Santeria (translated as “the way of the saints”) is a religion that began in West Africa and the Caribbean. The basis of Santeria lies in a merging of Yoruba beliefs and practices with elements from Roman Catholic traditions. Santeria emerged as African slaves were brought west and their belief system was made illegal by the colonialists who enslaved them. Forming Santeria was the slaves’ way of reconciling their now-criminalized belief system with the religion they were forced to embrace. Santeria is also recognized under the names of La Religion, Regla de Ocha, La Regla Lucumi, Lukumi, and the Rule of Osha.
Santeria does not follow a central creed, code, or book, but it is founded on rituals and ceremonies that have been passed down by oral traditions. Religious practices take place in a temple known as a casa de santos (“house of the saints”). Besides providing space for worship, these temples are usually inhabited by priests or priestesses.
Members of the Santeria religion worship orishas, which are powerful but mortal spirits associated with Catholic saints. Orishas are dependent on humans, requiring their worship in order to survive. Followers of Santeria strive for a mutually beneficial relationship with orishas. They believe that if they worship the departed spirits and perform the right rituals, these spirits will thrive, providing energy and help to achieve the destiny of the living.
Worship in Santeria includes dancing to rhythmic drums; the use of charms, herbs, symbols, and potions; and initiation rituals. Occasionally, animal sacrifice, usually of chickens, is employed to gain favor with the orishas and to bring good fortune and forgiveness of sin.
The religious leaders, Santeros (male) and Santeras (female), serve as earthly representatives or extensions of orishas. These men and women train for many years to gain their status in the faith as they learn the dances, songs, divination, and healing methods of Santeria.
It is a challenge to try to determine how many people practice the Santeria religion because there is no central organization that keeps track of membership. It is mostly a closed, private religion. A person must be initiated into Santeria in order to gain more information. However, some estimate as many as one hundred million Santeria followers around the world.
The Santeria religion is a cult that Christians would be wise to avoid. Santeria followers believe in none of the fundamental biblical truths of the Christian faith. They rely on rituals and animal sacrifices to gain favor and help from their spirits, rather than on the sacrifice of Christ and the saving grace of the One True God.
If you know someone who is practicing Santeria, the most powerful thing you can do is pray for him or her. Then, when given an opportunity, relay the message of salvation through Jesus (Romans 10:9–10). Finally, live your life in a God-honoring way so that all can see how you are different because of Christ (1 Peter 3:15). Trust that the Holy Spirit will do the work of drawing, convincing, and converting the heart.