a. What is Lukumi?

 Lukumi (often spelled Lucumi), popularly known as Santeria, or La Regla de Ocha is a religious system brought to the New World island of Cuba by Yoruba slaves from Africa in the area that is now Nigeria . 

 b. Where did Lukumi come from?

The roots of Lukumi are from the Yoruba speaking peoples of West Africa - who had various sub-ethnic groups. Lukumi evolved out of contact between enslaved Africans brought to Cuba with other African ethnic groups, and the diffusion of the Roman Catholic rituals of the slaveholders. This process is often referred to as syncretism.  Elements of contact with surviving indigenous Caribs, and with Chinese indentured labor on the island also affected Lukumi ritual practices.

c. What is Santeria?

A popular name for the New World African based religion, Lukumi or La Regla de Ocha, which has incorporated elements of Catholic worship. Orisha are often popularly referred to as "saints", however - Shango is not Saint Barbara, nor is Babaluaye Saint Lazarus.

 d. Why do you call your religion "santeria" and yourselves "santera/santeros" if you don't worship saints?

Since slaves In Cuba were not allowed to practice their religions openly, and slaves were also baptized Catholic by their Spaniard enslavers, the practice of Yoruba religion had to incorporate elements of Catholicism in order to survive.  Over time - descendants of Africans in Cuba continued to practice Catholicism - but to also continued their earlier beliefs.  There was diffusion of Catholicism into Yoruba belief. Slaves were allowed to join societies called Cabildos, which were devoted to specific saints.  Members of the Cabildos paraded - and formed groups ostensibly devoted to the Catholic images, while still practicing as priests in the older Yoruba tradition.  These Lukumi priests, as a result, were called “santeros”.

 e. What/who are the Orisha?

Orisha are deified ancestors - symbolic of both natural forces and energies who stand between the living and the Creator (Olodumare) in Yoruba belief.  Their energies directly interact with humans, since Olodumare is distant and removed from human affairs.

 f. What are Egun?

Lineal ancestral spirits.  All  ceremonies and rituals in the Lukumi religion begin with paying homage to one’s ancestors.

 g. Why is your religion secret?

Because it was repressed under slavery, its adherents arrested and persecuted, open worship was impossible both during enslavement and after emancipation.  Due to the ethnocentrism and racism of practitioners of mainstream religions who did not recognize African systems of belief as religions, and to their attitudes towards animal sacrifice as part of ritual, Lukumi was banned.  

  When the Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah won a Supreme court case in 1993, it opened the doors for Lukumi worshippers to begin to practice openly in the United States .  There is still a level or fear and paranoia - heightened by media sensationalism, misinformation, and local ordinances that restrict Lukumi  worshippers from openly declaring their faith and exercising their right to worship.  As more scholarly books are published, as Lukumi’s become more pro-active, this situation is changing.  The Internet has played a major role in this process. 

 h. How do I deal with a Lukumi practitioner as an employer, co-worker, teacher, health practitioner, corrections officer?

 The same way you would deal with people of other faiths - with respect. If they are wearing bead necklaces - refrain from touching them.  If they have their heads covered - respect that the same way you would respect the yarmulke of a Jewish person, the turban of a Sikh or the kufi of a Muslim. 



  a. Do you believe in God?

Yes we believe in a Creator who we call Olodumare.

  b. Do you believe in the Devil?

No.   Yoruba belief  has no oppositional set up - good versus evil, God versus a Devil.  One strives to develop good character and good works during your lifetime.  There are concepts of negative energies however - most generated by human foibles.

  c. Do you have a Church or place to worship?

Lucumi practitioners have shrines and altars in their own homes, but come together for group worship in a variety of locations for specific events.  This is one of the main differences between Lukumi and Candomble of Brazil - a sister worship system, where there are terreiros or houses of worship.

 d. Do you have a religious text like the Bible or Koran?

