THE WAY OF SPIRITS AND SAINTS
THE VODOU “VUDU” PUERTO RICANS DO
CONGO MAMBO LOA
Amongst Puerto Ricans on the mainland of the United States and the island of Puerto Rico, there exists a magico folk tradition of Espiritismo Folklorico / Criolla that has been greatly influenced by Afro Cuban Lukumi also known as Santeria, which is known amongst Puerto Ricans as Santerismo or the Way of Spirits and Saints. Santerismo in present day is a combination of three separate traditions, the Orisha religion of the Yoruba people of west Africa, Spiritism “Espirirismo” which is a combination of the view of the Spirit world not just of Kardecian Spiritism, but also Taino and African views and lastly Roman Catholicism. Similar to Cuban Santeria, those that practice Santerismo have a group of Santos, “Saints” known in Cuba as Orichas, that surround the individual. Similar to Cuban Santeria these Orichas and Santos surround the devotee and bestow upon him/her blessings, health, protection and luck. Many Puerto Ricans who practice Santerismo differentiate the African Oricha and the Catholic Saint. For example statues of Chango Macho is simply that, Chango Macho while Santa Barbara is simply Santa Barbara, although they share many similar traits and functions. It is very rare that a Puerto Rican will call Our Lady of Charity, by her Yoruba counterpart, Ochun, in Santerismo the Saint is the Saint, the Angel is the Angel and the Orisha is the Orisha. Unlike Puerto Rican Sance which often synchronize the Saint with the Vodou Lwa.
Puerto Ricans always have had in some form a great belief in the Spirits, this can be viewed in all its religious and Spiritual practices, from Pentecolism, Espiritismo, Santerismo, Sance and even Catholicism as practiced on the island. Now although Pentecolism denounces the saints and lighting candles, the way Puerto Rican Pentecostals mount the Holy Spirit, and speak in tongues has more roots in its African and Indigenous ancestry then they themselves care to believe, and it is similar to some sects of Espiritismo Criollo practices. Although Pentecostals do not have a belief in the Saints, Puetro Ricans in general have a great devotion to its Santos, which also has its roots not only from Europe but again from the Taino Natives and Africa.
The Catholic Saints was introduced to Puerto Rico in the 1400, when the Spanish Conquistadors and colonists brought with them, from Spain their devotion of the Saints. The images of the Saints where also used by Spanish monks in the hopes of converting the Pagan and “Savage” Taino people and then the African slave population, this crucial conversion was what would be the birth of Puerto Rican Santerismo, almost 500 years before the word Santerismo was uttered by a Puerto Rican. Although many Taino and Africans where forced into the Roman Catholic belief system, they held deeply into the roots of their Taino and African views of Divinities and Spirits. Now unlike the African population of Cuba and Hispañola which kept the names of their African spirits alive and hidden within the Catholic Saints, in Puerto Rico it was much different, as the names of the Orisha and Cemi Spirits where eventually forgotten, but their traits could be found within the Santos they where synchronized with. This is similar and can be seen in the Southern United States population, and traditions such as Gullah, Hoodoo and Louisiana Voodoo.
The role of these African and Indigenous Spirits continued to play an important role in the Puerto Rican mind set. Catholic churches where scarce and the terrain was ruff on the Island, so many Jibaro mountain folk would have an ancestral shrine to the Santos which had more to do with its African and Indigenous roots than its Roman Catholic views. Rural Puerto Ricans often kept the wooden Nicho shrines of wooden carved Santos hung on a wall or on shelves or old dressers. The Nichos did not only have wooden saints but belongings of departed family members such as clothing, hats, jewelry and momentos which also included candles, wooden crosses, rosary beads and prayer cards, imported from Spain and Europe.
Each of the Santo on the nicho or santuario had its reason for being there and its purpose. Often the Santos where a family members Patron Saint, or a Saint that commemorated the birth or death of a family member. Thus one’s dead family members always played an important role in the construction of these wooden Nichos and Santuarios.
The wooden Santos like their African and Indigenous Counterparts, “Orishas and Cemi” where imbued with the Saints miraculous faculties and where prayed and invoked as a form of interceding with God on their behalf. Santos as viewed by Puerto Ricans are powerful intercessors with God, and could heal, console, protect, and bring luck to those that prayed to them. The Santos were always rewarded when a wish was granted, and offerings such as flowers, fruits,, candles and metal milagros adorned the nichos and santuarios as a form of thanksgiving.
The wooden Santos where often purchased or tr aided by the local Santero, who often was a healer man or herbalist. The term Santero in Puerto Rico has nothing to do with the Cuban Santero who often where of the Lukumi tradition, and are correctly called Babalocha and Iyalochas. The Puerto Rican Santero was often a wood carver of saints but also could have been a Curandero, a Brujo a Santiguador that resembled the Hoodoo man of the Southern United states. They were Spiritual healer who used the energies of the Catholic Saints and the bible to heal as well as curse. But generally these Santeros viewed their spiritual labor as a vocation, a calling, to serve a spiritual need for the poor and rural communities of the Island of Borinquen, “Puerto Rico”.
