PALO MAYOMBE ZARABANDA HOUSE OF PALO 516-300-3866
PALO MAYOMBE ZARABANDA HOUSE OF PALO 516-300-3866 When the U.S. Supreme Court struck down an ordinance that prohibited animal sacrifices, the Court legalized the
practice as a result. The sect known as Santeria thus gained a victory for its religious rites.
What is Palo Mayombe ? It is an Afro-Caribbean religion that combines animism, pantheism, ancestor worship, and Roman Catholicism. It is a syncretistic religion that combines its belief in the Orishas - the gods of the Yoruba and Bantu pantheons of southwest Nigerian origin-with the Catholic saints.i
Palo Mayombe consists of legends (or patakí) that provide a basis for its customs and ceremonies. Although more than 400 deities exist, only 16 are actively worshipped. Those deities that form the foundation of the religion are Obatalá, Oshún, Yemaya (or Yemalla), Oyá, and Changó (or Shango). The four warriors are Elegguá, Oggún, Ochosi, and Osun. It is around these foundational and warrior Orishas- or head guardians-that rites of initiation, divination, and magic are celebrated.
In essence, Palo Mayombe offers its believers (known as santeros) the means of acquiring predictive knowledge of the world, as well as access to the principal sources of power. Its practice is supposedly limited to white magic and excludes any black witchcraft. Those who observe Santeria worship Olofi - also called Olodumare and Olorún - their almighty god and supreme being. Santeros believe that it is in the forces of nature where the Orishas manifest Olofi's will.
The santero's central goals are to worship the saints (Orishas), observe feasts, obey orders, and carry out rites. In exchange for total submission, believers will have supernatural powers and protection from evil-including health, influence, position, and the ability to see and modify the future.
How did Palo Mayombe arise? During the colonization of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, and Trinidad-thousands of Yoruba natives were transported there as slaves. These slaves remained attached to their religious practices and African traditions, even though they were forced to adjust to the environment of the New World. However, due to Catholic persecution in Cuba, they were unable to practice their religion openly. So the slaves assimilated the symbols of the Roman Catholic Church, the only legal religion in Cuba, with their own. Because of the similarities between the Catholic saints and the Orishas, they gave their deities Catholic names. Thus, when celebrating their rituals, the slaves appeared to be believing Catholics. In reality, they were secretly worshiping the Yoruba Orishas.
Over several centuries, this process of adaptation meant that the Nigerianii Yoruba practices were modified to resemble other African tribal customs and religions.With the mass exit from Cuba after the 1959 communist revolution, this faith in Orishas was exported to Puerto Rico,iii Panama, Venezuela, Mexico, and the Dominican Republic. It was also introduced to different urban centers in the United States-including Miami, New York, Chicago, Los Angeles, and New Jersey.
The Deities of Palo Mayombe
The following are some of the foundational and warrior deities which were previously discussed:
• Obatalá: associated with the Catholic saint Our Lady of Mercy - is the father of the Orishas and creation. He is also the patron of peace and purity.
• Orúnla: also known as Ifá and Orúnmila - is the patron of the high priests (known as babalawos) and the principal magician of the Yoruba pantheon. He is equated with the Catholic saint Francis of Assisi.
• Yemaya: the patron of the seas and of motherhood - gave birth to 14 of the most important Orishas, including Changó. She is likened to the Virgin of Regla.
• Oshún: the younger sister of Yemaya and the queen of love, marriage, gold, and the rivers-is the favorite concubine of Changó, is associated with Our Lady of Charity, and is the patron saint of Cuba.
• Oyá: the queen of the dead - is the ruler of fire, wind, and the cemetery. This daughter of Yemaya is equated with Saint Theresa and the Virgin of Candelaria. Puerto Rico is known as the land of Oyá.
• Changó: the Orisha of virility-is the patron of fire, drums, dance, lightning, and thunder. A great warrior, he gives victory over one's enemies, as well as every difficulty. This son of Yemaya, is likened to Saint Barbara.
Four deities form the group identified as the warriors. They are Elegguá, Oggún, Ochosi and Osun.
• Elegguá: also known as Elegba - is the guardian of the doors, including the door of death. He acts as the messenger of Olofi and the other Orishas to the human world.Without his permission nothing can be accomplished. As the principal deity of divination for the santero, he is associated with St. Anthony and the Holy Infant of Prague.
• Oggún: a son of Yemaya - is equated with St. Peter. He is the patron of metals, technology, and every working person.
• Ochosi: also a son of Yemaya - is likened to St. Norbert. He is the patron of the hunters, and acts as a translator for Obatalá.
