Term Paper: Religion the Cuban Community

Pages: 10 (3164 words)  ·  Bibliography Sources: 4  ·  Level: College Senior  ·  Topic: Mythology - Religion  ·  Buy This Paper


[. . .] He also said that there is not much of a boundary between the religions for most people. People burn candles, they go to church, they pray to the Orishas, and they pray to Jesus. There is no conflict of identity or fear that Santeria clashes with Catholicism. The priest might think differently, perhaps, but it could be that Catholicism has remained relatively tolerant of syncretic traditions under its umbrella such as Santeria and also Haitian voudou. Santeria and voudou still encourage people to worship and go to Church, as their community supports these rituals as well as the rituals of the African religions. Because the community supports a syncretic faith, there is a community cohesion that the Church dare not interfere with and has also used to its advantage.

The Catholic mass, conducted in Spanish, shares some things in common with Santeria ritual. Imagery is among the most important. In Santeria Enthroned: Art, Ritual, and Innovation in an Afro-Cuban Religion, author David Brown also notes the many points of convergence between Catholicism and Santeria in their respective use of color and imagery. Catholicism is not afraid of discussions of death; their entire religion is founded on the fact that Christ died. Likewise, Santeria does not fear death. Priests and priestesses sacrifice animals because there is inherent value in an animal life that is pleasing to the Orishas.

Another element in common between Catholicism and Santeria is music. The quality and type of music in a church is hymnal and choral, somber in tone and only melodic. On the other hand, Santeria music is percussive and loud, lively in tone. The sounds could not be more different, but the fact that music is present lends an aura of familiarity to both faiths.

Like Catholicism, Santeria has a clerical element. There was a priestess in charge of the ritual. The priestess does not sit in front of a pulpit, but there are times the practitioners remain silent while she chants and performs the rites using coconuts and cowry shells. In Catholicism, traditions of godfather and godmother exist and are intimate parts of the social code of a community. In Santeria, traditions of godmother and godfather are equally as important to the religion and the community.

Of course, there are major differences between the expression of Catholic faith and that of Santeria. The most noticeable element of difference is the fact that at the Santeria ritual, people are not sitting down in rows. In a Catholic ritual or mass, the people are sitting in pews in an organized fashion. One of the most noticeable differences between Catholicism and Santeria was gender roles. Santeria is relatively gender neutral and egalitarian. Men and women are equally endowed with power and responsibility; their roles are mutually respectful. This is not so in the Catholic Church, in which women are categorically prohibited from serving in the priesthood. Attitudes toward sexuality are different between the two faiths; Catholicism disavows the validity of sex outside of the marriage ritual and Santeria passes no moral judgment on such things. In fact, Santeria's moral code is quite different overall from that of Catholicism. There is more nuance and relativism in the Santeria moral code. Santeria is not actually a religion that is concerned with morality, per se. The religion is not rooted in a scriptural tradition, so there are no law books or codes that practitioners must subscribe to and guilt is not part of the Santeria psyche.

Although the ritual of the Eucharist is unique, and shares much in common with Santeria in terms of its having a magical component, Santeria ritual is more elaborate overall. The Eucharist entails a special wafer that has been blessed to represent the physical embodiment of Christ, which the practitioner ingests in order to commune with Christ. Wine is blessed to represent the physical blood of Christ, which the practitioner ingests in order to meditate on the death and resurrection. These rituals strangely seem common and natural for the Catholic, and somewhat different from Santeria but there is no real distinction between the Eucharist mentality and that of the Santeria ritual. In a Santeria ritual, objects are blessed to assume certain spiritual qualities. For example, In Santeria: The Religion, Faith, Rites, Magic, Migene Gonzalez-Wippler and Charles Vetli describe the Obi. The Obi is something that resembles the Eurcharist in that it is a physical item that is endowed with magical qualities. A coconut with cowry shells for eyes and nose to make an anthropomorphic visage, the Obi was sitting on the floor at the ritual I attended.

Santeria plays a major role in the lives of South Florida Cubans. The religion offers a sense of community, and bonding with people from a similar cultural background. Moreover, Santeria is a way for a person to develop a personal spirituality independent from that of the Church but without the New Age trappings of many other types of alternative types of worship. Santeria has a cultural pride element too, which is why there were many young people present at the ritual I attended. Some practitioners appreciate Santeria because it offers hope for changing their lives. The magical rituals, the prayers, and the fortune telling all combine to offer the person a way to petition for things they need such as health or wealth. Catholics, whether they practice Santeria or not, burn the same glass votive candles with saints painted on the side, while uttering prayers.

For many practitioners, Santeria serves as a form of mental health care that transcends the dominant culture institutions (Brandon, 1997). Practitioners visit babalaus as they would go to a psychologist, and find a comfort and solace that a doctor or psychologist would not have. The babalau (often spelled babalawo) is traditionally a fortuneteller, but her (or his) role is more than just to see the future. A babalau is a rank in the Santeria community. Not quite a priestess, the babalau has very specific functions and learns specific rites.

The practitioner who invited me (I will call him Jose to protect his real name) said that he goes to the babalau about once a month, and that everyone he knows sees a babalau at some point in their lives. Therefore, when Jose invited me to go with him on his next appointment, he made it seem natural. I was told that I did not need to wear anything special or bring anything but that we would be stopping at a botanica in Hialeah on the way.

Before visiting the babalau, Jose usually stops at a botanica. A botanica is a store selling ritual items for Santeria practice. Some of the items for sale are for personal use in the home, such as the votive candles and essential oils. The store is rich with the smell of incense and candles. All around me were candles in various sizes, books, and statues of Catholic saints and Orishas. When I asked if he knew what all of the items were in the store, Jose said no. He knows only what a few of the things were, such as some of the Orisha statues and the candles. He pointed at a few medallions in the case that he was unsure of, and he was not taught all of the properties of the essential oils. The babalau tells him which ones to purchase and he brings them to her for their session together. After the purchases, Jose drove to the babalau. Like the Santera, the babalau operates out of her home.

Santeria does not have a formal church building or congregation as Catholicism or any other organized religion might have. When the city of Hialeah sued the Church of Lucumi in the 1980s, it was suing a representative body for the religion of Santeria. Santeria practitioners do not go to mass at their priests' houses on a regular basis either. Instead, the priests, priestesses, and babalaus work out of their homes and schedule ceremonies around the lives of the practitioners. There are some dates that are important to the religion, but most of all, Santeria practice is about the individual. An individual needs help or wants to be blessed. Someone just got married and wants their relationship to last a long time, so they asked the priest to perform the ceremony. Ceremonies are done at the behest of the practitioner, and not at the calling of the priest or priestess. Santeria is a cooperative and collective faith, which evolves along with the individuals and communities that practice it. The Santeria that exists today in Miami and Havana will look a little bit different than the Santeria that existed a hundred years ago.

Santeria priests and priestesses make a living at what they do, and many do not have second jobs. Practitioners leave donations, and there are set prices for some of the services such as the fortune telling that I observed with Jose. The… [END OF PREVIEW]

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Religion the Cuban Community.  (2012, November 27).  Retrieved July 22, 2019, from https://www.essaytown.com/subjects/paper/religion-cuban-community/9719344

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"Religion the Cuban Community."  Essaytown.com.  November 27, 2012.  Accessed July 22, 2019.