Yes - but it was orally transmitted until recently.  This corpus of knowledge includes Odu Ifa and patakis (moral parables)

  e. Where can I find / read your sacred text?  Who wrote it?

There are numerous ethnographic texts compiling portions of Odu Ifa, prayers (Oriki) and patakis (parables) as well as the body of religious ceremonial songs and drum patterns which are prayer as well.  No one text exists with the entire corpus since it is still oral and passed down from teachers to students.

  f. Is Lukumi/Santeria a cult?

No. “Cult” is a pejorative term.   Lukumi is a religion.  It has over 20 million adherents in the New World when you include the branches in Brazil .

 g. Isn't Lukumi/Santeria voodoo?

No.  Voudou or Vodoun is an West African religion brought to the New World by the Fon people of Dahomey , and though they have similarities they are different in genesis.

 h. What's the difference between Lukumi and Espiritismo?

They are completely different systems of belief.  Lucumi is a religion, Espiritismo is the practice of mediumship, dealing with the dead and guardian spirits - based on French spiritism which became popularized in the New World in the early 1900’s, particularly in Puerto Rico.   In the 1940’s and 1950’s some practitioners of Espiritismo also became Santeros - and have grafted the two practices together. 

 i. Is Lukumi a Pagan religion and if not what makes Lukumi different?

If you define Pagan as a pan-theistic folk tradition, then no - because Lukumi Yoruba belief is mono-theistic and urban.

 j. Isn't Santeria/Lukumi brujeria(witchcraft)?

No.  Brujeria or witchcraft is the practice of contagious and/or sympathetic magic.

Lucumi prayer - like all world religions seeks the intercession of the divine.

 k. Isn't the religion purer in Africa ?

No.  In Africa the religion has also been influenced by Islam and Christianity - and the decimation of the slave trade took a heavy toll on African adherents.  A better way to phrase this is that both African and New World traditions are not static and change to adjust to variances in history, and contemporary socio-political conditions. 

 l. Who is the symbolic or de facto leader of your religion, i.e. - Pope, Dalai Lama, Archbishop, Ayatollah, etc.?

There is no one leader.  The Lukumi system is organized around “iles” (houses of worshippers) or “ramas” (lineages of worshippers) and since the religion is hierarchical - the leaders are elders, or those with elder status from the various ramas or iles.

m. What are the "unchanging truths" of your religion?

 Reverence  for the ancestors.

 Each person is born with an Ori (or destiny) that they have chosen.

 Belief that there are mediators between oneself and Olodumare   (the Creator), called Orisha.

 n. How old is your religion?  Who founded it?

This question is debatable -many archeologists and historians have asserted that the Yoruba migrated to what is now Nigeria around 1000 C.E.  The greatest influx of Yoruba slaves arrived in Cuba by the mid to late 1800’s so Lukumi as it is practiced today has ancient roots with modern New World modifications.  

  o. How many followers do you have, worldwide?

Estimates range from 15 million to 40 million world wide.  Figures in the US are debatable - since there are still many religionists who will not admit openly to their practice, due to prejudice and legal suppression. 

 p. Where can I go to find out more information?

See book lists and suggested reading posts google group  alt.religion.orisha

There are many more books available these days, and many online forums where one can talk with priests and practitioners.  A word to the wise - some of the books currently on the market are full of errors, some of the websites are run by charlatans. This is a religion that requires a relationship to teachers and guides.  It's not "do-it-yourself", in either practice or initiation.


 a. What is a rama?

 A lineage of priests - dating back to one common initiated ancestor

b. What is an ile?

A group of related priests, and godchildren (initiated and uninitiated) who come together to pray,  to learn, and to perform ceremonies.

 c. What is the relationship between Babalawos and Santeros?

Babalawos are diviners and herbalists who are priests of Orumila/Ifa who do not become possessed by Orisha and play a meditating role in Lucumi practice. 

Some houses (iles) in Lucumi have a close working relationship with Babalawos and others do not. 

 d. What are the different levels in the religion?

