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Santeria and End of Life and Palliative Care

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Introduction

There are many religions practiced on our planet. Some of them are widely spread all over the world and some are common for different regions or groups of people. There are religions that were forgotten many centuries ago, so that nowadays nothing reminds of them. Besides, each culture has its own history which is the main fundament that has served for the further development of human spiritual height. I have decided to make Santeria the topic of my research paper because this culture has a very rich history and it is interesting for its views on human being. Moreover, it is closely connected with Catholicism and, in my opinion, some new facts I will find while writing this research paper can be not only interesting but useful too so that,  they will probably change my life views somehow.

There are many descriptions of Santeria culture that can be found. In 1987 Mircea wrote that Santeria is a kind of worship created by African people and it is very close to Catholicism with its symbols. Santeria is also known as Regla de Ocha, sometimes it is called La Regla Lucumi or just Lukumi. In 2004 Hector characterised Santeria as an oral and practical tradition that is filled with wisdom, useful pieces of advice and instructions to overcome life troubles and hardships. This religion has Afro-Cuban origin and the first nation to practice it was Yoruba. These people lived in the West-Africa that now is Nigeria and Benin and being slaves they brought their culture to the shores of Cuba, Haiti, Puerto Rico, Brazil and Trinidad. In 1959, after Cuban Revolution Santeria was spread not to the USA only, but to other nearby counties too. It has been invisible for a long time but in 1997 Lizette Alvarez wrote that it was believed Santeria to be a religion that only poor practiced but that opinions make no sense anymore and for now this religion becomes popular among people of different social statuses. Americans of different jobs ask orishas for help before starting their working day. It is impossible to know right the number of people that use Santeria nowadays, as there is no central organization and this religion is often practiced privately. Some sources say there are a hundred million people all over the world that use Santeria.

Physical Dimensions in Coping and Dying

As it was said earlier Yoruba were the first to practice Santeria. They believed in one main God named as Olorun or Olodumare. Olorun symbolizes the spiritual energy of which the universe consists of and which makes all things and life material. Furthermore, Olodumare contacts with spirits that are named Orishas (they are much alike to saints in Catholic religion but are not the same). Orishas are powerful spirits that have different opportunities to make human being better and solve the problems (Hector, 2004).

Santeria believers use Orishas’ help to recover from illnesses too. It is believed that every physical disease is caused by some spiritual or psychological problems. That is why Yoruba had their special ‘doctors’, that knew much about natural plants, psychology and they had a very respected person who considered to stay between God and a human being. Herbalist had a great knowledge about the right way to use nature. They had their own recipes of medicine for different diseases so that some of them were perfected and are widely spread nowadays. For example, Yoruba used lemongrass to normalize blood pressure and to help a patient to stay calm; castor oil helped babies’ delivery and made it quicker and provoked the quick expulsion of the placenta, sometimes thyme tea was used for the same goal; Datura metel and Datura stramonium were used to help to get in trance because of their hallucinogenic properties. Many of medical formulas contain holy water as an ingredient too.

“This religion says that body is closely connected with mind and heart, and they all depend from each other” (Kristina, 2007). That is why if something goes wrong with one of them, others are going to suffer too. In order to help an ill person to recover, the healer first thinks then interprets and performs as if the illness has not just physical problems but it is influenced by some troubles in patient’s life the spirits caused. There are three main Orishas that help to heal people. They are Osain, the lord of the herbs, and Babaluye-Aye, the ruler of contagious diseases and Inle, the patron of physicians. With the help of special knowledge Santerian doctors ask these spirits for help. Raul Canizares in 1999 in his book named ‘Cuban Santeria’ described some facts when the doctors were powerless to cure their patients because of spoilage that caused the disease till those ill people asked for help Santerian healers.

Santeria believes in life after death, but it is not more important than the life on the Earth. “Iku is the spirit of death, who helps dead people to find their place after” (Infante, 2000). It is believed that bad people live in hell on the earth and suffer much after death.

Psychological Dimensions

“Santeria is specific for its psychological aspects, it has to be comprehended” (Harry, 1996). People who come into this religion usually act feeling as if a special Orisha wanted them to do so. Many people provide evidence that it was their act of knowledge of a life-threatening sickness which first prompted their loyalty to an Orisha. Sickness, as they say, is a communication from the Orisha, a reminder of one to wake up and follow their destiny as a servant of the Orisha. The following pact with the spirit reflects their respect for the power of the Orisha to affirm their lives and thankfulness for the Orisha’s agency as a result of the healing (Murphy, 1994).

Catholics go to church or pray to God whenever they have problems. Santeria believers meditate and ask Orishas for help. People who come to religion want to make their life better, to get support and to believe. Psychotherapy is very close to espiritismo. Allopathic principles are widely spread in psychotherapy, and for spiritism homeopathic principles are common. Their aim is to help a patient to recover from unexpressed guilt. Sometimes it happens that a human can’t get on with some emotions or even fears that are not understandable and hard to cope. Harry in 1996 wrote that when the spirit enters the body of a spirit medium he assists the patient to reach harmony with his spirit and then the way of life, destiny and emotions can be changed. That is what healing consists of.