• Osun: or Osain - is the Orisha that always accompanies Elegguá and is associated with St. John the Baptist. Osun warns santeros when danger arises and is seen as the embodiment of joy
In addition to the Catholic saints symbolizing these deities, the Orishas are also represented by the fundamentos and secrets of the saints. These fundamentos are one or more stones (otanes)
grouped together for someone's initiation (asiento). Also included are 16 cowrie shells (diloggun) and several atributos - or small figures and objects - that represent the powers and characteristics
of the deity. The consecrated stones, kept in deep bowls colorfully decorated to represent the Orisha, means to obtain benefits and protection for the believer. They are full of ashé - which means
they are made of cosmic energy. The fundamentos are the most basic representation of the Orisha and are treated like living beings. They are even bathed with sacred liquids made from plants, cleaned,
rubbed with oil, and fed with the blood of the deity's favorite animal. After being converted into the abodes of the Orishas, the stones acquire both the personality and power (ashé) of the god that
resides within them. Cowrie shells are used for divination. The initiate keeps them in his house with the other religious objects, instead of in special temples. Most rituals are conducted in the
homes of believers.
The bead necklaces (eleke) are made of the characteristic color of each Orisha, and are another important symbol. The colors of the Orishas radiate ashé.When a santero wears an Orisha's colors, he is protected because any magical spell directed toward him is deflected. Thus, the Orishas are said to protect their children with their colors.
There are two courses for growth in the Santeria hierarchy of power and prestige. These paths are ritualized, eleven-step progressions that guide the person from non-believer to the elevated knowledge and protectioniv of an omókoloba (one that has received Olofi). Different rituals help the santero acquire power and knowledge. Non-believers do not have the power that this religion promises and, therefore, lack adequate protection against evil. Both paths require the person to receive the initiation of the warriors, although other steps vary.v
Frequently, the initiation is referred to as asiento - which signifies contract and obligation. The Orisha agrees to protect his child, who, in turn, promises to serve the Orisha. Making the saint is another expression used in reference to the initiation.
The process of initiation is long, complicated, and costlyvi. It consists of several phases and varies according to the Orisha. First, it is necessary to determine which of the deities corresponds to the person that is seeking help. This is accomplished through a divinatory process done by a santero or a high priest.vii An initiation begins with the reception of necklaces and ends with the asiento. The preparations for the initiation include a special bath and dressing with white clothes as a symbol of the new life. Sometimes the waters of the purification bath symbolize the amniotic liquid of birth. During the ceremony, the initiate is formally assigned an Orisha that will protect and watch over him. The ceremony includes animal sacrifices, prediction of the initiate's future, and obedience to taboos and restrictions for a year. During this time, the initiate must submit to certain prohibitions.
Animal sacrifices are essential for the initiation, because the blood is necessary for birth. It is believed that during the asiento, one is born to a new life as a child (omo) of the Orisha.
For many santeros, this initiation is the first of a series of ceremonies that serve to dedicate them to more Orishas. Upon becoming a saint, two paths are opened to the santero-that which is open to every man and woman, and that of Orúnla (which is open to men who will become high priests).
Due to their concept of reincarnation, santeros believe that, prior to birth, it is possible to choose one's own destiny. This implies that there are predetermined aspects of life-such as one's character, work, economic status, intelligence, fortune, and longevity. Although it is not possible to change one's destiny, violating an Orisha's prohibition, disobeying a deity, and magical curses can worsen it. Because of this, the divinatory ceremonies-or counsels of Olofi-are of immense importance. Through them, a person receives valuable advice about how to make his destiny less severe, how to decrease the number of problems that impact his life, and how to increase the benefits available to him. Divination helps to improve the santero's life. The santero learns to eliminate negative influences by uncovering their origins and obeying the instructions given him. The believer not only discovers the spiritual reasons for the difficult situations in his life, but also is informed of how to overcome them. In addition, the experiences of the Orishas in mythology offer models of action which the believer can emulate.
The usual celebrants of the divinatory rituals are the babalawo (high priests) and santeros. Normally, their instruments of divination are, respectively, the opele and the diloggun (or cowrie shells). The ceremonies that rely upon divination include the reception of necklaces; the initiation; the lustral baths; animal sacrifices; the vegetable, fruit, and sweet offerings; and the candles offered during a spiritual or Catholic Mass. Frequently the obi and the diloggun are asked questions about the will of the gods; thus, these rituals are characterized as propitiatory, preventive, and reparative. Coconuts (obi) are the basic tool of the divinatory system, but are limited to answering simple yes or no questions. Any believer may consult the coconut-even a person who has not yet been initiated. The santeros use coconuts in their principal ceremonies to divine the future and determine if the deity likes a certain offering.
The cowrie shells (diloggun) are also instruments of divination. The sixteen shells serve as the voice of the deity in answering questions. The shells of Elegguá are normally used, because Elegguá interprets the solutions given by the Orishas. Although the shells of other deities are used for divination, they are rarely used during the believer's life. The procedure of the shells is similar to that of the opele. However, a litany of invocations is used to communicate with the deities. Permission is requested of the guardian angel consulted, the shells are thrown three times in order to obtain a key letter and two secondary ones, the additional five shells are used so that by means of yes and no answers, one can find out . . . by the hand of whom it is so, what saint protects him and what he should do in order to clear his path."ix
Sacrifice is fundamental to the worship of the Orishas, and there are traditional sacrificial techniques that are mandatory.
