Frequently Asked Questions
Q. Why do you sacrifice animals in your religion?
A. Animal Sacrifice is just a small part of the much larger definition of ebbó (sacrifice or offering) in the religion. There are many categories of ebbó. There are offerings such as addimú which can include candles, fruits, candy, or any number of items or actions that may be appreciated by the deities or orishas in the religion. In divination, the orishas may ask for a favorite fruit or dish, or they may call for the person to heed advice given. At times they may ask that a person give up drinking or other practices that are unwise for that individual. They may request a person to wear certain jewelry, receive initiations or any number of other things. Or they may request an animal, usually a chicken or a dove, so the orisha will come to that person's aid. As a rule, animal sacrifice is called for only in major situations such as sickness or serious misfortune. Animals are also offered when a new priest is consecrated in service of her or his orisha during the birthing process of initiation. In every birth there is blood.
In our modern society we have become separated from the concept of death. Even our dead are embalmed and made up to appear living. When we purchase meat to eat or leather to wear it is pre-processed to remove the shopper from the fact that a life was taken in order that another may live. Meat wrapped in plastic with a little paper towel to soak up any blood that might remind the buyer of the fact of the animal's death. The buyer is also kept unaware of the circumstances surrounding the poor animals life and, of course, its death. When animals are killed in the slaughterhouse there is little respect or regard for that animal, the only matter of importance being that the animals are killed cheaply and in great quantity to supply an ever growing market. In other words, these animals too are sacrificed, though the only deity revered here is greed. We should also take into account that the poultry industry alone kills more animals in one day than the religion has sacrificed worldwide in the last several hundred years!
On the other hand, when an animal is sacrificed in La Regla Lucumí and Yoruba it is first and foremost done with respect. respect for the orisha being offered this life and respect for the little bird whose life is taken in order that we may live better. The animal must be well cared for because it is the property of the orisha. In fact, sometimes the orisha will state that the animal must not die but live with the person, and the orisha expects that animal to be well cared for and pampered as theirs.
At the beginning of the sacrifice, when the animal is brought forward, there is a song and action that we perform in acknowledgement that one day our lives will be taken suddenly in much the same way as the animals. In this way, our religion differs little from the beliefs of the Native Americans. Here there is a respect for all life, and a respect for the death that must come to all, including ourselves.
Afterwards, if the animal wasn't used to cleanse a person of illness or misfortune, it is eaten by all the participants. If, on the other hand, it was used for a cleansing, the animal is taken to the place requested by the orisha to complete the offering. These animals cannot be eaten as we would be eating the sickness or misfortune that was removed from that person.
Whether the ebbó is a simple apple or a little chicken, it should always be offered with both hands and an open heart.
Q. What is Trance Possession and is it dangerous?
A. Trance possession is an important part of our religion. During a bembé (also known as a tambor) or drumming party for the orishas an orisha may be persuaded to join the party by entering the body of one of the priests or priestesses consecrated to that orisha. This is referred to as the person being 'mounted' by the orisha or that the orisha has 'come down' from heaven to be with us. The songs, rhythms and dances are actually calculated to entreating the orishas to come down so that we may be blessed by their counsel, cleansings and their sheer presence. When an orisha decides to use one our bodies for a time it is, of course, a cause of great joy for us.
The orishas only rarely mount an aleyo or person who has not been initiated as a priest, and then usually only to point this person out as a person who needs to be initiated as a priest(ess) in the religion. It is not forced on people nor is it a thing of evil such as portrayed in movies like "The Exorcist" nor does anyone spit pea soup. If someone is not ready, the orisha will be gently persuaded to leave until the person is initiated and prepared for such an event. And anyone who has experienced being 'touched' or actually mounted will tell you the profound feelings of joy and wisdom that accompany the presence of these great spiritual beings known as orishas.
Q. I'm interested. How Do I get Initiated?
A. In La Regla Lucumí or Yoruba, initiation is a major undertaking and not to be taken lightly. When your are initiated you become a member of your Godparents’ Ilé or House. This makes you a member of an extended family known as your Godfamily. This includes Godparents, Grand Godparents, sisters and brothers. As part of the Godfamily it places both the Godparents and the Godchildren in a position of mutual responsibility. The Godchildren are expected to respect their Godparents and their authority as their elders in the religion and as your Godparents. Certain ritual observances are also included. The Godparents are responsible for the guidance and teaching of their Godchildren. And before anything happens we must get the approval of the Orishas. This exclusivity is not based on an attitude of superiority, but is instead based on the wishes of the Orishas and the continuity of the tradition as it has been practiced for ages. This is how we as Priests were taught by our Godparents and their Godparents before them.
We aren’t trying to scare you away, but we do want you to know what you’re getting into so you can make an informed decision.
Q. OK, I understand. Now How Do I Get Initiated?
A. Well, first you will need to be seen with Ifá or with Elegba’s shells to see what the Orishas have to say regarding becoming initiated. You will find that there is little that we do in this religion without the permission and approval of the Orishas. As priestesses and Priests we are servants of the Orishas and it is the Orishas who call the shots. Sometimes, the Orishas will say no, sometimes they will say yes. It’s up to them. Sometimes a person is simply not ready at that time. Or perhaps another Ilé would be more suitable. And the Santera or santero must have the Orishas permission to perform the ceremony. Again it’s up to the Orishas.
Q. What are those pretty colored necklaces about?
A. The Ilekes or necklaces are usually the first initiation in the religion. Receiving your Ilekes puts you under the protection and blessings of your Godparents’ Orishas and makes you a part of their Ilé or Orisha House. The Ilekes are sacred and are the banners of the Orishas and act as a sign of the Orishas presence and protection. The preparations usually take several days to a week as several complex ceremonies are involved. The ceremony of receiving your ilekes itself takes several hours as it is made up of several rituals, and the new initiate should be prepared to ‘make a day of it’ as they will be expected to go home and rest for the remainder of the evening. In many ways this ceremony is an equivalent to the ceremony of Baptism practiced by some religions. It is the ceremonial entrance into our religion and into a new life as a follower of the Orishas. Only Santeras and Santeros can perform this ceremony and this ceremony cannot be performed by Babalawos.