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Frequently known as the dark side of Santeria, Palo Mayombe isn't actually part of Santeria. It's one of the Palo religions, also known as Las Reglas de Congo.

The confusion comes from the fact that both Santeria and the Palo religions have Afro-Cuban origins, and have several characteristics in common. Additionally, it is not unusual for someone to practice both or to commingle the traditions.

Palo Mayombe is an African religion that originated in the Congo, and has been preserved by slaves who were imported to Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, and other parts of the Caribbean, where it was absorbed a veneer of Catholicism and later became popular among people of Hispanic descent.

The Caribbean was not the only part of the world in which Palo Mayombe gained influence, as it can also be found in parts of South America, Central America, Mexico, and the United States, although it spread to North America only in recent years.

The form of Palo Mayombe in Brazil is known as Quimbanda, and is a mixture of the original Congo religion, Latin American spiritualism, and indigenous Indian traditions.

As it is practiced in Africa, the tradition is known as Yimbola, and is purely Congo and not mixed with Catholicism, or esoteric beliefs.

Elsewhere, Palo Mayombe differs from the other Palo religions in that it is less influenced by outside religions, although it does exhibit a veneer of Catholicism.

As with the other Palo religions, there is no central authority in Palo Mayombe. Rules, regulations, and rituals will vary according to the strictures set up by the House into which a practitioner has been initiated.

Among believers, Palo Mayombe paleros (priests) are said to have strong powers. The spiritual powers of paleros have been linked to elevating obscure people to powerful positions, and many believe that a palero can bring about death within twenty-four hours. Palo Mayombe paleros rarely advertise their powers, and will only perform spiritual work through referrals.

An individual who is chosen to become a palero must make a life-long commitment to the ancestors and spiritual guides, and understand that the role of a palero is to protect and serve the community. Through initiation, an individual is baptized into the mysteries of the spirit realm. It is said that a palero is born of fire, and will die of fire. A palero is viewed as a light in the darkness that attracts the blessings of the spirits. In death, a palero is elevated to the status of a spiritual guide.

Before someone is permitted to become a part of Palo Mayombe, he must consult an experienced palero priest, who will consult the spirit world and the person's ancestors to determine whether the individual will be able to practice Palo Mayombe. Often, the spirits will determine that Palo Mayombe is not the individual's spiritual path, and he will be rejected. If accepted, the individual will receive a spiritual cauldron. Through an initiation ceremony, the cauldron will contain the secrets and powers of the spirits. At this time, the cauldron becomes known as a Nganga or Prenda. Depending on the palero or the family who will be assisting, a large simple clay pot may be used.

Receiving the initiation and the Nganga is only the first step, however.

Any discussion of initiation with non-initiates is strictly forbidden. Palo Mayombe ceremonies are kept secret in order to expose frauds and to prevent charlatans from copying them.

Because some of the additional steps require human bones, and Palo Mayombe practitioners have been accused of grave robbing and murders, the tradition has earned a reputation of being on the dark side, particularly by those who are outside of the religion.

Palo Mayombe is a religion of the spirits and ghosts, ways in which they can be used, and a connection to the earth. All humans are mediums, all spirits are good, and all ghosts are bad, with no exceptions.

The supernatural, as recognized in Palo Mayombe, are broken down into categories: Spirits (nkuyo), Ghosts (ndoki), Ghosts who have been forced (kilumbo), Spirits and Ghosts who have been harnessed (nfumbe), and Angels (mpungo).

In Palo Mayombe, the Spirit that has possession of an individual's body is in control. The Spirit chooses the individual, not the other way around. Through proper practice of Palo Mayombe, an individual develops a relationship with the Spirit that owns his head and deepens this relationship through appropriate offerings and prayers. Practitioners also strive to develop a deep relationship with their ancestors. as well as the larger community of the dead.

The focus of this category is on Palo Mayombe, including those that might identify it as being a tradition of Santeria, as that is a common misconception. Sites offering a negative perspective of the faith are also appropriate.



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