Animal blood is crucial to most important ceremonies, and each Orisha requires particular sacrifices that provide him with vital cosmic energy (ashé). One Orisha may prefer a goat, calf, pig, fish, sheep, or turtle; while another calls for hens, chickens, roosters, guineas, geese, turkeys, or ducks. There are also offerings that do not involve blood, such as honey, fruits, vegetables, black beans, and rice.
The Orishas that materialize in the stones, cowrie shells, and elekes (bead necklaces), do not eat the flesh of the sacrificed animals. Instead, the ashé contained in the blood is poured out over the fundamentos and the heads of the initiates. The sacred Yoruba words of consecration liberate this energy, and the blood enhances the Orishas' energy. It keeps them potent, efficient, and satisfied with the worshipers.
There is no salvation, prosperity, or security in Santeria without sacrifice. The gods cannot do without the sacrificial blood because it increases their energies. Those santeros, who participate in the sacrifice, benefit by communing with the Orishas and being strengthened by the ashé.
Other reasons for animal sacrifice include obtaining forgiveness from an Orisha, averting the fury of the creator, and symbolizing the new birth of an initiate. Sacrifices also can be made to obtain favor from an Orisha, to free oneself from a magical jinx, to cleanse and purify, or to turn away death.x
Santeros justify animal sacrifices by arguing that since the beginning, every covenant between God and man has been authenticated by animal blood. The victim is needed as proof of man's intention to honor the agreement. The blood represents the energy from which everything was created. Offering blood to a deity is equated with giving him a gift of pure energy that can be used in creation. Candles and food offerings are also given to the Orishas, in order to replenish their powers. However, of the three kinds of offerings, the blood sacrifice is the most important and indispensable because its energy comes from a living being.
The blood of sacrificed animals belongs to the Orishas and, therefore, to the creator god Olofi. It is his by divine right. The killing of the animals is carried out in ceremonies with great solemnity and respect. Only trained santeros, who have submitted to the appropriate initiatory rites, are permitted to officiate.xi
Santeros argue that the Bible is filled with examples of the Israelite sacrificing to their God. Abraham was even willing to sacrifice his only son to please the Almighty. In the book of Leviticus, Yahweh instructed Moses how to prepare and sacrifice the burnt offering (see Lev. 1:5).When the tabernacle was completed, the twelve princes representing the tribes of Israel brought 20 animals for sacrifice (see Num. 7:11-17). Joseph and Mary complied with Leviticus 12 and took two doves to the temple to be sacrificed on the eighth day after Jesus was born (see Luke 2:22-24). Even Jesus highlighted the importance of the blood sacrifice during the last supper, when He identified the wine as the blood of the new covenant.
Santeros also point out that Jewish rabbis have received permission to sacrifice animals in accordance with the laws of Moses. The purification rite of Kaparot, which Hassidic Jews observe on the eve of YomKippur (or Day of Atonement) to reconcile for the absence of the Temple in Jerusalem, concludes with the killing of hundreds of birds.
The santeros and their families eat most of the animals they sacrifice. They believe that great healing powers in the meat consecrated to the Orishas keep those who eat it healthy. However, when an animal is sacrificed in a purification rite, they believe that the meat absorbs the problems, dangers, and negative vibrations of the person who received the cleansing. Consequently, they never eat this meat. Rather, it is disposed of in accordance with the instructions of the Orisha.
Finally, because everything in nature is filled with forces and energies, when it is given to the Orishas, the worshipper receives back the blessing a thousand times.xii
The veneration of ancestors is a crucial aspect of this religion. Its roots are founded in the belief that the Orishas have lived and died, and now exist as supernatural forces. The deadxiii are fundamental because they open the doors that lead to the Orishas. It is necessary to honor the dead by paying their dues, calling upon them, praying to them, and feeding them. For this reason, santeros will make sacrifices and adorn sticks with ribbons and bells. The dead depend upon the living to keep them strong and energetic.xiv
Every ceremony begins with an act of reverence to the dead that often includes remote ancestors. Santeros believe that the dead can intervene in people's lives by providing them with protection or pestering them. Thus, it is necessary to exalt and appease them in order to earn their favor.When the dead are cared for and receive attention, they are protective and kind. The santeros believe that they must guard against grieving or mourning souls and dark spirits with bad intentions since they are stronger than the living. Thus, it is essential to invoke the ancestors, and honor them with prayers to the dead.
On occasion, constant recitation of prayers to deceased ancestors is recommended. This includes lighting candles to them, and, in some cases, incorporating glasses of water and coffee as signs of love and respect for them