Santeria combines influences of Caribbean tradition, West Africa’s Yoruba spirituality, and elements of Catholicism.
To become a Santero, or high priest, one must pass a series of tests and requirements prior to initiation.
The Origins of Santeria
Santeria is, in fact, not one set of beliefs, but a “syncretic” religion, which means it blends aspects of a variety of different faiths and cultures, despite the fact that some of these beliefs might be contradictory to one another. Santeria combines influences of Caribbean tradition, West Africa’s Yoruba spirituality, and elements of Catholicism. Santeria evolved when African slaves were stolen from their homelands during the Colonial period and forced to work in Caribbean sugar plantations.
Santeria is a fairly complex system, because it blends the Yoruba orishas, or divine beings, with the Catholic saints. In some areas, African slaves learned that honoring their ancestral orishas was far safer if their Catholic owners believed they were worshiping saints instead – hence the tradition of overlap between the two.
The orishas serve as messengers between the human world and the divine. They are called upon by priests by a variety of methods, including trances and possession, divination, ritual, and even sacrifice. To some extent, Santeria includes magical practice, although this magical system is based upon interaction with and understanding of the orishas.