When one thinks of Santeria, images of black magic, sorcery, and barbarism come to mind. Media portrayal, such as the newspaper headline “Blood Cults Spread through U. S. “, have served only to enforce these negative misconceptions often linked to Santeria. As a result of it, people outside of the culture view it as “barbaric”, arguing that it is just a cover up for the sensationalized killing and sacrificing of animals.
Since people who are outside of the religion have a difficult time accepting Santeria for what it is, the followers of it have chosen to keep it hidden from the public eye in order to keep themselves and their family members safe from persecutors. However, regardless of common misconceptions people might have about Santeria, it is a legitimate religion that has managed to stay strong for over three hundred years. Santeria started in the 17th century by a nation of people known as the Yoruba. They were brought over as slaves to Cuba to work the plantations and harvest the islands sugar crop.
The Yoruba’s were forced to disguise their religion. To do so they worshiped their Orishas (or spirits. The Yoruba believe that for every action there is a Orisha), beneath the images of Catholic Saints. When the Yoruba people were brought over from Nigeria they were baptized as Roman Catholics. Although they were forced to accept Catholic beliefs they worshiped their Orishas according to Roman Catholic Rites. This way of worship soon became the accepted way to practice their “forbidden religion” and developed into Santeria; the way of the saints.
The religion of Santeria has brought much attention to itself because of its rituals of animal sacrifices. The sacrifices occur to mark events such as birth, marriage, death as well as for the initiation of a new member into the church or “family”. The Santeria word for sacrifice is Ebo. It is this practice which has brought so much negative attention to the religion. Sacrifices are made to the Orisha to ensure that it will continue to be powerful. Animals that are commonly sacrificed are duck, chickens, goats, doves, pigeons and turtles.
Many Animal Rights activist have tried to put a stop to the animal sacrifices. In Hialeah Florida, 1987, townspeople openly showed disgust for a mans religion and petitioned his religious beliefs. The man, Ernesto Pichardo, openly admitted being a Santero, Santerian priest, and that he himself had taken part in probably thousands of animal sacrifices. “The city’s leaders responded by passing a string of ordinances that, if followed, would have severely weakened Santeria’s rituals. ” Ernesto argued that “You can kill a turkey in your backyard, put it on a table, say a prayer and serve it for Thanksgiving.
But if we pray over a turkey, kill it, then eat it, we violate the law. ” The case reached The United States Supreme Court in July 1993. It ruled in favor of the Santeria church in the case entitled “First Church of Chango v. American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals… and ruled that animal sacrifices were not so protected, and could be prohibited under the New York State anti-cruelty law, that is a neutral, generally applicable statute. ” This was the first case dealing with Santeria and animal sacrifices brought up in front of The United States Supreme Court.
The case raised the question “whether Santeria animal sacrifice was protected by the free exercise of religion clause of the First Amendment to the United States Constitution. ” Now more than ever Santeria has become an increasingly popular religion. “One Brooklyn priest has more than 200 god children and multiplying”. To gain admission into the house of Santeria one must undergo a initiation. The initiation process is called the Asiento (in Spanish Asiento means the seating). The ceremony involves the Orisha that the initiate identifies with sitting on his/her head.
There are two different types of initiation and each one leads to a different type of priesthood. One is the way of the saints the other way of initiation is the way of Orula. The way of Orula is only open to men where as the way of the saints is open to both men and women. When the actual initiation is taking place the person who is being initiated shaves their head so that they can receive the Omiera, a liquid herb mix. Blood is also poured on to the recipients head as a sacrifice for the Orisha, this is done so that the Orisha will sit on the initiates head.
When the Orisha does sit on the initiates head they, become one and form a special bond. Its believed by many that Santeria is not really a religion at all but a cult where sacrifices, both human and animal, take place. This can be attributed to the fact that many people do not have a very good knowledge of what a cult is in the first place. A cult by definition is “a religion or religious sect generally considered to be extremist or false, with its followers often living in an unconventional manner under the guidance of an authoritarian, charismatic leader.
By examining this definition very carefully and applying some knowledge of the Santeria Religion you’ll notice that Santeria does not have any specific leader and the parishioners usually do not live with one another. A perfect example of a cult is the Branch Davidian Sect of Christianity started by David Koresh. Santeria is not a cult. Rather, it is a religion like any other. Many people often forget that it was a ritual practice in most religions to sacrifice animals to God, even in religions prevalent today, such as Catholicism and Judaism.
Many goats were once sacrificed in the name of the Lord and at one time, He even called for the sacrifice of a human to see how devout one of his followers truly was. Although the human was never sacrificed, the practice is still a fundamental part of the religion. Therefore, Santeria should not be looked down upon because they practice something that most religions, at some point in their past, also practiced. By doing away with peoples ignorance and breaking apart their narrowminded beliefs, everyone will come to understand that Santeria is a religion just like any other and does not deserve the defamation that it is currently enduring.