The Puerto Rican Santero lived in a time when it was punishable by death to practice anything that was viewed as heresy, in the times when Puerto Rico was a colony of Spain. But they continued until the late 1800s when French Kardecian Spiritism took over the island, and Espiritismo Criollo and Espiritismo de la Mesa Blanca became popular amongst the islands inhabitants and terms such as Espiritista, Mediumnidad and Presidente de Mesa was adopted. The Puerto Rican Santero continued, but now known as wooden Saint carvers, who also practiced Espiritismo, and some form of Puerto Rican Brujeria. By the 1940s the term Santero was almost completely extinct, with the rare few Santero wood carvers who kept their family tradition alive.
As I have stated in Cuba because of the greater African population, the rites, ceremonies, traditions, songs, names and legends of the African way survived as a strong religious movement that became known as La Regla de Ocha, or Lukumi, “known around the world as Santeria”. In 1959 because of the Cuban Revolution, many Cubans migrated to Florida and New York and many took up residence in New Yorks Puerto Rican barrios such as Spanish Harlem and Hells Kitchen. Soon Cuban Santeros and Puerto Rican Espiritistas where intermingling religious and spiritual ideas. Similar to what had happened with Haitians and Dominicans migrating into Puerto Rico, and creating Sance, Espiritismo Criollo became infused into Cuban Santeria, and the term Santerismo and Santerista was born. Although many Puerto Ricans became initiated into Cuban Lukumi, many kept hold of their Espiritismo values and ideas. “One major Espiritismo Criolla value that has been held in both Santerismo and Sance, is the lack of blood animal sacrifices”. This continued on until the 1970s, but in those days it was impossible to visit a Puerto Rican Centro Espirista without seeing statues of the African Gods, mainly Yemaya and Chango Macho amongst the Catholic Saints. It was not until the early 1980s when Espiritismo and Santerismo had succumbed to Lukumi, as many Puerto Ricans flocked to Cuban Santeros and Babalawos. Many Puerto Ricans who where once Espiritistas also became crowned into Ocha.
But Espiritismo Criollo did not completely succumb, as many Puerto Ricans continued to practice the ways of their Ancestors. Some did not agree completely with the high costs of initiation into Cuban Santeria and its restrictions, and Santerismo continued to be worked alongside Espiritismo.
In Santerismo there is no Kariocha ceremony, and a baptismal ceremony is often done to its participants. Although many who practice Santerismo do include the African Orishas, with honoring the Catholic Saints and the Ancestors. Most of those who practiced Santerismo did not do it in the Centros and Templos as was used in Espiritismo. The ceremonies and fiestas de Santos where conducted in homes or apartment buildings where Puerto Ricans resided and its practices where always tight knit, often practiced by family members.
Santerismo shares many similarities to Puerto Rican Sance in its practices, with the exception that a follower of Santerismo uses the term Santero or Santerista as was once used by the Puerto Rican Santeros of old, while a practitioner of Sance uses Sancista or Sancerista. Many Sancistas and Santeristas hold true to their Espiritismo practices. The mediums of both Sance and Santerismo have the abilities to communicate with the Dead but also can mount Orisha, Cemi, Loases, Spirits of the Comisiones, en Corrientes and Emisarios de los Santos.
The leader who is the Presidente de Mesa is called the Padrino or Madrina, and the mediums are known as Ahijados. Both Sance, Santerismo and Espiritismo Criollo require spiritual development, which takes years, and one must demonstrate great spiritual faculties and entendimiento before sitting at the head center of a Mesa Espiritual. While both Espiritismo Criollo and Santerismo require a ritual bautismo “such as Bautismo de Agua and Bautismo de Fuego” in order to become either an Espiritista or Santerista, Sance requires lengthily ceremonies and presentations which often take a week, but this does not mean one is to sit at the head of la mesa, again this requires years of spiritual development and growth. Usually at these times these individuals are ahijados or apprentices.
In all Misas or Veladas in both Santerismo and Sance, the Santerista or Sancista often prays before the Santuario of the dead then the Tableau de los Santos, “the first also known as La Mesa or Boveda”, and then prays on a seperate altar to a certain division of Saints, which consists of African and Indigenous Spirits. This altar is known as el Santuario or Tableau Espiritual. Then the leader who is know as the Presidente de Mesa takes his place on the Mesa Blanca which is surrounded by other Mediums, usually the Mediamnidad de Mano Derecha and other Mediums of different Spiritual development sitting around him, from highly developed sitting closer to apprentices sitting at the far ends of the mesa blanca. Misas and Sesiones are often begun with ritual cleanings using a sahumerio which consists of a burning charcoal with coffee grounds and garlic skin, herbs and resins to extract evil entities and a lavada or Agua Florida, Agua Bendita and Kolonia 1800 to sprinkle on the location and of all those who are participating to ensure no negative, earth bound spirits or evil entities come through. Then prayers and songs are often sung, and the Oricha and Loases are called on. In Sance it is begun with San Antonio de Padua who is viewed as Papa Legba while in Santerismo it is San Hilarion who is synchronized with Leggua or Leccua. Many poorer Puerto Ricans use tapes or recordings of Afro Cuban or Dominican religious music, others clap and sing Christian hymmes, while others also higher drummers who play Afro Puerto Rican Bomba and Plena.
