Things you generally won’t find in Lukumi (Santeria):
1. Gemstones and crystals. The only time these really come up is when someone makes a very fancy and expensive mazo (beaded sash). But you won’t find gems and crystals used for their own sake, and we attach no spiritual meaning to them - except for coral. Coral is very important to us.
2. Dried herbs. We use fresh herbs. Dried herbs may be used in espiritismo but not in Lukumi, as we believe once they’re dry they’re dead.
3. Casting a circle. If you are at a ceremony and they start casting a circle, you are actually at a Pagan coven and not a Lukumi ilé. We have nothing even remotely resembling this practice.
4. Identifying as ‘witches’ (except as a joke). While North Americans have a Wiccan-influenced positive idea about witches and witchcraft, the traditional Lukumi view is actually very similar to medieval European ideas: that witches are a negative force on society, that witchcraft is harmful magic, that witchcraft is a selfish act and thus against our community-based mindset. We have a very specific kind of spirit referred to in English as “the Witches” known euphemistically as Iyami (”Our Mothers”), who are the negative ancestral female spirits, often in the form of birds, that rule over society. In Yorubaland they are a highly secretive all-female secret society of post-menopausal women, or so I’ve been told, and the impression I’ve gotten is that no one would openly state they are a part of it. We do not call on them and very, very rarely say their real name for fear of attracting their attention (Ajé is the proper name for them and you will see people outside Lukumi try to reclaim this a lot but let me tell you: if you say this during a ceremony you will get a reaction between either cut eye from every elder or fully being asked to leave the room - as an example, a Pagan godchild of mine was sitting around between ceremonies reading a book with witchcraft in the title and my elder kind of freaked out and told him to put it away and gave him a long lecture about it being inappropriate to bring it to ceremonies). Some Lukumi, particularly those who are also involved in Palo, reclaim the term “witch” as a joke and as a push back against the long history of Afro-Cuban religions being deemed witchcraft and outlawed (this has a very tragic and ongoing history in both Cuba and the United States). But in general, we bristle against having our religion compared to witchcraft.
5. Wearing all black clothing. This is highly unusual for Lukumi aleyos and priests as the colour black attracts negativity. If you turn up to a ceremony in all-black, you will not be let inside. The exception is for children of Warrior Orisha like Eleggua, Ogun, and Ochossi. They can wear whatever they want, though even most of these omo will not wear all-black to a ceremony. There’s one ebo we do in which wearing all-black is required, but that’s a different story.
6. Self initiations. They don’t exist in Lukumi or other Orisha-based religions.
7. Veves. If you arrive at a ceremony and there are chalk or cornmeal patterns on the ground, you are actually at either a Vodou ceremony or a Palo ceremony.
8. “Bring your own drum” drum circles. The drummers in Lukumi ceremonies are highly trained and drum with specific rhythms on specific kinds of drums in specific arrangements of drummers. The most important kind of drum is only played by people initiated to that drum.
9. Tarot cards. While many of us read tarot as part of espiritismo, tarot has no role in Lukumi. Our divination systems are Obí (which may only be cast by priests or with the guidance of a priest), diloggun, and Ifá. Both diloggun and Ifá may only be read by priests with specific kinds of initiations (Olochas read diloggun, Babalawos read Ifá) and with extensive training. More than a system of divination, these are the ‘mouths’ of the Orisha - they are the Orisha speaking directly.
10. Mojo bags. If you are using mojo bags, you’re actually doing Hoodoo not Lukumi. Our closest equivalent are niche Osain, but these are really quite different and look to be entirely beaded balls.
Three Navajo in ceremonial dress, representing Tonenili, Tobadzischini, and Nayenezgani, the Yebichai war gods, as photographed by Edward Curtis, 1904. From “Arts and Crafts of the Native American Tribes.”
“Ugh,” You grunted as you scowled in the mirror, adjusting the rigid
corset tied around your middle, “I don’t know if this is right.”
“Huh?” Dis turned to you, her dark hair shone with a sprinkle of grey but still lush
as it hung down in perfect braids across her back, “Oh, Y/N, I told you, it’s supposed to look
like that…though it could be a bit tighter.”
“Tighter?” You whined and set your hands on your already constricted
waist, “I don’t—Oh!”