For those raised practicing the beliefs of Santeria, there probably isn't much mystery left to what this religion entails. Like any other system of beliefs, practitioners following this structure of belief have been raised learning the history, ceremonies, and practices associated with this religion.
For those coming to Santeria with fresh eyes, there may be a need to dispel the questions and concerns surrounding this ancient system of religious worship and practice. Here, a look at the basic concepts of this religion and a focus on the traditional tools of the religion, such as collares de Santeria and Santeria beads, may provide an educational springboard from which to launch your study of this time-honored practice.

What is Santeria Really About?

Looking to the media, including popular film and television, Santeria has often been portrayed in a bad light. Practitioners are often seen worshiping demons, or the devil himself, and offering human or animal sacrifices. This, in fact, is not remotely what this ancient belief system is all about. Instead of demonic worship, this system of beliefs focuses on the passing on of knowledge, personal power, and a dedication to the beauty of time-worn ceremonies and traditions. 

Santeria originates from Africa in the area that is today called Nigeria, where it was first practiced by the Yoruba. Like many pagan religions, this religious practice focuses ceremony and gives participants active roles in every aspect of worship. Instead of observing one priest or minister conduct the rituals, any practitioner can conduct rituals or participate in the ceremonies conducted by a larger group. 

The term "Santeria" translates to English as "worship of the saints" and suggests that this is a loosely connected offshoot of the Catholic religion. However, it distances itself from Christian religions in that it worships the saints as deities themselves and holds the belief that those saints can and do descend to earth to assist their followers. In this way, worshipers are able to connect and personally interact with those they worship.

Also similar to many religions, one must study and learn about the religion, before being permitted to practice as a priest, or Santero. This requires one to graduate three different levels of initiation. There is one god to be worshiped, along with an entire pantheon of saints, called orishas in this system. Each orisha governs one aspect of nature and/or human existence, controlling the various characteristics of that aspect which they govern. Additionally, a system of divination allows the babalawo (high priest) to consult directly with the orishas of his or her choosing.

On animal sacrifices, there is some truth to these stereotypes, though the exact circumstances when these types of ceremonies take place remain undisclosed to outsiders. It is known that such sacrifices are rare and, when they are conducted, the chicken is eaten after the ceremony. This is done to appease the orishas, who would not look kindly on any animal killed indiscriminately. 
Additionally, all practitioners of Santeria are well educated in herbalism, as plants and flowers account for the majority of ingredients in magical works and rituals. The goal in any magical working is to obtain the "ashe," or the power of the orisha. In this belief, the ashe is passed down to man by God, who uses the orishas as the method of transfer, so the intent of any magical working is to rightfully obtain the ashe from the orishas. This practice involves an offering, or ebbo, to the orisha in question and there are specific colors, numbers, herbs, and foods that dictate what offerings are to be made to each orisha.

Instead of the Zodiac, each person in the Santeria religion is governed by a specific Orisha. That orisha claims the people under his or her sign as their own and will even act as their guardian angel. 

The Significance of Collares de Santeria and Santeria Beads

As you begin your study of this system of beliefs and the accompanying practice of magical rituals, you can't help but to wonder about the Santeria beads meaning. After all orisha beads and collares de Santeria play a significant role in most ceremonies and rituals, so it's difficult to do much without them. The Santeria necklaces and Santeria beads help to bridge the gap between the Santero and the orisha, offering the wearer protection and control, while communing with the orishas. Practitioners often wear their Santeria beads colors, even when not communing with their orisha, as symbol of their faith and a plea for guidance in their daily lives.

Even initiations are centered around the use of collares de Santeria and Santeria beads with the receiving of one's necklace as monumental and symbolic as a Christian baptism. Known as The Way Of The Saints/Orishas, it is a ritual of rebirth and cleansing, allowing the initiate to begin his or her journey free from the trappings of his or her past life. Before the collares de Santeria is bestowed, it's blessed by the initiate's godparents and anointed with holy water and herbs. 

Next, the initiate bows over a tub to be bathed in holy water, a process overseen by one or the other godparent. Then, the Santeria beads are bestowed upon the initiate. From this point forward, the godparent accepts spiritual, emotional, physical, and financial responsibility for the initiated child or individual.

There are several types of collares de Santeria, each adorned with its own assortment of Santeria beads. The colors of each necklace corresponds to a specific orisha and there are five primary orishas with corresponding collars. The five main orishas are Elegua, Obatala, Yemaya, Shango, and Oshun. Depending on the day of your birth and your specific needs, you might receive the collar de oshun or the collar blanco santeria, upon your initiation into Santeria. That's not to say you cannot pray or worth with other orishas, once you have passed through the three initiations. Additionally, the wearer of the 7 African Power collare is said to be universally blessed with peace, love, opportunity, power, money, and protection.

The Rules Governing the Wearing of a Collar

The necklace of beads used in this religion is as sacred as the rosary is in Christianity and should be revered just as deeply. As such, there are certain rules to be observed in relation to these items. 

1. Kiss the necklace each time it's removed or put back on.
2. Some practitioners may have more than one necklace. Each one should be handled individually and in the order that they were first received.
3. The necklace should never be worn where it may get wet. Take it off, before bathing and before going swimming.
4. It should be removed, when partying or drinking alcohol.
5. Where an activity involves blood, such as a sacrifice, or a woman starts her period, the necklace should be immediately removed.
6. The necklace should also be removed prior to engaging in any sexual activities.
7. At bedtime, the necklace should be removed. Exceptions to this rule may be made, where the individual is sick or where he or she has the permission of godparents to leave it on.
8. The necklace should never be touched by others. Only you or your godparents may handle the necklace.
9. When the necklace is removed, it should either be placed on an altar or wrapped in a clean white cloth.

While these rules might imply that certain activities are frowned upon as bad or immoral, that's not the case. For instance, drinking alcohol and sexual activity aren't wrong. The energies they exhibit don't coincide with the energies of the orishas and that's the reason the necklace shouldn't be worn, while engaging in these activities. Similarly, the heat of blood negatively interacts with the cooling nature of the necklaces. These rules are established to protect yourself, as much as they're designed to show the orishas proper respect.

This just leaves one to wonder where appropriate collars and beads can be obtained. El Viejo Lazaro Botanica, located out of Miami, Florida, offers a wide selection of beads, necklaces, and other worship items you may need to start your journey. They offer bulk bags of beads in a variety of colors to ensure you'll have all you need for yourself and for any other family members eager to follow you along your new path. Pre-made beaded necklaces are also available for those less crafty individuals, who may prefer not to make their own collares de Santeria. Again, these necklaces come with beads of a variety of colors to ensure there's an appropriate necklace for communicating with any orisha. For crafting your own necklace, El Viejo Lazaro Botanica also offers naked necklaces made from genuine elephant hair. 

Additionally, El Viejo Lazaro Botanica offers a selection of books, candles, and Catholic statues. These items can help complete your inventory of ritual and sacred altar items at reasonable costs. Once you have assembled these special items, you can begin your initiation into the magical world of Santeria.