 Oluwo - A Babalawo (priest of Ifa) who has also been initiated to a specific Orisha

 Oba/Oriate A priest highly trained in cowry shell divination who also functions as a Master of ceremonies for ritual

 Iyalorishas and Babalorishas - priests who have initiated godchildren

 Oloshas - priests who have not initiated godchildren

 Omo Aña - A fraternity of male priests dedicated to playing the sacred Aña drums (fundamento bata)

 Akpwon - an expert in ritual songs who leads the singing in ritual drumming and ceremonies

Iyawos - initiates in their first year (see Iyawo section)

 Aborisha (sometimes called aleyos) non- priest members of an ile

 e. What tasks do people in the religion do, or skills do they learn/utilize?

 The Lucumi community is extremely diverse, and since the religion is not practiced in isolation, the community requires a variety of skills.

Crafting of articles for initiations or other functions:

Clothing makers, Throne/altar builders, Potters, Blacksmiths/iron workers - Woodworkers and carvers, mask makers Silver and goldsmiths

  The Kitchen: Cooks who are skilled in preparing foods presented to Orisha as well as cooking for large numbers  of people.  Pluckers, pot scrubbers, coconut openers, peelers, shredders and graters (kitchen prep)

   Musicians:  singers, drummers, shekere and bell/hoe players.

  Scholars, historians. writers, & illustrators

  Herbalists and botanists: Herbalists in Lukumi are called "osainistas", they work with the Orisha Osain, and have a knowledge of herbs used for healing and cleansings.

  Diviners: There are several different divination systems within Lukumi.  The simplest is done with Obi (coconut).  Experienced diviners use dillogun (shells) or if they are Ifa priests, they use ikin (kola nut) 


 a. What is a Iyawo?

   A recently initiated priest. Iyawo means “bride of the Orisha”

 b. Why is he/she wearing all white ?

For the first year Iyawos are spiritually vulnerable and wear white to repel negativity, as a symbol of purity and to bear witness to the community at large that they have been initiated to the priesthood.

 c. Why can’t Iyawos take pictures?

 They are to avoid all manifestations of vanity. This includes avoiding looking in mirrors for a specific part of the Iyawo year. Make-up, and perfumes are also forbidden during the year in white.

 d. Why can’t I touch a Iyawo?

  Because they pick up other peoples’ energy.

 e. Why are they eating on the floor?

The Iyawo is considered to be a baby - since initiation is considered to be the  “birth” of a new priest.  Consequently Iyawos sit on the floor, are waited upon and do not eat with a knife or fork - only using a spoon or fingers.

f. If I'm married, do I have to give up sex with my partner during my Iyawo year?


 g. What taboos do you have to observe during your Iyawo year?

They vary depending upon the specific divination received during initiation.  Iyawos do not drink alcoholic beverages, try to avoid being out at night (unless their job requires it) and wear white clothing. Other prohibitions are specific to Odu.

 f. What do I do if my job has problems with me dressing in white?

Discuss this with your godparents.  Most Iyawos who hold jobs that require a uniform wear the uniform, but change into whites as soon as they get home from work


 a. What taboos are practiced in Lukumi?

Taboos in Lukumi come from a variety of sources - some are cultural (influenced by African retentions or diffused into Lukumi from Catholicism), some are related to an Odu of divination received by a specific person, others are gender related, and a few are universal.  

Few Lukumi will ever dress completely in black clothing - since black attracts negativity.

Cremation is a burial taboo

 Women don’t play Aña fundamento drums

 There are numerous food taboos - some related to food that are served to Orisha (like no salt in food for Obatala) and others related to Odu (example - not eating hot spicy foods)  

b. Why do you have taboos?

Because everything is a way of increasing or decreasing ache - and Odu can indicate things that will be detrimental to your ache, just as it can indicate things that will enhance your ache

 c. What is ache?

