What’s the deal with santería and espiritismo?

We set the record straight on the people dressed in white.


Have you ever seen those folks who dress all in white every single day? Or met a businessman sporting a strange bracelet of snails under his cuffs? Or rode a bus in which the driver had a statue of some lady with a sword on the dashboard? Whether you are native or just visiting Venezuela, you have probably been baffled by the mythical santeros, also known as “brujos” (witches). Depending on who you ask, you’ll hear different stories about these guys going from gossipy smear campaigns to tinfoil-hat conspiracy theories, and everything in between.

But who are they? Where did they come from?

Santería is a magical religion tracing its roots back to the Yoruba (an ethnic group from what is now Nigeria) who were taken to Cuba during colonial times. Forced into slavery in a Catholic environment where practicing their ancestral faith in front of their masters would invite the lash or the branding iron, the Yoruba camouflaged their religion under the figures of Christianity. Their central god (Olodumare) was masked as the God of The Bible, and their lesser deities (Orishas) were hidden under the alphabet of Christian saints. Thus Santería (the way of the saints) was born.

But Santería is not the only magical religion in Venezuela. Before it came from Cuba, there was already a system of beliefs that had dominated the scene for at least a century: Espiritismo. Originating in the central-western state of Yaracuy, Espiritismo revolves around María Lionza, a whiteface version of a legendary princess of the Jirajara tribe. She rules the universe together with Guaicaipuro, a historical chief that commanded a coalition of different tribes against the Spanish conquerors in the XVI century, and Negro Felipe, a legendary rebellious African slave. These three figures command a vast and ever expanding pantheon of spirits, forces, ancestors, and wraiths.

Santería and Espiritismo are similar in some respects: both revolve around performing rituals to obtain direct results in life (landing a job, curing a disease, getting a girlfriend, etc.); both make use of similar candles, idols, and amulets; and both perform animal sacrifices regularly. The main difference between them is that Santería is considerably more rigid in its practices and laws, since it adheres more solidly to its African roots. While Santería has something approaching a dogma, Espiritismo is amazingly fluid and constantly updates itself to include all sorts of new deities from many different backgrounds: devotees can call upon the spirits of pretty much every prominent figure from Venezuelan history, dangerous thugs from the 70s, Vikings from the X century, and yes, a certain infamous left-wing strongman. Anything goes.

This may all sound like the deranged practices of fringe groups, but Santería and Espiritismo are hugely popular. These religions cater to many different tastes and welcome believers that wouldn’t be well received in other faiths. Every city in Venezuela has several witchcraft stores where you can buy anything you need to dabble in magic or even hire the services of professional witches. Every year, on October 12th, thousands of people go to Sorte, the sacred mountain of Espiritismo, to practice rituals that go from dancing in trance to walking on fire. According to some estimates [10], between 30% and 50% of the Venezuelan population practices either Santería, Espiritismo, or both. And apparently Venezuela has twice as many priests in Santería than in Catholicism.

Reliable statistics are hard to come by though, since neither religion is institutionalized to any significant degree. Things get even more complicated when you realize that most devotees consider themselves to be Catholics. In fact, a usual entry requirement of both religions is to have been baptized in the Catholic Church. Even hardcore Catholics are careful not to tread on a brujo’s feet, for fear of supernatural consequences. A common saying in Venezuela is “No creo en brujas, pero de que vuelan, vuelan”. It’s not really translatable, but you’re not too far if you say: “I don’t believe in witches, but I do believe they fly”.

So now you know.

Next time you hear about brujos putting curses on politicians or building altars in cemeteries, remember:

  1. These are not the weirdest things brujos do,
  2. Espiritismo and Santería are distinct religions, and
  3. They’re both more common than you probably thought.
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  1. Santeria? Espiritismo? OMG(!), please, there’s a magical religion that’s much more bizarre than either. It’s called Chavismo. They’ve taken a dead, unaccomplished and thoroughly narcissistic former army officer and turned him into a new demi-God. Statues, creepy eyed logo’s and dramatic portraits remind the historian of what the Russian communists did to Lenin. He’s everywhere (!) exhorting, advising, inspiring, pointing and gesticulating to his people in film clips. I only hope that this new cult doesn’t include throwing dead animals into water reservoirs. .

