The Gifts of Santeria
Modern practitioners of Santeria may be attracted to the religion for a variety of reasons, notable among which are curiosity with secret rituals and the longing among many immigrants and people of color to get in touch with Caribbean and African roots. What each specific individual wants from a religion is difficult to generalize upon, but Santeria offers a way for people to achieve harmony in their lives through communication with and obedience to orishas, the divine beings that act as intermediaries between humans and the Supreme Being, Olodumare. Santeria teaches how to know and appease the specific desires of a pantheon of orishas who alert devotees to problems in their lives and protect them from harm. In addition to a distinctive and demanding set of rituals that requires a commitment of time and energy from believers, Santeria offers a rich history and a supportive community that make it a way of life and not just a passive belief structure that bears little relevance to the daily life of its adherents.
The foremost way to communicate with the gods is through divination. When one is having a problem, an italero or babalowo can divine what is causing the problem and what must be done to correct it. On special occasions, or just for good measure, divination can reveal problems that the supplicant is not aware of beforehand. One santera, Awolowo, had this to say about the power and relevance of ita, the divination performed when a person is initiated into Santeria during the asiento ceremony:
You will learn how to avoid sicknesses, how to get money and keep your husband happy. You will learn who are your friends and who are your enemies. You will learn what are you lucky and unlucky days and what foods are good and bad for you. You will learn how to ask the orishas for help in ways that they can’t refuse. You will learn your whole life.
The testimonies of many believers affirm that the revelations and prophecies are always accurate and often critical to a person's well being. In addition to divination, people invite orishas to speak to them by holding festivals in their honor, called Bembes. One or multiple orishas may respond to the drums and dancing by possessing a reveler, and then speaking directly to other people through the host. The orishas will often give a person a specific warning, chastisement, or command, which the person should heed if he or she wishes to keep the favor of the orisha and remain safe and prosperous. In addition to obeying these specific instructions, believers appease the orishas through prayers, ritual care of their fundamentos and blood sacrifice of animals to feed the spirits. Once a participant responds to a call to be initiated as a santero, devoted to a specific orisha, a greater level of commitment and maintenance is required on the part of the devotee. Ewos, restrictions that santeros must obey once they have been initiated, force initiates to develop...