prosperity, but he can also close it. The act of fetishism for this god consists of the selection of a stone or stone, although coconuts and fetishes of his image created by a babalawo or santero also serve, and to symbolize luck, keys and horseshoes are used. His colors are red and black, which symbolize life and death respectively. His offerings are sweet for his childhood side (rice pudding, fritters, honey, corn and custard) and like Eshú, chicken, fish, brandy and tobacco. Those dedicated to him have great cunning and may have divination abilities, they are talkative, friendly, but also spiteful and mischievous. However, they may fall into the risk of ending up as liars and cheaters. Linked to the image is the Niño de Atocha, San Antonio de Padua, who carries the child in his arms, and the Ánima Sola, who opens and closes paths just like the orisha. Its festivities are January 6 and June 13.

Orula or Orunmila is one of the most important deities, since he represents wisdom and is the fortune teller par excellence, to whom the other orishas turn in their patakines to know how to proceed, and he mediates between them in disputes. It also mediates between orishas and their protected ones, as well as with the guardian angel, which demonstrates Christian religious syncretism, although the "Yoruba guardian angel" is Eledda, who lives on the forehead. Orula is also a medical god, especially in the spiritual realm, he is a counselor and is represented as a man of mature age. This orisha only communicates through the Ifá Oracle. Their children or consecrated persons are babalawos who must abandon the cult of any other orisha, and people who become spiritual guides for their family or community, with great wisdom and intuition. Her fetishes are green and yellow bead necklaces, kola nuts, the Ifá board for divination, and the iruke. Also containers within which "Orula's hand" is found. In the Rule of Ocha, Orunmila neither eats nor drinks, but in the rule of Ifá he accepts generic offerings of goat meat, chickens and pigeons. It is linked to the figure of Saint Francis of Assisi, as a holy counselor and benefactor. His party takes place on October 4.

Oggún is a warrior saint who represents strength, bravery, and nourishes the other orishas and humans. He is a god of the forge and tools. He is a god who was condemned, does not sleep and works iron, as one of the great creations of human beings. It is said that he wears a necklace with all his tools around his neck. It frees you from spells and accidents and protects health and travel. He is an enemy of Shangó, for having stolen his wife Oya, although he is Yemayá's lover. Those dedicated to Oggún are people who use force to solve their problems, but they can also develop a sorcerous side. They are people who do not forgive offenses, but they will highly value frankness. Her fetishes are tools or green and black bead necklaces. Among his offerings we find pepper, cassava, hot pepper and avocado, but being a violent god, he prefers meat, so he is offered rooster, dog, goat, pig and doves. He identifies himself with Saint John the Baptist or Saint Peter, for being the owner of the heavenly keys, or with Saint Paul and Saint Michael the Archangel for his important warrior status. He sets his holiday on June 24, but participates in that of many other saints or orishas, such as Ochosi. It also has dedicated Tuesdays of each month and the 4th of each month.

Ochosi is also a warrior deity, who shares a home with Oggún, he carries a metal bow and arrows. He is a vigilante orisha, he frees the innocent from physical or metaphorical prisons; He is the patron saint of hunters and fishermen, magicians and fortune tellers, which is why he speaks through the biagué oracle of coconuts and the diloggún, oracle of snails. Its colors are the green of the mountain, the black of prison, and the purple of melancholy. Those who are dedicated to it can take two paths: either they obtain a notable intellectual development after overcoming injustices and suffering, or they suffer precisely from these by being lively and giving little importance to personal matters, which is related to one of their patakines. They are friendly but bohemian. Their fetishes are bow and arrows, deer horns and skin, dogs, shields and bracelets of different metals. They offer anise liquor, rum, brandy, pomegranate, yam, and among the animals, guinea fowl, roosters, goats and game. Saint Norbert and Saint Hubert are its two linked saints, some believing that the latter, having a relationship with the hunters, was assimilated to the former. However, Saint Albert and Saint James the Archangel are also identified with him. Its celebration takes place on June 6, and it shares other festivities with other warrior saints.

Osún or Ozún (painting) is another warrior, protective deity, although above all he is a messenger and watchman. Its representation is a metal cup with a lid on which is placed an animal that represents the god it accompanies, since Osún is, in itself, a baton of command for the rest of the orishas. A silver rooster or a metal dove is also used, usually placed in a covered container. Exceptionally, a steel or lead dog figure is also used. Osún, as an observing divinity, is in some way regent in the cosmos, and therefore presides over all initiation ceremonies, in which paint is poured on the forehead of the initiate (hence the association with his name). Its four colors (red, blue, white and yellow) symbolize the four cardinal points. Those "baptized" in this god are respectful and stable people who accompany those who require physical or spiritual support. Identified like Oggún with San Juan Bautista, its festive date is June 24, and it shares other celebrations with the warrior saints Elegguá, Oggún and Ochosi. Another of the associated saints is Dimas, the good thief (Ozún Oddúa).

Ibeyis (literally, two) represent the Jimaguas children (twins) of Shangó, male and female. They are the smallest and lowest-ranking deities, but they have great miraculous powers, which earns them a place among the most popular, since they attract joy, luck, fortune, fertility and prosperity in general. His place is the roads, where travelers obtain good news and experiences thanks to his intercession. Its colors are white, red and blue. To ask for something, it is necessary to hold a party or ritual with small children who are given gifts or sweets, and preferably they are the ones who address the Ibeyis. Their fetishes are double: two stools, two drums, two jars, four otá.... As for their offerings, they must also be double, two or multiple: fruits such as mango or banana, orange, guava, cherimoya or sweets, like corn. Birds are also offered to them. They have two festivities, September 27 and February 19, and they are linked to San Cosme and San Damiano.

There are many other orishas that are mentioned so that they are not neglected within the limited space of this article: Eggun and Ikku are among the first, as guardian deities; Borojhú, Oddúa, Ogbón, Oggan, Oke, Oraniyan, Ori are part of the creative group, while Agaó, Areoni, Iroko, Ochumare, Osain and Orishaoko belong to nature itself. Baldone, Dadá, Koritoko and Obañeñe accompany Yemayá and the Ibeyis in the world of motherhood and childhood. Aje, Aye, Babalú, Burukú, Chaluga, Ñaña, Obba and Yewá, for their part, are part of those destined to the maintenance of health and life and death. Oggé, Oroiña and Sola are almost entourage of Shangó and Aggayú, and the ritual fires, and Chugudú is a divination assistant similar to Orula. Inle, Olokum and Olochá correspond to the group of deities in charge of the waters in their multiple natural and purificatory facets.

Pietro V. Carracedo Ahumada -


- Castellanos, J e I; Cultura Afro-Cubana: Las religiones y las lenguas. Vol III. Ediciones Universal, Miami, 1998

-González Vélez, A.; Ordun. Aye Yoruba y Santería.- Delgado Torres, A. E. El gran libro de la Santería: introducción a la cultura yoruba. Esfera de los Libros, 2005

- Llorens Alicea, I. Sincretismo religioso: pervivencia de las creencias yorubas en la isla de puerto rico. UCM. Madrid, 2003

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