There has been some great coverage involving the religion of Santeria recently, and I thought I would use this post to get everyone up to speed. While Santeria isn’t a modern Pagan/Heathen religion, “the Way of the Saints” has quite a bit in common with us*. Anything that affects the Santerian community in the United States (which is around the same size as the collective Pagan/Heathen groups) should draw our attention, and where appropriate, our support.
Yesterday the Miami Herald did an in-depth story on clashes between Santero/as and the local police. Quite a bit of recent controversy stems from an interrupted initiation ritual in which several animals, including goats and chickens, were being ritually sacrificed.
“Noriel Batista has had little peace since a swarm of Coral Gables police officers burst onto his property, disrupting a Santeria ritual intended to initiate him into a special order of his religion’s priesthood. “It has ruined my life,” said Batista, a Cuban-born pharmacy owner who bought the home on Casilla Street nine years ago. Business at his Coral Way pharmacy has suffered, he says. Neighbors expressed outrage that animal sacrifices — in this case, 11 goats and 44 fowl — were taking place in the City Beautiful. Shortly after the June incident made the news, Batista received a handwritten note, scrawled in the margins of a Miami Herald article: America has become a dumping ground for trash like you. Go back to Cuba and take your animal sacrifices with you. The incident, which brought television cameras and patrol cars to the quiet, tree-lined neighborhood in early June, highlights the tension between adherents of a religion most notorious for its practice of animal sacrifice and neighbors in the increasingly affluent suburban areas where the religion is spreading and taking root.”
Ernesto Pichardo, head of the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye (which won the famous Supreme Court case allowing for ritual animal sacrifice), says that recent growing tensions concerning Santeria have much to do with the upward mobility of Santerian practitioners into the middle and upper economic classes.
“When we hear about Santeria in Coral Gables, it’s as if Santeria doesn’t have a right to be in Coral Gables … But it’s OK if it’s in Little Havana, or it’s all right if we do it in Hialeah … As long as it is marginalized, and only appears in the lower strata of society, then it’s OK.”
These comments are echoed by Miguel De La Torre, author of “Santeria: The Beliefs and Rituals of a Growing Religion in America”.
“There is a fear that is rooted in racism … this religion is practiced by Latinos, or people of African descent. It’s an element of ‘Oh, look at these primitive people sacrificing animals’ … For some people, moving up the economic or social ladder means assimilation, putting away the old religion … But then you have a generation that says, ‘I will live in an upscale neighborhood, but I will also have my santos, thank you very much.’”
The Mayor of Coral Gables (an outspoken opponent of Santeria) says he is “investigating” the laws concerning Santerian practices and animal sacrifice and has rebuffed calls for an apology by Ernesto Pichardo and his church. It remains to be seen what the final outcome of this incident will be. The Miami Herald has also included a list of recent conflicts between Santeria and the law in the Miami-Dade area, and a slide-show of relevant pictures.
While the situation involving the law in Florida is troubling, it isn’t all bad news. Ernesto Pichardo (the aforementioned head of Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye) was recently granted an honorary fellowship by Florida International University.
“Florida International University appointed well-known Santeria priest Oba Ernesto Pichardo as an honorary Africana Research Fellow for the upcoming academic year in the African-New World Studies program. Pichardo is known for his successful lawsuit against the city of Hialeah to allow animal sacrifices that led to a landmark 1993 U.S. Supreme Court decision. Pichardo will teach ‘Santeria in Transnational Perspectives’ this fall at the Biscayne Bay campus. He also will organize outreach programs, lectures and an art exhibition on the Santeria religion, also known as Lucumi-Yoruba.”
So that upward mobility of Santeria, while causing tensions in some areas is also opening doors and increasing its respectability in others. It may well be that some of the landmark court cases in the future granting modern Pagans expanded freedoms and equality will come from Santerian adherents (or even our two communities working in concert).
* Santeria is a new religious movement (emerging from the slave trade) with ties to ancient pre-Christian faiths (specifically different forms of Nigerian belief systems) that engages in the practice of magic, and believes in a number of individual male and female powers (aka Saints, Orisha, Gods). Santeria also rejects the traditional good/evil dualism of Christian monotheism. Santeria and related faiths (VooDoo) believe that the divine powers are actively engaged in the world.