It’s been a few months since I’ve done any podcasts.
Sorry about that. Quite a bit has been going on. I’m engaged now… (sorry ladies) but I want to get some stories out of the way before they get any older….
Here’s a quick round-up of news stories that have caught my attention over the past few months.
We started off the year with CBS News reporting in January on Santeria priests in Cuba rejecting doomsday predictions for 2012.
They do predict major changes for the year, but isn’t that pretty much what the prediction always is?
The article mentions that some believe that, according to the Mayan calendar, the world will end on December 21, 2012. The thing is… Scientists have already disputed these claims. The Mayan’s own Elder Council have spoken out against the misinterpretations of their calendar. If folks still believe it, well, I’m not sure whether a few babalawos in Cuba will change their minds…
In February, there was some controversy about a 4-year-old in Georgia that had apparently suffered lacerations on her chest as the result of a Santeria ritual. It definitely caught my attention.
The news articles I read from ABC claimed that the family practiced something called “Paulo” and the child received cuts on her chest as a result of a religious ceremony.
So, I mean, first off… No matter how you pronounce it, Palo is something I know next to nothing about.
But let me just play a small clip for you from a WSBTV news segment about the case.
Again, let’s just ignore the mangling of the name. I mean, the family could have just as easily practiced “Crispianity”, right?
This interview sort of rubbed me the wrong way… I don’t know the details surrounding the girl or why this was done. And, just like the writer of The Wild Hunt blog who commented on the incident, I don’t know if it’s commonplace in Palo and just something I don’t normally hear about.
It all brings me back to a topic that I just can’t seem to escape from….
Santeria originally came from slaves who had to hide their religion under the guise of Catholicism. I’ve never read anything about them actually believing that not only did Olodumare create everything but also that Christ died for our sins.
This idea that you have to punish yourself as a way of proving your belief is not something that came from Africa… The idea that you need to be surrounded by crosses did not come from Africa….
I try to be diplomatic about things, because all of us have our own views, we approach the religion from a different angle, whatever…. But this type of stuff is just a bastardization of the religion. It’s taking two completely separate practices (three, if you add Palo into the mix) and trying to treat them like a single one. Instead of having a single strong religion, you end up with something diluted and impotent.
Maybe I’m missing something here…. Is it just that traditions have slowly been blending over time and people really do think that going to a Santeria drumming on Saturday and then confessing their sins at a church on Sunday is all part of the same religion? I just don’t get it.
If you have some experiences to share or can shed some light on how things got this way, I’d love for you to share them in the comments.
Next up, there was a case mentioned on a Lehigh Valley news site involving a dead chicken found in a box, along with some popcorn, apples, oranges, potatoes, coins, and some red and white candles.
According to Miguel De La Torre, who has been interviewed about similar cases in the past, the box’s discovery at an intersection, the red candles, and the coins made him to think of Elegua. But the oranges and potatoes made him think of Inle. So… who knows.
He suggested that it might be an offering for help with a medical problem and the person might be seeking to open the paths to healing. He goes on to compare the offering to something local residents might have an easier time relating to. He says:
“I’m assuming that the folks in that county once a year, get their own fowl, say a turkey, and then offer it in thanks to their deity for all the blessings of the year. They call that Thanksgiving.”
I appreciate what he is trying to do here, but the big issue that a lot of folks seem to have really isn’t about a chicken being slaughtered.
Look beyond the fanatics who are talking about the worship of false gods. Ignore the racist comments about how this stuff is ruining America.
Once you get past all of that, the general discontent from folks seems to be that these things are simply left to rot in a public place.
Ok, now, that I get.
One public place that I really wish people would avoid leaving remains are cemeteries. If it comes out in a reading that you need to do that, well, that’s between you and the orisha. I’m not saying no one ever should do it. I’m sure there are plenty of people who have less of an issue with it than I do, but I feel like it should only be done when you have to.
In Pennsylvania, around the same time as those other news stories, there was a large dumping of animal remains in a cemetery in Berks County.
You really have to see the pictures to believe it, but there were dozens of trash bags scattered throughout the cemetery, containing what the experts claimed were ritually slaughtered chickens.
My first reaction was discomfort at the idea of leaving offerings for the orisha in plastic trash bags.
My next reaction was a thought something along the lines of, “Wait… what…? Dozens of bags? That is a lot of freakin’ chicken remains!”
Another article about the incident quoted Dylan Heckart, a Human Society employee, who said that it did not look like the result of animal fighting and it seemed consistent with ritual practices related to Santeria or Palo Mayombe.
I’m curious how he came to that conclusion.
No mention was made of anything other than animal remains being in the bags. No candles, coins, candy, or the usual stuff you might expect to hear listed.
I find it hard to believe that this is the result of a religious ceremony, though. It seems more likely that this was the result of illegal dumping from a butcher shop or farm than from anything Santeria-related.
Another blown-out-of-proportion news story that takes place in — you guessed it — a cemetery. A visitor to Lincoln Memorial Park in Miami discovered a tomb of an very young child had been cracked open. She peered into the grave and said that the body was there, but not the head.
She is quoted in the article as saying, “That is not godly.”
Both the visitor and the cemetery’s owner, Ellen Johnson, apparently believe that the vandals used the bones for Santeria rituals.
The article mentions that the graves are extremely old and no longer have name plates. I’m sure that, yes, there probably are some misguided folks who would steal stuff like that from a tomb. But isn’t it more likely that the head was simply destroyed when the tomb fell apart?
Since some visitors to the site and listeners of the podcast might practice a tradition which does use bones, keep in mind that you can buy that stuff online. There are sites like BoneRoom.com where you can get a finger-bone for about $10, a femur for $250, or pretty much whatever else your needs and budget dictate. While sites like these might seem pricey, they are far cheaper than jail time…. As for animal remains, there are plenty of sites for that stuff — eBay, Etsy, whatever.
In March, the biggest story seemed to be the discovery of the attempted smuggling of two human fetuses. According to the Miami Herald, the fetuses were transported in a sealed jar from Cuba into the U.S. by a pair of elderly women. After the contents of the jar were discovered, the women explained that a babalawo in Havana had given the jar to them and asked that it be delivered to someone in Miami. A medical examiner determined that both fetuses — one male and one female — were close to 20-weeks of age and both had been stillborn. The women claimed that hadn’t known what was in the jar and were not charged with any crimes. Aside from the jar supposedly being given to the women by a babalawo, there seem to be uncited speculations that it was meant to be used in some sort of religious ceremony.
There was a great article posted earlier this week by Beth Winegarner about the way journalists should approach news stories about Santeria and other practices. The entire article is worth reading, but her advice essentially boils down to:
Don’t take what police or other sources say at face value
Find & interview real experts
Write carefully, with attention to relevant details
At The Wild Hunt blog, an additional rule was suggested. It was more for the group being written about than for the ones doing the writing, but it still is worth sharing:
Pagan and other minority religion groups need to take a proactive stance with media outlets, and create their own media as well, if they want to be treated fairly.
I know some of you actively engage the media because I see many of the same faces (or at least names and icons) in the comment section of news stories about santeria. For those of you who go a step further and have had experience educating law enforcement officers, the press, or whatever, post a comment and share your experiences. It might help give others an idea of how they can help, too.
I apologize again for the time in between episodes, but life gets in the way sometimes. Since this episode was filled up with news articles and not much else, feel free to leave a comment here on the blog, Twitter, Facebook, Google+, or whatever and let me know what topics you’d like discussed next time.