Santeria is an Afro-Cuban religion that uses many different plants for healing. This treatment includes a long list of different herbs and interesting methods of their preparation. This system of beliefs has some similarities with Catholicism because of its historical background. It includes many special rites and rituals. These are the main reasons I have selected this topic related to Santeria. Moreover, when I was a little child my Grandma often had the irritated and tired eyes; and she used the positive effect of Citrullus. One should note that I did not know that this plant was used in Santeria religion. Hence, this paper will discuss a relationship between herbal medicine and this system of beliefs, as well as its historical background. Moreover, the essay will analyze different types of healing by herbs, plants, and weeds, as well as the connection between Santeria Saints and the special list of herbs.
Santeria includes a combination of different cultures and religions. Santos, santeras and santeros are the Spanish names of Santeria deities and people who are working with them; and babairisha, alisha and orisha are their names used in the Yoruba tribe language. Bascom states, “Santeria is a vital, growing institution, practiced throughout the entire length of Cuba, in both rural and urban areas; in the latter, in fact, it is probably, the strongest” (64). The Yoruba tribes are situated in southwestern Nigeria in Africa. These folks and neighboring African citizens had an impact on the Santeria origin. The worship of Yoruba’s orisha merged with the Cristian Spanish folk traditions in Cuba. All these factors caused the Santeria as a religion. In the 19th century, Allan Kardec’s Spiritism movement had a great popularity in Europe and completed the today’s ingredients of this system of beliefs (Brandon 55). The Cuban Yoruba’s subgroup is named Lucumi. Therefore, this name belongs only to the Oyo Empire of Yoruba. Moreover, it is the Santeria's liturgical tongue. In 17th, 18th, and 19th centuries, the ethnicity played a central role in the Santeria formation, according to the significant number of people living in Africa (Brandon 56). Therefore, over some time, Lucumi ethnicity feature disappeared. After the slavery abolition, the Yoruba people did not arrive to Cuba. Furthermore, in 20th century, many of them without Yoruba’s accessories, particularly, the whites, accepted the Santeria religion. The significant quantity of representatives moved to the United States after the Cuban revolution in 1959 (Brandon 56). Santeria practices, rites, rituals, and beliefs were brought to the USA after the cold storage period. In the USA and Cuba, Santeria partly changed its practice and beliefs; hence, all of them are based on the content and form of Santeria’s pantheon, ideology, and rituals, according to its heritage. Brandon states, ”Yoruba traditions of divination, sacrifice, ceremonial spirit possession, and healing remain important in present-day Santeria, and the religion is practiced with great secrecy” (56).
Types of herbal medicine and its application in Santeria
Medical plants have an ancient history of their application and many positive results in treatment. It is the most widespread and oldest form of healing that includes “natural organic healing materials have persisted as a treatment of choice for a multitude of health problems in populations throughout the world” (Halberstein 686). Many primates including monkeys used herbs for their cure as well. Archaeological excavations confirm herbs in medicine from the prehistoric times. Ancient cultures regularly employed different plants as analgesics, anti-inflammatories, anti-diarrheals, fertility regulators, antimicrobials, and immunostimulants. They were applied as specific psychiatric and medical applications. Ancient Egypt people used them as drugs, sedatives, gastrointestinal disorder remedies, and the common medicine for urinary tract diseases. Additionally, ancient Egypt, Greece, Maya, and Aztec Indian cultures, the people of Mesopotamia and other countries as well as nations were healed by such herbs. Hence, herbal medicine ordinarily may be combined with religion; and it is widely spread in the Santeria system of beliefs.
Cuban Santeria ritual is impossible to be imagined without plants; therefore, sacred stones, blood, and herbs got their significance among Lucumi in Cuba, and then in Yoruba in Nigeria. Egwe is Lucumi term for weed, herbs, and plants that were derived from the Yoruba word Ewe standing for leaves and foliage. Brandon says, ”Egwes are thought to have the power to help human beings lead healthful and abundant lives” (58). Ache is the divine power that makes it possible; and the main reason of plants’ utilization exists in making use of different kinds of herbs to promote the well-being and happiness and heal diseases. Moreover, weeds, herbs, and plants have their special temperament and character except the divine power. Some of them are easily frightened; and others are shy and retiring. They are active during the day, have the rest at night, and wake up in the morning. The Santeria people believe that wild plants have the bigger healing power than domestic ones. It should be noted that some weeds can be used only as medical drugs. Other herbs are only used in ritual practice; and most of them exist in medical and ritual practice as well.
Respiratory problems and gastrointestinal treatment make the main focus of herbal medical application. Therefore, gonorrhea and syphilis are treated by Santeria herbs. However, the problems with the female reproductive system engage an important place. Mixtures are used during the birth process; and they can promote placenta expulsion or induce abortion. However, none of these plants is applied as a contraceptive. Furthermore, muscle pains, fevers, headaches, and nervous disorders were treated by egwes, which are supposed to be tranquilizers. The Santeria people believe that the body accumulates the undefined filth causing changed illnesses and blood pollution.