    • Funny you should say that. The spirit of Hugo is already popular within Espiritismo, although not as much as one might expect. Like in every other group, some witches are chavistas and some are oppos.

      • Like I say in the article, hard data are very difficult to find on the demographics of these religions. From anecdotal evidence, I can tell you there doesn’t seem to be any significant socio-economic divide. In fact, one of the links in the article explains the high costs of some santería initiation rituals, so if anything the poorest are being left out.

        Espiritismo was definitely born in the countryside and moved to the cities after the oil boom. Today, it’s common to see these folks in downtown Caracas (if you dare, go visit the Cementerio del sur and you’ll see the tomb of the holy thug “Ismael”) as well as in some secluded sanctuary in the mountains.

  2. Thanks Alejandro. Most informative. As a visitor I have been in situations where I’ve had to ask, ‘ wow, what’s the deal with that? I thought the guy was Catholic…’ etc. but I see it’s not so simple.

    • Somewhere between Espiritismo and Catholicism. His image is one of the most common for healing rituals, but he also has an official church sanctuary in Isnotú, Trujillo.

      • Thanks. My curiosity arose because the good Dr. is a man of Science which does not lend to Spiritualism, and to a lesser degree Religion. Dr. Hernandez was a Pius man which is a human quality. The sticky wicket was Science.

      • The Catholic church will try to incorporate popular devotions as much as possible. Jose Gregorio is routed through the traditional canonization process, first beatified and eventually Sainthood. As an interesting aside, in Asia, the veneration of ancestors was incorporated to the traditional Catholic “All Soul’s” devotion.

        However, syncretism is officially condemned by the Church, but muddled Catholicism is something all too common.

        BTW, to Gordon Rives Jr.
        Catholic Dogma official position is that there is no contradiction between reason and religion. A snippet from the Catechism of Catholic Church paragraph 156:

        “…our faith might nevertheless be in accordance with reason..”

        Finally, an example of a famous man of science and Catholic cleric is Fr. Georges Lemaître. He proposed the Big Bang theory.

          • Evolution is compatible with Catholic faith. Even Agustin in the 4th century read Genesis as allegoric.

            BTW, Gregor Mendel, the father of generics, was a Catholic priest too.

            Bet let’s not get too far off topic in this discussion. If you want to discuss Catholicism I would recommend Catholic.com.

  3. On the spectrum of things I loathe in Venezuela, Santeria ranks third.
    Their self-contradictory and nefarious dogma aside, what they do with animals disgusts me.
    These guys aren’t a misunderstood bunch, they’ve unconditionally and rightfully earned the negative prejudices that surround them.

    • That’s curious. Ritual slaughter is pretty common among religious groups. Jews, Muslims, and Hindus have similar practices. Do they all disgust you in the same way?

      • Ritualistic animal killing in any religion to me is something barbaric that should no longer be practiced. Like stoning.
        Unless, as it happens in Islam and Judaism, the animal is slaughtered in order to be eaten and the sacrifice itself serves as a symbolic offering. And that’s fine, as long as the animal is always killed in the least cruel way possible.
        Where these sacrifices differ is in their result: A muslim doesn’t slaughter a lamb just to nail its entrails on a tree. A jew doesn’t kill a chicken just to collect its blood and do unspeakable things with it.
        I might not know how much a santero’s rituals demand that the animal suffer beforehand, but since they do it more often than not for ill intents, it wouldn’t be a stretch to imagine cruelty is involved. And they are wasteful about it.

        • I saw a santero kill a chicken once to bless his house. It didn’t differ too much from how they kill chickens in most rural farms (he just slit the bird’s throat) and it certainly didn’t differ too much from halal (muslim) or kosher (jewish) practices. I haven’t seen an espiritista do it, but I doubt it’s too different.

          I can tell you this: halal and kosher slaughter are definitely not “the least cruel way possible” by any measure. Both methods require the animal to be fully conscious when they cut the jugular and let it bleed to death hanging upside down. It would be much more humane (in fact, it is a requirement for the “Certified Humane” standard for animal slaughtering) to first stun the animal with an electric bolt.

          I don’t dispute the assertion that the practice is barbaric, but I disagree with the proposition that it is significantly worse than other similar and more mainstream rituals.

