Episode 021: Spirit Happens

May 20 2012 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


Spirit Happens

The topic of spirituality within the religion is something I’ve touched on in past episodes, but I’ve always been a bit hesitant about dedicating an entire podcast episode to it. Since I don’t really have any news stories to discuss or other topics to go over, I guess I’ll give it a shot…

Hitting The Books

Spirituality and the interpretation of how it’s defined seems to depend on who you ask. Largely, the practices I’ve been exposed to seem to either revolve around spiritism or at least were loosely based on it.

First, a quick primer….  According to Wikipedia, spiritism:

“…is a loose corpus of religious faiths having in common the general belief in the survival of a spirit after death. In a stricter sense, it is a religion whose beliefs and practices are based on the works of Allan Kardec and others.”

It goes on to explain the differences between spiritism and spiritualism. Though they are both similar, spiritism attempts to take on an almost scientific methodology to its practices and hypothesizes that the moral and intellectual differences among men can be explained through  reincarnation. Essentially, a more pure and enlightened person will result in a more pure and enlightened spirit.

Though I own all five of Kardec’s books, I can’t claim to have actually made it through them all. They were pretty mind-numbing, to be honest… In the 19th century, when this stuff was written, advances in science and medicine made some feel like there were very few mysteries that couldn’t be explained. That view seems to show up in spiritism as well.

One thing I hadn’t realized initially is that spiritism claims to be a Christian doctrine, since even though it has its own interpretations of the teachings of Jesus, it’s still based on those things.

When you get right down to it, even though spiritism is supposedly a big part of the religion, the only aspect that really seems to have been adopted were the parts relating to mediumship.

Finding A Happy Medium

In spiritism, it is thought that spirits communicate with us all. Some people aren’t aware of the communication, but the guidance of these spirits get classified as a hunch or intuition. Others, though, are not only aware of these communications, but are able to actively engage the spirits.

It seems as if the actual method of communication varies from medium to medium. There are those who see spirits, those who hear them out loud, those who hear them internally, those who interpret them through signs and visualizations, and probably there are even more ways and combinations.

My own experiences have all been internal conversations with only one experience I can recall that had a visual aspect to it.

I blogged about my first spiritual experience, if you feel like reading it. To be honest, it freaked me out. Something changed that night for me, though. I went from being someone who simply wanted to communicate with a spirit to someone who could.

While I did eventually have one more experience with that first spirit, the next one is what ultimately became what I’d consider to be my spirit guide.

I’d love to share the details of that initial experience with my spirit guide, but it was apparently exciting enough that I actually forgot to blog about it. Oops. Most likely, I emailed my godparents about it instead. I need to see if I still have that email somewhere… If I can find it, I’ll upload it to the blog. In any event, my godmother wanted me to get a better feel for the spirit, who she jokingly had nicknamed Mr. Warlock. I think that name came from my first misa, where I had been told that there was a dark spirit lingering about… or something like that… and that when the spirit had been alive, it had been into witchcraft and the occult.

Some of you might be listening to this and are thinking, “Well, that’s great for you. But how am I supposed to find my guide…?” I can share what worked for me, but I really have no idea what will work with you. My godmother said she’s been able to see spirits since she was a young girl and said it just came naturally to her. For me, I was nearly 28-years-old when I had my first experience and I just sort of stumbled my way through it all. Everyone is different, it seems.

In Good Spirits

I’ve always struggled with believing in things. Even as a child, I was like that.

I was a pretty young kid at the time, but I remember thinking that the story of the Tooth Fairy seemed unlikely. I decided to test it out. After losing a tooth, my parents told me to put my tooth under my pillow and there would be a reward from the Tooth Fairy in the morning. Instead of doing that, though, I put the tooth in my sock drawer. The next morning, I found money under my pillow. After retrieving the tooth from my sock drawer, I went out to show my parents and tell them about how my tooth must have somehow fallen on the floor during the night and wasn’t noticed until morning. With a confused look, I’d ask why the Tooth Fairy had given me money but didn’t take my tooth. I was told she must have made a mistake, so they asked me to put it under my pillow again. The next morning, the tooth was gone and I had a bit more money. I got away with this same scam during the loss of my next couple teeth, until they finally realized I was taking advantage of them. Still not wanting to admit defeat, though, they claimed that the Tooth Fairy told them that she wouldn’t leave any money for me if the tooth wasn’t under my pillow when she came to visit. Their ability to hold out and insist that the Tooth Fairy was real outlasted my ability to lose baby-teeth.

My attitude towards spirituality pretty much went the same way… It all seemed too unlikely and I was sure there was a way to either prove it or at least take advantage of it somehow.

Ultimately, I went for the latter of the two…

I read plenty of books, websites, and forums about spirituality. In the majority of the accounts, people seemed to fall in one of two main groups.

The first group consisted of the Lady Gaga spiritualists, who typically described themselves as being “born this way”. Since I had gone roughly three-decades without any sort of spiritual experience, I was fairly certain I wasn’t in this group.

The second group were full of the faithful and the devout. A lot of these people seemed to come from families who all believed in spirits and grew up assuming that spirits communicating with people was just a normal part of life. My family definitely wasn’t like that. I was raised to be logical and critical. Faith wasn’t really my thing….

The interesting thing about the “believers” is that it didn’t really seem to matter why they believed. So the way I looked at it, as long as I could come up with a process that made sense to me, I figured that would give me just as good of a shot as anything else.


You can read more about it in the original blog post, but my idea was pretty straightforward:

Rather than waiting around for my spirit guide to reveal itself, I could just make one. It’s a bit like playing pretend as a child. So I’m going to pretend I have a spirit guide. Now I just need to ask myself, “What’s it like? What’s it’s name?” and that sort of thing.

It’s actually quite simple. To some extent, I can just make stuff up as I go.

It sounds silly, but I think it’s actually pretty logical. If a spirit can add subtle influences to the way you think, it can help you come up with a “fake” that’s actually quite real. And on the other side of the spectrum, if spirits are attracted to certain thoughts and feelings, the very act of concentrating on the different aspects of the made-up spirit will attract similar spirits.

I went on to rationalize it even further, by adding:

Because I know I’m pretending, I can bypass my usual skeptical/rational side. When trying to believe in something, it’s hard to for me to not find all sorts of alternative explanations. This way, I’m just skipping right past it. Or maybe just doing things in reverse.

Ultimately, the methodology doesn’t matter. As long as it works for me, I can start moving forward spiritually and that’s what is important.

Obviously it worked for me. And it’s apparently not a new idea. I found at least one book on Amazon promoting a similar concept. The biggest difference is that its approach focuses on creating sigils and symbols and was all heavily integrated with more pagan-esque practices… while I went with more of an off-the-cuff approach that relied more on just visualizing details.

To do it right, tricking yourself is actually a lot harder than you might expect.

Is there another method or technique one of you would like to share? If so, leave a comment on the blog post for this episode, so the rest of us can hear it about it.

Lessons Learned

These are some basic things I’ve picked up while working with my muertos. Agree with it or not, but they’ve been true enough for me.

  1. Take what is said with a grain of salt. I remember a situation when someone’s muerto claimed something about me that was not true. Defending myself with, “Nuh-uh” wasn’t really going to do much good, so I just did my best to reaffirm my side of the story and let it play out. Some people hold their spirits as dearly as they would a family member — or maybe more so — because their spirit guide is always there for them. As protective as people sometimes are of their guide, I can’t help but wonder how if, in a similar way, these spirits are protective of their people. Do they get jealous? Do they ever tell the person what they think they want to hear? Who knows. But not even spirits can be everywhere at all times, so just keep that in mind.
  2. Names don’t matter much. Unless you’re trying to summon Cthulhu or something, it doesn’t seem like the name you refer to a spirit by holds much meaning. When I first posted the name of my spirit guide on my blog, my padrino cautioned me against it. He was afraid that if I posted too many details about my spirit, not-so-nice people might use that information against me. I wasn’t convinced and my muerto didn’t seem to care, so I figured, “Why not?” I’ve never had any issues because of it — at least not that I know of. In any event, names seem to be more for the benefit of the person more than the spirit. Instead of using a name to identify a spirit, it seems easier — at least for me — to go off of its feeling or presence. As long as the intent is there and you know who you’re trying to communicate with, you should be good to go.
  3. Respect your muertos. I recommended not blindly accepting what is said as truth, but you should still show respect. Whether it’s a spirit that’s with you for life or for only a few minutes, it likely has something to teach you. You just have to be open to it. On the opposite side of the spectrum, you don’t want to treat your spirits like a parlor-trick, to be called upon at birthday parties and bar-mitzvahs. When I first started learning about the religion, I read somewhere that, during divination, you shouldn’t ask questions that you already know the answers to. The same thing applies to working with spirits. There’s a fine line between receiving confirmation on something and using it as a Magic 8-Ball.

Chicken Or The Egg

I never did get a definitive answer to my question about whether we are shaped by the spirits around us or whether the spirits we attract are shaped by us. But I look at it similarly to the orisha who claims your head.

Up until you crown, your guardian orisha can change. You may start up with Shango ruling your head, but by the time you make ocha, it’s Obatala who claims you. Were you getting into more trouble when you were younger because of Shango’s influence? Or did your calm demeanor later in life make you better suited for Obatala?

I have no clue. But I don’t think it matters. The end result is that, by the end of things, you and the orisha are well suited for one another. I see no reason why muertos are any different.

Proper Care And Feeding Of Your Spirits

Whether you’re working on building up a connection with your spirits or you are at the point where you’ve already established a relationship with your spirits, the general consensus is you need to have an area for them.

This is different from your eggun shrine. Your eggun are your ancestors, but not all of your spirits are your ancestors. For many, there might not be any ancestors that are communicating with you. For those of you who don’t get along with your family members, well, maybe that’s a good thing, right? The important thing to remember is that eggun and muertos are different.

In the same way as an eggun shrine acts as an area to focus yourself on when honoring your ancestors, a boveda works the same way for your spirits.

A boveda can be as simple as a glass of water or a complex as multiple fishbowls.

The thing I love about the boveda, and — really — the spiritism aspect of the religion in general, is that it’s completely personalized. With religious ceremonies and things, there’s considered a right way and a wrong way to do things. But with this, you can really have some fun with it. Go with whatever feels right to you.

What I was told when I first started out is that the spirits will help guide your creation of their space. If you’re having a difficult time with it, perhaps you can try going to a misa and working it out that way. In the beginning especially, it’s easy to trip yourself up with self-doubt and a lack of certainty.

In addition to placing items with the boveda that make you feel more connected to your spirits, such as dolls, tarot cards, or trinkets, you can also try using items that represent things you want your spirits to help you with. If it feels like you lack direction in life, maybe a compass would help. If it feels like you are without options, perhaps a key will help unlock some doors for you. Just start small and get a feel for what works and what doesn’t.

As I said, everyone has their own preferences for how to approach things. When I work with my boveda, I usually stick to very minimal offerings. I make sure that the boveda is clean and full of fresh water and might light a candle or burn some incense. I like to keep it very low-key. Even though when I work with eggun, I have no problem offering food or liquor, somehow that just doesn’t seem right for my spirits. Just use your instincts. Maybe you’ll want to add perfume or fragrant oils to the boveda water or incorporate fresh flowers into it. Everyone does things their own way.

So… What Now?

What you do with your spirits is really up to you.

For me, I mostly just stick with some internal one-on-one every now and then if I have a decision I need to make or something I’m unsure of. I have a difficult time asking other people for help. Most of the time, I feel like I either already know what to do or at least can figure it out on my own. I view my muerto almost like a personal assistant, in a way. And I hope that doesn’t sound horrible. But I think it helps clarify the role we each have.

My muerto can be a sounding-board to run ideas by or can help give some piece of information that I might be missing, but I’m ultimately the one calling the shots. My muerto can quit at any time or put up with me and hope it leads to something better in the future. I feel like it’s a mutually-beneficial relationship, though.

As for misas, I never really got into that stuff, myself. But I’m also just not a big fan of people I don’t know. I’m sure if it was just with a couple close friends, I’d get more out of it. If you’re a bit more social than I am — and I’m sure most you probably are — maybe give it a try. Maybe you’re spirit can help someone else. Or maybe someone will help you better work with or understand your spirit.

That’s All, Folks!

I think I’m just about tapped out on things to talk about for this episode. I’m sure once it’s been uploaded and I relax for a little bit, some idea will pop into my mind about something else that would’ve been great to bring up…

But for now, I’ve got nothing.

If there’s something you feel like I missed or maybe you have your own experiences you’d like to share, go to YearInWhite.com and let me know.

Oh, and I know a lot of you were wondering whether I had made Ocha yet or not. Nope, not yet. I’m still slowly raising funds for it. This week, I got an extra twenty-bucks added to the pile, though. The donation was made by a pagan podcaster by the name of “Silver Shadow“.

Once I get done paying for all of this wedding stuff, I should finally have enough money set aside to get crowned and start living “La Vida Ocha”… or something like that. There’s a link on the YearInWhite.com site to donate some money, if you haven’t already. Even a contribution of a few dollars helps out.

Before I end this episode, I want to give a quick update…

My godfather and I had a long talk about this podcast and what — if any — benefit was coming out of it.

My original intent behind creating it was to make a platform, for sharing my experiences along the way with others. Sort of an audio journal of sorts. I wanted to share books I had read, news stories I had found, and stuff like that… I wanted to share just how interesting and beautiful the religion is, without all of the drama and distractions.

Somehow, things slowly shifted and I started giving my opinion and even advice on things.

I’m not a priest or anything… So there’s a lot I still don’t know. And a lot I still mix up or forget.

With that in mind, I think it’s a good time to take a break.

Once I make ocha, and if I have my godparents’ blessing to do so, I’ll pick this podcast up again and see if I can get a bit closer to my original goal.

Thanks to everyone who has helped me so far and I hope to see you all after ocha!

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

6 responses so far

Episode 020: Spring Cleaning

Apr 04 2012 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


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:

  1. Don’t take what police or other sources say at face value

  2. Find & interview real experts

  3. 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:

  1. 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.

Until then…

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

4 responses so far

Episode 019: Florida Fun

Jul 30 2011 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


Here’s a few news stories for you that all come out of Florida.  It seems like there’s always something interesting going on around here….

Tampa Tribute:

According to the St. Petersburg Times, a cardboard box filled with headless animals was discovered early Wednesday outside the Falkenburg Road Jail — just a week after a cow’s tongue riddled with nails was left in a box near the courthouse. Authorities say they are investigating whether there is a link between the two incidents.

The first incident didn’t get a whole lot of press when it first happened.  A box was found near the parking lot for the county courthouse.  The bomb squad was called to check the box for explosives and they ended up finding the tongue, instead, studded with nearly a hundred nails.

The more recent incident involved another box, found near the front entrance of the Falkenburg Road Jail, containing the headless remains of a small white goat, two baby chicks, two roosters, and a dove.

These articles would be a pretty boring without the so-called “experts” coming out of the woodwork to give their two-cents on the matter.

One speculator was Mercedes Cros Sandoval, a retired anthropology professor and “Santeria expert” at Miami-Dade College.  She said that the box of animals might be part of a voodoo ritual or just an individual acting on his own.  For the nail-covered tongue, she suggested that it could be a ritual offering to Ogun or simply for keeping someones mouth shut.

Next is Mozella Mitchell, chairwoman of religious studies at the University of South Florida.  She is quoted as saying that leaving headless carcasses at the jail “is not a legitimate practice. It’s a prank.”  There is also a bit more attributed to her, that seems to be perpetuating the idea that the animals sacrificed are almost always eaten afterwards. Listen, folks, no matter how many times that line gets said, no one is going to think of Santeria as just one big religious barbecue or something.  At best, they are probably going to imagine a chicken or rooster getting its head cut off. So let’s just be honest here, alright?  Sometimes the animals are eaten.  Sometimes they aren’t.

