Some religious practices can be very surprising because they link aspects from different beliefs which may appear incompatible at first glance. In the case of Santeria, the connection between native deities from Afro-Cuban folklore and Christianity have created one of the spiciest mixtures you can imagine in a religion.
The mysterious practice called Santeria is a polytheistic Afro-Cuban religion full of many mysterious elements, making it an oft-misunderstood practice. This religion mixing many cultures remains popular in Cuba and carries some confusing luggage of symbolism and deities. The practices of Santeria’s followers are somewhat hypnotizing and often confuse Christians about its real roots.
The Historical Background of Santeria
Santeria followers generally prefer to call it ‘Regla de Ocha’ or the ‘Lucumí’ religion. The beginnings of this belief system may be dated to the first decades of the discovery of the “New Land”. When the Yoruba people from southwestern Nigeria were enslaved and transported to Cuba they brought their religion along with them. This area was also Christianized and the mixture of beliefs that met in the Caribbean landscape became one of the most fascinating religions created in the last millennia.
The first known reference to Santeria comes from 1515, when the ambitions and financial needs of colonialists had changed the Americas. The name of the religion comes from the name the Yoruba people received in Cuba. The natives called them Lucumi. Researchers believe that the residents of Cuba thought that the black people who came to their island belonged to the Ulkumi tribe. Another possible explanation for this name relates to the language they used – the slaves called each other Olku Mi, meaning ”my friend”.
Santeria includes the cult of Orisha, meaning the ”head guardians”. It is a belief system based on the religions of all the previously mentioned cultures. The followers of Santeria are polytheists, they follow several deities whose identity is a mixture of African beliefs with Christian saints. For example, Babalu Aye became St. Lazarus (patron of the sick), Shango became St. Barbara (controller of thunder, lightning, fire), Eleggua or Elegba became St. Anthony (controlling roads, gates, etc.), Obatala became Our Lady of Las Mercedes and the Resurrected Christ (father of creation; source of spirituality), and Oggun became St. Peter (patron of war).