          • In the case of the santero you saw, you are right in saying it was not a brutal way to kill the bird. Or at least, not as brutal as other slaughtering methods out there, which I’m aware exist. I tend to avoid eating products that I know have inhumane procedures like foie gras.

            But I still resent that santero’s wastefulness. Chicken is hard to come by as it is in Venezuela without people disposing of the meat for the sake of ridiculous superstition.

            And so it goes with the rest of their rituals where animals are involved. It’s not just how and what they do with animals that gets to me, it’s the end result of the killing (which contributes nothing to society) and what the desire behind it is (wishing ill on someone being the most common).

            So, even if there are cases of them giving the animal a quick death, one or both of those additional factors is always at play.

  4. Thanks, Alejandro.

    Whenever I try to explain Hugo Rafael’s god-like status to non-Venezuelans, I like to talk about what I’ve dubbed as the ‘criollo’ Holy Trinity: Jesus, Maria L. & Hugo. But it looks like it’s more complex than that.

    Good to know the difference between ‘santeria’ and ‘espiritismo’.

  5. A couple of further remarks:

    1) There are a few Santeros among high ranking chavistas and, believe it or not, some of them have been proselytizing at PDVSA facilities.
    2) Some santero circles are really becoming mafia groups. People talk about how some of them have become pretty wealthy in the last few years. What are the businesses? I still don’t know for sure but some are related to the Puertos.
    3) They have expanded through the ports, where Cubans have the say and close to where you can find communities of Venezuelans with a higher proportion of African background (but then santeria goes across ethnic imprinting)
    4) They also are becoming present among Venezuelan expats! I could see already how some Venezuelans were looking for santero “services” in Madrid and places like that.

    Idiocy knows no limit.

    I hope in the future we can reduce these practices through the promotion of critical thinking.

    • I don’t know that any amount of critical thinking will do away with these magical beliefs anytime soon. They’re ubiquitous, deeply ingrained in people’s culture, and (perhaps most importantly) infinitely malleable. One of my favorite examples: if you travel by car to eastern Venezuela by way of the Llanos (not much fun, I’ll say) you’ll pass by a little town called Santa María de Ipire. There’s a truck stop there with a sanctuary in which truck drivers worship the spirit of some deceased lady called Francisca Duarte (el Ánima de Taguapire) for protection against road accidents. It doesn’t really fit with neither santería nor espiritismo nor any other religion. It’s just something weird people do.

      • Alejandro, I am sure they will never disappear completely, but depending on how we tackle things, they can be reduced. We see people with magical beliefs in the most advanced societies. There will always be a bit of that for most people, in fact. And yet: I do believe we can reduce the crap. It just depends on how we proceed. Doing it the Stalin way doesn’t help. Doing it in a freer way is possible.

      • There’s a truck stop there with a sanctuary in which truck drivers worship the spirit of some deceased lady called Francisca Duarte (el Ánima de Taguapire) for protection against road accidents.

        Which reminds me of the time that I encountered an informal roadblock on the east side of Lake Maracaibo. The purpose of the roadblock was to solicit funds for building a chapel. Upon reading your anecdote, I wonder if the funds from that roadblock got turned into a chapel with a similar goal of protection against roadside accidents. Or if the roadblock had the same goal as the traffic patrolmen who come up with a proposal for an undocumented on-the-spot payment of a fine. [Always voluntary, that fine, so say the cops.] My vote is for the latter.

      • It’s not something “weird” people do, unless you consider average behavior to be weird. It’s simply about superstition and, as you said it, the “de que vuelan, vuelan” approach to life is common in Venezuela. My dad, who is mildly catholic – and largely avoidant of santeros, espiritistas, etc – can’t go by Sta. María without lighting a couple of candles to the Ánima del Taguapire. I don’t think there is any deep belief attached to the act, he just started doing it as a kid and now feels unease if he doesn’t do his ritual stop. My mom – more strongly catholic – has a fondness for el Ánima del Pica Pica (between Chaguaramas and valle de la Pascua). Again, something of a routine-induced superstition. These things have an inertia to them, and in many cases don’t reflect a deep held and complex system of beliefs.