Unlike Haitian and Santeria Fete and Fiestas that are done at night and last until the next day. Most Santerismo and Sance fiestas can be done at any time of the day and often end by 2:00 in the morning the latest.
Puerto Ricans and Hispanics never use the term Magical Powers of the Saints when it comes to speaking about the Santos, this word is taboo and only used with Brujos and Brujas who practice Brujeria. The proper term is Milagros de los Santos. Each Santo works for a certain milagro, and they each have their proper colored candle and numbers. I am not gonna include that here, that my friend ancient Latino secrets🙂 , but I will include their traditional milagros as used in Hispanic countries. This is not a full list of Saints, as each country has its folk saint and its local saints. This is a list of the Santos as used in Santerismo, Espiritismo and Sance. I also did not include all the Santos as this would turn into an encyclopedia. Suggestion, if you ever visit Puerto Rico, pick up a wooden Santo, the kind our ancestors used on their Nichos and Santuarios, before Plaster, and recently the resin ones. But don’t purchase them in old San Juan you will pay an arm and a leg, if you are venturous and know the locals, seek out a Santero that carves these beautiful wooden Saints that have been around since the time of the Taino who carved their Cemi Spirits from wood.
Angel de la Guarda =. Protects children from danger, enemies and evil spirits. Helps in avoiding everyday problems and accidents in the home.
Archangel Gabriel = Assist in anything that has to do with spiritual work, helps in visions, spiritual healing, psychic work and mediumship.
Caridad del Cobre / Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre = For maternity, money, love, healing and relief from ailments. Helps bring prosperity, abundance, and love.
Doctor.Gregorio Hernández = Helps in complications with health, spiritual healing, spiritual counseling and spiritual work.
Jesús del Gran Poder / Sagrado Corazon de Jesus = Petitioned for healing, blessings, peaceful home and peaceful life.
Mano Poderosa = Stops intruders, protection from thefts, curses and the evil eye.
Niño de Atocha = Helps in court matters, matters of law, and free from unlawful punishment. Protects people from harm. His reputation is also due to the help you have given to others. Protects the homeless and young children.
Nuestra Señora de la Guadelupe = Overcome fear, protection from jinxes curses, black magic and hexes.
Nuestra Senora del Perpetuo Socorro = She is petitioned for all kinds of requests. Helps in mental disorders, nervousness, depression, and issues with ones finances.
San Alejo = Removes negative energies, unwanted vibrations, enemies, individuala and situations.
San Aparicio = Helps find lost objects, and helps in obtaining things one desires.
San Antonio de Padua = Special requests, helps find lost objects, opens doors for opportunities. His fame is also known for his abilities to bring back a lover, spouse or family member
Santa Barbara = To bring love, conquer obsticles, and enemies. She promotes success in all aspects of life.
San Christopher = Protection while traveling, protection from dangerous situations, bring a person safely home.
San Cipriano = Protection from occult enemies, black magic, curses, psychic self defense.
Santa Clara de Asis = Helps in bringing clarity and insight to any particular situation. Helps to see the true nature of others, helps to solve problems.
San Deshacedor = Return unwanted energy, angainst enemies and evil spirits.
San Expedito = Helps is hurrying a process,, and brings quick results. Helps in looking for work, in problems with documents, and helping to settle disputes at home and work.
San Francisco de Asís = He helps in study, and learning, great healer of humans and pets, and helping in spiritual needs. Helps to overcome lonliness and depression.
San Jose = Helps find work, helps in a skill or trade, and for finding a new home.
San Jorge = Protection from violence, injury, protects from weapons, dangerous situation. All around defense.
San Juda = Helps in situations that seem to have impossible or unpredicatable out comes. Helps in Lost Cases, or cases that seam to not have a solution.
San Lazaro = For healing wounds, sicknesses and mental disorders.
Santa Martha Dominadora = Dominate occult enemies, or enemies in general, remove obsticles. Dominate and Control senses.
San Martin de Porres = Helps bring peace with a rival, peace in family or find solutions to querrels, disagrements or arguments with loved ones.
San Martin Caballero = Helps in small buisnesses, draws customers, and money.
San Miguel Arcangel = Protection from the evil eye, envy and all negative vibrations that surround an individual. Helps in combating, overcoming and defeating occult enemies, black magic and dominates or controls evil spirits, demons and entities.
San Pedro = Helps to open pathways for opportunities, and success.
San Ramon = Helps to stop malicious gossip, slander, and silences enemies.
San Rafael =. Helps in healing, obtaining food, and work.
San Santiago Matamoro = Protection from the law, lawsuits, court matters, and weapons.
San Sebastian = Protection from evil eye, psychic attack, gossip, slander, and evil intentions from others.
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