Ache is a Yoruba concept for power and divine grace

d. Why do you sacrifice animals?

The ritual sacrifice of animals, though important, has been blown out of proportion by the media, and is not the main focus of Lukumi ceremonies. The animals are consecrated offerings, made sacred for communal meals, which are shared with the ancestors and Orisha. This is similar to Jewish kosher meat (ritually slaughtered) or Islamic halal meats.

 e. Do you sacrifice people?


f. What is possession?

Possession is a state of being in which the conscious self is suppressed in order to allow for the entry of the divine.

Some priests and even non-initiates may become possessed, but it is not a requirement for initiation.  Possession takes place to allow direct communication between Orisha and worshippers.  A person who has the demonstrated capacity to be possessed is called a “horse”(caballo), mount or “subidor”.

 g. Why do you burn candles?

A candle is a prayer in light - and represents the presence of the divine. We light them to open ritual Orisha spaces and for the ancestors.

 h. Why must women wear skirts?

There are traditional gender roles in the religion.  Female Orishas are portrayed in skirts and male Orishas in pants and this tradition has been continued, even though in secular settings priests are free to wear what they choose, out of respect for the tradition, we honor the ancestral dress code.

 i. Why do you wear beads, (elekes, collares)? What do the beads mean?

The multi-colored bead necklaces represent the energies of the Orishas, and are consecrated.  They provide spiritual protection for the wearer - and also serve to identify co-religionists

j. Do you have to wear those bracelets?

The bracelets (ides or manillas)  are like the beads (elekes) - they represent different Orishas and are consecrated.  

k. Why can't I touch your necklaces (elekes)?

Because they are sacred.

 l. How do you talk or pray to Orishas?

We say many types of prayers, called Oriki and for us song is also prayer as is dance.

m. Can Orishas understand me if I speak English?

Orishas understand the language of the heart.


 a. What is Lukumi divination?

Lukumi’s use three types of divination; merindilogun (16 cowry shells), divination with Obi coconut , and Babalawos divine with palm nuts (ikin) and the divining chain (okuele).

b. What is the difference between get a reading from a Santero, Italero (Oriate), and a reading from a Babalawo? 

Santeros and Italeros use 16 cowries.  There are some Odu that can only be read/interpreted by Babalawos using ikin (palm nuts) or the divining chain. 

 c. Do I have to join to get a reading?

No.  Diviners see clients who are not Aborisha.

 d. How do I select a person to give me a reading?

Try to get a referral from someone with experience in the religion who can recommend a qualified diviner.

 e. What does it cost?

The cost varies - usually a preliminary 16 cowry reading is 21 dollars (East coast), 50 dollars (west coast).  Babalawo’s readings  may be more costly.

 f. What is ebo?

Ebo is an offering to the Orishas -it may be cooked food, flowers, fruits, or an animal. Ebos are usually marked in a divination session.

 g. Why do I have to do an ebo?

You don’t HAVE to do anything - but if you have gone to a reading and received advice on how to rectify a situation,, and an ebo is marked - why not complete the process?

 h. Who will do one for me if I’m not a member?

The person who marked the Ebo for you

 i. How do I find out my guardian Orisha?

Unless you are planning to become a member, the Orisha who is your guardian is Obatala - the owner of all heads.  Once you have joined, and found godparents, when it is deemed necessary your guardian Orisha is determined by divination, either with cowry shells, or by Babalawos in a session called a “plante”.


                     a. Who can join? Can only Hispanics and African-Americans join?

Depending on the ile - some are predominantly African-American or Afro-Caribbean, others predominantly Spanish speaking -  but many iles these days are multi-cultural.   

 b. Do I have to speak/learn Spanish?

It helps to learn some Spanish if you are going to participate in the larger community.

 c. Do I have to speak/learn Yoruba?