However, plants are more applied in rituals for healing ceremonies, including the communal and private domain and individualistic practices of witchcraft, magic, and sorcery. The usage of plants for the Santeria rites has two main classes called ozains and omieros (Brandon 60).Their main function is cleaning, refreshing, and preparing individuals for the spiritual contact with Santeria deities named orishas or santos. The ozains are the concoction of herbs; moreover, it is a spiritual being of orishas Ozain appearing at the time of the plant mixture manufacturing process. This ceremony of mixture preparation needs the presence of the Oriate being the main master of ceremony and many other priests. Oriate should know the prayers and songs of deities. The person who is knowledgeable about herbs, their characteristics, temperament, prayers, and location in the wild nature is called ozainista. His or her presence in the manufacturing rite is necessary as well (Brandon 60). It should be noted that each of orishas has a specifically associated list of herbs reinforced of their respective ozains. In other words, orishas Eleggua herb list includes grama de caballo, lengua de vaca, espartillo, abre camino, pastillo, yerba fina, hedionda, itamo real, meloncillo, albahaca, pata de gallina, llamao. Obatala has a relationship with bledo de clavo, sauco, higuerote and almendro (the African traditional religion). Furthermore, Yemaya, Oya, Babalu Aye and Oggun have their own herbs.
The ceremony of ozains preparation requires the presence of a priest or priestess who is standing behind the pail and sings each orishas’ associated song (Brandon 61). According to the deity’s list, the related herbs are torn and crushed; and the extracted juice is mixed. All these actions amplified of santeras and santeros own ache, which are making this extract more powerful. At the end of the ceremony, water is added to the container. Therefore, the specific ozain is produced as a result. The used mixture is cast out into the ground. Therefore, the ozain preparation is the first step for producing omiero. Unlike ozain, it is more powerful and is not destroyed after the application. An additional ceremony is not required for the omiero preparation. Some part of ozains is combined in the clean capacity; and it becomes omiero. People want to contact with the santos; and the believers take omiero for cleaning and washing them. In the Santeria religion, the bead necklaces are soaked; they mean the membership for the new devotees to this system of beliefs. The head of a person is washed with omiero; and the knife for the animal sacrifice must be washed as well. Each orishas has the omero; therefore, the most important is the omiero de asiento manufactured for the priestess or priest initiation (Brandon 61). It includes all egwes; and it is extremely powerful. The devotees drink it or use for the priesthood bathe. This mixture can be stored for many years. It is used for the Santeria rituals and rites. Moreover, people apply it for pain treatment such as rubbing. Other believers drink it because of lung congestion or treat tics and tremors. Hence, the omiero is not only the herbal concoction, Actually it is assigned for the ceremonies with rites and rituals.
Santeria healing includes two main rituals called despojos and rogacion de cabeza (Brandon 62). Despojos is a cleaning process that includes baths, house cleansing, and cigar smoke. Despojos with trabajo de limpieza is directed against the negative energy of malignant spirits with their subsequent absorption into objects, smoke, and water. Santeros blow smoke of cigars all over the person’s body during fumigation for cleaning it from evil. Moreover, believers prescribe herbal baths for the same goal achievement. The calm emotions, chaotic energy clearing away, and the development of psychic abilities are achieved through spiritual baths. People take perfumes, water, herbs, flowers, and holy or river water for the bath preparation. It is stated in the article “Spiritual Cleansing” “Typically spiritual baths are prescribed for a person through the prophetic declaration in a misa espiritual (spiritual mass), but they can be prescribed through divination or even used as a person is inspired to take them” (n. p.). In addition, santeros use plant mixtures for cleaning and scrubbing their houses, particularly, walls and floors. Therefore, they take the same bath mixtures and add some coloring agents. Furthermore, believers use different branches, weeds, and long-stalked flowers like gladiolus making brooms for the evil spirit rectification.
The second ritual rogacion de cabeza means cleaning the head and preparing for the next ceremony. The sick person goes to the santeros shrine and sings the prayers in Lucumi. He or she changes plants on the head that the devotee should wear at least one day and night. It should treat high blood pressure, depression, violent temper, mental confusion, witchcraft, and many other problems. Therefore, the rogation is a ritual more directed into a general strengthening of the body and soul and not for healing diseases.
Relation of herbal medicine to Santeria Saints
The pantheon of Santeria Saints or orishas is quite a variety. It should be noted that each of orishas has the specifically associated list of herbs, which is reinforced with respective ozains. As an example, orishas Chango is a lord of lightening and fire. He has the relationship with herbs like zarzaparrilla, alamo, granada, mamey, and others (African traditional religion n.p.). Orishas Eleggua is lord of crossroads. His herb list includes grama de caballo, lengua de vaca, espartillo, abre camino, pastillo, yerba fina, hedionda, itamo real, meloncillo, albahaca, pata de gallina, and llamao. The owner of All Heads is called Obatala; and this saint has the relationship with bledo de clavo, sauco, higuerete, and almendro (the African traditional religion n.p.). Furthermore, Yemaya, Oya, Babalu Aye, and Oggun have their own herbs. Hence, the Santeria religion and its Saints are deeply related to herbal medicine.
In conclusion, the Santeria religion uses herbal medicine for the treatment and prevention of diseases. The Afro-Cuban system of beliefs has many believers in Cuba, the USA, and other countries all over the world. People use plants in rituals and rites for healing the body and soul. They make the mixtures and healing broth. The believers prepare spiritual baths and fumigation. Herbal medicine can be used for the treatment and prevention of illnesses. Furthermore, each Santeria saint has a special list of herbs for a manufacturer of healing and cleaning decoctions. Hence, the Santeria religion has a close relationship to herbal medicine and helps individuals to be healthy and happy.