Maybe it’s just me, but it feels like the people who quickly jump to the “they are usually eaten” line of defense are usually the same people who have either only heard second-hand about what goes on or maybe they choose to remain on the outside and just want to “observe”, so they only get invited to events that are likely to be viewed in a more positive light.  I’m not sure.

Lastly, there a clip on YouTube from ABC Action News about this story.  You get to hear a bit more from Dr. Mitchell’s interview.  She says that the findings appear to be related to witchcraft and that “It’s the act of some crazed mind — a person who is out of their head,” and that, “It’s a twisted, distorted mind that does something like that.”  Thankfully, there’s no people like that listening to this podcast, right?  None of you would be crazed and distorted enough to leave animal remains somewhere, right?  …I thought so.

Suspicious Shrine:

Speaking of crazy and distorted…. WFTV had a pretty interesting news story that took place at a Bank of America in Orlando.  According to the article and news clip, an employee discovered a suspicious device at the entrance to the bank.  If you just leave it at that, it makes sense that the bomb squad was called and a SWAT team evacuated everyone and closed down nearby roads while they secured the area.

The thing is, though, this “device” apparently consisted of a cross, corn husks, avocado, lemons, money, and pictures… and there were open beer cans lying nearby. Instead of closing down the area and bringing in bomb-diffusing robots, maybe they could have just been on the lookout for someone nearby that is both very religious and very hung over…?  Just a thought.  Look, I get people are a bit sensitive to potential risks and all of that, but… c’mon…!  Was this seriously considered a threat?

Deputies are mentioned in the article as saying that this is a shrine and is most likely related to Santeria.

I’ve heard of making a shrine to pay homage to eggun, to orisha, or whatever.  Most of the time, that’s done in your house or something. Maybe I missed the memo, you guys… but I don’t recall ever hearing about that stuff needing to be done in front of a public building.  It’s not that I think it’s impossible that this is related to the religion — but I do think it’s more likely that this is the action of someone doing things on their own rather than being told to do it by their godparent or through a divination.  This just seems a lot more like something someone might do because they wanted attention or simply because they were very intoxicated.

Miami Monster:

News articles have been cropping up all over recently regarding the arrest of 46-year-old Raul Armenteros, who is now facing 22-counts of animal cruelty.  Miami police were contacted after receiving a report about what sounded like a baby crying from within a parked vehicle.

Instead of a baby, though, officers found four goats, eight roosters, four pigeons, four guinea hens, and a duck.  A few news sources, even large ones like Huffington Post, reported guinea pigs in the list of animals, but I have a feeling that might be a misunderstanding by the reporter and they were actually guinea hens.  My usual rule of thumb is, if it’s something the general public would have as a pet, it probably is not something sacrificed in the religion…  One headline, from the Miami Herald, made it sound like there were 22 goats…  Sometimes it’s difficult to tell whether it’s more the result of bad writing or bad journalism.  I was able to get the actual animal count after finding a copy of the arrest report online.  I love the internet sometimes.

According to police, Raul and another man were said to be responsible for the vehicle and its contents.  The men admitted to being santeros and said that the animals were going to be used for religious purposes.  They are being held on $110,000 bond each.

The reason why this story seemed to get so much traction is being Raul Armenteros is a bit of a celebrity, for his involvement in the adult films series “Bang Bus”, where he’s known by the name “Ramon” or sometimes “The Monster”. ….Yikes.

When I hear stories like this, about people being arrested for possible animal cruelty charges in relation to animals being sacrificed, my first reaction to the story usually sticks with me.  I typically feel like the person might not have done things ideally but that people need to just chill out a bit.

With this story, the more details I read, the more my opinion began to change… The first thing that got me was the time involved for someone to hear the goats, call the police, for the police to arrive and investigate, and then at least another 45-minutes for the two guys to actually show up again.  Especially with the heat lately here in Florida, that’s just way too long to leave these animals alone in a vehicle.  Secondly, the police report mentioned that the goats were tied up and each were kept in plastic bags. I can understand needing to limit their movements or whatever while they are in the van, but — I agree with the police — this just sounds cruel.

If these animals were indeed meant to be sacrificed, they should have been treated with more respect.

Final Thoughts:

The underlying issue with all of these is on the public visibility of things in the religion that should remain private.

If you’re leaving ebos or offerings somewhere, either on your own or in response to a divination session, it should be put somewhere that it won’t be discovered. It might be difficult to do.  It might even require driving a little further out of your way or walking off the beaten path a bit, but it’s something you should take seriously and do with the utmost respect — both for the religion and for the public at large.

Secrecy is still a big part of the religion.  Even though people talk more openly about it and there are even blogs and podcasts — like this one — which deal with some general topics, it’s still not something that everyone needs or wants to be exposed to.

People just need to be more creative with their disposals.  If you have to leave it somewhere and don’t have the option of just bringing it somewhere and then throwing it away afterward, you need to leave it somewhere that isn’t going to lead to angry police or bomb squad calls.

The same goes to the handling and transporting animals prior to a sacrifice.  Carrying birds by their feet or wings — especially in public — is a great way to get stopped by an officer who might view it as animal cruelty.  Try carrying the bird upright and in your arm like you would a pet.  You might get a few weird looks, but it should save you from getting hassled.

And, of course, if you see animals prior to a ceremony getting left in a hot car or being mistreated, speak up.  If nothing else, it’s also a great way to meet porn stars, apparently…

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

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Episode 018: Busy Bee

May 17 2011 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


Since my godfather takes frequent breaks from the religion to focus on his health, finances, and to just generally keep things balanced in his life, I tend to do the same.

It’s not like I’m just sitting around doing nothing.  I’m just not going to drummings, getting readings, or that sort of thing.  I follow my ile’s Letter of the Year as best as I can and I try not to forget to take care of eggun and Elegua when they need it.

Work has been taking up a lot of my time, recently.  Now that it’s starting to slow down a bit, I’ve been trying to find some new things to do.  I like a bit of variety.

As an example, during the past few weeks, I’ve been learning about beekeeping.  It’s pretty interesting stuff.  Beekeeping season has pretty much already started, so I will probably wait until next year before I really start getting into it.  I’ll probably try to find someone in the area who does it already, so I can get a feel for it before I try it on my own.

I’ve also been trying to go hiking on the weekend.  There are some really large wooded areas nearby with plenty of winding trails.  It’s pretty neat out there.  I’ve seen a dozen or so wild pigs, deer, and all sorts of little critters.  For a city-boy, I guess I’ve become quite acclimated to being out here…

One of my favorite spots is where the trail is crossed by a small river.  It looks more like a small creek, really, but it’s still nice. There are a lot of cypress trees and plenty of shade.  It’s just very peaceful and nice.  It’s out of the way enough that if it didn’t take me nearly an hour to get to walk there, it would probably be a nice spot to dispose of ebos or leave offerings to Oshun.  It’s one thing to leave stuff out in a small public park or whatever, but since this place is over 6,000-acres, it’s a different story.  It’s still not a good idea to leave things near the trail, but there’s not as high of a chance that someone would accidentally run across something they shouldn’t.

The other spot I like is the remnants of a brick chimney.  By the looks of it, it used to be part of a log cabin. It’s apparently pretty old.  There’s a fence all around it because the county wants to preserve it.  Still, it’s difficult not to see it there out in the middle of the woods and not think of Ogun.

Even when I’m away from the religion for a while, I guess it’s never very far away from me.

Recently, there was a post on The Wild Hunt blog that caught my eye.  For those of you unfamiliar with it, it’s full of news and opinion pieces focusing on the pagan community.  It’s a bit like what I try to do with my site, but much more in-depth.  A lot of time is spent researching the articles and it shows.  A lot of the content is geared more towards the general Pagan community and not a lot of it appeals to me.  Every once and a while, though, there are articles dealing with topics and issues that affect people in the ATR community.

The blog post on April 18th had an interview with an iyawo named Morgan Page.  As a general rule, I don’t pay much attention to these types of posts when I run across them online…  Typically, it’s just the same old talking points — the origins of the religion, the reasons for animal sacrifice, Catholic syncretism, etc. — basic stuff that satisfies the curiosity of most people who don’t know much about it.  Once you’re in the religion, you kind of just stop caring about that sort of stuff.

This one was a bit different.  I definitely recommend reading the whole article for yourself, if you haven’t already.

The topic of misconceptions came up during the interview and that was especially interesting to me.

Here’s a bit from the interview:

Animal sacrifice is always the number one misconception. The idea of animal sacrifice was actually what held me, a vegetarian of over ten years, back from getting involved for a couple of years. I’ve come to understand it on a few different levels. Firstly, animals are food. Orishas are living beings, in a way, and like all living beings, they eat food. Orishas are fed not just with animals, but with a variety of foods and other sacrifices as well.

Secondly, I came to understand that my hesitance toward animal sacrifice was rooted in my privilege as an urban North American. In urban North America, we are completely divorced from any conception of how our food ends up on our plates – it seems to just suddenly and plentifully arrive, neatly wrapped in plastic at the supermarket. We don’t have to deal with the blood and dirt and excrement of the farm, so we forget that what we’re eating was alive, and when confronted with this, many of us feel protective over the poor animals we would normally eat without a second thought. Though Yoruba culture is and has historically been an urban culture, food is not so divorced from its source in everyday life there as it has become here.

Though many animals are sacrificed as forms of food, and their bodies are cooked and eaten by the community, from what I’ve seen this is not always the case. Sometimes we are not allowed to cook and eat the animal after the sacrifice because it has been used to cleanse us, or for any number of other reasons. Sometimes the animal is to be left with the Orisha in nature (often by or in rivers, crossroads, cemeteries, etc.). I’ve come to understand this form of sacrifice through something my Ojugbona (second godparent) said recently, “It’s you or the chicken.” We do not do sacrifice because it’s fun, or because it’s spooky – we sacrifice so that we may live, so that we may be cleansed, so that we may receiving blessings to sustain us. The animal dies so that we do not. If it’s the chicken or me, I know who I’m choosing.

Another major misconception is the idea of “syncretism” between Lukumi and Catholicism. Many people make a lot more out of the syncretic aspects of the religion than they should, which seems to me to be mostly thanks to poor scholarship by early ethnographers. From what I have learned and observed, beyond having Catholic kitsch around our homes, Lukumi in practice features very little Catholic elements. The saints, especially in the United States where many houses are African Nationalist or attempt to be closer to Yoruba culture, play little to no role in the religion outside of kitsch.

I couldn’t agree more!

She goes on to talk about how spiritism and Palo Mayombe are the much more prevalent syncretic practices found in the religion.  In some houses, they’ve become so intertwined with Lucumi that it’s hard to tell where one stops and another begins.

Lastly, she had some advice for those who felt a strong attraction to ATR practices:

Afro-Diasporic Religions are community-based and cannot be practiced solitarily or “eclectically.” They are often strict and require a great deal of personal sacrifice and commitment – which can be very beautiful.

Also, she squashes the excuse of people claiming that they don’t live close enough to participate in the religious community. While working minimum wage and supporting herself, she saved up the money needed to regularly travel from her home in Canada to the United States.

Just imagining that makes me happy that my padrino is only a two-hour drive away.

But, again, she’s got a point.  You can’t learn the religion from a book or a website.  If you’re committed fully to the religion, there should be no reason why you can’t do things properly.

Speaking of which, there was a small discussion in the comments about whether there is a way to get around animal sacrifice, especially in relation to Vegan practitioners.  It was simplified pretty well by the iyawo:

No. Lukumi requires animal sacrifice. Period.

There are vegan Oloshas, but they still sacrifice animals, and there are certain times when they must eat meat.

There’s no getting around animal sacrifice in Lukumi.

A follow-up by another commenter clarified things even further:

As a vegan you may choose to never eat meat in your daily life. But if you enter the priesthood in this religion there are times when you are expected to eat meat. It’s like being expected to shave your head, or wear white for a year. It is part of a meaningful ceremony, not an everyday occurrence. It doesn’t change the fact that outside that ceremony the person doesn’t eat animal products and is a vegan.

Last month, I spotted a fairly short Havana Times posting called, “Offerings to the Orishas.”  In it, Jorge Milanes has a discussion with a practitioner in the religion about offerings and ebos left in public for the Orisha.  Criticism is given towards the fruit and animal remains left in parks and other areas where people outside of the religion are likely to stumble upon them.  These people are then likely to either come in contact with what’s been left for the Orisha or at the very least have to see and smell it as it decomposes.  It just isn’t responsible.

The practitioner’s response was:

My brother, you’re absolutely right. I practice the Yoruba religion, but it’s necessary to have greater consciousness of those things. One can do good on one hand, but if you don’t know what you’re doing, it can come back on you.

Sometimes people cleanse their bodies with a jumble of tree branches and then they just toss them anywhere, even in places where they themselves have to pass by.

The same thing happens when those offerings are left in parks, in addition to the other consequences that you already know.

The writer then concluded the article with a comment about it not being the Orisha telling them to leave the offerings in parks.

I’m not quite sure how I feel about that.  I mean, if you need to bring something to the ocean or the railroad tracks, that’s just what you’ve got to do.  I think people bring offerings to the parks largely because they don’t have access to more rural wooded area.  At least I’d like to hope that’s the case and they aren’t just being lazy.  I think it’s important, though, to find out from the person doing the reading whether it’s something that needs to be left in that place or whether the Orisha will allow you to bring it to the spot and then dispose of it nearby instead.

If you’re committed to the religion, you should be committed to being responsible about it.  It’s a pet-peeve of mine, so I apologize if I harp on this issue too often, but under no circumstances should you ever be leaving offerings or disposing of ebos with them wrapped in a plastic bag.   If you have to use any sort of container or bag, make it something that’s likely going to decompose on its own.  Brown paper bags are what a lot of people use, but what about banana leaves or something? Instead of being trashy about it, you can be creative.  Yes, it’ll be less convenient, but it’s not like you’re doing ebos all the time, right?

Speaking of leaving animal remains in public places, Scott, a frequent commenter to the blog and podcast, pointed out an interesting story over on Patch.com, from May 12th.  Judging by the pictures, a person-shaped figure had been made out of sticks and branches and an animal skull was tied on top of it.  Nearby, there was also a stone with a symbol on it of a circle with an ‘X’ through it, a couple more bone pieces, and — oddly enough — an American flag.  After some children reported it, the area was investigated by police.  A deer skull, deer bones, and a mouse skull were found at the site.
A Union City spokesman commented on the apparent animal ritual remains, saying that, “It’s certainly not a regular occurrence but it does happen from time to time. We have a large parks system and we do have residents who do this stuff, possibly Santeria, especially in the more urban areas of the county.”  He goes on to add that the site is not only patrolled by the county, but also has a maintenance worker who is in the area on an almost daily basis.  According to the spokesman, “This couldn’t have been there very long. He would have seen it.”

On its surface, this sounds like a pretty straight-forward case of people jumping-the-gun and linking it to Santeria just because there were a couple animal skulls found.  The comments ended up being much more interesting…

A few people were critical of the reporter, for linking the story to Santeria.  Any criticisms should instead be directed towards the spokesman, Sebastian D’Ella, who seems to be the one that suggested there was a link to Santeria.  I don’t think there was any malice behind it, though — just ignorance.

Later, there were posts that were — apparently — by one of the people who actually was involved in staging the site.  He and his friends had set it up as a joke. He references some ideas from The Blair Witch Project. A lot of detailed information is given relating to where individual items came from, things that weren’t mentioned or shown in the pictures, and that sort of thing. It definitely added some credibility to his claim.