No. You will learn to speak some Lukumi, because many aspects of the liturgy and ritual are in Lukumi/Yoruba dialect, as are all the songs. There are practitioners who have learned Yoruba, as spoken in Nigeria - but Orishas understand all languages.

d. How do I join, find and choose  a godparent?

You need to find an ile, and godparents. Do some reading first.  Be prepared - don't just walk into the first botanica (ATR religious supplies store) you find  asking around, or send an email off to a purported priest (anyone can claim to be an initiate on the internet )
Many are legitimate priests however - you just need to learn how to tell the difference.

Three good introductory texts are: Four New World Yoruba
Rituals, by John Mason, Finding Soul on the Path to the Orisha, by
Tobe Melora Correal and Santeria, by Joseph Murphy.

Second.  After you have done some reading, then  start looking for an ile and godparents, or at least a godparent.  Orisha traditions are communal and hierarchical.  These are not  "do-it-yourself" traditions, and you cannot self-initiate.   This is a lineage based system - with levels of initiation, and it takes time to move through these levels and be trained.  Not everyone has a calling to the priesthood.  Some people are content to join an ile and stay as simple worshippers.  Some folks don't even go that far - they are simply "clients" looking for advice.  Be clear about what level of interest or involvement you want to have. The godparent becomes your teacher and guide.

See alt.religion.orisha post, I wrote  entitled “Advice to Newcomers to Orisha worship” at  http://groups.google.com/group/alt.religion.orisha/browse_thread/thread/28178f4ae7d8ae28/1660d167477dbc9f#1660d167477dbc9f

 for more specific details.   The same post is also located here on this site - with minor changes - Advice to Newcomers .

 e. How can I verify that someone is really a Lukumi priest?

Several online sites can direct you to legitimate priests

CLBA - Church of the Lukumi Babaluaye


  Organization of Lukumi Unity


Santeria Lucumi Online Community


 and  for traditional Ifa try:


 Beware of ANY site, or purported priest that offers readings or initiations over the phone or by credit card.

f. What are the costs of joining an ile?

Costs vary from state to state and by region, but the initial cost is in time - you have to be willing to spend time participating in ile functions.  If you decide to receive elekes - the costs range from 121 to about 500 - depending on the region and ile practices.

g. Why isn’t everything free?

An ile is a church and congregation, and ritual requires monetary support,

as well as the time contributed by members.

 h. What is the responsibility of a godparent to a godchild?

To teach and guide a person through the rituals, protocols and along their spiritual path.  No godparent should ever abuse their position of authority and should have no sexual interaction with a godchild.

 i. What is the responsibility of a godchild to a godparent?

To be receptive to learning, to respect the rules and traditions of the ile.

 j. Does everyone have to be a priest?


 k. What is an aleyo? 

Aleyo means stranger - but is a term often applied to members of the religion who are not initiated.  The proper term is Aborisha  

l. What are the warriors?

Warriors are the Orishas Elegua, Osun, Ogun and Ochosi who are often received together. This is a common initiation for Aborishas (non-priests)

 m. What is half-seated?

There is a debate about this term - but some iles consider a person who has received beads and warriors as “half-seated” and allow them to participate in certain rituals and to receive training that is not considered to be appropriate for a newcomer.  

n. How is my family going to deal with me joining? (they are Catholic, Baptist, Pentecostal, Jewish, etc.)

It depends - don’t expect them to be enthusiastic unless they have prior knowledge or are very open-minded.  The stereotypes they have been fed by the media, will probably take time for them to unlearn - and some family members may never accept your choice - but its your life.  There are  many families who were initially opposed but after attending open rituals were moved to acceptance.

 o. Can joining this religion fix all my problems (marital, sexual, health, job related)?

No.  No. No.

 p. Do you have to be baptized in church to join?

I have heard this from some heavily Catholic influenced priests - but the answer is No.  We have our own rituals involving water.

 q. Do you have to be a Catholic?

No.  I know priests that continue to practice Judaism, Islam, Buddhism, & Hinduism.

 r. If I am Catholic do I have to quit?

