The Santeria Religion

I saw the Iyanla Fix My Life TV reality show for the first time some weeks ago. The edition featured how Iyanla Vanzant led a family out of the emotional crisis caused by the father’s drug addiction and absence serving his prison sentence. I was touched by Iyanla’s wise insights and I agreed with much of her counsel. I was happy that there is at least, a TV personality helping society to heal – unlike some materialistic “reality TV” silly billies.

Later on, my discerning side began to overcome my emotional side. I wanted to know who this Iyanla was and what she believed. After a brief Internet search, it became clear to me that Iyanla Vanzant (birth name: Rhonda Eva Harris) was Oprah Winfrey’s close friend, a New Thought Minister and a devotee of the Santeria religion. In one word, a New Ager. Instantly, it struck me, (though pronounced with a different inflexion in the show) the word “Iyanla” is the Yoruba word meaning “the great mother.” I’m from the Yoruba tribe, so I understand that this title is usually reserved for high priestesses in the Yoruba pagan cult. Ergo, Iyanla can’t fix your lives.

She wrote: “My experience with YORUBA culture had been through the dance and music. It seemed only natural that I would embrace the spiritual and religious philosophy … As I was initiated in the Santeria tradition, I was primed and ready to be possessed, since that seemed to be a prerequisite to being a good priest.”

Santeria (the worship of the saints in Spanish) is an Afro-Caribbean religion based on Yoruba pagan beliefs and traditions, with some Roman Catholic elements added to it. Since it incorporates elements of several religions, it’s a syncretic religion which adherents can combine with their own religions. Santeria teaches that the universe was created by one supreme God who entrusted its care to many smaller gods, called orishas. The orishas are divinities (similar to ancient Greek gods) with each representing a set of human characteristic or force of nature.

Santeria has been a prominent religion in Cuba for many years spreading to other nearby countries. Though it began as a secretive, underground religion, it has now come to the surface and gained much popularity. Lizette Alvarez writes in the New York Times that:

Once dismissed as a ghetto religion practiced only by the Caribbean poor and uneducated, Santeria has a growing following among middle class professionals, including white, black and Asian Americans. There are police officers in New York who pray to Obatala, the father of all deities, or orishas, before they slip on their gun belts. There are lawyers and professors, civil servants and musicians whose homes are filled with altars laden with flowers, rum, cake and cigars to keep the gods happy and helpful“.

Many large cities in North and Latin American countries have shops that specialise in Santeria herbs and paraphernalia like crosses, candles, amulets and statues of patron saints. These shops are known as botanicas. Many tend to be attracted to the Santeria due to its mysticism, exotic aura (which includes music and dance) and the sense of family or community within its circle. Though it’s difficult to know how many people follow Santeria, as there is no central organization, and it’s often a “private” religion. Some estimates go as high as a hundred million devotees worldwide.

When Africa met Rome

Santeria (and its sister traditions like Voodoo, Akan, Obeah, Macumba etc) emerged from a hybrid of Catholicism and African religion practiced by Yorubas in Nigeria. The Yoruba slaves were taken to the Caribbean islands as slaves between 1770-1840s. In the New World, they were forced to accept Catholicism but they refused to give up their traditions so they merged both religions. From then on, they gave Catholic saints dual identities such that each one corresponds to an African deity with a similar power or characteristic.

It is believed they did this to avoid persecution from their Catholic masters. But I think they could effortlessly blend their beliefs because they could see into the spirit realm. They realized that the same entities they worshipped as gods in Africa were the same entities been worshipped as Catholic “saints” in the New World. The whole idea of Catholic saint worship is straight out of paganism. I don’t think it was that hard to spot their old buddies from Africa dressed in Roman costumes.

Worship Structure

Santerios believe God has designated various roles to different orishas. The will of the orisha is interpreted by Santeria priests through divination, particularly through the Ifa corpus. The Ifa corpus is a system of divination expressed in 256 symbols that represent the Santeria tradition. Sometimes, the orisha possesses the worshipers in order to voice their counsel. Santerios seek the orisha’s intervention through prayers, music, offerings and proper behaviours (iwa pele).

New members are initiated by priests in a ceremony that includes music, dances and animal sacrifices. When an initiate is baptized into Santeria by a godfather or godmother, he takes the godparent as a smaller god and a close affinity is established between them. The santerio community is led by priests.

Music is important in Santeria worship. Drums, xylophones or marimbas are used to invoke specific deities. At times, the membranes used for making drums are from sacrificed animals to discharge “vibrations” of the orishas. Each deity has its rhythm which are used in some Latin music. Some of the orishas in the Santeria pantheon (though the spellings are not original Yoruba ones) are:

Obatala: A god said to be the creator of human life and consciousness.

