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What is Santeria?

Mary McMahon
Updated May 23, 2024
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Santeria is a religious practice which is found throughout the Caribbean, particularly in Cuba. It is one of several Caribbean religions blending Roman Catholic beliefs with traditional African practices. Like many other religions which have their origins in slavery, Santeria is mysterious to those who do not practice it, and the culture which surrounds it is very closed to outsiders.

Santeria integrates beliefs held by the Yoruba and Bantu people of Nigeria, Senegal, and the Guinea Coast. These peoples were brought to the Caribbean as slaves and encouraged to convert to Catholicism so that they could be saved. In an attempt to retain their cultural heritage, Santeria arose. Followers of Santeria are known as Lukumi, which means friend, or Aborisha, which means worshiper of the Orisha.

Aborisha believe in a single higher deity, who is called Olorun. Olurun is a powerful source of Ashe, which is the divine life force in the tradition of Santeria. All objects have Ashe in varying levels, and understanding Ashe at a deeper level will bring a better understanding of the world. Olorun is accompanied by a pantheon of Orisha or Saints, all of whom have distinct personalities.

The Orisha resemble the Catholic saints, and in fact many saints have been borrowed from Catholic tradition to enrich Santeria. Some of the Orisha reflect deities from Yoruba belief. Well known Orisha include Ogun, the god of metalworking and fire, and Oshun, the goddess of the river. The pantheon of Orisha is believed to be infinite. Priests of Santeria are consecrated to a specific Orisha.

Santeria honors Olorun and his pantheon of saints in a number of ways. Animal sacrifices are made to feed the Orisha. Feeding the Orisha is supposed to bring good luck, purification, and forgiveness. It is also believed that the Orisha will grow restless and angry without animal sacrifice and human prayer, which might have catastrophic results. Chickens are commonly used, although larger sacrifices may also be made.

The practice also incorporates dancing and music. At festivals, dances are performed to raise the Orisha, who possess bystanders or priests to send messages. The Orisha are viewed as very human individuals, who enjoy parties and interaction rather than remote veneration. They are also capable of making mistakes. The Orisha may request specific offerings or rituals called Ebo from followers, while a particular Orisha may be petitioned for a unique need.

Veneration of ancestors, known as the Egun, is also very important. Aborisha believe that ancestors have a larger knowledge base to draw on than living people. Aborisha pray to the Egun and ask for advice about worldly matters. The Egun help to enforce traditions and the rules of life which allow humans and Orisha to live in harmony with one another. The traditional rules of Santeria closely resemble the Ten Commandments obeyed by Catholics, with a few additions including a commandment against the consumption of human flesh.

Santeria is often compared with voodoo. Although the two religions are similar, the primary difference is that under the tradition of Santeria, the Orisha are interchangeable with Catholic saints. This is not the case with voodoo, which worships the Orisha as entirely separate deities. A rich cultural tradition accompanies Santeria and other similar religious practices.

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Mary McMahon
By Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a Language & Humanities researcher and writer. Mary has a liberal arts degree from Goddard College and spends her free time reading, cooking, and exploring the great outdoors.

Discussion Comments
By jcg1453 — On Apr 17, 2014

Why is it that people are so quick to judge something that they do not know? Santeria is a beautiful religion. All you who claim to be Christian should follow this: Luke 6:37. You are not god so don’t assume or criticize something you are not aware of. May the love of the Santo be with you all.

By anon342083 — On Jul 17, 2013

I am a yoruba Christian and I know all there is in the worship of Orisha. It is not devil worship in any way. All Aborisha believe in one God known as Olorun/Olodumare and we reach his grace through the Orishas, just like how Christians worship God through Jesus. What is devilish about that?

Just because it has an African origin, unlike Islam and Christianity, which are Asian. I am a Christian but also a Yoruba which is the race/tribe where all Aborisha practices originates from so I understand both religions perfectly well. By the way, Christianity is becoming a corrupt religion with a lot of politics and greedy pastors.

By anon314887 — On Jan 20, 2013

This religion has literally nothing to do with Christianity. The only reason they used the names of saints for their gods is because they were slaves and were forced to practice Christianity. Since they didn't want to, they just used the names of saints to represent their deities and they used God to represent Olurun. It's a completely different religion, like Hinduism or Norse Paganism.

By anon276896 — On Jun 27, 2012

Yes, it is devil worship. Read about John Ramirez: "Out of the Devil's Cauldron!"

By anon242894 — On Jan 25, 2012

I am taking a world religion class and am doing a project explaining about santeria and the orisha. Any advice?

By anon235353 — On Dec 17, 2011

The christian people are doing everything that was done to them by the Romans. Classic "believe in what I say or die and go to hell" crap, I say. If god was there he wouldn't let any faithful follower come to harm, yet he allows it and them condemns them for not being strong enough. Fight fire with fire.

@anon3793: such things are mostly spread by word of mouth. If it were online, everyone would messing with everyone, plus like any christian religion it's a business.

By anon147453 — On Jan 29, 2011

I am a santeria and I am only 17 years old. Santeria is good and bad but it all depends on what you do. the santos do not do anything bad to you ever unless you cross them or don't listen to the set of rules you're given by them. when you do osha, there is no voodoo involved but there are ways you can do good and bad things to people.

but know that if they know what they are doing they can send whatever you sent to them back to you and worse, so be careful who you mess with and don't listen to everyone who tells you things because lots of people lie.

By anon97182 — On Jul 18, 2010

If you do not want trouble and curses in your life, stay away from these practices. Healing in Santeria always has a long-term price. It is nice, and sweet, and exotic looking, but it is counterfeit to the true power of Christ, the Living God.

I am from the Caribbean and these practices are prevalent there. According to the Bible, they open doors to the demonic in your family and can affect you and up to four generations down your family line.

Make an informed choice. May the Lord protect you all.

By anon83336 — On May 10, 2010

santeria can be good and evil.

By anon76634 — On Apr 11, 2010

what are the similarities between santeria and voodoo?

By anon67347 — On Feb 24, 2010

santeria has nothing to do with devil worship, the it translates into by way of the saints.

By anon40965 — On Aug 12, 2009

This is idolatry or devil worship.

By anon3793 — On Sep 17, 2007

Why is it so hard to find topics specific to healing in Santeria?

Mary McMahon
Mary McMahon

Ever since she began contributing to the site several years ago, Mary has embraced the exciting challenge of being a...

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