Santeria: the Spiritual Passage to Participation

Pre Initiation:

Santeria is a religion whose practice involves different rites and ceremonies. The first and most important for every follower is the initiation rite. This rite is preceded by the cleansing ceremony where the godfather cleanses the scalp of the new initiate to prepare him for the rites. Special herbs and sacred water are used for this purpose. 

The initiation rite itself is in four stages. These four stages are termed: Obtaining the Necklace, Making Saint, Receiving the Warriors and Ascending the Throne.

Obtaining the Necklace (Ileke):

A new initiate is called a Bride (Iyawo). Before he proceeds, it has to be determined through ritual who the Orisha in charge of the Iyawo would be. The initiate would then have to search for the necklaces (elekes) that have the specific colors and design of his Orishas.

The beaded necklaces are then sanctified and dedicated using a mixture of herbs, sacrificial blood, and other potent components.

The initiate is expected to wear these necklaces as a connection to the Orisha. The god in return would offer protection and guidance to the new initiate. The beads, however, must not be worn during menstruation or sex. They are considered sacred and should not be defiled by such activities.

Making Ocha (Medio Asiento):

The next stage of initiation is erecting of the image of the god, Eleggua. Before this image is erected, the initiate has to consult with the Initiator, laying bare all aspects of his life. The initiator then decides which aspect of this OSHA the image would be erected by. The new initiate would have to obtain some stones, of which the Initiator picks one. This stone forms the center around which the image is erected. This image is housed by the new initiate as a source of protection and must be attended to. It is usually offered food and sacrifices.

Receiving Warriors (Los Guerreros):

At this stage, the new initiate receives items connected to the three warriors; Ogun, Ochosi, and Osun. These items are believed to further bind the new initiate with these Orishas. The items are iron instruments (Ogun), bow and arrow (Ochosi) and an iron chalice with a rooster mounted on it (Osun).

Ascending the Throne (Asiento):

This climaxes the entire initiation rites and is done with a lot of secrecy. It is the phase where the new initiate metaphorically dies and rises to a new life. In this phase, the new initiate is believed to be possessed by his Orisha and his utterances during this ceremony are believed to proceed from the Orisha itself. It is done in the company of other ordained Santeros and includes certain rituals.

Post Initiation:

After initiation, the new priest waits for a year, staying away from impurities and contact with non-initiates. He is not yet offered the privilege of performing ceremonies and rituals. After this phase, he is handed that privilege, along with standing as a healer and a diviner. He is then seen as a representative of the Orisha.