There was definitely something along the lines of an “I-Told-You-So” vibe coming from the practitioners who had been commenting earlier — requesting that both the county spokesman and the writer apologize and that the article be updated with the new information.  Two words come to mind: Persecution Complex.   Do people look towards Santeria pretty much every time an animal is found? You bet.  Should people speak up and point out when it’s clearly not related?  Heck yeah.  But I don’t really see a need for a writer to apologize because the person interviewed mentioned Santeria.  To people who don’t know much about Santeria, it sounds plausible.  I’ll let you in on a secret, folks… People outside of the religion have no idea whether deer or mice are used in the religion.  They have no idea what is or isn’t normal for a Santeria ritual and, more to the point, most of them probably don’t care.

Educating people is awesome and, long term, it’s going to have a positive effect on the way the religion and its practitioners are viewed by the public. I believe that, without question.  But I feel like sometimes we need to step back and look at what’s being said and then consider the message we’re looking to impart…

For some, at least, these handful of comments represent Santeria and may affect how they think of the religion.  Right or wrong, opinions — at least online — seem to be based a lot more on perception than on facts and information.

It goes beyond just this article, though.  This sort of thing happens just about any time there’s a popular news story about animal remains being found.

Consider something as simple as a handful of comments from people saying, “I practice this religion and this doesn’t look related” or something along those lines. Maybe explain why you don’t think it’s related or whatever. But by keeping things objective and informative, it gives the impression of two things.  First, it raises the question of whether it was actually related to the religion or, as is often the case, just the work of a couple teenagers.  Secondly, as long as the comments don’t digress too much, it helps show that the religion isn’t something just done by a handful of weirdos or whatever.  Yes, there might be some heated comments from people whose beliefs strongly differ from yours, but those can be dealt with (or not) as needed. It’s better to come into things open and friendly, I think, than to already be on the defensive right away.

Sometimes, you can come out looking a lot better if you don’t participate in the back-and-forth arguments.  If the other person is clearly trying to instigate things, just leave them hanging.

The stereotype seems to be that the people in this religion are ignorant, barbaric, and of questionable mental health.  I’m trying to be politically-correct here… The terms used are typically much more colorful.  In any case, especially if you participate in online discussions, be sure you’re adding some benefit rather than just fanning the flames.  Being hot-headed does more harm than good.

After all, you aren’t going to win an argument about religion, animal sacrifice, or any of the other hot-button topics.  If you see it heading down that path, just move on.  Education isn’t always about reciting facts and figures.  Sometimes it’s about teaching through action.

Speaking of action, I love hearing from readers of the blog or listeners who enjoy the podcast, so please be sure to leave a review for the show on iTunes or write in on the blog.

Even more exciting than comments is when people show their support with a donation.

“Dr. E” from ConjureDoctor.com is this month’s contributor.  He made a generous donation of $50 towards my Ocha Fund.  I don’t normally like to mention other sites or companies on here, but — honestly — I’m more than happy to “sell out” if it means making Ocha a bit quicker.

That’s all for now.  As always, you can find more on the website, at YearInWhite.com. You can also show your love for the podcast on iTunes or become a fan on Facebook, at Facebook.com/YearInWhite.

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

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Episode 017: Accidental Aborisha

Mar 28 2011 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


In The News:

A 47-year-old in New Jersey was charged with eight counts of animal cruelty after the remains of numerous animals, including chickens, guinea hens and a turtle, were found in his yard earlier this month. According to a member of the SPCA, the man admitted he killed the animals as part of a Santeria sacrifice. A few other live animals were found on the property, which were supposedly being kept to be sacrificed later.

This guy is facing eight-counts of animal cruelty, each count carrying a possible six-month jail term and a fine of $1,000. That’s potentially 4-years in jail and $8,000 in fines. Yikes. The charges are to be heard in municipal court on April 19th. I hope for his sake that they go easy on him.

I know some of you must be wondering what happened to freedom-of-religion and why he’s being threatened with jail time for just practicing his religion. The short answer is, this has nothing to do with the religion.

Regardless of why they are killed, if the animals are not treated humanely, there’s a risk being charged with animal cruelty. That’s yet another reason people shouldn’t attempt this stuff on their own. If he’s essentially just tossing the remains out into his yard after the sacrifice, that sounds a bit suspect to me.

Though I’m sure there’s a bit more to the story, I couldn’t find much more in the way of details. I’d like to assume that a priest would be a bit smarter about how the animals are kept, sacrificed, and disposed of, but I guess you never know.

I just hate how the only way the religion gets talked about in the news is typically in association with animal sacrifices or some lone nut-job. I guess it’s to be expected, though. I mean, how often do you hear about Catholicism without at least a comment or two involving priests and young children? Every religion has its own equivalent, I guess. If anyone comes across some positive press to help balance out these stories a bit, please send a link or two my way.

In Entertainment:

A few days ago, I wrote a blog post about a recent episode of a reality show that had a small segment taking place in the Yoruba-Orisha Baptist Church in New York. A few weeks ago, when I first saw a preview of the episode, I was sure it was going to be something involving Santeria. How could it not? There was drumming, people had head-coverings, and there even seemed to be some dancing. I Google’d the heck out of it, but I couldn’t find anything beyond a baptism and a visit to a church. Assuming I was wrong, I didn’t bother watching the episode until a few days ago. As soon as I saw the sign on the front of the church, I was absolutely ecstatic. I mean, for the size of the Santeria culture in New York, it’s amazing how little exposure they get on any of these shows that take place there. I was a little bummed when I saw how heavy the Christian overtones were, but I was still hopeful when I spotted a couple people with beads on under the shirts or some of the figurines and statues in back. Ultimately, they didn’t stay at the church for long. The goal was to visit the church and have the baby receive a blessing. As soon as the parents heard the word “baptism”, though, they got flighty. Part of it was concern over the child potentially being baptised at a church they don’t belong to. The main reason seemed to be just a general discomfort with the child being passed around among a bunch of strangers. Mothers of newborns are protective of their children, and rightfully so.

I found a dozen or so comments from people wanting to “warn” others about the church and its apparent affiliation with Santeria. By now, I’ve come to expect that.

What surprised me, though, were some comments from the other side of the fence.

In one post, the author chastises the parents for not knowing to cover their heads and gawking at the “exotic” attire of the people at the church.

That really bugged me. Did they look out of their element? Definitely. But they also commented on how beautiful everyone was dressed, how nice they were, and how fun the place seemed. There really didn’t seem to be any malice behind it. Not only was their reaction pretty normal to a new situation like that, but I felt like it was probably better than most.

Again, this is another example where people trying to defend the religion are really just shooting themselves in the foot, it seems.

Personally, I had nothing against the way they handled themselves in the church. My issue was only with how non-ATR the church seemed to be. I’m sure that was mostly because of the camera crew and publicity that the visit was bringing, but even with it being a Baptist church, I’d rather see a few more beads and a few less crucifixes, myself.

Accidental Aborisha:

As some of you know already from my blog, I don’t really consider myself a typical practitioner. Sometimes I feel like I wound up here by accident and one day I’ll get a reading from the orisha saying something along the lines of, “Oops! My mistake. I’m terribly sorry for the inconvenience.”

I found my way to this religion by following a somewhat zig-zaggy path of beliefs, practices, and curiosities. This is the only thing that has really stuck.

Aside from those who I’ve flat-out told about my religious inclinations, many people probably assume I’m an atheist. I guess I just don’t give off that “religious” vibe.

I don’t have much issue when it comes to understanding the fundamentals… and, except for my pronunciation at times, I’m usually pretty good with names and terms and stuff. I’m usually a quick-learner, even if I do struggle a bit when it comes to some of the more artistic aspects of the religion. Really, though, I’d consider myself pretty well-suited for an initiatory religion like this.

The thing is, though, when it comes to the belief side of things, well… it gets a bit complicated.

When family, friends, or co-workers hear about my interest and involvement in the religion, the initial reaction is usually that of mild amusement. I’ve always had pretty diverse interests, so they usually aren’t too surprised. Once they find out how long I’ve been involved with it or that I’m saving up money to become a priest, though, their tone typically changes to that of concern.

For one, I guess I don’t fit the usual mental image people have for someone involved in Santeria. Maybe they expect someone of Latin or African decent. Maybe they expect some confused teenager. Or someone dying of cancer. Or in prison. I have no idea. But whatever their idea of what a Santeria practitioner should be, I’m not it.

Next, there’s the issue of belief. Through talking about the religion, topics such as the orisha, divination, possession, and that sort of thing eventually get brought up. This leads to the question of, “Do you actually believe that stuff?” I never know quite how to answer.

I’ve always been a bit jealous of the folks who have that strong conviction of “knowing” when it comes to the religion. They unquestioningly know the orisha are real, know the results of their divination will help them in the future, and they just accept it unconditionally. I’m definitely not in this group. One day, maybe, but not yet.

There are also people who believe. It’s similar to the previous group, but different. When you know something, you don’t have to put a lot of effort into it because it just is. To me, belief takes work. It requires faith and maybe a bit of hope. It also seems like it’s not just about wanting something to be true, but about needing it to be true. I don’t think I really fall into that category.

I’m not sure how I’d classify myself, to be honest..

I certainly don’t know… I might not even believe…. Instead, I just do.

I make offerings to eggun, I talk to Elegua, and I adhere to my readings, and all of that other stuff. I do it because it works for me. If you ask me why, I can probably give you lots of explanations, but probably nothing very convincing.

It’s not that I disbelieve any of it, really. I just know how I am… My mind can offer up plenty of rational excuses for just about anything.

I remember when I had my first reading. I was convinced there was some trick to it, some pattern that I could figure out, or some way it could be explained logically It was the same when I saw my first mount. Obviously the person was faking it, right? I mean, everyone seemed to know everyone else and people love to gossip… It seemed like the obvious explanation — though one I certainly kept to myself.

Thinking like that can quickly make this religion — or any, for that matter — pretty dull.

Rather than trying to rationalize what goes on in the religion, I’ve just learned to sort of side-step it and move on.

The same holds true for my spirituality in general. I have no problem having a mental conversation with my muerto, but if I was put on the spot and asked whether I believe in spirits, I’d be hard-pressed to give a definitive answer one way or the other.

Like I said, it’s complicated….

Final Thoughts:

One thing that is not complicated is the donation page for YearInWhite.com

I know it’s a shameless plug, but it seems to help.

Laura H. was this month’s contributor… Thank you, Laura. I’m not saying your donation got me motivated enough to put out another podcast episode, but let’s just say it certainly didn’t hurt.

Even with these few donations of a couple dollars at a time, it really does bring a smile to my face when listeners of the podcast or readers of the blog contribute money to my Ocha Fund.

Assuming I don’t have any major financial burdens this year, I’m currently about six-months away from my goal.

I hope I’m allowed to continue with this podcast — or at least the blog — during my year as an iyawo. We’ll see. I still have quite a bit of time to work out the details on that, I suppose.

Especially with the blog, it’s been helpful for me to be able to look back and see how far I’ve come. It’s also interesting seeing what views of mine have and haven’t changed.

Until next time….

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

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Episode 016: Pick Your Battles

Jan 30 2011 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


Miami New Times posted a news story about Richard Couto, an animal activist who is trying to publicize the animal “torture” of Santeria sacrifices.

Couto’s big claim-to-fame was when his tactics — albeit technically illegal — helped get authorities to shut down some black market slaughterhouses.

Not content with letting his ten minutes of fame run out, now he has a new target…

Couto now says that many of those slaughterhouses catered to the Santeria crowd, selling dogs, goats and chickens especially for vodou sacrifices. He routinely found mutilated animal corpses in the area.

“Some of these animals had their eyes missing, their genitalia missing,” he says. “Most people think that santeria sacrifices are mainly goats. They don’t know that dogs are also tortured too. With the Haitian population, the longer that the animal suffers, the quicker that the evil spirits will come forth.”

I’ll assume Mr. Couto is educated enough to know there’s a difference between Santeria and Voodoo… Maybe that was just a misunderstanding by the person writing the article. But his quote about dogs should have been a big red flag for anyone who actually knows about this stuff… And what the heck is he talking about with evil spirits and animal suffering?

The insanity doesn’t stop there. Couto’s current focus is on a puppy mill, where he guesses “90 percent of the dogs and puppies” are going to be used for Santeria sacrifices.

That’s quite a figure… If we’re going to be putting out guesses, my estimate is that Couto is 100-percent clueless about the difference between dead animals and a real sacrifice.

My favorite response was a comment by the user “Papasnumber1″ in response to a comment I had made about the news story and pictures being highly sensationalized. The user wrote:

you are a disgusting individual..I wont call you a human being..its not sensationalistic, it is a fact and the pictures prove it. I would love to run a stake thru your skull and jaw and hang you while u slowly bleed,,,people like you are only cowards who enjoy torturing defenseless animals….you people are not only cowards, but ignorant for practicing this garbage…God will not have mercy on your foul soul.

A friend of Richard left a comment on the article. While it’s clearly not the most unbiased response, it’s definitely one of most humorous:

By keeping these killings legal for “religion” now we are just giving them an excuse to be able to practice, before they are “skilled” enough to move on to our friends, neighbors, and families.

Interesting. I never realized Santeria was a gateway-religion. I mean, you do receive your knife at the end, right? I’m teasing, of course. After all, there are plenty of people in jail for murder who had never needed to “practice” it beforehand. I’ve also never met anyone who seemed to enjoy doing sacrifices.

Addressing these issues requires going in with a cool head. It’s one thing to point out the fallacies in the article, but there were also people criticizing Christianity or trying to argue about whether animal sacrifice is cruel or not.

Those aren’t the issues and just cloud the discussion.

If people care so much about animals that they want to wander through fields at night and risk getting shot just to prove that illegal activities are happening, that’s great. I have no issue with that. I have zero issue with what this guy is trying to do.

My only gripe is with the Santeria part and how it’s being portrayed for his cause.

If the article simply said people were torturing these animals and here’s what was found, I’d have no issue with it.

The difficult part about stories like this are all of the emotions and conflicting agendas with it.

Among the many people commenting on the article, I spotted a response from Baba Omitocunbi, a priest of Yemaya for 16-years. In his post, he urged people within the community to unite and to focus on education.

I wholeheartedly agree.

A lot of it just comes down to presentation, though. If people consistently attack the issues, rather than just other people or whatever, it’s going to get more notice. The general public isn’t going to spend time researching who is right or wrong when it comes to stuff like this. If there are a few well-written and educated responses on one side and a bunch of misspelled and vulgar responses on the other, which side do you think they’d be more likely to identify with?

In the gruesome images the go along with the article, there are pictures of countless dead animals, which Couto claims is evidence of Santeria rituals. There were a few people who pointed out there’s never really any reliable connection made between the dead animals and Santeria. Unfortunately, they were drowned out by all of the other people who were declaring that Santeria practitioners spend their free time torturing animals, graphically describing how the people who sacrifice animals should be killed, or simply declaring that religious practices like this shouldn’t be allowed in America. That last claim always cracks me up. Wasn’t America founded on religious freedom? And it isn’t like everything is fair game just because it’s your religion. It’s kind of frustrating to hear stuff like that.

As much as I hate seeing people attacking the religion, though, it’s even worse when it feels like people in the community are just looking to pick fights.

In a recent episode of Criminal Minds, the topics of Santeria and Palo Mayombe were brought in. While the episode centered around them, the “bad guy” was ultimately not someone within either religion.

There were definitely things they got wrong about the religion and a few things they might’ve been able to do better. Really, the only bad things said about the religion seemed to come from the guy who was actually the guy doing all of the killings in hopes of blaming it on Palo… One of the main characters does refer to the religion as “amoral”, but that isn’t the same as saying it’s “immoral”.

Especially compared with pretty much every other television show I’ve seen that depicts Santeria, I was surprised by the outrage this episode seems to have gotten.

Ernesto Pichardo wrote a comment about the show having elements of racism in it. Others commented as well. Some names I recognized and some not, but the majority of them all seemed offended by the show and went on an on about how the writers should be fired, how CBS should be ashamed, etc.

One of the only rational responses seemed to come from Jorge Rivera, who seemed to express satisfaction with the episode. He attributed the inaccuracies to the fact that this is a religion of secrets and it’s unlikely the writers would ever be able to find someone willing to reveal everything to them.

