Flashback Friday: Santeria

in Culture

In the October, 1993 print edition of High Times, Eric Williams writes about the pantheistic Afro-Cuban religious tradition of Santeria.

Santeria is to the ancient African spiritual traditions what neo-paganism is to the pre-Christian European traditions. Santeria, which blends Roman Catholicism with the West African Yoruba tradition brought to the Caribbean by slaves, is found mostly in this country’s Latino communities along the eastern seaboard—the Puerto Rican, Cuban and Dominican barrios of New York, Philadelphia, Boston and Miami. The religion is a survival of African spirituality in the New World in defiance of slavery’s legacy of cultural extermination. Yoruba gods and goddesses mingle with the identity of Catholic saints, and traditional African drumming, chanting and herbology figure prominently in Santeria ritual. But it was the practice of animal sacrifice that brought Santeria before the US Supreme Court. The high court’s June decision to permit the practice of Santeria caught many by surprise.

The religion’s future following the ruling is still uncertain. Such questions as taxation, legal registering of priests, and exemption from local laws prohibiting possession of farm animals, remain unanswered. For instance, botanicas, the storefronts where Santeria practitioners get herbs, candles and other sacraments, are still considered places of business by the government—for Santeros they are often places of worship.

The decision stemmed from the case of Ernesto Pichardo, founder of the Santeria church in Hialeah, FL, who challenged the city’s ordinance prohibiting animal sacrifice. Pichardo told reporters that “animal sacrifice is an integral part of our faith. It’s like our holy meal.” With the high court ruling, Pichardo says Santeros can now come out of the closet. “Our people will no longer feel they are outlaws because of the way they worship their God.”

A typical botanica in Spanish Harlem, New …

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Author: High Times / High Times

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