Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America

Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America

Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America

Santería: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America


This book by Miguel De La Torre offers a fascinating guide to the history, beliefs, rituals, and culture of Santeréa -- a religious tradition that, despite persecution, suppression, and its own secretive nature, has close to a million adherents in the United States alone.

Santeréa is a religion with Afro-Cuban roots, rising out of the cultural clash between the Yoruba people of West Africa and the Spanish Catholics who brought them to the Americas as slaves. As a faith of the marginalized and persecuted, it gave oppressed men and women strength and the will to survive. With the exile of thousands of Cubans in the wake of Castro's revolution in 1959, Santeréa came to the United States, where it is gradually coming to be recognized as a legitimate faith tradition.

Apart from vague suspicions that Santeréa's rituals include animal sacrifice and notions that it is a "syncretistic" form of Catholicism, most people in America's cultural and religious mainstream know very little about this rich faith tradition -- in fact, many have never heard of it at all. De La Torre, who was reared in Santeréa, sets out in this book to provide a basic understanding of its inner workings. He clearly explains the particular worldview, myths, rituals, and practices of Santeréa, and he discusses what role the religion typically plays in the life of its practitioners as well as the cultural influence it continues to exert in Latin American communities today.

In offering a balanced, informed survey of Santeréa from his unique "insider-outsider" perspective, De La Torre also provides insight into how Christianity and Santeréa can enter into dialogue -- a dialogue that will challenge Christians to consider what this emerging faith tradition can teach them about their own. Enhanced with illustrations, tables, and a glossary, De La Torre's Santeréa sheds light on a religion all too often shrouded in mystery and misunderstanding.


Throughout the 1950s, the character of Ricky Ricardo in the popular television sitcom I Love Lucy entertained viewers with his signature song, Babalú-Ayé. Desi Arnaz, playing Ricky, beat his conga drums and strutted around the stage to the amusement of a predominantly Anglo audience. The audience delighted in the Latin beat that came from Ricky’s drum, conjuring up images of a more exotic culture. But what most television viewers failed to realize was that Ricky Ricardo was singing to Babalú-Ayé, one of the deities, called orishas, of an AfroCuban religion known as Santería. They were unaware of what the Latino community recognized: he was engaged in a sophisticated choreography that descended from the African civilization of the Yoruba, which was established long before Europe was ever deemed civilized.

Santería, from the Spanish word santo (saint), literally means “the way of saints.” This religious expression has been a part of the American experience for some time even though the majority of the dominant Euroamerican population fails to recognize its existence. Today, as since the days of slavery, it is probably the most practiced religion in Cuba. Over time the religion made its way to the United States, in part due to the 1959 Castro revolution, which over a period of forty-five years sent about a million Cubans north seeking refuge. With each forced migration — from Africa to Cuba and then from Cuba to the United States — believers brought their gods with them. But all too often, when compared to the normative Eurocentric manifestation of Christianity, Santería is presented to the world through Hollywood . . .

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