No.  Many people practice parallel worship.

 s. Can I be a vegetarian and join this religion?

Yes.  But there are times you will have to ritually taste small amounts of meat.


                       a. How do I begin to honor my ancestors?

Though this may sound off topic - the first thing to do is identify them  and learn to call their names..  Many people who come into an ancestral religious system enter without thinking about the fact that we are living as a result of the actions of those who went before us - who supplied our DNA.  As such you should sit down and begin to draw up a simple family tree.  There are currently many websites and services that are available on the internet that can help you research your lineage.

 Find a  space in your home that you can delineate as a small shrine,  which is often on the floor,  to your family dead, and place upon it items that may represent them or be symbolic of who they were, this can include photos, but doesn’t have to.  See John Mason’s Four New world Yoruba Rituals for a description of African derived ancestral shrines.  You can place flowers, make food offerings and light candles at this altar.  When making a big meal - it is customary to place the first food to the ancestors prior to serving the living.   Food is usually served on a chipped or cracked plate.

.b. What is a boveda?

A boveda is a spiritual altar, never on the floor, covered with a white cloth, that has glasses of water on it - one, or seven or nine usually, and very often other items from the realm of Espiritismo.

c. How is an Egun shrine different from a boveda?

Egun are family members who are deceased, a boveda is more  an altar for spiritual guides, who may not be related to you by blood 

 d. What is an Egun stick?

A tall wooden staff - usually about your height, which is used to ceremonially call for the blessing of the ancestors.

e. Suppose some of my ancestors were bad people? Do I still honor them?

We are not here to judge the actions of the dead.  They had all the flaws humans have, but since they are deceased, they are no longer in this realm.  We pray for the elevation of all our dead, and in so doing learn to be less judgmental in life.

 f. What if I don’t have recent African ancestors? How do I honor European, Native American, or Asian ancestors?

 Find items that are symbolic of their religious beliefs and culture to place on your shrine, and give food offerings that they would have eaten when living.

 g. What is a “misa” or spiritual mass?

A séance where mediums and participants come together to clarify issues dealing with your family dead or spiritual guides.

Misa protocols:

People usually wear white, and have their heads covered.

. Keep your feet flat on the floor. Never sit with you legs or ankles crossed because this stops, or blocks  the "corriente".  At a misa - persons approach the table - to clean themselves at the correct time - in the order that they are seated in the circle - not by age order.   In front of egun/spirits/muertos - there are no elders or youngers.

If you get up from your chair to leave the room for some reason, leave something in your chair.

No one wears beads/elekes at a misa.  If you have them on when you get there - take them off and put them in a safe place.

 Be prepared to stay until the misa closes.  It is not a good idea to leave before all spirits have been consulted, everyone has been cleaned, and closing prayers are read. 



a. Why do you have drummings?

To play and sing for the Orisha, or Egun, for both song and dance are prayer.  And to invite them to come among us and speak to us, through their mounts or caballos.

                      b. What is a bembe, tambor, guiro, or fundamento drumming? Are they  different?

There are different types of drummings:
Guiro - one conga drum, 3 shekeres and a bell

Bembe - three conga drums - tumbadora, tres golpe and quinto, cowbell and maybe a shekere

 Fundamento bata - consecrated Aña drums - Iya, Okonkolo. Itotole, and an achere(maraca) played only in religious ceremony, by Aña priests of various levels of initiation.

Aberikula - unconsecrated bata drums used in both religious and secular (jazz & rumba) settings.

Both fundamento and aberikula have an order:
Oro seco - no vocals
Oro cantado - salutation of heads and saluting of drums by priests .  During both these parts of the ceremony - oro seco and oro cantado it is not appropriate to dance.  Both of these sections are directed towards the Orisha and are prayer.
Wemilere - open festival dancing

A bata drummer cannot play or touch a fundamento drum unless his hands are “washed” (a ritual giving them entry into the fraternity).  Aña drums are Orisha.