Oggun: Patron god of miners and workers, worshiped as “saint” Peter.

Babalu-aye: Deity in charge of healing also worshiped as “saint” Lazaro.

Ochun: Goddess of rivers, love, marriage, money, and abundance. Also known as Virgen de la Caridad, patron saint of Cuba.

Orumila : The deity that decides an individual’s fate.

Yemaya: Goddess of the seas and of fertility, identified with the Virgin Mary or the Virgen de Regla in Cuba.

Chango: god of fire, thunder and lightning also worshipped as “saint” Barbara in Catholicism.

In Yoruba paganism, it is believed that the creator (Olodumare) created the earth and designated his second son, Obatala (the “white deity”) to finish up the work of creation of the sky and the human body. Obatala, according to the myth, came to earth with the aid of a chain, scattered sand on it with the aid of chicken legs and began to create (although he later became drunk and slept off). What is conveyed here is a form of deism. Conversely, the God of the Bible didn’t withdraw away from the earth after He created all things. He is actively involved in the world He has created (Ps. 104:27-30, Is. 45:5-7, Ps. 75:6-7).

The Santeria also adhere to fatalism. They believe we have all chosen our fate in heaven before our consciousness and this “destiny” governs our life when we come to the earth. In contrast, God calls His people to love Him (Jn. 14:21-23), to be holy (Lev. 20:26), to come to the knowledge of truth (1Tim. 2:4) and desires that everyone comes to repentance (2 Pet. 3:9).

If our lives are being governed by fate or predestination, these commands and instructions are meaningless. Even in our day-to-day lives, we take safety precautions daily in what we eat, what we do and how we drive our cars, because “fate” is a lie.

Santeria is stepped in occultism – necromancy, witchcraft, divination, charms and consulting with familiar spirits which are are strictly forbidden by Scripture (Deut 18:10-13, Lev. 19:31). Hence, it’s incompatible with the Christian faith. All the so-called orishas are nothing but demons.

John Ramirez, a former Santeria priest, in his testimony recalls his initiation “They started chanting and calling the five main gods, the demons from Santeria.” From this point on, he came under their control:

“When drug dealers died in the streets, I wanted to run out and get that blood because I could use that blood to do witchcraft … The Devil said [to me] ‘Do the religion, I will give you everything you want’… In clubs I started looking for Christians. I knew if I could get into it and you had it in your system … The Devil told me ‘whatever you kill in the spirit [world], you can kill in the natural. I would leave my body home and project myself in different neighbourhoods. I would speak curses and speak things I wanted to happen in the neighbourhoods”(CBN.com transcript).

John continued as a slave of Satan until he was gloriously saved out of demonism by Jesus Christ. Though not everyone who dabbles into Santeria would have the same experience John Ramirez had, but the fact still remains that Santeria is a form of Satanism.

Satan loves to import and export Satanism from one continent to another not only to trap more unsuspecting people, but to make way for his one world religion. While he ships African pagan worship over to America and Britain, he brings Eastern mysticism to Africa and then moves American occultism to the East. Every system of religion that rejects the shed blood of Christ but instead relies on the blood of animals (or humans) is under Satan’s umbrella.

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2 thoughts on “The Santeria Religion

  1. The Yoruba insists Olodumare is non partisan and that only the orishas can help us because it will be illogical to blame all the ills of our world on Olodumare the loving creator. How we make our world, starving children, wars, lies and etc is our own doing and that of the orisas and irunmales we manipulate. If we mess up our world as we are now doing, it is entirely our fault and not the fault of Olodumare.

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    1. 1. The Yoruba Olodumare is not the God of the Bible. While God invites all men to know Him and Jesus Christ intimately as the condition of eternal life (Jh 17:3), the Yoruba Olodumare is a distant, unknowable deity.

      2. While the Bible presents Jesus as the only Mediator between God and man and by whom the world will be judged (1Tim 2:5, Acts 17:31), Olodumare operates a system where a pantheon of deities with all sorts of characters mediate between him and men. Such a concept is as far from the Bible as the East is from the West.

      3. By the virtue of fatalism, everything that happens on earth is entirely the fault of Olodumare and his battalion. If our destinies have been “fixed” before we were born and we are simply here on earth to live out the unchangeable script- like robots on a playground- then whatever happens to us or in this world is not our fault and we can’t be held responsible for them. The wars, hunger, injustices and evil in the world is entirely the fault of Olodumare and his henchmen and we have no business improving on ourselves. That also means there is no concept of right or wrong, merit or sin either. Now, this is illogical and repugnant. You can’t consistently practice your Santeria or Yoruba religion without adhering to fatalism.

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