A different religion
December 5, 2013 5:22 PM   Subscribe

Interview with a Santeria Priestess
posted by Brandon Blatcher (8 comments total) 24 users marked this as a favorite
Good interview, thanks for posting.
posted by not_that_epiphanius at 5:56 PM on December 5, 2013

The Hairpin just does such fantastic and random things.
posted by c'mon sea legs at 6:28 PM on December 5, 2013

Very good interview indeed. In the early 1990's we sold and traded semiprecious gemstones, and in southern Louisiana where there aren't any natural mineral stones we did OK. Quite a bit of our trade was new age / pagan and I'm pretty sure a couple of our customers were Santeria, although people were (and probably still are) very circumspect about it. As a completely burned-out crispy-toast ex-Christian atheist still willing to entertain religious ideas, I felt for many years that if I was ever going to get on that horse again it would be with a pagan religion, because those were accepting of difference and connected to the Earth and reality in ways monotheistic religions simply couldn't ever be.

Never got on the horse but I do respect the people who do. The thing about ritual-based religions that amazed me when I realized it is that they don't require or even request faith. The very idea of asking for blind faith is stupid. If you do the rituals, and you are doing them in the right way for the right deities for yourself, you will get results. If you don't get results then you should pick another deity or ritual. Rituals produce results, or you don't follow the religion. It is the very opposite of "faith."

The results of ritual might still be anomalies in how the nervous system works, but at least they are real things that can be felt and observed with little ambiguity. And I like that.
posted by localroger at 6:45 PM on December 5, 2013 [7 favorites]

> Also in my altar is Obatala, the eldest and most elevated orisha... He used to have a drinking problem. And He made some serious mistakes while he was drunk—so He is also the patron of sobriety and recovery.

"They're probably foreigners with ways different than our own. They may do some more... folk dancing"
posted by codswallop at 7:26 PM on December 5, 2013 [1 favorite]

Interesting find. I like this quote/perspective especially:
I appreciate Lucumi for all it has taught me about honoring life for all its contradictions and multiplicities. The idea of “both/and” transcending “either/or” is really present. It’s been very helpful for me, in anything from problems at work to breakups. Also, the idea of some orishas teaching backwards—that some lessons come unexpectedly and from a context that feels really tough. I’m a teacher, and I used to get these kids that were just wilin’ out, just so very crazy—and I learned to identify it as, “That's Eleggua's trickster energy.”
Apart from what I've learned from this article, I'm not really familiar with Santeria. A decade ago, vodun caught my eye and I started reading more about their traditions. Then I started interacting with those few of the communities who are online (and who traditionally distrust white people, given Haiti's history). The traditions are very rich and colourful. The rituals are likewise complex and lengthy, and they involve considerable introspection and dedication. I can't imagine writing off vodun — sorry, voodoo — or Santeria as superficial. If you don't involve yourself in the community structure to learn, you aren't learning much. The spiritual tradition is strongly tied to land, ancestors, and community. I still have yet to finish Maya Deren's The Divine Horsemen, but anyhow. What I remember of vodun also applies to Santeria: animals are sacrificed to feed the community. The spirit goes to the lwa (or orisha), but the meat goes to the people, who are often starving, at least in Haiti. There's nothing weird or creepy about it. The animal dies quickly and the people are fed for weeks.

As a side note, I like that trickster spirits are apparently universal.

Western culture really doesn't need to sensationalize these religions in the form of movies or tacky songs. I've found that the culture shock can be disturbing enough. There is so much territory for the media to mine, and none of it necessarily needs to invoke the supernatural, even. Delving into the histories of these religions and the atrocities forced on their peoples can be jarring enough.

Very compelling material. It can be disorienting, though, to try to join (and therefore understand) a different and deep-rooted ethnic community if you're white, as I've found; I'm not sure if this is the same for Santeria. Either way, I'd like to meet this woman! She seems perplexed by the male/female dichotomies in Santeria priesthood, which still exist despite the fact that certain orishas manifest outside of the gender binary. (If the orishas can take differently gendered forms, then why can't the people who follow them?) Anything outside of the traditional male/female gender binary seems to be shunned by the orthodox vodun community, based on my experience, which is one reason why I had to leave.
posted by quiet earth at 7:55 PM on December 5, 2013 [2 favorites]

This was a lot longer than it would have been if they'd been dumb enough to allow me to do it, if only due to a complete inability to refrain from making obvious jokes.

FAMOUS MONSTER: So, Caridad - you practice Santeria?



FM: And...would it be accurate to say that you've got a crystal -

C: This interview is over.
posted by FAMOUS MONSTER at 6:30 AM on December 6, 2013

The results of ritual might still be anomalies in how the nervous system works, but at least they are real things that can be felt and observed with little ambiguity. And I like that.

This! What I found is that belief at that point is practical. It literally doesn't matter whether or not that deity exists in the same way rocks and gravity exist, if you can converse with it, drink with it and dance with it.
posted by Foosnark at 7:06 AM on December 6, 2013 [1 favorite]

Last year my wife and I sat with a Santeria (Voudon?) priestess in New Orleans. The guidebook said she was the real thing. I know this sounds cheesy. But the weird thing was this: everything she said made perfect sense to me. Nothing remarkable, but good words. My wife, hearing the same words, said that this woman didn't make any sense at all.

I practice Tibetan Buddhism/Taoism/other stuff; my wife is an atheist.

Just strange...I thought this old woman was speaking common sense, nothing extraordinary, while my wife heard word salad. I still don't get it.

Nice post: thanks!
posted by kozad at 7:47 PM on December 6, 2013

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