Some people give Egun feasts - where music is played to the ancestral line of the person. This can include specific songs to Egun in Lucumi/Yoruba, songs in Lucumi/Yorubs to Orisha, and also music of that persons ethnic heritage.

Other drummings and music:

There are also Ibeji parties .and feasts with drumming for specific Orisha.

Sometimes after religious ceremonies some people do "rumbas" (secular drumming & dancing)

There has been a lot of diffusion of Lukumi religious music into a secular context. Well known singers like Celia Cruz, who was not a priestess , sang both "religious" and more secular adaptations of Orisha music. There is even a hip-hop group now named Orisha - who pay tribute to their roots in Lukumi in contemporary style.

Rumba has incorporated some lyrics from Lucumi sacred sources, and has a number of styles - Yambu, Guaguanco and Columbia.

 c. Will I get possessed?

Doubtful, if you are not an initiate. But it has happened.  Usually to people who did something they shouldn’t - like dance up in front of the drums.  Better to take a back seat and observe. You may feel the energy or “corriente” (current)  that runs through  the room while the music is playing.  

 d. How do you learn those songs?

Ritual songs are led by the Akpwon in a call response format.

There are many good cds available of Lukumi religious music, but the best place to learn is in your ile, and at a religious event. 

 e. What do the songs mean?

They are praise songs to different Orishas, some encouraging them to come amongst us.

f. What do the dances mean?

The dances are ritual invocations of the Orishas and portray elements of the Orishas character and essence.

g. How do I learn them?

By watching or taking classes.  But a word of warning - those people who are not initiated should never dance directly in front of the drums at a religious event.  This place is reserved for priests.

And the dances taught at dance classes, are for performances.  There is nothing sillier than people who have taken a few Orisha dance classes and then shows up at a tambor prepared to perform them.  They don’t understand the purpose of the dance, which is to honor Orisha and to prepare the way for a horse to be mounted.

 h. What should a non-initiate wear to a bembe?

You do not have to wear white, unless the invitation has that specific instruction. If at a bembe, suggest you have your head covered.  Women should be wearing skirts that cover the knees and no low cut blouses or revealing attire.  Men should be presentable, not wearing only an undershirt, and no one should be wearing all black.



                    a. Are there different rules of behavior and or protocols for members and non-members?

Yes there are, and it would be too complicated to list them all, but the most important thing is to enter with respect, be dressed respectfully, and to carry yourself  the way you would in any church, mosque, temple or synagogue.

 b. Why are people prostrating themselves to the shrine or to priests?

 Called “Foribale”, the act of prostration is saluting the Orishas, and their priests  and is performed  by priests and aborishas.  Non priests or non members can simply cross their arms to an altar or shrine and ask the Orishas for their blessings. 

c. What are the protocols for aborishas?

 Each ile has its own rules regarding the code of conduct and attire of members.  This is determined by the godparents.

For aborishas at all gatherings - in the homes of santeros or at rituals - the altar, or throne, or Orishas are saluted FIRST.

 Then your godparent is saluted.  No matter their age - even if there is a room full of elders.  Your godparent will then show you who to salute next - this is done in order of age - eldest first and down the line.   Being lifted is a blessing - and as my Ifa godfather explained - one is saluting the Orisha of that persons head - not them - and by lifting you the person is giving you a bit of their ashe and health.

 There are elders who will stop you from throwing yourself.  This is usually an indication that they are ill - and cannot deplete their own energies.  In that case, you simply cross you arms and hug and say "Bendicion" or “Alafia”.

 There are some elders who don't want  aborishas to throw themselves to be lifted, only want to be greeted with the crossed arms salute.  If in doubt ask the person who brought you, godparent or friend about the specific protocols of that ile.

 In some houses you do not even salute someone's Orisha unless you are told you can do so - you don't even ask if you can do so.  You wait until it is offered to you. 

