Palo Mayombe: the Dark Side of Santeria

Santeria is a Spanish word that means ‘Way of the Saints’ It is also called Regla de Osha. This religion is believed to have originated from the Yoruba tribe of West Africa and began its spread through slavery in Cuba. The religion was formed by the syncretism of the Yoruba religion and the Catholic belief systems. The Lucumi language is used as its sacred language and only followers have its understanding.


Ile is a word in the Yoruba language meaning ‘home’. These lles are temples dedicated to the different Orishas being revered by the practitioners. They are found in the homes of priests and priestesses and serve as sanctuaries for the altars called igbodu. In the igbodu, you find three thrones that are a representation of kings, queens, and warriors. These thrones are covered in blue, white and red colors.


The priests or priestesses of the religion are usually found in the Ile, alongside with those intending to attain this height. To have become a priest, a person would have to undergo an initiation ceremony. This initiation process is expected to last a week. During this process, they are taught the beliefs and traditions of religion. They are also armed with the knowledge of the Orishas. They are also exposed to performing various rituals and sacrifices.

Priests are called Santeros or Olorichas. When they are equipped with the ability to carry out divination and healing, they are referred to as Italeros. If they undergo training to handle initiation rites, they are called Obas. If they have been trained to initiate other priests, they are called babalorichas or iyalorichas. 


Santeria as a religion pays attention to the purity of the soul. Before a person is initiated, he has to undergo a cleansing process. During this process, his godfather would conduct the cleansing process using herbs and water. He applies this on the scalp of the initiate moving his hand in a unique rhythm. Any individual who joins from a desire of meeting therapeutic needs would also undergo the cleansing process; the only difference is his would-be conducted using coconut water and cotton.


The initiation process itself is in four phases or stages. Every initiate must completely pass through all the stages to become a priest. These four stages are termed: Obtaining the Necklace, Receiving the Warriors, Making Saints and Ascending the Throne.

Palo Mayombe, as a religion is quite different from the practice of Santeria. Though there exist certain similarities such as having shrines, initiation processes to become members, priesthood, and the family systems of having godfathers, there are several factors that set them apart. Both religions also began their spread in Cuba and originated from the African slaves.

Palo Mayombe is often referred to as the dark twin or dark side of Santeria. Palo Mayombe focuses its practice on connections with the spirits of the dead and other deities called the mpungu, Santeria focuses its practice on connections with the saints and other deities called the Orishas.