10 Things You Really Need to Know About Santería

Santeria is often criticized, misunderstood and even mistaken for brujería, but the faith, which translates to "Way of the Saints," is actually an Afro-Caribbean religion.  Here are 10 things you need to know about Santería to part ways with all the misconceptions

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1. Santeria To Know

Santería is a Yoruba-based religion that originated in present-day Nigeria. Its African name was Lucumi, or “regla de ocha.” Brujería, on the other hand, is an umbrella term used to group all practices pertaining to spiritism, especially when these beliefs are not understood, together. Santería is not brujería.

2. Santeria To Know

Santería, an African-rooted religion, intermingled with Catholicism, as many faiths did during the slave trade. Enslaved Africans, who were forced to convert to Catholicism by their masters, saw the Catholic saints as similar to the orishas they worshipped in their homeland. That's why you might see some Catholic images, names and practices found in Santería today.

 

3. Santeria To Know

Santería rituals include dancing and drumming as well as speaking and eating alongside the spirits. During these ceremonies, which occur everywhere, from halls and homes to the beach or a mountaintop, santeros don all white.

4. Santeria To Know

While all santeros dress in white for ceremonies, not all priests/priestesses wear white every day. Some prefer the sartorial rainbow, while others simply add a touch of white to their daily wardrobe. "White represents purity. It's also a color that's sacred to Obatalá, so you're not only honoring him, but you're invoking his protection," Victoria Falcon, a santera, explains.

5. Santeria To Know

In Santería, there is only one God (Olodumare), but there are more than 400 deities or orishas. Orishas represent various aspects of nature. Some popular orishas include Ogún, the god of iron, war and labor; Obatalá, the kindly father of all orishas and humanity; and Oyá, the ruler of the winds.   

6. Santeria To Know

Because orisha worship was syncretized with Catholicism or hidden behind the religions of slave masters, it changed from one country to the next. While they come from the same region of Africa, Cuba’s Santería looks different from Brazil’s Candomble, which looks different from Haiti’s Vodun. The practices stem from the same roots and share similarities, but there are also significant differences among them.   

7. Santeria To Know

Some say Santería is “good,” while brujería is “bad,” but the truth is both have the ability to work for either good or bad, depending on the intentions with which they are practiced. Laypeople often judge santeros who give food, candles or liquor to their orishas to ensure a request is positively received, erroneously referring to this as witchcraft. 

8. Santeria To Know

For those who live by this religion, animal sacrifice is not just about killing the animals for the sake of participating in an unconventional ritual. It’s an offering to the orishas that’s done for major ceremonies. The blood is for the orishas, and the meat is for the santeros. After the ritual, the animal is eaten.

9. Santeria To Know

By worshipping the orishas and making offerings, santeros strive to create a life of balance. It’s about using their guidance and protection to bring positive things into your life.

10. Santeria To Know

Ancestor veneration, where people remember their antepasados and spirit guides, is a facet of Santería. The practice is done to honor a person’s deceased relatives or guides that are present and who can influence the living.