        In any case, not more “weird” than eating a cracker while believing that you are literally consuming the body of a middle eastern jewish guy who died 2000 years ago.

        • Hi Gustavo,

          I must admit it is weird, but the whole cracker thing hinges on the following premises:

          a)-You believe that Jesus is God incarnate (make your own historical analysis here).
          b)-He says this (read chapter 6 of the Gospel of John and Luke 22:19)

          Then you can trust this to be true even if your senses do not support the affirmation. Thomas of Aquinas spent a good bit wrestling with this.

          This teaching was controversial since its announcement in the days of Jesus (John 6:60). But it comes down to the question Jesus asks Peter: “Who do you say I am?” Mark 8:29.

          So I agree, this is very weird and hard, but is it unreasonable to trust someone of divine stature?

    • About #2: the high ranks in Santería charge big piles of money to initiate (“hacerle el santo”) new members, and then the new members are somehow tied to this “padrino” for life. I guess that’s the origin of the money and the mafia-like structure.

      Also, it’s very popular among military and thugs (aren’t they the same thing?). There you have another likely source of money.

  6. I am surprised that you guys have not commented on the upcoming runoff in Argentina. If Macri does prevail (like all opinion polls indicate) it will have a positive impact as he is planning to start calling bs on Chavismo’s multiple human rights violations.

  7. The pathetic connection between countless, dumb, man-made religions and politics dates back to the Neanderthals. In every part of the world, every “civilization”. The premise is very simple: to get the most power, riches, women, slaves and fame, to exploit the masses, use the gods in your favor. Invent deities, and tell everyone you are enlightened, empowered, or even a semi-populist god.

    That’s how the ignorant, frightened people will do whatever you ask them to. From the Chinese to the Roamns or the Greeks or the Egyptians to all African and American tribes. The top Shamans Rule, get the best goodies, best food and clothing and get to work less. Not surprisingly, Catholicism, Jesusito or Maria Lioza or la virgencita de coromoto and Santeria are utilized by Criollo politicians, salivating for power and money. It works, every time.

    One thing to be thankful about in Venezuela, is that among all dumb and exploitative “religions”, they don’t have the stupidest and bloodiest of them all, by far: Islam. So, to that extent, count your blessings..

  8. The whys and wherefores of primitive religion (from a purely secular perspective)

    1. Men have always felt a mental hunger to understand things , to avoid the stress of beffudlement and confusion , a drive to find meaning in their surroundings , an explantion of how things came about , primitive men lacked the resources of science to find answers to assuage that hunger , religions and myths rose to meet it. Also the explanatory narratives could be quite entertaining .
    2. Life is really full of bad things which no one can predict , people want to have a way of protecting themselves from them , so they figure that there are beings supernatural in power who if propitiated can protect them , it makes you want them to exist although on an invisible sphere .
    3. Life is not only harsh but full of drudgery and circumstances that put people down , that make them feel insignificant , they always hanker after things manificent to associate with and make themselves into important beings , religious narratives grant them that delight. This delight is compounded where it sets you against someone you can fight scorn and crow over .!! Again primitive religion allowed you that sattisfaction . !!
    4. Menhate it when they suffer what they deem unjust , they know that there are things they dislike (evil) and things they like ( good) so they embody these experiences into mythical figures that represent them as personages to make for a melodramatic narrative , one they love and which makes the world easier to organize into cristal clear categories, one were the good personages are on their side …and punish the meanies !! .

    Venality is strong in men but it doesnt explain everything ……..

    This is not to knock down a supernatural perspective of things (which might well be justified) but to offer some reasons why archaic men were so given to superstition and religion.

    • Without dissecting all your arguments, Bill. One could also think that these needs are a human orientation to enable us to encounter the supernatural. The fact that one feels hunger does not prove or disprove the existence of food, but it drives us to find it and… we eat.

      I think this sense of the supernatural need can be resolved in some mystic experience, or as, in my case, through the study of philosophical arguments for the supernatural.

      Science explains how things happen but it does not provide meaning or purpose.

