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Known variously as Regla de Ocha, La Regla de Ifá, or Lucumi, Santería originated in Cuba and spread to neighboring islands, Mexico, and the United States, and is practiced primarily by people of African and Hispanic ancestry.

Santeria evolved from the spiritual traditions of the Yoruba people, of what is now southern Nigeria and neighboring parts of Benin, large numbers of whom were transported by the Spaniards to Cuba and elsewhere in the Caribbean to work as slaves during the 18th century. These people, most of whom had Yoruba or Bantu tribal affiliations, took their religions with them.

In the Caribbean, they were introduced to Roman Catholicism. Although the Catholic religion was forced upon them, many of these slaves continued to practice the African religions, acculturating them with Catholicism. Thus, Santeria is a syncretistic religious movement that mingles elements of African religions with Catholicism.

While attempting to introduce a monotheistic religion to their captive slaves, Catholicism proved to be a good fit. Both the African slaves and their Catholic masters believed in a supreme being, and the string of Catholic saints acting as intermediaries between God and man complemented the minor deities of Santeria.

In order to hide the fact that they had not given up their former religion, Santeria adapted Catholic saints or icons to represent Olorun, and the Orishas (minor deities).

In Santeria, Olorun is the chief deity. Like the supreme being in Catholicism, Olorun is manifested in three beings: Olodumare (creator), Olorun (ruler of the heavens), and Olofi (conduit between heaven and earth). Olorun is represented by Saint Michael, Saint Anthony of Padua, or the Christ Child, who also represent the Orishas, Elegua and Eshu.

Obatala, the father of all creation, is represented by Our Lady of Las Mercedes, the Holy Eucharist, or by Christ resurrected.

Chango, the Santerian Orisha who controls thunder, lightning, and fire, is represented by the Catholic Saint Barbara.

Oshun, who controls gold and money, is represented by Our Lady of Charity.

Yemaya, the primordial mother of the santos and protector of womanhood, is the Santerian equivalent of Our Lady of Regla in Catholicism.

Babalu-Aye, the patron of the sick, especially skin diseases, is represented by Saint Lazarus.

The Catholic adaptation of the warrior deity, Oggun, is Saint Peter.

While there are other Orishas in Santeria, those named above are the important deities, known a the Seven African Powers.

Santerian rituals usually begin with an invocation to Olorun, one of the manifestations of the supreme being, and the primary mediator between the gods and mankind. During the invocation, drums are played. Once Olorun has been invoked, the drummers alter the cadence or rhythm in order to call another deity, whichever would fit the occasion or need.

Priests in Santeria are known as santeros or olorichas. Priests who are authorized to initiate other priests are known as babalao or babalorichas, or as iyalorichas if they are female. Male priests are sometimes known as santeros, while female priests are santeras. If they provide divination services, using cowrie shells, they might be known as italeros, and if they go through training to become leaders of initiations, they may be known as obas or oriates.

In Santeria ceremonies or rituals, animals are often killed as blood sacrifices to the gods, a practice that has made Santeria unpopular among several populations. Chickens are the most common sacrifices, but goats and other animals are also used.

Religious ceremonies generally take place in the private homes of the santeros.

In addition to the sacrifices, Santeria ceremonies use ritualistic dance, often using fetishes and instruments like drums of various sizes, bells, maracas, sticks, and metal objects.

Stores that carry supplies used in the practice of Santeria are known as botanicas, and can be found in Spanish-speaking communities throughout the United States and Canada, as well as Cuba, Mexico, and elsewhere.

In some Santeria practices, devotees seek to become possessed by the Orisha.

Many of the rituals and specifics of Santeria are closely guarded, and the movement has no official publication, although many practitioners openly discuss their involvement in the faith.

Like Catholicism, Santeria has been officially suppressed by the Cuban government, making an assessment of its numbers difficult. Its membership has been growing rapidly in the United States, particularly in Spanish-speaking neighborhoods of US metropolitan areas. In the US and Canada, the religion is strongest among those of Cuban and Mexican ancestry.

 

 

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