That’s pretty much how I feel as well. Besides, it’s a dramatized crime show. Of course they are going to twist things around a bit to make it more interesting for the viewers.

Instead of berating CBS or the writers of Criminal Minds, they should be thanking them for not taking the easy way out. How many other shows make the serial killer a Santeria practitioner? And now that this show just made practitioners into the good guys, you’re going to fault them for some inaccuracies? The opinion of the general public is shaped by the media. I’m in complete agreement with Pichardo when it comes to that. But making a fuss over episodes like this only serves to make them less likely to incorporate Santeria in the future. While that might cut down on the inaccurate portrayals, it also cuts down on the amount of people who might have wanted to learn more about the religion. Keeping the religion out of the spotlight only continues to portray us as being a minority. When someone finds out you practice Santeria, would you rather their reaction be, “Oh, cool. Like on Criminal Minds?” or “Eww. Like where they kill cats and stuff?” Maybe I’m exaggerating a bit, but you get the point.

If people put just half of the effort they spend on writing complaints about fictional television shows into trying to make changes that truly matter, we would be far better off as a religious community.

If you want something to speak up about, there are plenty of options.

How about the case of Miguel Leon Jr.? This 53-year-old Lukumi practitioner convinced two young teenage boys that he could help them obtain spiritual powers. The way he did that was through sodomy… for nearly an entire year. Stories like this aren’t new. It seems like every few months, someone is in the news for having taken advantage of the religious trust they were given. Why aren’t there people commenting about this? Why is no one saying, “This is not what Santeria is about.” Why is no one educating young people and letting them know even in a religion full of secrets, things like this they need to tell someone about?

There’s also the trial of a mother who brought her 7-year-old daughter to New Jersey for a Palo Mayombe ritual. She was brought up on child-endangerment charges after her daughter told her teacher about the ceremony. Apparently, she had been forced to watch a chicken being sacrificed and then made to eat some of its heart. She was also scratched as part of the ritual. The prosecution argued that unlike with certain other religious practices, like a circumcision, where the person performing it is trained and sometimes licensed to perform the act under sanitary conditions, this ceremony put the child at risk for illness from the chicken heart or infection from the scratching. Depending on how this turns out, I can see this having a definite effect on Santeria at some point. It might not affect me directly, but what about parents who want to have their children make Ocha?

But, hey, this month isn’t entirely filled with doom and gloom. There were some positive things as well.

I mean, maybe not in the news or whatever, but at least for me. And, hey, that’s what counts, right? I’d really like to thank William L. for his donation of $5 to my Ocha Fund on the website. I know it’s not a lot for you, but it means a lot to me. I’ve had that up on the site for a while now, but didn’t really expect it to get used. I get comments from people all of the time about the site and podcast. And, don’t get me wrong, seeing people participate and be involved is awesome. But it’s rare to see people putting their money where their mouth is, so to speak.

So who is William? He lives in Ohio and is new to the religion. He’s apparently found someone to work with recently, who comes down from New York each month to do misas. He didn’t go into details on how he met the guy, but it sounded like he’s got a good feeling about him. He’s already had long phone conversations with the guy about the religion and has been invited to a misa. It sounds like he’s off to a good start. Having a godparent or even just a friend in the religion who lives far away can be tough. If anyone knows of some people in Ohio that might be worth talking to, perhaps you can post something on the Facebook page for him or pass it along to me directly.

William also said that my honesty when I speak about the religion is refreshing, especially when I speak of my fears. Well, William since you like hearing about my fears, I’ll share one with you now. Hopefully it’s worth the $5.

Mainly, my issue is that I need to make Ocha. I keep putting that off and I know I shouldn’t.

With my tax rebate, I’ll get back all of the money I borrowed from my Ocha Fund a few months ago to pay down some of my bills and credit card debt. What I’ve been struggling with most is how to rationalize putting all of it towards Ocha so I only have a couple grand left. I have an old car that I don’t think will be around much longer. I have repairs I need to make around the house and I have large appliances with one foot in the grave already. It’s easy for someone to tell me that making Ocha should be my priority and everything else will fall into place afterward. My godfather plays it safe with the advice and just tells me I need to do what I feel I have to. At some point, the old rotted wood on my deck is going to break, my car is going to leave me stranded on the side of the road, or my fridge will no longer keep my food cold. When that happens, my view of what I “have to do” is going to change…

I know Oshun’s got my back, though, so I’m probably just worrying too much.

Take care, everyone. Hopefully this year will bring many good changes for you all.

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

5 responses so far

Episode 015: A Taste Of Africa

Dec 07 2010 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


Tonight’s episode is going to be a little different than usual. No news stories, Q&A, or any of that. I just want to take some time to share with you some of what I’ve been up to since the last podcast.

The first thing I’m going to share with you is my experience cooking egusi soup this past weekend.

As I think I’ve mentioned on an earlier podcast episode, it was one of my favorite meals at a local african restaurant before the business closed. It’s a pretty common dish in Nigeria and it’s a meal that definitely feels like “Africa” for me.

Since it doesn’t seem like there’s going to be any more places around for me to get authentic west african cooking, it’s time for me to cook it myself.

There isn’t exactly a large amount of Nigerian-influence in the area, but there’s at least enough to have an african grocery nearby in Tampa.

I dropped by there last Friday to pick up some supplies for the weekend.

Whether latin, asian, or african, it’s always a bit surreal when I go into an ethnic grocery store. There’s always that out-of-place feeling of being an outsider, but maybe that’s part of why it’s important for me to go every so often — to get out of my normal comfort-zone a bit.

Despite a few strange looks and glances I got from other customers there, I was greeted warmly by the owner of the store. He remembered me from when I shopped there a few months ago. We talked a bit about various dishes and he showed me some groundnut soup that he had left over from the night before. I’ll probably try making that one myself sometime, too.

Next we discussed a bit about other business ventures he was interested in getting into. One idea he had been tossing around was about starting up a restaurant. Nice! Even if that happens, it’s not going to be for a while. Until then, I need to focus on learning how to make some meals for myself.

My first stop was the store’s freezer. For only a few bucks, I was able to pick up a little over a pound of goat meat. It still had the skin on it, but I figured that would make things more interesting. Next, I bought a package of grounded egusi seeds and a box fufu flour. The rest of the stuff I needed for the stew, I was pretty sure I could get elsewhere, if I didn’t already have it at home.

The cleaning of the meat was at the same time fun and disgusting. Usually, I don’t even like touching boneless skinless chicken breasts from the grocery store, but here I was tearing off chunks of goat meat from the skin and tossing it into a pot. Weird, right? It was actually pretty enjoyable, until I got to pieces with lots of bone and very little meat. I tried to get at it with my knife, but I eventually gave up. It was too much hassle, so most of those pieces went to Eshu.

After I had the meat cooked and the egusi, palm oil, bitter leaf, and everything added in together with it, it looked great. It was probably a little thicker than I would’ve liked, but not too bad.

The fufu, well, I think I’m going to need some more practice making that. I wasn’t able to get the consistency the way would have liked, but it was manageable. Also, even though it was a pretty neutral taste, it still tasted different from what I had remembered.

Typically, fufu is made from pounded yam. What I had accidentally bought instead was called cocoyam. It’s made from the tubers of the Elephant’s Ear plant, or at least that’s what the package said. To be honest, it wasn’t bad — I just would have preferred yam.

I’m sure you’re wondering by now why am I telling you all about my dinner. Well, aside from being tasty, it really helped me get back in the mindset of the religion — in some weird way. Making something like that by hand, seeing the pieces of goat that are only one or two steps removed from the butcher shop, it really helps put things into perspective.

It isn’t just food that makes me feel closer to the religion’s African roots, though…

For a while, I’ve been interested in the Lukumi language. I hate not knowing how to pronounce things or just having to try to remember what I’ve been told a song is about or whatever. I’d love to know enough of the language to be able to pick out enough bits and pieces to make sense of that stuff on my own.

Realistically, I know I’ll never be able to have a conversation in Lukumi. Heck, I’d be lucky if I could make it through a conversation in Spanish! It’s just always been something on my list of things I’d like to try learning more of someday.

The language isn’t popular enough to be available as a night-school course at the local Junior College or anything like that. If I wanted to learn it in an academic setting, the best I could find was a program at one of the colleges in Miami. Online, there are plenty of websites claiming to be able to teach the language. Others try to sell out-dated language software from the early 90′s or it’s stuff geared towards children. I wish someone credible like Rosetta Stone or even Pimsleur would offer something, but I guess it just comes down to demand.

More and more people in Yorubaland seem to be casting aside their native tongue in favor of English. At least that’s the way it seems, judging from all of the websites and articles I found while I was researching. I don’t have statistics, percentages, or any scientific numbers on-hand to share with you, but it seems like all over Africa, it’s essentially the same story…

Each generation has been putting more and more emphasis on education as a way of setting their children and future generations up for success. The cost of this is parents are raising Yoruba-born children whose primary language is English. This makes it easier when they send them off to schools. I can definitely understand the logic, but I can’t help but wonder how much of a toll that puts on them from a cultural standpoint.

Even trying to learn the language from those who still speak it wouldn’t necessarily mean I would be able to understand the songs and prayers within the religion. For many of the words we know by being in this religion, most modern Yoruba would probably say that you talk like their grandparents. Languages evolve and change over time.

If today’s generation of practitioners don’t bother learning the meaning of words and just parrot back the songs and prayers they hear their elders sing, how long until the language truly does become lost?

When I first got involved in this religion, there were many aspects of it that I thought, “That can’t be right!” I wanted to do things properly.

In Lukumi, the typical greeting is for one person to say “Bendicion” while a priest responds with “Santo”. In this, you’re asking for blessings and the person responds with “Saint”, which is short for — what? — asking their orisha to give their blessing? At one point, I did stumble upon a greeting that was supposedly more traditional. To be honest, though, I could never remember it. Besides, how many people would actually know how to respond to it?

To some degree, I can understand the frustrations that the traditionalists have with modern Lukumi practices.

They are simply two branches of the same tree, though. They both evolved in different ways and at different speeds based on changes and pressures within their own cultures. No one should view one as wrong and the other right. Even if you look back to the early days of the religion, I’m sure there were villages that practiced things slightly different — just like today’s houses have their own subtle — and not-so-subtle — differences. It would be great if everyone could just view things in the terms of it being the same religion but from a different village.

Realistically, the “Us” vs “Them” thing is probably never going to end.

To some extent, I wonder how much of this comes from altruistically wanting to keep their old practices alive and how much is motivated purely from a financial perspective. After all, if you convince someone that what they were taught was wrong and that they hadn’t actually been crowned, received certain orishas, etc., you can make lots of money helping them make that happen “the right way.”

It just comes down to what you’re comfortable with and which practices feel right for you. If you’re sincere, I honestly doubt it makes a whole lot of difference either way…

Understanding more about the Yoruba culture, food, and language are all important parts of the religion to me. Just like learning about your grandparents or great-grandparents can help you get a better perspective about yourself and your own situation in life, these things are a valuable part of appreciating the religion and its roots.

Whether you’re a traditional practitioner or Lukumi, these are roots we all share.

With the new year steadily approaching, one of your goals for 2011 should be to learn a bit more about the religion and where it comes from. I’m not talking about reading some boring introduction page on Wikipedia. Actually put some effort into it.

For those who give this a try, feel free to share your experiences with me. I’d love to hear about it.

Also, I recently found out that Rosetta Stone has a language program specifically geared towards dialects that are being forgotten or are at risk of dying out. Their Endangered Language Program has had a lot of success with many of the Native American languages. Just as these groups have recognized the importance of their native language to their culture, the same holds true for you or I.

The Yoruba language and especially the Lukumi dialect is something that you should consider part of your culture as well. I’ll post a link in the transcript for this podcast for you, but if you go to RosettaStone.com, there’s a form you can fill out to suggest a language you’d like them to add. It’s pretty easy to do. You can also send your suggestion to them via twitter — @RosettaStone.

I hope you’ll help out with the cause.

Until next time, everyone….

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

2 responses so far

Episode 014: What Would Scooby Do?

Oct 29 2010 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts


In the spirit of Halloween, I’m dressed up as a podcaster with a sore throat. I’m getting over a cold, but since I promised everyone an episode this month, here I am.

I had originally planned on doing an episode all about Oya, but between lack of listener interest and some scheduling problems, I’ve decided to postpone it for a while. I saved my notes from it, in case things change. For those of you who wrote in with questions, thank you.

Usually, October is full of silly news stories about the dangers of Halloween. I think last time, it was about how black cats tend to suffer horrible fates at the hands of Santeria practitioners and other Pagan groups. Most of it seems to be unsubstantiated anecdotes and urban legends.

This month, I was able to find a few news stories to share with you. No stories of voodoo dolls or boogie-men in these, but I hope you’ll find them interesting, nonetheless.


According to NBC Miami, a neighborhood in Florida was the disposal site for a large number of animal remains on October 21st. Residents awoke to the sound of a car speeding away. In the road, they found the headless remains of goats, cats, hens, pigeons, and an unidentified large animal spread out over nearly two-blocks. Some of the animals seemed to have been dead for quite some time. The motive behind the incident still seems to be a mystery.

As usual, the user-submitted comments that went along with the news articles make it both entertaining and sad. One anonymous commenter wrote, “This was definitely the work of santeria. They use goats, birds, etc… I have never heard of cats, but when they are desperate they will kill anything for their ritual. Its a religion for the weak, and they conjure up evil.” Funny. Not true at all, but funny.


I ran across a few news stories this month from Prospect Park in New York. I’ve mentioned this place in the past. It seems like just about issue they have over there gets blamed on Santeria. First up is a news story from The Brooklyn Paper on October 20th. The story seemed little sketchy at first, since it seems there was trouble identifying whether the animal was a goat or a deer. Surely it can’t be that difficult to tell the difference, right? A local resident, Alex Gurevich, discovered the remains in two trash bags. One trash bag was filled with the gutted headless animal carcass, while another trash bag, about 30-feet away, contained the “guts”. The article suggests that Gurevich and other locals felt that this was the work of Santeria. A spokesman for the park said that it was the result of illegal dumping and nothing more. I’m glad to see that the park officials using common sense instead of just pointing fingers.

According to an October 26th followup by The Brooklyn Paper, a goat head was found roughly 100-feet from where the other animal remains had been found only two days before. As I read the report, I noticed a familiar name. It seems our old friend Alex Gurevich was the first one to spot it. It’s a bit suspicious. What are the chances — especially in a popular park in New York — that someone could just accidentally stumble upon two different sets of animal remains in only two days. Jinkies! I really wouldn’t be surprised if this guy was actually some animal=rights activist just trying to get some media attention or something.

It’s hard to tell how much of the article was written in a tongue-in-cheek fashion and how much of it was just poorly written or from an uneducated viewpoint. Halfway through, for instance, the writer refers to the goat as being a “wretched creature.” It’s worth checking out the video clip that goes along with the news piece, too. Like the article itself, it seems to be more geared towards entertainment and shock-value than actual reporting or education, but it’s always interesting seeing how things like this get portrayed to the public.