  9. Antonio Gramsci (the founder of the italian communist party) wrote that Christian societies would never accept the level of depravity of communism, so communism in such places would be impossible to implement if not by force (a bloody civil war, the Red Army knocking the door etc.). He was obviously not reffering to the act of believing or not in the Christian God per se (that’s irrelevant), but rather about the Christian morality and the set of values impregnated in Western societies after thousands of years of practice that would prevent communism from rising by free will of the people.

    Thus, Gramsci’s idea was that for a society like the Venezuelan one to support so much horror and violence coming from the state, Christian morality would have to be shattered first. It’s important to notice that someone can believe in the Christian God, declare to be Christian and still not possess Christian morality: do the “Catholic” people in Petare who support the colectivos and think that looting stores is ok have the same set of moral and ethical values as you? Of course they don’t. One just have to read a few posts in this oppositionist blog to notice that all of them scream Christian morality, even if the authors are self-declared atheists and unconscious of what they are doing. If the people in Petare had the same morality and set of values as the people writing here, they wouldn’t be supporting Maduro, they wouldn’t loot stores, they wouldn’t support the colectivos. They would be oppositionists too.

    • If the people in Petare had the same morality and set of values as the people writing here, they wouldn’t be supporting Maduro, they wouldn’t loot stores, they wouldn’t support the colectivos. They would be oppositionists too.

      Sorry to rain on your parade, but Petare has gone oppo for years. Google Search “Petare” on CC website.

      Such as in 2007 voting NO on the Chavez referendum. [Dec 10,2007]
      November 27,2008 election:
      The truth is, on Sunday, Henrique Capriles beat Diosdado Cabello [in ] Petare by 102,361 votes to 79,436.

      As CC throws to the trash bin any comment with more than one link, this is the only link I will include.

    • If the people in Petare had the same morality and set of values as the people writing here, they wouldn’t be supporting Maduro, they wouldn’t loot stores, they wouldn’t support the colectivos. They would be oppositionists too.

      Petare voted for Capriles in the 2013 Presidential election: 56.1% Capriles, 43.4% Maduro. In 2012, 53-46 Capriles over Chavez in Petare. [Estado: EDO. MIRANDA – Municipio: MP. SUCRE – Parroquia: PQ. PETARE]
      So please stop bad-mouthing Petare.


      • Hey, BT, so you are telling me that as late in the game as 2013, when the country had already been destroyed, after more than a decade of inimaginable pain and suffering, and, of course, the future compromised for generations to come; from a total of 253,979 votes, 109,880 of those STILL chose a Criminal Organization to represent them?! After 14 years of Chavista rule, they couldn’t even claim “naivety” anymore, right? And yet you want me to not bad-mouth them?

        I think not only myself, but all the people in the planet with some scruples should be bad-mouthing Chavistas. Maybe if the Chavistas had been more bad-mouthed and exposed for what they are since the beginning, the current chaos wouldn’t even been happening.

        Let’s start the Twitter campaign: #More bad-mouth, less kid gloves.

        Adaptating Golda Meir’s quote to the situation at hand:
        “Peace will come when the Chavistas love their children more than they hate us.”

        • If the country had voted as Petare did, Maduro would not be President- contrary to what you implied in your initial post. Nor would Chavez been re-elected in 2012. If you wanted to talk about a Chavista constituency, you could have done a lot better than Petare for a choice.

          Petare is the example to throw at PSF and Chavistas who claim that it is the rich who vote oppo, and has been since 2007.That’s 8 years. As such, Petare was a very poor example for you to choose. I suspect that you chose it not knowing that Petare has voted oppo since 2007.

  10. Renacuajo you could well be right !! I just postulated those 4 reasons not because I opposed a supernatural explanation but because I happen to think that religion can rise in primitive people even absent direct experiences of supernatural contact. Most people come to religion because they have been raised in the belief of supernatural revelation …..few through mystic experiences or philosophical reasonning . I just played with the idea that even absent experiences of revelation there are human urges bringing people to belief in the supernatural …….exactly the point you make ….

    • BB,

      As a part of our human repertoire of survival mechanisms, we are born with a capacity for pattern recognition and an imagination that results in elaborate (if fictitious) explanations for natural phenomena. Lacking hard knowledge, we have a tendency to invent explanations. Combine that with a knowledge of our eventual death and a natural refusal to accept that eventuality, and voila…, we develop elaborate myths that give us hope that our death is not final. For human beings, the development of, and belief in, increasing complex and abstract religious belief systems is an inevitable and natural part of the human journey from savages to enlightened and rational beings.

