“I don’t practice Santeria, I ain’t got no crystal ball…”
For years, this was all I knew about Santeria. Not even kidding. Not to mention that I confused it with Voodoo and the ways of Black Magic. Well, little did I know that there is very little that separates the Caribbean island religions and that there really is only good purpose in Santeria, at least there should be.
As in anything there are a lot of politics when it comes to Santeria, like how and what to practice and it even changes as you jump from island to island and the mainland. So, when they told me to interview a Santero, I thought, “Where the hell do I start learning about this?”
Here’s a funny story that branches off of this: So in 2008, while sleeping one night, I woke up to the whole building shaking from left to right. It lasted only a few seconds but it freaked me out like you wouldn’t believe. I ran outside to my neighbor Lindsey’s door to see if she felt it. Before I knew it, her door flung open. With that, so did everyone else’s. “What was that?!” “Was that an earthquake?!” Then the door to the apartment under mine flew open. Mirian, came out saying, “I thought the Santos were coming to warn me!” As a master’s student, she was working on her thesis which looked at the ways of Santeria focusing on Puerto Rico, she found herself in a shaking bathroom praying. It turned out to be a little earthquake, but overall, that was funny.
Anyway, moving on. I interviewed Yuanl Larrondo and his wife Rosie (who’s of Mexican decent) who live not too far away from me. He is a high priest in Santeria called a babalao. So I went into the house, not knowing what to expect when all of a sudden what my eyes landed on was a beautiful home decorated with different artifacts and Santos. Yes, those same Santos that were coming to get Mirian.
See, Santeria is a mixed of old African religions with Catholicism. Like many indigenous people, the Africans too had gods and ways of belief, as did the Aztec and the Maya over on this side. When they were brought over on slave ships to the different, now, Latin American countries, they were also forced to convert. This is the same thing that the Spanish Catholics did everywhere else, too. In 1492 they killed and threw out most of the Jews living in Spain and in the early 1500s killed off the last of the Muslims. I’m pretty sure 1521 was when the Spanish throne (Fernando and Isabella) finally conquered the last Muslim city, which was Granada. With the Aztecs and Mayas, well, they just killed them all off.
Of course in Spain you had those Muslims who only took on the Catholic faith so they wouldn’t be killed, same with the Jews. But underneath it all, they still practiced their own faith hidden away from authority. In Cuba and in Puerto Rico and in the Dominican Republic, they not only hid their religion, they mixed it all up and put together. Santeria didn’t become Santeria until after it was mixed up; until the new world.
*Side note about Spain* What’s really interesting is that they call it the Reconquista or the Reconquest of Spain in terms of the religion, but before the Reyes Catolicos or Catholic Kings, Spain was never Catholic.
The Santos in Santeria can be paralleled with Saints in the Catholic faith. Santeria literally means “the way of the Saints.” See, everyone thinks it’s black magic and all, thanks to the media and movies, but in reality, according to Larrondo and his wife, it’s a way to search for answers. Everyone needs answers, right? The babalaos from across all different parts of the world come together to come up with a forecast at the beginning of the year that explains what the world is going to experience. The babalaos have a way of communicating with their Santos and the Santos are the ones that make the predictions. The main forecast helps the babalaos help their clients.
In Santeria, people go to the babalao for consulations. They tell the babalao what’s going on in their life and then the babalao consults the Santos, who in return give said person advice on how to live a better life for themselves. According to Larrondo, his life was foretold to him by the higher-ups who had consulted the Santos on his behalf. Crazy, huh? Because that’s what I thought.
I had no idea that there was a direct communication with the Santos. It was like a psychic reading, but not. You know what I’m saying? Rosie at one point told us that her Santos were placed in certain areas because that’s where they told her they wanted to be. As I continued to interview the couple, I couldn’t help but wonder what I would be told. I was brought up Catholic, but I’ve always been a real theology buff. I liked the study of religions and why people believe the things that they do. Some things were really interesting to me especially the Islamic and Jewish faiths. How ironic that those were the two faiths that the Spanish Catholics hated?
Anyway, so in Santeria, some Santeros, or people of the faith, invoke the spirits of their Santos which can emerge during celebrations or ceremonies. They are said to dance around, talk to the other Santeros and even give advice and forecasts of their own. I would love to see something like that. Santeros believe in one supreme God and all of his other Saints. Kind of like the Catholic faith, but of course, in the end the Catholic faith doesn’t recognize Santeria as a religion because of its aspect of divination. Of course, why would it be recognized?
I also heard that some people end up getting too carried away with it, others end up using it for bad and others just give it up because it’s too much for them. Sounds like other faiths if you ask me. The best part of the entire interview was when I asked about different religions. Larrondo looked at me and said, It’s the same God, we just have different ways of worshiping him. I’ve always thought that myself. He said that the difference was, that Santeros want to change their lives for the better. He pointed out that many people go to church but never find answers and they just end up living the same unproductive life. By worshiping through the Santos and looking to them for help and guidance, you can get answers to improve your life. They will tell you what you should and should not do especially when it comes to your health and future. It’s really intense.
To read the whole article, which by the way is more articulate than this blog, click here. I just wanted to give some extra background right here about it just because I’ve been thinking about it a lot since I wrote the whole thing. The awesome part is that Rosie and Yuanl Larrondo liked it as did others who continue calling the office to obtain their contact information for their own venture to find answers on how to live a better life.