On the other coast, in California, San Jose Mercury News posted a story on October 21st that was fairly interesting. A worker at Holy Cross Catholic Cemetery in San Mateo County found two jars poking up out of the ground. Upon examining the jars, each contained a human heart with photos of a young man and woman pinned to it. So far, no one has been able to figure out who the two couples are or where the hearts came from. It was originally thought to be a hoax. Some thought that perhaps a pig heart had been used just to freak people out as a Halloween prank. Upon investigation, though, it was confirmed that both were human hearts. So far, it doesn’t seem like any graves had been disturbed in the area. According to additional coverage by SF Appeal, “a pathologist with the San Mateo County coroner’s office examined the hearts and concluded that they had been surgically removed from dead bodies that been autopsied.” Between that and the traces of embalming fluid that were found, I wonder if the hearts might have been supplied by a funeral home or similar business. The location of the jars was also mentioned in the article. They were supposedly not near any gravesites or buildings. I think that’s important to consider. I mean, that cemetery owns about 300-acres of land. Perhaps the placement wasn’t so much about the cemetery as it was just needing an isolated spot that wasn’t likely to get bothered any time soon. As much as I hate the bad press this kind of thing generates for the religion, I do kind of feel the need to congratulate the person who did this. I mean, if you’re going to do something like that, you might as well go all-out on it, right? Still, leaving things in public locations or another person’s property is just asking for trouble. I guess maybe next time they’ll dig deeper…


Enrique sent a message to me on Twitter looking for some advice. He is attracted to the religion, but — as a vegetarian — he’s trying to come to terms with the practice of animal sacrifice.

Thanks for the question, Enrique. I’m not a vegetarian, myself, but I’ll try to help you out as best I can. First off, I think it’s something people have trouble with whether they are a meat-eater or not. Anyone who says they like sacrificing animals are either lying or have issues. When I first got into this religion, I had an issue with it as well. Ultimately, though, it just isn’t something you can get around. When an animal is sacrificed, its blood and life are given to the orisha. I’ll try to skip the Lion King “Circle of Life” references, but you can also think of it in terms of balance. The energy goes from the animal to the orisha. Just think of it in a positive way. I mean, consider Thanksgiving. The idea is that even though the animal had to die so you’d have something to eat, it’s done in a respectful way. Even if you opt for Tofurky instead, I’m sure you get the idea. The animal is treated with respect and the sacrifice is done out of necessity rather than by choice. Just try to work through it. Over time, it gets easier. The other thing you should watch out for is emotional attachment. While cats and dogs are never sacrificed, despite media claims to the contrary, that doesn’t mean you don’t have to worry about letting your emotions get the better of you. Young kids probably have a harder time with this than adults, but there’s a reason why you don’t want to name the cute little goat standing in the corner… I hope this helps you out a bit. As always, I recommend working with your godparent or others in your local community. Talk things out and see if you can find something that works well for you. Even though I’m still a bit grossed out even just holding raw chicken used for cooking, I have no problem when it comes to holding the animal or dealing with the feathers and blood. Go figure. I’m sure you’ll be fine.


how to start living after accepting the santeria religion: I don’t think I’ve ever run into a born-again-santero, so I’m not sure how to comment on the “start living” part. With the majority of religious practices, though, it’s always a pretty safe bet just to follow the Golden Rule as best as you can. One version of it goes something along the lines of, “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.” That’s quite a mouthful to say. I’d suggest just sticking with a more simplistic mantra, like, “Don’t be a jerk.” That doesn’t mean you should be a door-mat for everyone else, but a lot can come from just keeping your cool and not letting anger, frustration, jealousy, or arrogance get the better of you. Either way, if you’re a lay-person who is now practicing the religion, you mainly just need to take care of yourself and be respectful to others — both in and outside of the religion. If you eventually go through the ocha ceremony and become a priest, there will probably a bit more pressure on you. You should always try to remain cool-headed and respectful, since you should be setting a positive example for others. This would be a great topic to talk about with your godparents. Find out what they expect of you and don’t be afraid to tell them your expectations of them or of the religion.

santeria initiation symptoms: I love it. It sounds like a disease… Do you have some new beaded necklaces? Do you have a mound of cement with shells on it and an iron pot with metal stuff in it? Damn! It’s as I feared… You have a case of “The Santeria”. Symptoms may include laughing, singing, dancing, cooking, and generally freaking out the old people that live next door. Take two otanes and call me in the morning.

i feel like santeria is bringing me good luck: Awesome! But I don’t know if that’s really the right way to look at it. If you view it as just being about good luck, you might never stop trying to get “better luck”. The way I try to think of it, the religion is largely about maintaining balance, so it’s not so much about adding good luck, but about removing the obstacles in your life that had blocked you from your “normal luck”. And, normally, we all have our ups and downs. One day you might get rained on while walking to your car and the next day you might find a $20-bill lying at your feet. It isn’t so much about bringing in extra good-stuff in your life. Instead, it’s about helping you find the opportunities already along your path.

getting a permit to practice santeria in connecticut: Remember, kids… “Guns don’t kill people — Iku does.” Seriously, though, it’s a religion. You aren’t concealing firearms, hunting deer, or operating heavy machinery. It’s a belief system. The only permitting I can think of is maybe if you were trying to start your own spiritual consultation business or something. If you’re just practicing it as an individual though, there’s not really any paperwork you need to worry about.

santeria when a person dies what do you do with their elegua: As I understand it, that is handled during the Itu-tu ceremony. From what I’ve read, a special divination session is done. The orisha are essentially asked whether they are going to stay with the priest or if they should remain in this world. If Elegua, for instance, wished to go with the priest, he would be broken back down to the basic parts and his essence would be free to go where it needs to. If Elegua chose to stay, he would be passed down to a family member , for them to take care of. If I remember correctly, the Elegua would then essentially be “sterile”. It could be fed and stuff, but new Eleguas could not be birthed from it. I might be totally mistaken on this. Let me know, if I am.

leaving santeria: The advice I always hear with this is to save your orisha. Even if it means just keeping them in a box somewhere out of sight, it’s better than throwing them away or destroying them. No matter how determined you might be to find a different religion or the belief just isn’t there for you anymore, there seems to be plenty of people willing to share their stories of grief and financial burden they went through because they no longer had their orisha. When they finally decided to get back into the religion after many years away from it, they had to receive everything again. Even the people whose legitimacy wasn’t in question seemed to have a lot of ebos they needed to do in order to square things away with the orisha. Keeping them when leaving the religion, even if only as a “Plan B”, just seems like a better option to me.

spirit attack after throwing santeria stuff in garbage: I think I’ve mentioned this before, but it’s worth repeating. The orisha are not the vengeful, spite-filled, jealous deities that some people make them out to be. You were getting some benefits from having the orisha. When you get rid of them, you lose those benefits — or at least they are greatly diminished. Let me put it another way. I wear bug spray when I’m out on a hike. It won’t stop me from ever getting bit, but it keeps most of the bugs away. If I then threw away the bug spray, I can’t blame it for the fact that I’m getting bit. The bugs were always there, I just didn’t have to deal with them as much before. If you need some spiritual equivalent of bug-spray, talk with your godparent or someone else you trust. If you have no interest in the religion any more, perhaps a misa would benefit you a bit. Otherwise, see what’s available from whatever belief system you now follow.

how to get rid of santeria articles: I guess it depends on what you mean by “articles.” Either way, it’s something you probably want to discuss with your godparent.

what happens if the elegua clay pot breaks: If it happened without you dropping it, dropping something onto it, or some other obvious reason, it probably isn’t a good sign. Before attempting to replace it on your own, check to see how your godparent wants you to handle it.

what cooked foods can be offered to elegua: Elegua isn’t too picky when it comes to his food. Smoked fish is a pretty popular offering. Also, you can’t go wrong with most deserts.

elegua offerings disposal dumpster: Elegua is more than happy to take whatever scraps you might have lying around after you’re done eating. For me, as I toss out the food, I’ll usually say or at least think the words “Maferefun, Elegua.”

can you have elegua twice in ocha as father and mother: Nope. Like I said earlier, it’s all about balance. Elegua brings forth a lot of masculine energies, so you’d need an orisha to help balance things out with feminine energy.

elegua bad to own a rat: I’m not sure on this one. I’ve met people with taboos for owning certain animals, but I think it largely depends on your Ita.

can you ask elegua for help with a girl: You can ask for anything. Whether you should and what you ask for, though, is a whole other issue. When you deal with the orisha, you need to be willing to relinquish a bit of the control. If you have a specific girl in mind, you probably won’t have as much luck as you might have if you are just looking for “a girl.” I definitely believe that the orisha can help you find someone that is a good fit for you, but you have to be patient and be willing to go where the orisha lead with an open mind and heart. If you over-think readings or try to rationalize things into being the signs you want to see, I doubt it will work out very well. Let Elegua do what he’s good at — opening up opportunities for you. Then work with other orisha (and maybe a good self-help book) to better yourself along the way. Nothing worthwhile is going to happen quickly. It takes effort, patience, and a certain amount of humility and sincerity.

materials needed to make a boveda in lucumi: It’s pretty simple. Get one or more glass bowls or glasses. Add some water. Light a candle or some incense. Whatever you want. Mix all ingredients in a quiet atmosphere. Now just sit, relax, and see what happens. Like any good spiritual practice, try not to expect much. Devote time to it and stick with it. If you feel like you need some additional help, ask your godparent about taking you to a misa.

can i stand before my boveda while menstruating: I know it sounds like I’m teasing, but my suggestion is to simply try it and see. I don’t think there are the same taboos in spiritism that you’d find in some of the more rigid Yoruba-based practices. When working with your boveda, it should be all about you. If you aren’t comfortable during certain times of the month, you can skip it. If you feel like it helps your abilities, go for it. Don’t worry about the hang-ups and issues of other people when it comes to working with your spirits. It’s all about you.

elevating the spirit in santeria: There are plenty of books and websites about spiritism. Also, I’m pretty sure I covered this topic before. Fresh water, white candles, incense, and prayer are a simple way to get started.

there are ants on my spirit water: I doubt there’s any sort of spiritual significance to this. Ants need water to survive. If you don’t mind the ants, just leave them be. Otherwise, handle it the same way you would elsewhere, by using traps, sprays, or energetic kids with sneakers.

are there any prohibitions to using the name oshun for boat
: I’m not positive, but I’m going to go ahead and take a guess. No. Anyhow, unless it’s a boat to use on the river, why use the name Oshun? Wouldn’t Yemaya be a more suitable choice? Not that there’s anything particularly wrong with it. It just seems odd to me. But who knows… Maybe you’re the type that would wear a Red Sox cap to a Yankees game. Personally, I’d go for a more creative and subtle name that doesn’t flat-out reference any specific orisha. But I guess it just comes down to preference.

oshun wrath: I’ve probably heard a lot of the same stories online that you have. I’ve never had an issue with her, personally, though I think as long as you are respectful and keep your promises to her, you’ll be fine. Of course, I also promised Oshun that I’d make ocha at some point, so I definitely can’t forget about that one, myself.


I’ve had a lot of fun doing this podcast and blog, but recently I’ve been having a difficult time keeping up with it.

In talking with my godfather, he expressed some concerns about it, as well. Basically, he took issue with two things.

The first issue was with something I had posted a while back that mentioned some ile-specific stuff. To him, it was a no-brainer that it was something that shouldn’t be shared. To me, at least at that time, I figured just putting a note at the top explaining that it didn’t apply to everyone would be good enough. Ultimately, I took down that content. Though I hate being wrong sometimes, he had a point. It wasn’t relevant for anyone outside of the ile. I’m guess I’m just in the habit of blogging stuff and sometimes forget how others might view it.

The second thing he brought up was a simple but very poignant question. He wanted to know what I hoped to gain by posting this stuff. I think he felt like I was taking on the role of virtual-godparent to some of you. That was certainly never my intent. I’ve tried to be pretty up-front with everyone that a large amount of this stuff is made up largely from what I’ve picked up here or there or sometimes just an educated guess. And, quite often, the only comment I can give others is that I don’t know the answer and they should talk with their godparent.

At the heart of it, this has all been a way for me to document my experiences. Looking back on older posts, I can shake my head, chuckle, and better appreciate how things have changed. Once I explained it like that, I think he understood where I was coming from a little better.

Maybe it’s a generational thing. I’m comfortable with technology, so I want to use it as best I can to help the community in some way. Maybe someone will stumble upon my blog or podcast and think, “Hey, this actually sounds like something I want to learn more about.” Or maybe some will see how long it takes for things to happen, that the religion isn’t some magical quick-fix to their problems and they’ll move along to something else. Who knows.

What I’m trying to avoid is drama.

My opinions are mine alone. If I say something offensive or inaccurate, it has more to due with ignorance or inexperience than anything malicious. For me, they are just talking-points — something that can be addressed specifically. It’s helpful to learn, “That isn’t how to pronounce that” or “That’s only true when such-and-such happens” or whatever. If you think you can read the blog or listen to the podcast and be able to practice the religion on your own, well, you obviously haven’t been paying attention.

Within the community, the last thing I want is to cause problems for myself or for my godfather. Though I don’t use my name in association with the blog or podcast, there are people who know me — or know others who do. There’s always the chance that by sharing my experiences, others will be worried about what I might repeat or share. It isn’t the biggest deal right now, since I’m not yet crowned. There’s only so much I’ll see or hear, anyway, but it’s definitely going to be something I need to be mindful of.

This is a religion of doing. Rather than talking about the religion or writing about it, I need to get back into actually participating more. It will be better for me and, ultimately, it will lead to better and more interesting podcasts and blog entries for you.

I really like the idea of some orisha-specific episodes, so expect one of those in the near-future.

Don’t worry. This isn’t the last episode for me. I’m sure I’ll do others as interesting stuff comes up in my life or even just in the news. It’s just going to be spaced out a bit more than before.

In the meantime, be sure to keep an eye out for new content over the coming months. You can find me at Twitter.com/YearInWhite, at Facebook.com/YearInWhite, or — as always — on my blog at YearInWhite.com.

Until next time…

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

2 responses so far

Episode 013: Ocha I.O.U.

Sep 11 2010 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts



Over the past few years, I’ve been putting away a little bit here and there into my Ocha fund. From the beginning, I’ve tried not to touch the money once it has been added. The only real exception was for religious spending. When I received Olokun, for instance, the derecho for the ceremony came from there.

I’m not sure if it’s because I’m a child of Oshun, have dumb-luck, or if it’s a combination of the two, but I’ve always managed to do well for myself financially. I’m not rich. Far from it. Often, I barely have anything left over after I’ve paid all of my bills. Still, the money I do have always seemed to be enough for the occasional impulse-buy, dinner somewhere nice, or that sort of thing.

My credit card, well, that’s a whole other story. When it comes to buying things on credit, I prefer to keep that to a minimum and only do it for major purchases or emergencies.

Well, that rule kind of went out the window this year. I started out with putting stuff on it for car repairs and similar unplanned expenses. Next came building-supplies for the chicken coop my dad and I built together out in the back yard. Big purchases that happened occasionally were soon followed by smaller purchases that happened more and more often.

Paying off my credit card would normally be a fairly trivial task, but I also had the A/C system for my house go out, which took quite a bit of money to replace.

Even my travel expenses doubled this year, when a co-worker I used to carpool with took a job somewhere else. Toll roads and gas money don’t seem like much on their own, but they add up fast.

There were many different factors that played a role in my situation, but the end result was clear. I was broke.

Small changes in my spending didn’t seem to have much effect. It wasn’t that my expenses were more than I could afford. The issue was that both my bank account and credit card were so depleted, I began living paycheck-to-paycheck. I’d switch to my credit card for a week, so I’d have enough to pay my mortgage. As soon as my next paycheck would come, I’d use it to start paying off my credit card so I’d have money to live off of the following month. It was a viscous cycle.

With the help of the orisha — and the money I’ve saved up for Ocha so far — I’m determined to break out of that cycle.

I’ll use the money to pay off my credit card. Once it’s paid off, or is at least close to being paid off, I can start moving some of my bills to that rather than my bank account. What I’m hoping is that this will give me a bit of breathing room to pay things off in a more controlled fashion.

The sooner I get my finances under control, the sooner I can start saving for Ocha again. With the tax rebate I’ll be getting back next year for my new A/C, I’ll be back to where I was in no time — with the added benefit of being able to actually contribute to my Ocha fund this time instead of just having it stagnate.

I think I’m finally starting to understand the phrase, “You need money to make money.”

I just need to find my financial balance — no pun intended. Once that happens, I’ll finally be able to start moving forward towards making santo.