  11. I don’t find practicing Santeria or Espiritismo any more odd than practicing Catholicism. I figure that the people who practice both are just hedging their bets.

    • Inasmuch as distinguishing vino pasita from a good bottle from Bordeaux.

      I understand that not all are oenophile, or theologians. But for the ones that care there is a big difference.

      And do remember, that Christianity and Catholicism in particular defined, for good or bad, the western world. You probably were educated in a University, you enjoy the fruits of science, you’ve gone to a hospital to be treated, you believe in the value of human life, etc. Just a few ideas/institutions that are traced directly our the Catholic heritage.

      • You are correct. My comment was flippant.

        In general, the various Monotheisms are superior religions in the sense that they promoted a higher degree of capacity for abstract thought in their adherents, in an age when ignorance of science reigned. However, when we grow up, there comes a time when we must put away the toys of our childhood, no matter how fond are our memories of playing with them.

        • “traced directly” would be an exaggeration. However, Catholic scholars such as Thomas Aquinas developed some of the systems of logic that eventually evolved into the “Scientific Method”. That the Catholic scholars relied on faulty premises which produced faulty conclusions was irrelevant. The introduction of rigorous logical analysis was an important advancement that helped lead to the scientific advances of the European Renaissance. However, modern Science is even more beholden to the advances in Mathematics produced by the Islamic world while Europe languished in the Dark Ages.

          • I have two words for you “The Inquisition”,science was for long time the enemy of catholic church, they have somehow relaxed a little bit in the past few years accepting theories such as evolution, but should I remind you what they did to my childhood hero Galileo? BTW He was always my go to choice when I wanted to make uncomfortable the nuns from my catholic school !

            The science religion debate is always very interesting, I am catholic and also a scientist, I feel both side live peacefully inside of me as long as I don’t go too far into one or the other. There are plenty of things current science can’t explain and religion is like a safety net, it gives you that comfy feeling of “things will get better there is someone looking after you”. It’s by all means soothing, like a placebo pill that makes you feel better and enforces some pretty decent moral values. As a scientist I fell I’ll be a fool not to take that feel good magic pill!

          • Placebos only work if you believe in them. Perhaps I envy you your faith. But, as a logical being, I do not and cannot believe. No credible evidence. No matter how much good or human progress you attribute to the Catholic Church, in the end, it is based on a lie.

        • The fact that modern science comes from the west is due to the understanding of the universe as a creation of God and not God himself (the later is called Pantheism). So if you think God is, say a volcano, it would be disrespectful to go and probe it and try to explain it. However, Christianity thinks of the universe as the work of God hence it is proper to probe and understand. It also helps to believe that reason is one of the attributes of God.

          As I said earlier, the venerable institution of knowledge, the University, is a Catholic institution where debate, initially theological, was cultivated.

          Of course you are going to bring up the Galileo episode. Believe, it is far more complex than pop culture makes of it. But it is an effective club to brandish given the common understanding.

          • As with the Galileo episode, the inquisition is also a little more complex and a cliche anti-catholic argument along with the crusades.

            Quick clarifications on the Inquisition:
            1)-European kings were based on the divine right doctrine, “God made me your king and your are obliged to submit”, so if you were deemed to be a ‘heretic’ (wrong on the faith of the state) you were automatically an enemy of the state.
            2)-Inquisitions were courts, they did not impart punishment as such, they made determinations. For their time they were preferable than medieval and baroque courts. But still, given the culture of the time, treatment overall was harsh.
            3)-The Spanish inquisition, one of the many inquisitions established, was responsible for less than 3000 deaths during its 300 years of operation. It was established as a means to mediate the conflict between traditional nobility and the newly incorporated jewish ‘conversos’

            My point is that the inquisition is more nuanced than Torquemada rampaging through a town a la Waffen SS.

