More G(g)od(s)

A botanica is a store where products necessary to the carrying out of the complex curses, spells, rituals, and divining ceremonies are purchased.

The origins of the magical and fortune-telling rites go back to Yoruba-speaking West African tribes, mainly those found along the banks of the Niger River in Nigeria.

The folding in of the religious beliefs of the Yoruba people into the Catholic Faith wrought far-reaching consequences. Primitive magic is at the heart of Santeria. In the New World, the Yoruba religion was practiced in the woods, away from prying eyes. It is for this reason, the need to hide the magical, witchcraft nature of the slaves’ religion, that led to the folding of Santeria into Catholic practices and observances.

The transition was fairly easily accomplished since the primary mechanisms for magical thinking were already in place in the Catholic system. Consider the following:

  1. Catholic priests receive ordination from those previously ordained, supposedly going back to Peter. This is essentially a magical concept where certain powers of the priests, acquired through ordination, are exercised in religious rites. This is evident in the power of the priest to turn ordinary water into “holy water” and to turn bread into the actual flesh of Jesus and wine into the actual blood of Jesus.  It was not a large step to embrace the Yoruba belief system. After all, Santeria is about obtaining power, or ashe, from the saints.
  2. Catholic Saints, including the Virgin Mary, are prayed to in the Catholic Church and these are thought to be able to grant certain favors including protection from accidents and injury. The saints of the Church had power that could be tapped into. In Santeria, the rites of the Church were merely copied and modified, and the result was much the same.
  3. The Church’s concept of an immortal soul set the stage for Santeria’s doctrine of reincarnation. With reincarnation the soul lives on, and there is no real consequence for bad behavior except perhaps having to experience a lesser existence the next time around. This possibility does not impact people much, as consequences are both hazy and far away, and there is no threat of actual judgment.
  4. The Mass–this sacrificial rite, the continual reenactment of the crucifixion of Jesus Christ, provided the back drop for the animal sacrifices ubiquitous to Santeria. If the church’s rites focused on sacrifice, then Santeria’s sacrificial system could legitimately fall right in line.

It must be noted that the Roman Catholic Church did not endorse Santeria and largely attempted to refute it, but Santeria became so influential that in some places, and to this day, there was a deliberate syncretization of the two systems. This is especially true in countries like Cuba and Brazil.

It is also characteristic that Santerians are baptized and faithful members of the Catholic Church, often very fervent worshippers. This has changed somewhat now as Jewish people have begun practicing Santeria, and they objected to a Christian baptism of any kind. It may be that Jews who practiced Judaism’s esoteric Kabballah found a linkage between that and Santeria.

Santeros, then, will attempt to make a distinction between good and evil magic, but in reality such differences are not actual, because there are no good forms of magic at all (not to be confused with entertainers’ sleight-of-hand tricks or illusions). Indeed, all magic of the Santeria sort is evil and functions only by demonic power. The magical nature of Santeria is exposed in this way for someone who stands outside it, but for those committed to it, it seems natural and logical.