Last weekend was the “Honey on the River” cruise that I had mention in the previous episode of the podcast. My initial trepidation about the cruise worsened slightly when I arrived. As it got closer and closer to departure time, I realized that there wouldn’t be anyone on the boat I knew. I’m not all that social to begin with, but when I’m packed with a bunch of strangers, I’m even more uncomfortable.

I was also fairly certain that my girlfriend and I were the only white people on the boat, aside from a few of the crew members. It’s not that the crowd wasn’t diverse, just that there weren’t many people as pale and blatantly white as we were.

I mention this only because it added to the feeling of isolation as I waited to get on board. I wondered what people thought when they saw me. Did they feel like I didn’t belong? Is this how minorities feel normally?

If the isolation kept up, it seemed like it was going to be a long night… Thankfully, I was with someone, so we could entertain ourselves a bit and take some of the pressure off. I’m not sure I could have handled things as well if it was just me that night.

Upon entering the boat, we were sent upstairs to listen to a local steel drum band. They were really good. I was amazed how well some of the kids played. One girl was so young that I was surprised she could even see what she was doing.

We sat across the room from Oshun’s throne, which had been decorated nicely with fruit, money, and the usual stuff. She was tucked away in her own little corner, but still managed to be the focus on the room. I wasn’t sure whose Oshun it was and I didn’t know who to ask.

When the music was over, we were lead downstairs to the dining room.

As luck would have it, our seats were at the same table as a mother and her teenage daughter. We made chit-chat and eventually we were sharing stories about ourselves, where we were from, and that sort of thing. It made the night much more entertaining than if we had been isolated at a table of our own.

The woman was small but tough. The child was distraught over relationship issues. There was no doubt in my mind about this being a cruise for Oshun…

It didn’t take long for me to embarrass myself a bit. First, I thought I had recognized someone, and was quickly shot down. Next, I spotted a woman wearing a white skirt, white shirt, white head scarf, and what looked like a maso but shorter like an eleke. Curious, I asked her about it. She had no clue what I was talking about and said she simply picked it because she thought it looked nice. She quickly went back to what she was doing.  This was just my experience with two people at the table next to ours. Things were definitely not looking well for me.

It turned out that a large amount of people were there to listen to a spoken word performance by an artist called C.O.C.O. Brown, to support the Partnership for African American Development, or simply to support their children in the steel drum band. Very few people there, aside from maybe the hostesses and a few guests, seemed to actually be in the religion.

I guess I had assumed the cruise would primarily be for people in the religion. I asked about that later and found out that the cruise is done mostly as a way of presenting an opportunity for people to get exposed to it without feeling like they are having it forced upon them. By having Oshun on the boat and a sprinkling of people wearing elekes, I guess the hope is that those who are interested will ask questions and find out more. Some people are drawn to the religion, but it’s certainly not for everyone, so I guess I understand that.

The music that night wasn’t really my style, but that’s just a preference thing. After finishing dinner, we went out on the deck and enjoyed the view. Nothing like having date-night on a cruise for Oshun, right? It was nice.

Along with a t-shirt and some small gifts, everyone was given a small jar of honey. We were told to pour the honey into the river and, as we pour the honey, to ask for whatever blessings we might be hoping for. My girlfriend and I did just that — though I had her taste the honey beforehand. I didn’t explain the pataki to her that it comes from and she didn’t ask, so that was fine by me. We poured our honey into the water and just enjoyed ourselves out there on the water.

There wasn’t a whole lot else that trip. The only other part that was memorable to me was when some young girls — one of which was the girl I had been sitting next to at dinner — were standing in and leaning on Oshun’s throne. One girl was dancing exceptionally close to Oshun. An older woman was standing at the bar nearby shouting, “Don’t lean on that! Be careful! Oh, Oshun!” No one seemed to hear her over the music and the crowd. I shook my head sympathetically, but the area was too crowded for me to really do much to help. I came back a little bit later. The dancers had moved and Oshun’s throne seemed unharmed, so I guess everything worked out.

I’d definitely go again on this cruise, especially now that I know what to expect. The only thing I would have changed, really, is to have more people on it that I actually knew. Meeting new people is nice now and then, but sharing the experience with friends would be even better.


In the blog post, “ Hippy-Dippy Hullabaloo“, I linked to some YouTube videos from an event in North Carolina. Definitely watch them, if you haven’t already. It’s pretty wild. It was like the opposite version of my cruise. I would assume that a celebration of Oshun, an African deity, would attract mostly African Americans and Latin Americans. I mean, yeah, I figured there would be a few white people, Asian Americans, and other minorities of the religion sprinkled in here or there like they are at drummings and other functions I’ve been to, but the majority of people usually seem to be of Latin or African decent.

Instead, the crowd seemed predominately white. They sang songs that seemed like Southern Baptist hymns with maybe a few words or names from the religion tossed in for good measure.

When the orisha were talked about, they were all described in terms of archetypes, symbolism, and in animistic fashions. Oshun is the river. Oya is the wind. That sort of thing. And, yes, to some extent, I could agree with how things were explained. But it was spoken in half-truths and in such a watered-down way, that you don’t get a full appreciation of the orisha or the religion as a whole.

Scott, a reader of the blog, weighed in with his take on the issue:

As a white guy who is soon to be getting his Elekes and Warriors, who has been into Santeria for many years…if this was the local representation of what Santeria was about, I promise I would have never “found myself” in Santeria. I may be white, but my Orishas are not, my Godfather is not, and my Santeria is not “white-washed”. We learn Yoruba, we learn Yoruba songs, Lacumi songs, we practice animal sacrifice as the Orishas suggest, we sweat, we even sing off key.

I’m not suggesting that “my way” is any better than these ladies are doing. It’s wonderful that they are getting to know their inner Orishas….but I have to agree with your blog.

Thanks, Scott.

I’ve expressed my disdain in the past over some of the comments made on Facebook, Amazon book reviews, and religious discussion boards about how “white people” are destroying the religion and have no idea what the religion is really about. Up until now, I had never really given it much credence. But when I see things like this, I can’t help but wonder if they are onto something.

Let me be clear, I don’t think it’s an issue of “white people” versus anyone else. I think the issue is more from the attempt at shaping the perception of the religion so it is more accepted by people outside of it and a shaping by people who perpetuate the religion without really understanding it.

Because of the modern freedoms a lot of people enjoy, there is a common trend of experimenting with different religions, picking and choosing parts from different practices, and then making your own religion.

It’s a bit like the Build-A-Bear Workshop for kids. You take the body of the orisha, stuff it full of Jesus and Buddha, give it the clothes of a pagan Goddess, and name it “Fred”. That is how religion works today.

With individuals, I really couldn’t care less about this approach. I mean, whatever works, right?

My issue is when they feel like ‘this is Santeria’ or ‘this is Yemaya I am working with’. No. It really isn’t.

As annoying as they are, I don’t see it as being much of an issue long-term. For one, a lot of these folks seem spiritually-inept. This religion has lasted as long as it has because, to put it simply, it works. Secondly, there will always be a certain percentage of people who will become attracted to a certain aspect they see and will eventually be drawn into more traditional practices.

When it comes to things like this event, my gut reaction is that when you hear about stuff like this, you should go. I think that part of why things went so far off-track is that, within the vacuum of that event, they felt like it was right and it was all normal. Instead, it would have been awesome to get a bunch of traditional practitioners into that event. Get them playing drums, dancing, singing, and praying to the orisha. Give those people a show. Let them see how it’s really done.

Some will find a path to this religion and, for others, it may lead nowhere. The best any of us can try to do is be a good — but genuine — representative of the religion and attempt to educate others. It isn’t a question of telling someone, “You have to do such-and-such because that’s how it is done.” Heavy-handed approaches like that just don’t work nowadays. I think you get a lot more benefit from explaining why you personally do something the way you do and give examples of how it has worked for you.


was allan kardec cremated: I’m not sure who was looking for this or why, but I had no clue what the answer was, so I looked it up. Allan Kardec, or — rather — the person who founded and popularized the Spiritism movement in the 1800′s under that pen-name, died of an aneurysm and was buried. Supposedly, visitors still leave flowers and pay their respects at his tombstone in Paris.

ocha botanica orlando fl: The only one in Orlando that I’ve been pretty impressed with was Nina’s Botanica & Boutique in Kissimmee. The folks who run it are part of a pretty large ile in Orlando, which serves a few extra benefits. First off, if you’re new to the religion, you can find out about events, network, and get a feel for things a lot easier than if it was just a storefront for candles, oils, incense, and the usual religious knickknacks you find at most botanicas. The second benefit comes to those who are members of that ile, since they typically carry things needed by the members. One example of that comes from the 2010 Letter of the Year. Within that ile, a flag was needed — which had crutches on it and a whip. It’s something that folks with a bit of crafting skill could easily make, but why bother when the botanica has them for sale? As a general rule, if they know the demand is likely going to be there, you can be sure that they will be more than happy to supply. I’ve always been a bit critical of botanicas and I’m sure I always will be, at least to some extent. They are a business. As such, they need to make money. I’ve always hated going into a botanica and seeing customers blatantly being ripped off. In Tampa, there’s a fairly popular botanica that I used to go to now and then. I was appalled one day when I ran into a woman there struggling to carry everything to the counter to pay for it. I jokingly asked her whether she was buying supplies to start up her own botanica. It turned out, she had just spent quite a bit of money on a consultation there and found out that she needed a bunch of different candles, washes, oils, incense, soaps, and that sort of thing to clean herself spiritually. She was happy to point out that she had lucked out — the store sold everything she needed get. Nice…. Thankfully, I haven’t seen that sort of thing at Nina’s. As best I can guess, a large amount of their business just comes from customers looking for convenience. If you were to comparison shop and hit up a bunch of other places, you might be able to get some things for cheaper. Where Nina’s Botanica seems to excel is that they make everything available in one place. For a lot of people, including myself, it’s often worth paying a little extra here or there in order to get everything in a single trip or not have to hunt around much. The staff is really friendly, too, but I really haven’t met anyone at a botanica that wasn’t friendly to me. Some, like in the example I gave from Tampa, might not have the most altruistic of intentions, but they are certainly pleasant to talk to while they try to swindle you out of money… No matter where you go for religious supplies — whether online or through a brick-and-mortar storefront — there’s really only two things you need to keep in mind. First, know what you are there for and how much (roughly) what you are looking for sells for elsewhere. That saves you from being grossly overcharged. Secondly, remember it’s a business and no matter how nice they might be, making money is pretty high on the agenda. Use common-sense and remember that even though you’re buying stuff for the religion, there’s no reason you can’t be smart shopper about it.

stealing ashe santeria: This is one of those things that I have very little direct knowledge of, so all I can offer is my own limited understanding and some personal opinions… I’ve seen a lot — both online and in books — about things that must be avoided when possible. For iyawos, this list is often very long. Everything from being out in the noon sun to exchanging money with someone is considered off-limits. The idea is that ashe can be taken from you. It doesn’t even need to be deliberate. In the past, I’ve compared it to the Asian concept of “Chi” and even to the fictional Star Wars concept of “The Force“. If you’re into role-playing games, you can put it in terms of “Mana“. However you think of it, it’s spiritual power and energy. The reasoning behind the taboos is to avoid this energy being passed from you. As an iyawo, you receive ashe. By adhering to the taboos, you will hopefully benefit from the accumulation of ashe in terms of your spiritual and religious development. What doesn’t seem to get mentioned is that — at least according to the opinions of uninformed sources like myself — ashe comes and goes naturally. When a santero charges an Elegua, he is putting some of his ashe into it. That doesn’t mean the santero is one step closer to not having any ashe, though. It’s renewable. And, to a large part, varies from person to person. Think of it in terms of water in a container. You can only have as much water in it as the container can hold, but how quickly the water comes out (or gets refilled) can change. How does this all apply to stealing ashe? Well, I’d imagine it works similar to if we were working with water. You either find ways to weaken the container so the water comes out faster than it can be refilled or you find ways to limit how quickly water can be put back in. Spiritual attacks are probably the most common way of doing this, I’d imagine. Going after ones’ muertos can limit their protection, while doing things to induce stress, conflict, and frustration can help limit how quick they recover. Alternatively, if you’re trying to protect yourself from this sort of thing, it’s just as easy. Attend to your muertos by working your boveda and going to misas. Keep calm and level-headed, even when things get rough. I might get corrected on it later, but that’s my take on it, at least.

what is ebo head cleansing for: The head-rogacion is meant to refresh and cleanse your mental, emotional, and spiritual state. Your Ori, which is a bit like your spiritual unconsciousness, is in charge of helping you make good decisions and staying on the right path. As we encounter negative influences or simply get distracted by life’s “bright and shiny objects”, it’s easy to stop paying attention to Ori’s guidance and push it further and further into the background. A cleaning helps to wash away that negativity and bring Ori’s influence back up towards the top. Following a path that is aligned with your Ori isn’t going to let you live forever. You still might get hit by a car. With Ori’s guidance, it just means you’re more likely to be wearing a clean pair of underwear when the paramedics find you.  …or something like that.

santeria belief of placing a porous rock next to the front door for good luck: Wow. That’s a pretty specific search query… I’m not sure about the porous part, necessarily, but I think it’s a pretty safe guess that the person was curious about Elegua. He’s not really kept for good luck, per se, but is instead more geared towards making sure opportunities are made available. I guess the end result might be considered good luck, though.

i purchased a warrior elegua to help me: Unless you’re talking about some mass-market Elegua for sale online or at a botanica, what you paid for was the time, effort, and materials of the person who gave you Elegua. It’s an important distinction to make.

elegua satanic: Sometimes, I see comparisons made between Elegua — or, more often, Eshu — and Satan. As you might guess, these comparisons often tend to be made by people outside of the community by folks who might not be as open-minded and tolerant as they’d like to believe. Let me be clear, though… There is no Satan is this religion. That is a foreign concept. One has nothing to do with the other. It would be like claiming that The Easter Bunny is a Communist. You could cite all of the examples you want — about how The Easter Bunny wants to equally dispense colored eggs to the masses or whatever — but that doesn’t change the facts. Elegua is not Satanic. Period.

what does it mean when my elegua is full of ants: It means you need to clean him better. You can’t cover something with alcohol, oil, and whatever else and expect it not to attract insects.

i fed elegua on the wrong day: First, it’s important to consider what the right day really is. Is it Monday? The third day of the month? June 13th? I remember when I first got into this religion and read as many books as I could get my hands on. In one — I think it was one by Wippler — it mentioned that Elegua must be taken care of every Monday. The author then went on the explain that when she had been too busy to attend to Elegua, she was gently reminded in the form of some bad luck. It’s rubbish. The only day you need to attend to Elegua is when you want to or you know you need to. This comes from developing a connection and a relationship with Elegua. When he needs attending, he’ll let you know. It’s as simple as that. If you aren’t able to take care of him when you need to, explain the situation to him, take care of him when you can, and let it be. If you are still concerned, throw Obi to see if more needs to be done.

can you wear necklace beads even if you don’t practice santeria: Sure. Just like you can wear a cross or crucifix if you aren’t a Christian. I just don’t understand the appeal of wearing them unless you do practice the religion. If you believe in it but don’t want to necessarily become a priest, you could always just do the elekes ceremony and leave it at that. Otherwise, if it’s just for show, it’s probably cheaper just to buy the beads at a botanica.

what does the santeria necklace mean with all the colors: The colors are associated with an individual orisha. There are a few standard patterns — some that also incorporate numbers associated with the orisha — but a lot of it just comes down to aesthetics. I had a discussion about this just last weekend, when I brought my girlfriend to Orlando for her first tambor. At one point, she happened to notice the difference between my elekes for Elegua and those worn by someone else. Mine were just a simple combination of red and black, which alternated one after the other. I had assumed that perhaps the other elekes, which seemed to be in large groupings of red followed by large groupings of black might be for some specific path of Elegua or whatever. Sheepishly, I asked my godfather about it. He went over to chat with the girl, and also to get a better look, I’m sure, and then came back to let me know that it was just the way she wanted it. Some people like fancy and intricate designs, while others are fine with more minimalistic designs.

