Members of the Santeria religion worship Orishas, which are powerful but mortal spirits They believe that if they worship the departed spirits and perform the right rituals, these spirits will thrive, providing energy and help to achieve the destiny of the living.

 

Worship in Santeria includes dancing to rhythmic drums; the use of charms, herbs, symbols, and potions; and initiation rituals. Occasionally, animal sacrifice, usually of chickens, is employed to gain favor with the orishas and to bring good fortune and forgiveness of sin.

 

The religious leaders, Santeros (male) and Santeras (female), serve as earthly representatives or extensions of orishas. These men and women train for many years to gain their status in the faith as they learn the dances, songs, divination, and healing methods of Santeria.

 

-Rituals and ceremonies:

Santería does not use a central creed for its religious practices; though it is understood in terms of its rituals and ceremonies. These rituals and ceremonies take place in what is known as a house-temple or casa de santos (house of saints), also known as an ilé. Most ilés are in the homes of the initiated Priests and Priestesses. Ilé shrines are built, by the priests and priestess’, to the different orishás which creates a space for worship, called an igbodu (altar). In an igbodu there is a display of three distinct thrones (draped with royal blue, white, and red satin) that represent the seats of the queens, kings, and the deified warriors.

 

Each ilé (altar) is composed of those who occasionally seek guidance from the orishas, as well as those who are in the process of becoming priests. To become a full-fledged Santero or Santera (Priest or Priestess of Santería), the initiator must go through an intensive week-long initiation process in which the teaching of the ritual skills and moral behavior occurs informally and nonverbally.

 

To begin with, the initiator goes through what is called a cleansing ritual. The initiator's Padrino (godfather) cleanses the head with special herbs and water. The Padrino rubs the herbs and water in a specific pattern of movements into the scalp of the head. However, if a person is entering Santería for the need of healing, they will undergo the rogación de la cabeza (blessing of the head), in which coconut water and cotton are applied on the head to feed it. Once cleansed, there are four major initiation rituals that the initiator will have to undergo, which are: obtaining the elekes (beaded necklace), receiving Eleguá, receiving Los Guerreros (the Warriors), and making Ocha (Saint).

 

-The first ritual is known as the acquisition of the beaded necklaces (known as elekes). The first thing that must be done is to determine who the orishá is. This must be done by a Babaaláwo (Father Who Knows the Secrets), in a divination ritual known as bajar Orula (bringing down Orula)." The elekes necklace is bathed in a mixture of herbs, sacrificial blood, and other potent substances and given to the initiated. The initiate most often receives the necklace of the five most powerful and popular orisha’s, as the multicolored beads of the elekes are each patterned for the primary Orishás and they serve as a sacred point of contact with these Orishás. When the necklace is received, the initiated must bow over a bathtub and have his/her head washed by the olo orichá. The elekes serves as the sacred banners for the Orishás and act as a sign of the Orishá's presence and protection; however, it must never be worn during a women's menstruation period, nor during sex, nor when bathing.

-The second important ritual is known as medio asiento, the creation of an image of the orishá Eleguá. The individual will go through a consultation with a Santero, where all the recipients' life, past present and future, will be reviewed. During the consultation, the Santero determines which path of Eleguá the recipient will receive. Then, based on his findings, he chooses materials that will be used to construct the image of the Eleguá, a sculpture that is used to keep evil spirits away from the initiator's home. This ritual is only prepared by men as the orichás take some of the Santero's "manly" spirit in the process.

 

-The third ritual, known as the "receiving of the warrior", is a ritual where the initiated receives objects from their babaaláwo that represents the warriors; Iron tools to represent Ogún, Lord of Iron; an iron bow and arrow to represent Ochosi, the Divine Hunter; and an iron or silver chalice surmounted by a rooster to represent Osún, the messenger of Obatalá and Olofi, and who also works alongside Orula. This ritual begins a formal and lifelong relationship that the initiate will have with these Orishás, as the orishás devote their energies to protecting and providing for the initiate on their path.

 

-The last ritual of the initiation process is known as Asiento (ascending the throne), and is the most important and the most secretive ritual in Santería, as it is the ceremony where the iyawo (bride of the orisha) becomes "born again" into the faith. This ritual is a culmination of the previous rituals, and cannot be made unless the others have been completed. Asiento is a process of purification and divination whereby the initiated becomes like a newborn baby and begins a new life of deeper growth within the faith.

 

Once the initiation is completed, depending on the individuals "house", there is a year-long waiting period, known as iyaboraje, in which the newly appointed Priest and Priestess can not perform cleansings and other remedies. It is a time where the Iyawo or Bride of the Orishá must follow a strict regimen of wearing all white and must avoid physical contact with those who have not been initiated. Once the ebo del año has been completed there will be an end of year ceremony, which will enable the Priest or Priestess to consult clients, perform cleansings, provide remedies and perform initiations. Accordingly, "they are also regarded as royalty in the religion, as they are considered representatives of the Orishás and are vested with the power to work with the forces of those Orishás in full."

 

With Santería rituals there are musical ceremonies and prayers which are referred to as bembé, toque de santo, or tambor. It is a celebration dedicated to an Orishá, where the batá drums (set of three drums) are played in the Orishá's honor. Through these sacred drums, messages of worshippers reach the orishás and the orishás respond to their devotees. These drums are used only by men and must always be treated with respect; for example, dancers must never turn their backs towards the drums while dancing, as it is considered disrespectful.

 

It is a challenge to try to determine how many people practice the Santeria religion because there is no central organization that keeps track of membership. It is mostly a closed, private religion. A person must be initiated into Santeria in order to gain more information. However, some estimate that there are as many as one hundred million Santeria followers around the world.

 

The traditional Yorùbá religion and its Santería counterpart are mainly found in Africa (notably West Africa) and the Americas (notably the Caribbean), including Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic, Panama, Colombia, Venezuela, and the United States, mainly as a result of Cuban and Puerto Rican migration.

 

In 2001, there were an estimated 22,000 practitioners in the US alone, but the number may be higher as some practitioners may be reluctant to disclose their religion on a government census or to an academic researcher. Of those living in the United States, some are fully committed priests and priestesses, others are "godchildren" or members of a particular house-tradition, and many are non-committal clients seeking help with their everyday problems

 

The Santeria religion is a cult that Christians would be wise to avoid. Santeria followers believe in none of the fundamental biblical truths of the Christian faith. They rely on rituals and animal sacrifices to gain favor and help from their spirits, rather than on the sacrifice of Christ and the saving grace of the One True God.

 

If you know someone who is practicing Santeria, the most powerful thing you can do is pray for him or her (James 5:16, “The effectual fervent prayer of a righteous man availeth much.”)   

 

Then, when given an opportunity, relay the message of salvation through Christ (Romans 10:9–10, “That if thou shalt confess with thy mouth the Lord Jesus, and shalt believe in thine heart that God hath raised him from the dead, thou shalt be saved. For with the heart man believeth unto righteousness; and with the mouth confession is made unto salvation.”)

 

Finally, live your life in a Christ-honoring way so that all can see how you are different because of Christ (1 Peter 3:15, “But sanctify the Lord God in your hearts: and be ready always to give an answer to every man that asketh you a reason of the hope that is in you with meekness and fear.”) Trust that the Holy Spirit will do the work of drawing, convincing, and converting the heart.