Faith at a Glance - Santeria

Santeria at a glance

A jumble of different materials, including an anvil, sticks, a figurine and painted symbols Santeria shrine in an Old Havana backstreet. © Cyberesque ©

The religion focuses on building relationships between human beings and powerful, but mortal, spirits, called Orishas. An Orisha is a manifestation of Olodumare (God).

Followers believe that these spirits will give them help in life, if they carry out the appropriate rituals, and enable them to achieve the destiny that God planned for them before they were born.

This is very much a mutual relationship as the Orishas need to be worshipped by human beings if they are to continue to exist.

In a Supreme Court Case in 1993, Justice Kennedy in his decision said:

The Santeria faith teaches that every individual has a destiny from God, a destiny fulfilled with the aid and energy of the orishas.The basis of the Santeria religion is the nurture of a personal relation with the orishas, and one of the principal forms of devotion is an animal sacrifice. According to Santeria teaching, the orishas are powerful but not immortal. They depend for survival on the sacrifice.

Justice Kennedy, 1993

Orishas can be perceived in the physical universe by initiates, and the whole community can share in their presence when they possess a priest during some rituals.

Influence of Catholicism

The Roman Catholic element in Santeria is most obvious in the way Orishas are associated with Catholic Saints such as:

  • Saint Barbara [Shangó], who embodies justice and strength, and is associated with lightning and fire
  • Our Lady of Charity [Ochún] - the Yoruba goddess of the river, associated with water, yellow, sweets, money, and love
  • Saint Lazarus [Babalú-Ayé] - who is associated with the sick

Followers of Santeria are often (nominal) Roman Catholics as well. Catholic symbols are sometimes used in Santeria rituals.

Holy Books

Santeria has no scriptures and is passed on by word-of-mouth.

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