i received a white santeria necklace what does it mean: White is associated with Obatala. Assuming you didn’t receive it in a ceremony, perhaps someone just wanted Obatala to keep you safe.

where to leave offerings for oshun: The most popular spot is the river. Depending on what you’re leaving and how many people are around, some things you might be able to just release into the flowing water while other offerings might need to be left along the shore. Whenever possible, you should avoid making any offerings which include things that could harm the river, such as plastic bags, man-made objects like coins, and that sort of thing. Show your respect to Oshun by showing respect to the river.

how to dispose of offerings to yemaya: The most popular spot for Yemaya’s offerings are the ocean. Again, depending on your situation, it may require a bit of a judgment call as to whether you’d leave the offering in the ocean or along the shore. Similar to an offering for Oshun — or any orisha, really — care should be taken to as to what is left with the offering. If it’s something you are afraid might adversely affect the ocean or its inhabitants, you can dunk it in the water, let Yemaya know that it is being left for her, and then dispose of the offering in a nearby trashcan. I know it might seem wasteful to you, but I’m sure Yemaya won’t mind.

can i offer oshun eggs: You sure can. People make a big fuss over offering certain foods or in certain quantities, but an offering is not the same as an Ebo. With an Ebo, you are prescribed certain things that must be given. With an offering, it’s really just up to what you can and want to give. People often wait for an Ebo before they give to the orisha, but I like to give when I can — especially if I’m thankful for something in particular.

occult grave theft chicken heads: Someone stole chicken heads from a grave? Those heathens! Oh… wait… is this about chicken heads being found at a grave site that’s been vandalized? Sorry. I already covered that in the previous episode.

how many sweeten-jars can you have for one person in santeria: I suppose you can have as many as you plan to actively keep your focus on. If done right, though, one jar is fine. Alternatively, you could have a hundred jars that have no effect at all, if they are simply filled with honey and lacked intent. It’s about quality over quantity. You could also pray to Oshun, but she’ll either help you or she won’t. Asking more frequently will do nothing to increase your chances of success.

cow tongue on boveda: As I’ve mentioned before, cow tongues are commonly used when trying to shut someone up. I’ve never heard of using it on your boveda. Maybe I’m too much of a clean-freak, but that’s something I’d rather have outside. Tie it up with string. If you live in a rural area or know somewhere it isn’t likely to be found, you can leave it outside in the woods or somewhere else equally out-of-the-way. That way, you’re letting nature help things along. It makes me think of the phrase, “Cat got your tongue.”

send a person to dead put picture on boveda: The only person you’ll likely kill with this method is yourself — as you die of boredom waiting for something to happen.

gift suggestions for first year santero: Send cash.


As I’ve mentioned in earlier episodes, I’ve always felt a bit like the odd-man-out. When I ask someone about what made them know they wanted to make Ocha, the answers varied. For some, they had an emotional feeling that they felt was a sign from an orisha. Some simply had an almost-instinctive knowledge that they had to do it. Others were told in dreams, at tambores, or at misas and they simply accepted it as something they had to do. For me, I’ve been a Prisoner of Ocha ever since my first reading.

I accepted the premise that I’d one day need to go through the ceremony, but there was still some hesitation.

I can’t say that the hesitation is completely gone, but it has definitely gotten better.

A few nights ago, I went upstairs to my orisha room and got down to business. The eggun stone and pot got a nice coating of palm oil. I talked with my ancestors a bit. Some I didn’t know very well and others I simply wasn’t a big fan of when they were alive. But family is family, so we talked. After I let candles for eggun, I lit one for Oshun, one in front of my boveda, and then I turned off the lights and relaxed.

I’m not quite sure how long I had been up there.

I’ll skip over the contents of my conversation. Not due to privacy concerns, but mainly so I don’t bore you.

The gist of it, though, was that I had been waiting for Oshun to give me a sign that I was on the right path and should continue forward. Since I hadn’t received anything I could consider a sign, I had been dragging my feet a bit when it came to saving up for Ocha and taking things more seriously.

As I talked, something occurred to me.

When I first talked with Oshun years ago — I mean really talked — I was in a bad state of affairs. The girl I had been with for the past few years had dumped me for another guy. I was distraught, but I wasn’t foolish. I had no intention of petitioning Oshun to bring me and the girl back together. Still, I needed a change.

My request to Oshun was that she help me find someone that would be a good match for me, someone that would be tolerant and accepting of the religion, and someone that I could trust.

That was a couple years ago — three or four — but Oshun took care of me. I’ve changed over these past few years in the religion. Without the boost I got from it and the small changes here or there in myself, things probably would’ve gone a whole lot different.

Like in the story of Oshun leading Ogun out of the forest, that’s how my experiences with her have been. She gives me little tastes of sweetness every now and then just to keep me heading towards the right path.

I look forward to one day being a priest of Oshun.


I mentioned a little while ago about wanting to start selling some stuff as a way of adding to my Ocha fund while also giving back to the community a bit. I haven’t forgotten about that. It’s just a lot more involved than I thought. Things like payment gateways and shipping fees made me a bit less excited. Some have suggested I simply list things on eBay, but then I’m paying a little bit to list the item and, assuming someone buys it, I’m going to lose a bit of money to PayPal. I’m not even sure what I could offer for sale that would be of interest to anyone. I’d really like to try doing some custom eggun staffs, but that’s probably the most difficult one to handle. It would take a while to make, since I would have to get information from the person who wants it and then find the right wood and design for that person’s ancestors, but it would also probably be frustrating to find a shipping box for or quote a price on. Still, if you interested in that, or if you have other suggestions for things you’d like to purchase, don’t hesitate to let me know.

It’s been a month or so now and the Facebook page seems to be going strong. You can find it at Facebook.com/YearInWhite. There have been a lot of good discussions going on and I definitely enjoy the feedback I get.

Until next time….

Maferefún eggun.
Maferefún orisha.

2 responses so far

Episode 012: Sweet Like Honey

Aug 26 2010 Published by under Before My Year, Podcasts



It’s important to get out there and socialize, especially when it comes to the religious community. But not everything has to be about drummings and crownings. Sometimes it’s good just to have fun with other like-minded people. That’s what I’ve got planned for Labor Day weekend. In honor of Oshun, there is a dinner cruise event on September 5th in Orlando called “Honey on the River”. It’s not something I’d normally go to, but I guess it’s good to step out of your comfort-zone every now and then. I don’t think there are very many listeners of this podcast who are in the Orlando area, but if you are, you should come by and say ‘hi.’ If you are interested in getting tickets, there’s a Facebook page for the event. You can find it by searching for “Honey on the River” or just clicking the link in the shownotes. Just be sure to mention that you found out about it through this podcast. I don’t get anything out of it, but a little free publicity never hurt, right?


“Interview with a Santera” was published in the Havana Times on August 14th.

The article was about the religion’s presence in Cuba and centered largely on an interview with a 50-year-old santera who was crowned when she was six-years-old.

I was a little put-off by the writer’s experience during a reading she had. It wasn’t that I felt like she wasn’t telling the truth. I just didn’t like how it came across.

She had a cowry shell reading, with hit-or-miss results. She was advised to come back for ebo and a necklace of either Yemaya or Oshun.

When she had a follow-up reading with the cowry shells, she was told that she needed to expel a spirit of a man who had died a long time ago that was following her around and bothering her.

It’s possible a little more drama was thrown in just to make the story sound more interesting, but who knows. I wasn’t there. Even if I was, I can’t read shells. I don’t know the santera doing the reading or her reputation, so I can only speculate. The stuff about the spirit, especially, makes me think more of something that would come out of a misa rather than a cowry shell reading. But, again, I don’t really have the experience to say one way or the other.

The interview was better. One thing the interviewer asks about, which I think a lot of people might not pay enough attention to, is that santeros should have the intention of restoring the balance of ashe. Getting to and maintaining that balance is crucial.

I also liked that there was a clear distinction made between the santera’s practices and the practices of Ifa.

The last part of the article had something kind of amusing in it. The interviewer mentioned that the pieces of Obi that were thrown by the santera seemed to be lacking coconut meat and had instead been colored in with a white crayon. Say it isn’t so! I wish I could get away with that… As my padrino can attest to, I’m absolutely useless when it comes to opening coconuts and making useful pieces for Obi.

At the end of the article, it mentions the disposal of the ebo, where the woman writing the interview tossed two plastic bags filled with herbs into the ocean. I’m not a big fan of that, but… whatever.

“Package with cow tongue puts kink in morning trains” was published in The Statesman on August 16th

This one wasn’t as sensationalized as it could have been, but it was still a bit overkill.

Basically, someone stumbled upon a cow tongue wrapped in butcher paper that was sitting on some railroad ties.

Generally speaking, that isn’t all that interesting.

People started getting a little curious about it, though, when they realized that the tongue was studded with nails.

The butcher paper had writing on it. It said “Against us stop now close the mouth” and included a dozen or so names.

There is also a mention of a jar with unidentified liquid nearby, but I tend to discredit that kind of thing, since you never know how close “nearby” really is or whether it’s actually related.

Rather than consulting the SPCA or some other similarly-unqualified expert, the article includes commentary from a college professor who is also an author of a book about Santeria.

He points out that it isn’t necessarily an act of someone involved in the religion, but — if it was — it might be an offering made to Ogun, in hopes of silencing someone.

“Grave robberies mystify” was published by Lancaster Online on August 19th.

In this, we learn about an odd discovery made late last year. A short distance from where local workers discover a chicken crate lying abandoned in the woods, they also discover a small clearing, where a 4-foot circle of candles has been left. The candles appeared to have been burned, but their purpose wasn’t clear. No mention is made as to whether any sort of chicken remains were found. Again, I can’t help wondering how close the “short distance” between the two really was.

One of the contractors, who — of course — asked not to be identified, proclaimed that it was a ritual.

Eight months after this so-called ritual and a quarter-mile away, someone dug up the grave of a 9-year-old who had died in 1962.

The question is raised as to whether the people who had burned the candles were connected to the ones who dug up the grave.

It’s worth noting that the grave was robbed on Friday the 13th, which has very little — if any — significance in Santeria or, really, any of the African traditions I can think of.

The article mentions other cases of graves being robbed or desecrated — most of which I’ve already mentioned in earlier podcasts and blog entries.

Much of the article suggests such activities are usually the result of pranksters or disturbed individuals, with only a few mentions here or there about magic, animal remains, and that sort of thing.

If the article is pointing a finger towards anyone in the African Traditional Religious community, it is probably more towards Palo Mayombe than Santeria,. It’s a nice change of pace and shows people are finally learning differences between different traditions. Realistically, I’m sure most of the smart Palo practitioners just buy bones legally these days online or whatever rather than messing around in cemeteries.

“Graveyards report strange goings-on”, a follow-up to the previous article, was published by Lancaster Online on August 25th.

While the article starts out listing a handful of strange and unexplained events at local cemeteries, it mentioned that vandalism is a regular occurrence at city cemeteries.

My favorite part was towards the end of the article. While there is mention of how many botanicas are in the area, the city police chief, Keith Sadler, points out that Home Depot sells shovels, too. I like that. He also points out that regardless of the beliefs or motivations leading up to it, a crime was committed and that’s what’s being pursued.

“Dead birds in the middle of the road” was published by the Chicago Times on August 25th.

It’s a pretty short article. Basically, some roosters are found every now and then in a residential area and seem to be disemboweled. The writer points out that it doesn’t seem to have anything to do with traditional practices of Santeria, yet the only link on the page is one about animal sacrifices in Santeria. Really, the article seems to nothing more than filler and a way for the guy to keep up his word-count quota. I did enjoy the comments, though, especially the one claimed that the dead roosters were a result of “fowl play.” Nice…


As some of you have probably picked up on a bit by now, I absolutely loathe the Blog Talk Radio service.

When I first started looking for podcasts about Santeria, that was one of the first handful of sites I ran across that seemed to have some content. Quickly, though, I found the quality a bit lacking.

Probably the biggest issue I see with it is that it’s an attempt to take an old-media format like radio and try to make it relevant — in the age of new-media like podcasts, YouTube channels, and other forms of user-generated content.

It’s an issue of quantity over quality, in a lot of these cases. As a listener, I feel like I’m stuck without many options. It’s rare to listen to an episode of any of these shows without noticing the same issues cropping up again and again. One day, I’ll make a drinking game specifically geared towards Blog Talk Radio. Take one shot of liquor when there are “technical difficulties.” Take two shots when the volume suddenly becomes too high or too low. Within about ten minutes of the show, you’ll be smashed.

Everything on Blog Talk Radio just seems to be old, irrelevant, or both.

On iTunes, I don’t really mind so much about a certain podcast episode from 2008 that continually comes up in the top five list when doing a search for the term “Santeria”. I’m fine with that. Even iTunes listeners are allowed to make bad choices now and then. Because, you know, my show should totally be in the number one spot, right?

Especially with shows from Blog Talk Radio, though, it drives me nuts when the podcast should be focused on certain topics, but ends up just wasting time talking about completely unrelated issues. I’m not talking about small rants like this. I’m talking about spending an hour or more simply talking to themselves or about how many people are in their chat room. Look, I won’t name any names, but I was pretty upset the other night when I tried listening to a podcast that claimed to be about ancestor and orisha worship… and it was anything but.

It started out well enough, with some seeming-relevant music. Unfortunately, that was the highlight of the episode — some old and probably unlicensed music. About an hour into the podcast, they finally start talking about the orisha. I don’t care a lot about the way words and names are pronounced. Heck, I struggle with that myself now and then. But the religious talk seemed short-lived and felt like the content was from Wikipedia or something. Next was a reading from Ochani Lele’s new book, which I’ve already probably promoted way too much out of myself, but — hey — at least it’s relevant, I guess. The rest of the two hours was filled with awkward dialog, promotions for “Paranormal” podcasts, and topics such as mountain-top mining, gas-field drilling, and medical marijuana. Is this for real? I thought this was supposed to be about ancestor worship.

Look, I understand that people have their own interests, but it really felt like it should have either been left out or at least kept to a minimum. Listening to the show just felt like a total waste of time. Maybe the other episodes were different, but after skipping through a few others, it didn’t seem like it.

This isn’t just about one specific podcast, either. Countless others that I’ve stumbled across on Blog Talk all suffer from these same issues. I’m not sure if there is some sort of commitment made that forces the person to keep the show running for a certain amount of time, even if they have nothing on-topic to discuss or what, but it just bothers me. A lot.

At some point, I’d like to work with you guys to come up with a decent list of other sites and podcasts worth checking out and, just as importantly, those to avoid.