Social Dimentions

There is no central organization in Santeria. A main central unit of the Santeria community is the “house” called a “casa” or “ile”. Often it is the senior Santeria priest’s house who is considered to be the header. Murphy wrote in 1994 that the header of the ile is usually a man, but sometimes a woman can take this place too. They are named as a godmother or a godfather and all members are named as sisters and brothers. They believe their core function is to honor spirits and to act according to their advice. From early childhood parents teach their children Santeria and help to make them their first spiritual experience. The progress of spiritual growth is named “en santo”, that means “a road” and it is very important in Santeria.

The members of the ile relate to each other as they are the biological relatives in one big extended family. The ile can be big or small and sometimes, depending on circumstances, different iles may join up. Every member takes part in ile’s life and puts it in the first place in his or her life.

Moreover, Santeria has priesthood. Both men and women can be its members. They have to be initiative people who are easy to train. They often have their full-time jobs and combine them with priesthood work. If a man is a priest he is called “babalorisha” that is “Father in the Spirit in Catholicism.” A woman is called “iyalorisha”that is “Mother in the Spirit.” Being a priest means to reborn in spirit. It is said that priest “made a saint”. Orisha has entered the priests, that is why they are considered to have special powers (Wirtz, 2007).

Santeria is spread all over the world nowadays. Some people may not tell the community about the religion they practice so it is impossible to count exactly the right number of Santeria believers.

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Spiritual Dimensions

As it was said earlier Santeria religion has special spirits, called Orishas. They are rather similar to Catholic saints. For example, Saint Barbara is named Shango in Santeria and embodies justice and strength; Our Lady of Charity is named Ochun, which is the Yoruba goddess of the river, associated with water and love; Saint Lazarus is named Babalu-Aye in Santeria and is associated with the sick.

Rituals are rather important in Santeria. True Santeria believers strictly revere their customs and traditions. “Special rituals allow human beings to contact with orishas through drumming, dancing, speaking and eating with spirits” (Ayorinde, 2009). These events take place privately at special Santeria homes which may be fitted with altars, or in special halls rented for the purpose. These sacred spaces help Santeria believers to meet with Orishas and ask for needed help. Botanicas, special stores, sell materials that can be used in Santeria rituals (Ayorinde, 2009).

Santeria rituals can also include Roman Catholic elements. Hector Avalos notes that in Santeria, one ritual that helps to get bad powers away uses a special bath which is prepared with three Three Ave Marias, Three Credos and Our Fathers.

There is one important ritual called membe. All members sing, dance and keep drumming till the Orisha comes to one of them. They say that a spirit rides on the head of the person as he was a horse and that makes him perform a special dance. Then the Orisha can pass on various messages through the person’s body to community members.

Animal sacrifice takes place at Santeria too and because of that fact some people consider it to be an evil religion. Sacrifices are usual for such events as birth, marriage, and death; they are also performed to cure people. Chickens are the most common animals for sacrifice but they also use ducks and pigeons, sheep and goats, pigs and turtles, and doves too. In 1993 the Supreme Court of the USA stated that Santeria believers are allowed to perform ritual sacrifice through killing animals.

Perkinson in 2001 wrote that Santeria has a divination system named Ifa. Yoruba used it to predict future. And this custom can be performed only by a babalawo, who is a male priest. This ritual is performed with the help of ekwele, eight pieces of a special shape that are thrown in a chain.

Santeria believes in life after death, but it is not more important than the life on the Earth. Iku is the spirit of death, who helps dead people to find their places after dying. It is believed that bad people live in hell on the earth and suffer much after death. This religion has special death traditions. When an old human dies, all relatives have to receive this news and come to funeral. Funeral ceremony never starts before everybody comes (Perkinson, 2001). In case a child or a young man is dead nobody has to come to the funeral ceremony because it is believed that their death is caused by bad powers. All funeral actions are made by Santeria believers only. First they put a special bed into a grave, then a deceased is put on it. After all members ask Orisha, which a dead one loved the most, to take him to the sky. Then they eat and dance.

Conclusion

In conclusion, Santeria is a very specific religion. Despite of the fact that it is theoretically similar to Catholicism, it is not completely the same. Santeria believers are special people with their own views on life. In order to get along with them it is important to know their culture because religion is very important to them. If such a person is sick, it is important to remember, that probably the patient believes the disease happened because of bad powers’ influence. You need to tell them that Orishas are always ready to help and will do so through the doctor’s actions. At the end of life of a patient it is needed not to forget that the most loved OLrisha will bring him to heaven and give an opportunity to communicate with nearest and dearest in future. It is important to let such a patient know that everything will happen in the way common to Santeria and nobody is against these traditions. Moral support is very important for every patient and their family that is why you need to do everything to provide it.

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