I think of flavor as a 360-degree experience—obvious to those of you familiar with the K&C tagline (food for all five senses), but perhaps less obvious in tangible practice than in theory. What does it mean to feed all of our senses, to drench the palate and the nose and the eyes and the tactile and aural perceptors, too? (I JUST SAID PERCEPTORS. WHAT IS HAPPENING.)
Let’s start with the utterly tangible: This lush plum and pistachio crostata, laced with vanilla bean in the pastry and served with lemon verbena-infused whipped cream.
I’m not exactly a synesthete, but I feel synesthetically about preparing food: Let it be a wild celebration of the senses commingling, or let it be nothing.
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.
From a handout I prepared for my students last year
Bán: white, fair, fair-haired, pale. Bán is the colour of white cloth, frost, white wine, silver, white or fair hair, and pale, pallid, or blanched skin. People with albinism are described as bán. Bán is used in terms of endearment: mo chailín bán, “my fair girl” regardless of hair colour. Idiomatically, bán is used to mean ‘empty’ or 'blank’: a leathanach bán is a blank page, while an áit ban is an empty or deserted place.
Geal: white, bright, clear. Geal is the colour of white flour, lime, the sun, teeth, snow, and swans. It describes bright light, and clear days. Like bán, it is used in terms of endearment: a ghrá gheal, O fair love.
Fionn: white, fair. Fionn is the colour of sunlight, seafoam, and fair hair.
Bán, geal, and fionn all overlap significantly. Bán generally is the most common, and tends not to refer to shades which can be described as bright or shiny – however silver money is described as airgead bán. Fair hair is never described as geal, although fair skin is.
Liath: grey, pale grey. Liath is the grey of grey hair, animals like mice, mist, mouldy bread, and watery milk. Unlike geal, it is a dull colour. Idiomatically, liath can mean “ancient.”
Buí: yellow. Buí is the colour of sunlight, gold, cornmeal, tanned leather, dried fish, and tanned or sallow skin. Idiomatically, buí is used to meán “ugly”, an gadaí buí meaning “the ugly thief.” A fear buí is an Orangeman. Seán Buí is John Bull, or by extension, England as a whole.
Dearg: dark or vibrant red. Dearg is the colour of red ink, blood, gore, fire, embers, hot iron, and the lower layers of soil. Fíon dearg is red wine. Idiomatically, it can mean “real” or “intense”.
Rua: brownish-red, copper, russet. Rua is the colour of red hair, chestnut horses, copper, and rust. Idiomatically, it can mean “strong” or “violent”: an oíche rua is a stormy night. A madra rua is a fox. In place-names, such as An Cheathrú Rua, it refers to high iron content in the soil.
Corcra: purple. An early loan-word from Latin purpura, before Irish had a p sound.
Gorm: blue, but also bluish green, deep green, and deep purple. Gorm is the colour of indigo, azure, discoloured potatoes, the deep-blue colour of the sky, lush vegetation and grass, blue or green eyes, and bruised or livid skin. A duine gorm is a Black person.
Glas: green, but also grey and light-blue. Glas is the colour of the sea, grass, young or unripe plants, and green timber. It is also the colour of undyed wool, homespun cloth, iron, a cold winter sky, and grey eyes. Idiomatically, it can mean new, unexperienced, fresh; a saighdiúir glas, green soldier, is a new recruit.
Uaine: bright green. Uaine is typically used for any artificial green: one of the colours of the Irish flag, green paint.
Donn: brown. Donn is the colour of brown hair, cattle, brown paper, and timber or wood. Idiomatically, it can mean “firm”, or “strong.”
Dubh: black, dark. Dubh is the colour of black hair, night, ravens, and coal. Idiomatically, it can mean gloomy, evil, in secret. A place which is dubh le daoine, black with people, is overwhelmingly crowded. To have a croí dubh, black heart, is to feel overwhelmed by sorrow. An Fear Dubh is the devil.