            But there are other places where apologia for these anti Catholic cliches can be vented. Go to catholic.com, that’s their business 🙂

  12. I am a Catholic. But seen the issue from the perspective of a non-believer it seems to me that calling santeria or espiritismo magical religions is a stretch. The main issue with religion in our country (or any expression of these things) is the locus de control externo. Any regular folk who practices a major religion know that even if God can lend a hand to help you out, you still have to work hard. On the other hand, santeria and espiritismo find its footing on making you believe that you can control the outcome just by doing certain things… that the realities of the physical world are not that important. And I think that this lack of self-awareness is culturally killing us as well.

    It’s not far-fetched to hear somebody say “debes tener mal de ojo”, “eso se resuelve con tal cosa” or things like that. I’ve known people that goes to these santeros just because they are trying anything to get a certain outcome instead of just working hard for it. So, in a sense, these religious expressions tap into our social psyche when they argue that we can’t control the outcomes of our actions. A theme that has been played a lot in our history. Imperialismo, guerra economica, and all of those things are just expressions of these issues that can be seen in santeria and espiritismo. Even thou it’s from another perspective.

    • Absolutely right Jose. Even though these things can be dismissed as non important and inconsequential. Mythology has huge implications on people’s conception of reality and attitudes towards life. At the same time it is a reflection of how they think.
      Culture and specifically religion is the “software” or memes that runs society.

  13. The only fact that I know about Santeria is that it is a really good business for the “santero”. People pay tons of money to be accepted as a disciple and once you “graduate” you can get financially comfortable. Santeros charged a lot for their services, plus they have power and social status.

    I think @jomagumo comment is right on the spot!

    During “la VI” Venezuelan society and private sector were build on subsidies and regalias. So we were used to have things (highways, hospitals, gas, education) without paying their real value (taxes).

    One of the worse influence Chavismo has brought to Venezuelans is the fact that people don’t want to work for anything. They just want “Mi Casa Bien Equipada” without breaking a sweat.

    If you mix this idiosyncrasies with the desperation to have a different outcome in people’s life, without working for it plus the big money Santeros make, their popularity have gone trough the roof.

    Related to this, is the proliferation of lotteries and betting games.

    Economic crisis makes people desperate to change their lives in whatever capacity they can…

  14. Santeria is not a ‘religion’ of personal salvation , of inner spiritual awakening , it seeks not a deep moral improvement in the character and life of its devotees , rather it seeks to use certain rituals of ostensible and truculent piety towards a manegerie of supernatural powers as a means of propitiating certain desirable results affecting ones wordly life . Its life blood is a belief in sorcery , in magic, in very specific wordly results .

    I also find it suspect that it commands its devotees to advertise their ‘faith’ very ostensibly by wearing attention getting clothes because thats a sign that one of its attractions is its capacity to flatter the vanity of its faithful, its pride in being outlandishly distinct and different .

    I agree with those fellow bloggers who have a difficulty in recognizing in these cults a genuine religion of the kind that is exemplified by traditional christianity .

    • I have to say Bill, I haven’t seen many Catholics looking for inner spiritual awakening at least in the light version of Catholicism that we practice in Venezuela. Most Santeros and Espiritistas pray for the same reasons we Catholic do, money, health, a cheating husband to stop sleeping around.

      I, like you, find their practices and rituals hard to cope with, but then again we also have some pretty weird rituals in our own church. I remember almost choking laughing last time I went to a baptism thinking, this old man here really believes he is removing some sin from this innocent child whose biggest crime so far was probably ruining his mother perfect body, maybe he does deserve to be bathed in holy water and hold by a strange man wearing a funny costume to scare the living crap out of him as a punishment. Our rituals are don’t feel so strange to us because we grew up with them. Now, this in no way compares to killing a living animal, and as many people before me pointed out I don’t agree with such practices.

      Regarding advertising our faith, I don’t know about you but I don’t see much difference between wearing a gold cross necklace or a bracelet made out of snails (except from the obvious fashion faux pas). We catholic proudly advertise out faith, we have stamps in our cars, little crosses made out of palm behind our doors, if you think about it is not much different. Other religions also have very distinctive clothing, Orthodox Jews and Muslims for example.

      In the end, I think is more an exercise of tolerance, as long as they want to coexist peacefully with other religions and don’t go around killing chickens in my frontyard, I say let them be. They deserve the respect any other religion is entitled to.