I’ll do my best to keep things on-topic here, at least. With that in mind….


cursed by the orishas for leaving santeria: This is such BS! Do people seriously believe this stuff? Here’s my take on it, for what it’s worth. When you come to this religion, sometimes there are perks. You might not find true love, live forever, or win the lottery, but it lifts you up a little bit from where you were. By performing ebos, attending your warriors, and working with the orisha, they help remove obstacles from your way or at least help lessen their effects. When you leave the religion and the orisha, there is no Cursing, Smiting, or other overly-dramatic-sounding stuff. If you’re running into more issues than you had before, it’s more likely because you no longer have the orisha there to guide you around them. A lot of it is probably in your mind, as well. If you are afraid of retribution from the orisha for leaving the religion, you’re more prone to finding examples of a curse in normal occurrences throughout your day. Get over it.

found ritual remains of a curse against me what do i do: I think I might have covered a question like this already, but in case I haven’t… here goes… It depends on what you found and what, most likely, the curse was about. Maybe I’m just naïve, but I feel like a lot of the time, people just get it into their head that they are the victim of a curse when they really aren’t or — if they are — it’s a self-fulfilling one that they’ve brought onto themselves. But if you do feel like you’ve been affected by someone with ill-intent, the first step is to remain calm. Anger, fear, and frustration will only compound your issues. Start by disposing of what you found. How you do that is, again, up to you. Seal it away in a box, burn it, toss it in the garbage, whatever. Now that it’s gone, you can focus on yourself. Clear your mind and take a bath (or shower, if you don’t have a bath). An herbal bath or one using omiero probably wouldn’t hurt, either. Now that you’ve begun to cleanse yourself, you can also begin cleansing your house. Burning sage or just normal incense are pretty popular methods for this. Walk the perimeter of your home and let the smoke begin to cancel out the bad energy being worked on you Some also use floor washes that have herbs, Florida Water, or other ingredients in them. Lighting a candle or two could help, as well Next, if you are a spiritualist, you may want to go to your boveda, consult your muertos, and do what you need to in order to give them extra strength. Finally, consider going to a misa or divination session. The misa can help you work towards strengthening your defenses spiritually, while the divination session can help you work towards clearing away what’s already been done.

i found chicken feet hanging from a tree: Nice. I have no clue what it’s from or why it would be there, but — if it was me — I’d keep them. Maybe they’ll be of use someday.

snake curse sensitivity to light: I’ve never heard of this one. Some snakes hunt at night, but I’ve never really heard of any that are sensitive to light. With that in mind, I’m not sure how a snake curse would be related to light-sensitivity. The closest thing I could come up with is that people who have been exposed to the venom of a Brown snake may develop a sensitivity to light. But that’s probably quite a stretch, since there are other more noticeable symptoms such as paralysis and convulsions that would probably be noticed first. Hopefully, it’s just a migraine or something, but if it continues, I’d suggest seeing a physician.

how to smuggle animal bones through airport customs: I’m assuming you’re talking about something illegal, since you mentioned the term “smuggle”. If you buy something legitimately as a curio or medical specimen, you shouldn’t have much issue. For anything else, my advise is to not even try. It’s probably easier to just ship what you need instead of trying to deal with transporting that stuff with you. There are certainly going to be things that are going to raise flags anywhere, though, so don’t get upset if you run into problems while trying to pass off a box of rhino-horns to the local FedEx guy.

orisha raccoon: I’m not sure what orisha is tied most with raccoons. Consider the traits that raccoons are most often said to possess. They are amorous, get into all sorts of mischief, and they are happy to take their share of everything. With that in mind, I’d have to guess that they’d be associated with Elegua. I’m not sure, though, to be honest.

candle glass broke santeria: The majority of the time, I think this has less to do with spiritual omens and more to do with cheaply-made candles. Sometimes, even if the candle’s wick seems to be in the center when you first light it, it angles off to one side the closer it gets to the bottom. When it’s closer to the glass, the heat of the flame might cause the glass to crack or break — especially if the area where the candle is located is especially cool or damp. Try switching to a better brand of candle and see if it’s still a problem.

what do eggs signify in santeria: They symbolize more or less the same thing as in other religions and practices — life and fertility. Sometimes they are used in cleanings, as a way of letting the negativity and bad stuff grow inside of the egg rather than in you and your life.

santeria what happens to body sprayed with rum: Aside from being sticky later, you mean? When rum is sprayed on someone, I think it depends on the context. Is the person being sprayed someone that is being mounted or looks like they might be getting close? If so, that might be to coax the orisha into coming down fully and is sort of an offering. Otherwise, it might be as part of a cleansing. I’m not sure.

spiritual bad eggun removed: You can’t really remove eggun — good or bad. They are your ancestors. They are part of you and where you come from. Yes, there are bad people. But that doesn’t mean that they are bad once they are eggun. As cheesy at it sounds, thinking of it as a caterpillar and a butterfly is probably the easiest way to explain this. While alive, our ancestors were like caterpillars. Some do more noticeable damage in their life than others, but all eventually will leave us. Within the cocoon, it is the death of the caterpillar as we know it. It is the death of our ancestor as a person. Eventually, a butterfly emerges. That’s eggun, our ancestor as a spirit. The things that might have made you remember that person as “bad” died with them and now only the empty shell of that person remains. Maybe you believe that bad things happen for a reason. Maybe you believe that it made you strong. Heck, you might just think that some people are jerks. I don’t know which is right or wrong. I just know that what we honor are the spirits of the ancestors. If there’s one you have in mind that you feel like you have lingering issues with, offer a candle specifically for them and talk to them. Working with eggun isn’t just about elevating their spirit. It’s also about elevating your own.

the purpose of getting a rock from a cemetery when making eshu laroye: Uh-oh, everyone. It’s time for me to divulge some top-secret information. Are you ready? …. Just kidding. I’m not sure what the purpose is. In fact, I wasn’t even aware the otane could come from there. Since Laroye works with Oshun, I guess I always assumed the stone came from the river or at least near one. This is probably one of those things you’ll want to ask your godparent about rather than looking online.

i want olokun: Good for you. Olokun is pretty awesome. For starters, it’s one of the few orisha I know of that one can receive without being crowned. Olokun is especially good for helping you develop spiritually. Olokun is also associated with money, which is a good thing, since I’m going to need all the help I can get in order to save up to make Ocha. Usually, Olokun is given due to the results of a reading. My advice is to talk with your godparent, explain what you hope to achieve by receiving it, and go from there.

orisha names different spellings: Most of this probably comes from translations between different languages and cultures. Beyond that, though, when it’s written, I think a lot of the variations comes from an attempt to avoid confusion with others with the same spelling but different pronunciation. In a tonal language, like with Yoruba, the accent marks definitely matter. A good example is with Oshun. Traditionally, it’s spelled O-S-U-N. Once in Latin America, it shifted to O-C-H-U-N. In America, it’s often common to see the name spelled O-S-H-U-N. Both of these variations help distinguish between Oshun, the orisha associated with the river, and a completely different orisha, received with the Warriors, whose name is also spelled O-S-U-N. It can get kind of confusing sometimes. A slight change in emphasis might have a completely different meaning. Another example of this is ‘Oba’ versus ‘Obba’. Traditionally, they are both spelled O-B-A, but depending on the emphasis, one is a general title meaning “King” while the other is the name of a specific orisha. To avoid this confusion when writing about the orisha, the name is typically spelled O-B-B-A. This is also partly why it’s important to actually talk with and listen to others in person. When writing, it’s best just to stick with existing standards. When I write “eggun”, for instance, I use two G’s. I could just use one and there are plenty of people who spell it that way. When I was first learning about the religion, I remember sometimes getting the word confused with Ogun. Looking back, it seems a silly and I’m not sure why I had an issue with it. I made a mental note that eggun has two G’s and that Ogun has one. After that, I was fine. Doing it now is more just out of habit than anything else. Thankfully, the way I learned to spell it seems a bit more common, which is helpful when people are doing internet searches, since it makes them more likely to find me.

orisha elekes how to care for: I need to start looking back at my notes. I’m pretty sure I answered something along these lines already. A lot of stuff online talks about prohibitions involving not wearing the elekes in the shower, when sleeping, during sex, and that sort of thing. As for actually caring for them, though, they are pretty easy. Basically you just want to avoid being too rough with them or doing anything that would show disrespect. When they aren’t being worn, you never want to have them hanging on something like a doorknob, rack, or whatever. The easiest way I can describe how to store them is to hold one of the necklaces with one hand at each side so that it looks more or less like a circle. Now twist it once to turn the circle into a figure-eight. Rearrange it in your hands now so that your hands are holding opposite ends of a single circle again — only this time made of two smaller circles. I know it sounds a bit weird at first, but just try it. Keep twisting and combining to make smaller and smaller circles. Repeat this process until you can’t easily continue. Over time, this becomes something you do quickly and without much thought. When you’re done, set the necklace down so the small circles are more or less on top of one another. You’ll do this same process one necklace at a time. Elekes are always put on and taken off one at a time. I usually say a praise for each orisha as I put on the necklace, but that’s more of just a personal thing I do.

making a oshun wooden eleke: I’ve always like the idea of wooden elekes. Something tells me that the Yoruba back-in-the-day didn’t have access to mass-produced bright-colored plastic beads. As far as how to make one, I would assume it would be similar to making one with plastic beads. You would just need to find a fairly durable paint for the wooden beads. Not only are the beads likely to rub against one another, clothes, and skin during normal use, but you want something that isn’t going to lose its color when it’s fed and then washed. Even though I like the idea of using wood, plastic is probably more practical.

what do you clean the santeria beads with: If the beads are new and are causing skin irritation, they might have something on them still from when they were fed. A light amount of water is probably alright for that situation. A quick rinse and a bit of rubbing with your fingers should be enough for most situations. If in doubt, ask the person you got them from.

lukumi receiving your beads and hiding them: Why the heck would you want to hide them? I can somewhat understand if you need to be discreet at your place of employment or whatever. At my job, I don’t wear my elekes every day. When I do wear them, I usually only wear one at a time… maybe two. The elekes themselves aren’t meant to be fashion-statements. You probably shouldn’t wear them just because they happen to match an outfit you want to wear. On the other hand, I don’t see any issue with adjusting your outfit so it matches well with — and draws less attention to — your elekes. If there are certain people who you don’t feel comfortable wearing the beads around, either don’t wear them or avoid those people. If it’s an issue where you are living in a household where the religion is frowned upon, I’m not sure what to tell you. Kids have been hiding stuff from their parents for generations. It can’t be that difficult. Just try to be respectful to the orisha. If all else fails, maybe you can work something out with your godparent, so they can be kept somewhere else until you are able to either resolve the conflicts at home or are old enough to move out.

how to get closer to african roots: This is somewhat of a personal thing and depends on the individual, so all I can speak of is my own experiences. I’m not too big into genealogy, but I think it’s a safe guess to say that I am quite a few generations removed from Africa. Still, I’ve always had a fondness for African culture and, especially, food. The only decent African restaurant within a few hours of me closed down a handful of months ago. It sucks, too, because lately I’ve been craving Egusi stew. Luckily, I found an African grocery not too far from where I work and was able to stop there on the way home the other day. Like when I have to go to Latin or Asian markets for something, it was a bit daunting at first. Thankfully, though, it was a relatively small place and the owner was quite helpful. Not only did I get the ground egusi seeds and bitter leaf that I wanted, but they had palm oil, goat meat, and just about anything else I could want for making traditional African food. Egusi stew is a personal favorite of mine, though. It was the first Nigerian food I had ever tried and will now be the first Nigerian food I will try to make. It’s a high-protein dish that’s not very filling, so it’s usually paired up with pounded yam, which gives a lot of the carbohydrates and “fullness” to the dish. It’s a regional dish that’s unique to Nigeria, so it isn’t something I can even get at the Ethiopian restaurant I found about an hour from me. Such a shame. If I want it, I’m going to have to make it myself. I have a decent book of recipes for West African cooking, but I’ll be trying something I found online instead. I don’t want to use pumpkin seeds or any other substitutions, if possible. I’m trying to make it as traditional as I can, so I’m going off of a recipe I found on Naira Land, a Nigerian discussion forum. The only substitution I’ll probably make is to use rice instead of pounded yam, since it’s a little less daunting. I’m not much of a cook. I’m more of an eater… But, yeah, that’s how I feel closer to my African roots. I’m not sure if that helped you any, but it kind of made me a little hungry…

aborisha/aleyo initiation: This is another one that I think has been covered plenty, so I won’t get into it here. Look back at earlier podcast episodes and blog posts. Finding a godparent that you can learn from and trust is crucial. After that, receiving elekes and warriors is really simple stuff. A lot of sites and books mention that you will want to bring a change of clothes with you for your initiation and that your old ones are destroyed. I had read online about initiates having to essentially be stripped of the old clothes. It’s not anything perverse, but that’s also part of why you want to only work with people you know and trust. It’s a symbol of being stripped of one’s old life. For my initiation, pretty much all I was told was to bring a change of clothes that I didn’t mind being thrown away. I don’t want to give away too much, for those yet to be initiated, but take my advice… Wear something nice and thin. I wore thick jeans for my initiation and I don’t think my madrina will ever let me forget that choice.

how do you crown someone in santeria: How the heck should I know? There are two ways to learn that stuff, as far as I know. The first is through the direct experience of being crowned. That gives you a basic idea of some of the things that happen, but definitely wouldn’t teach you enough to be able to do it on your own. The second part, available to you only once you’ve been crowned and have some experience under your belt, is to actually work behind-the-scenes during a crowning ceremony. Like with many other aspects of the religion, the more you participate, the more you learn. At least that’s how I understand it.

how to prepare to make ocha: Unlike the rest of these question, this came from the Facebook page. One of the first steps is to talk with your godparents to find out what you need. They should be able to give you a nice big list of stuff, especially when it comes to white things — sheets, socks, shirts, undergarments, pants, and that sort of thing. You’ll also want to start picking out tinajas and soperas to hold the orisha that you receive and their tools. Starting early on this stuff really helps out. If you just buy a little bit every now and then, you shouldn’t notice as big of a financial hit than if you had waited until the last moment and bought everything at once. You’ll also need to save up for the actual ceremony, too. The cost will depend largely on which orisha you are crowning. You’ll also want to try to work out the details of when it’ll happen. That way, the people that need to be there for the ceremony can work out scheduling issues ahead of time. Also, you’ll probably want to schedule some time off after the ceremony, so you have time to unwind and appreciate all the things you’ve gone through. Those are all things that I think you should do. I only have one piece of advice about what not to do. Don’t try to learn too much about the ceremony ahead of time. Not only will it make things more enjoyable, but you won’t run into issues if things go different than you read about online or in a book. There will be a lot going on during those first couple days and the last thing you want to do is worry about whether things are being done correctly or not. Other than that, just enjoy yourself and have fun. That’s my plan, at least.


The Facebook Page has been a great success. Tim Brown was the first person to become a fan of the page after the previous podcast was released. Thanks, Tim, for your support. Enough people followed suit that, as of the time of this recording, the page has thirty fans now. That’s awesome! The Discussions board got used a little bit and helped me learn a bit more about the listeners. Chris Velasco and Matt Scott were the first people brave enough to post a little about themselves and their experiences in the religion. Thank you both.

I also had a request from Nilaja Montgomery, who is now following both on Twitter and Facebook. She requested I do a podcast where on focus on a specific orisha. She’d like to learn more about Oya. I love that idea. What I’m going to try and do, though, is find someone who is crowned Oya. If I can get them to talk a little bit about her for the podcast, great. Otherwise, at least it will give me somewhere to start. Stay tuned.

I’d also like to take a moment to mention a pretty good book I’ve been reading. It’s called “Who Fears Death” It’s by Nnendi Okorafor. It takes place in Africa, but an Africa far different from ours today — at least in most ways. There are a few references to Santeria, but they are few and far between. Think of it as an African version of Harry Potter — except the hero is a girl. There’s even an evil and incredibly-strong sorcerer in it. Together, the hero and her friends go off to defeat evil. Blah, blah, blah. Sounds pretty standard, right? But there are things that make it a far different story, too… like genocide, brutal rapes and murders, female circumcision, and all sorts of nasty real-life stuff. It’s definitely worth a read. It brings attention to some of what currently goes on in Africa, but it’s also just a really interesting story.

Lastly, I’ve been thinking of how I’m going to help raise money to make ocha. I haven’t quite worked out the details yet, but I’d like to sell the little stuff I know how to make, things I’ve acquired, and things I have found. While I can’t always guarantee that it’ll be as inexpensive as the mass-produced stuff on eBay, I can promise to put all of the profits into my Ocha Fund. Besides, the sooner I’m crowned, the sooner I can share my experiences as a iyawo rather than just an aborisha…. and I’m sure you guys would rather hear that.

Well, until next time….

Maferefún eggun
Maferefún orisha

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