Saluting a Babalawo is done differently. They are saluted by leaning over and touching the ground with the tips of the fingers of your  right hand  as you say "Iboru, Iboya, Ibochiche".

 d. What are the protocols for an ocha birthday?

An ocha birthday is a yearly celebration of the anniversary of a priest’s initiation, and the birth of his or her Orisha.  These celebrations usually have a mix of persons present, some initiated, but many are just friends, co-workers and family from the lay community.  If you are attending one for the first time, ask  the person whose birthday it is the appropriate protocols observed in their ile. 

    11.Table manners/ FOOD, EATING, SERVING protocols

                    There will be times when you will be invited to sit and eat with Priests - whether at an ocha birthday or at after a                         ceremony.  There are protocols - Lukumi etiquette, related  to  the sharing of food together.

 Food is served from the bowls on the table by lifting the plate - the actual container of food is not lifted.  (exceptions are things like salt and pepper, butter, etc which can be passed around).  This is sometimes  a hard rule  to learn if you come from a family where serving bowls and platters were always passed around the table.

The theory behind this is that if the serving bowl/platter is not lifted  there will always be plenty - one's plate can always be filled.  This may stem from early practice of eating seated on the ground - the "container" having contact with the earth - the source of plenty

  Elders are served first.

 One waits to begin to eat for the eldest priest at the table to begin.

 One asks permission to leave the table from the eldest.

 The eldest - when finished taps their plate to indicate all can rise.

  When clearing the table the person whose plate is being cleared has to tap the plate or table before you whisk their plate away to the kitchen - and you can NEVER place their plate or someone else's on top of it on the way to the kitchen.  If you ever worked in the past as a waiter or waitress - you may be used to stacking as many plates as you could in your arms and clearing the table.  A big no -no.  Plates can be stacked AFTER they are scraped - to be put in the sink, or on the sideboard waiting to be washed.  (Explanation: placing a plate on top of that of another "cuts off" that persons energy.)

  At very formal meals, when an Oba/Oriate or Babalawo is at the table - all food scraped from the plates goes into a palangana (bowl) which is considered to be an offering to Egun (the ancestors) .

 Prior to the meal - a bit of each food prepared  goes on a plate (usually a cracked one) and is placed in front of egun.  

12. General descriptions of OTHER Lukumi Ceremonies:

             a. Can Lucumi priests perform weddings?

Yes. States vary according to certification required. There are priests in the religion who perform Lukumi/Yoruba ceremonies.  Contact any of the groups mentioned in this FAQ for more information.

b. What other kinds of ceremonies are there other than drummings and initiations?

There are healing rituals, funerary rites, and rituals honoring deceased godparents

Healings (awans).  Two Orishas - Olokun and Babaluaye have ceremonies open to non-priests where one receives  spiritual cleansing and healing energies.

 Death - The final ceremonies for priests are called the Itutu and are conducted by an Oba/Oriate.

 Honras -  a drumming and feast held in celebration of the life of a deceased priest by the godchildren of that priest

 c. Are there other traditions practiced with Lukumi/Santeria?  

Yes, but this varies from ile (house) to ile.  Some iles place heavy emphasis on Espiritismo (Spiritism), others have many members who also concurrently practice Palo Mayombe.  It is important to note that neither Espiritismo nor Palo are Lukumi practices.  The close proximity and parallel practice has caused a lot of confusion about the distinctions,  and there has  also been borrowing between and among the varying systems.


No one FAQ can answer every question regarding a religion and its history, rituals, and traditions but hopefully this will be a starting point for demystifying a beautiful faith that has been misunderstood by many outsiders for several hundred years.

original draft FAQ  Dec 2005

updated April 12, 2006

Written  by Denise Oliver-Velez

Many thanks to those who contributed to this effort - folks from OLU, Afolabi, Jesse and countless others.

You are welcome to use this material - but must cite the author and source. 

Thank you,


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