      • There is in every religion a core or canonic set of beliefs which define the faith , which give it a particular intelllectual and spiritual depth , reach and character , that determine what it demands of its devotees . As you rightly suggest that doenst mean that most of its followers will live according to the standards of the faith they pledge alliegance to , specially if these are high demanding standards , the faith is most frequently diluted or alloyed or even transformed by the character of the follower and the working values of the culture in which he dwells . One thing is belief quite another the level of piety which every person is capable of pursuing to live according to those beliefs he identifies with

        I agree with you that Venezuelan’s functional catholicism is of a light variety , there are of course pockets of people who practice a more pure form of catholic piety but they are very much a minority . The thing is that even if people dont live according to the more strict demands of their religion that doenst change it , those core defining features of the religion are there to be followed or forgotten but they continue to exist.

        If we try to compare the Santeria cults with the Catholic religion on a core belief basis we find a world of difference , in what each aspires to achieve among its followers , Catholicism seeks the salvation of its followers by having it abide by certain standards of feeling and behaviour and by observing certain rites , the purpose of the rites is not some wordly gain or advantage but something much deeper in the life of the follower, the santeria is much more primitive in its direct pursuit of some wordly gain or advantage thru truculent rites that propitiate some supernatural characters to grant them to the devotee in gratitude. To see them both as ‘religions’ on an equal footing is far from exact.

        The rituals of catholicism are meant to express something inner and spiritual .the rites in santeria have a more purely instrumental or effectual character , the rituals are as gross as the deities to which they are dedicated. Santeria is more suffused with magic thinking of the most pragmatic kind than canonical catholicism

        Along its 2000 year history , in more primitive times , there were symbols which became part of a traditional form of catholic piety for the expression of piety, the traditions persist although increasingly watered down . With santeria wearing all white clothes in a modern life setting is much more extravagant and attention calling , its more than an uniform dicated by tradition its like wearing a gaudy custom that instantly identifies you with the cult in a very show offish way.

        I respect catholicism despite an awareness of many things that are no longer fully believable in its make up , I have no respect however for the primitive show offish cult of santeria , The fact that I dont respect it as the fake inmitation of a religion doenst mean Im intolerant of people practicing it . Respect is one thing , tolerance of execrable or foolish behaviour quite another.

        By the way I find all those small gaudy manifestations of ones faith in bad taste , even if I respect the faith thats its used to advertise.!!

      • Hi Alejandro,

        Again me, replying to some of your points:

        “…science was for long time the enemy of catholic church, they have somehow relaxed a little bit in the past few years accepting theories such as evolution..”

        If you look at the history of science you will see a number of religious men involved and clerics in particular. I mentioned earlier a couple of names, but I even discovered a wikipedia article that lists MANY. In particular I like Leibniz. I did mention that Agustin, in the fourth century already read Genesis in a allegoric way.

        “,,,science can’t explain and religion is like a safety net, it gives you that comfy feeling..”

        If it were only a comfy feeling, I am going with Marx: “Religion is the opium of the people” and thus I have no use for it, give me crude reality.

        The threshold I put forward is that it is more likely to be true than not. Notice this does not give me certainty, but instead, given what I understand, this ought to be the best explanation over all competing ones.

        “…I remember almost choking laughing last time I went to a baptism thinking, this old man here really believes he is removing some sin from this innocent child..”

        It is not that crazy if you observe that inheritance is incredible important to all livings beings. So even though you are not at fault and it is clearly unfair you inherited good and bad stuff from your parents and this conditions your existence.

        The doctrine of original sin goes this way and it is important to explain the problem of evil and a perfect all good God. As for the need of baptism as requisite for salvation, it is too a lot more nuanced, but as ultimately, God is not bound by Catholic sacraments, Catholics are.

        • One final thing, Cesar Alejandro.

          I am also a guy from “La Simon” and a scientist by title 🙂 so a pious “senora del Cafetal” religion was unsatisfying, so I had to really dig in to the intellectual aspect of Catholicism and found it quite satisfying.

          My hero on this matter is the newly appointed Bishop, Robert Barron. That guy, even under the pointy hat, is no intellectual light weight. Check him out at wordonfire.org

  15. Excellent article Tocayo! a bit off topic, It’s funny how in CC now there are enough Alejandro to make a Lady Gaga song!

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