The Afro-Cuban religion of Santeria, which practitioners usually call Regla de Ocha or the Lucumí religion, has evolved over hundreds of years since its beginnings in the Yoruba lands in West Africa. The Santeria religion is not based on the worship of an all powerful creator deity, but rather on the worship of the direct descendants of the creator known as the Orishas, such as Yemaya and Elegua. In the Yoruba lands of Africa, a particular Orisha was worshipped in each city, but since the time of the slave trade, the practitioners of Santeria have been forced to adapt to the challenges presented by having to coexist in foreign lands. This has led to worship of numerous Orishas and a blending of religious practices. Through diversity and adaptation, practitioners of the Santeria religion have successfully brought African, Caribbean, and Catholic practices and influences together into a coherent and durable whole, with roots in a variety of cultures, making Santeria it one of the fastest growing religions in the world today. 

How is Santeria Practiced?

There are many misconceptions about the Lucumí religion, that it is a primitive or polytheistic religion, but the truth is that it is neither. The Lecumi religion is a syncretic religion that has evolved over time to become what it is today. As the African Diaspora unfolded, West Africans who practiced the Lucumí religion were forcefully removed from their homelands and brought to the Americas, being forced into lives of slave labor and mandated Christian religious practices. 

The Lucumí religion is practiced by initiated Orisha priests known as Santero. A Santero is known as a Iyalocha if they are female, and a Babalocha if they are male. The fully initiated priest is qualified to perform rituals for healing, communicating with ancestors, working with spirit guides, divinities, and Orishas. A Santero can also initiate others into the Lucumí religion. It is in your initiation with a fully qualified Santero that novice practitioners will receive their guardian Orisha.

Who Are Yemaya and the Orishas?

Yemaya and the other Orishas are tutelary deities in the Lucumí religion that function somewhat like Saints in the Catholic religion. They teach us how to live our lives purposefully and intercede on our behalf. The Orishas also communicate with the trinity of high Santerian deities, Olodumare, Olofi, and Olorun. Olodumare is the creator deity or God who is still revered but has since withdrawn from this Universe to create other Universes. Olorun is the owner of the Heavens, an energetic deity that has manifested in the form of the Sun and is still visible today, supporting and engendering all of life. Olofi is the mediator and communicator in this trinity, functioning like the Paraclete or Holy Spirit in the Christian trinity. It is Olofi that is in charge of all worldly affairs and communicates directly with the Orishas.

There is a rich oral history of lore and legend in the Lucumí religion that is held by the Pataki or Itá, repositories of all of the past knowledge and wisdom left by our spiritual ancestors and carried into the present day through a long lineage. The stories divined by the Itá connect present day practitioners to the Orishas, the children of Olodumare, and are imbued with Her mystical energy which is known as aché. Through communications (prayers), mantras, and rituals, practitioners can materialize the divine forces of the Orishas into their lives. 

Working with the Orishas through rituals can generate a change in the disposition of individual people which can release them from negative karma and transform their lives in a positive direction. These rituals must be performed by an Orisha priest or Babalawo, but the person receiving the aché or grace need not necessarily be a practitioner of the Lucumí religion to benefit from a ritual. 

There are hundreds of Orisha in the Santeria religion, but here are several of the most prominent:

Elegua Orisha 

Elegua Orisha is a male Orisha warrior, the first born among the Orisha, in charge of satisfying all universal and arbitrary forces. Elegua Orisha is first to receive offerings and delivers them to Heaven. The work of Elegua Orisha is what invites Olofi to concede His divine grace or aché upon the world. Elegua is the most powerful of the Orisha, and is said to be omnipresent, acting as the Divine Witness of all of the activities of humanity.

Yemaya Orisha 

Yemaya Orisha is the divine mother, female warrior of the seven seas. As a warrior goddess, Yemaya embodies the strength of the Divine Mother to defend children everywhere and promote maternal values. The influence of Yemaya Orisha brings harmony to your household, balance to your marriage, and economic well being to your family. The strength of Yemaya comes from her ability to nurture life and resolve tensions in the world.

Shango Orisha 

Shango Orisha is an Orisha male warrior who is charged with assuring that the divine will of Olofi is being served on the Earth. Shango Orisha is the defender of virtue, righteousness, and order, promoting paternal values eerywhere. As the promoter of what is right, Shango Orisha naturally supports the under dog in any conflict and has influence over all beings on Earth, including humankind and all types of ancestral spirits. 

Babalu Aye or Babalu Orisha

Babalu Aye, also known as Babalu Orisha, is the Lord of the Earth and rules over infectious diseases and healing. Babalu Aye is known as the Wrath of the Supreme God and it is his job to punish people for their transgressions. Throughout Africa and the Caribbean, Babalu Aye has been revered and feared for centuries. It is important to note that, though he is associated with infectious disease, he is also the spirit that heals these diseases.

Babalu Orisha is also known as Saint Lazarus in the Lucumí religion and teaches us compassion and responsibility for the sick, injured and infirm. Babalu Orisha is the protector of the sick and infirm, and he appears as an old man with visible sores and trembling legs to teach us about the importance of integrity and humility. Products to Support the Practice of Yemaya and the Orishas

The Santeria religion of the Orishas involves the use of a variety of products and services that act as supports in the practice. When one finds their particular guardian Orisha, they will then set up a shrine in their home to the Orisha, which would involve setting up Catholic and African statuettes, candles, and spiritual incense for the creation of a sacred space of worship and communication with the Divine. Making prayers and offerings to the Orisha on a regular basis, reciting mantras, and performing various divination rituals, is directly supported by the use of Santeria jewelry and bead products, Mazo necklaces, ides reg, ides crystals and Orisha crowns, all of which should only be purchased through authorized sources. The authenticity of the statuettes, bead products, ides crystals and Santeria jewelry used is vitally important in terms of their effectiveness.