The Hermit’s Lamp Podcast - A place for witches, hermits, mystics, healers, and seekers

EP108 Approaching Traditional Orisha Religions with Eni Acho Iya

March 13, 2020

Eni and Andrew discuss how to approach traditional religions from a place of respect. They explore some misunderstandings and how to get around them. They also talk about the realities of practicing from a distance.  Both share from their journey in two different lineages in two countries. This conversation is important in the wider dialogue of appropriation going now around traditional knowledge. 

Be sure to check out the bonus episode on proverbs around this topic for Patreon supporters here.  

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You can book time with Andrew through his site here

You can find Eni on her site here or Facebook here

Andrew is as always here

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Andrew

Transcript

 

Andrew:

Welcome to another episode of The Hermit's Lamp podcast. I am here today with Eni Acho, who is an Orisha practitioner and priestess. She runs a wonderful Facebook group, but also ... website's called About Santeria, where there are lots of great conversations about the traditional practices and approaching the traditional practices of Orisha traditions, especially centered in Cuba. I think that given what I've seen more and more online and other places in conversations with people, this conversation about how do we approach a traditional religion as outsiders, is one that I think is really important.

Andrew:

I think that there's a lot of misunderstandings, I know I had a lot of misunderstandings or misconceptions about what things might be like. I think that these dialogues are important and obviously for my own personal tradition, but I also think that some of these conversations apply to any other traditional religion that you might approach as well. Eni, for those who don't know you, give us the lowdown. Who are you? What are you up to?

Eni:

Hi. My full Ocho name is Eni Acho Iya, which means the yellow dress of my mother. That's because I'm crowned to Oshun. Oshun is always associated with the color yellow. I was crowned in Palmira, Cuba and my lineage is called Palmira lineage. It's called the countryside or [inaudible 00:01:47] in Cuba to distinguish it from maybe what you might find in Havana or Mantanzas. But Palmira is one of the traditional centers of the Lucumi religion in Cuba. It was founded by the descendants of slaves who were taken to that part of Cuba to work in the sugarcane fields. After they were emancipated, they founded their own town, Palmira.

Eni:

It has three of the most traditional and oldest Lucumi religious societies in Cuba. The Sociedad Santa Barbara, Sociedad San Roque, and mine, the Sociedad el Cristo which is associated with the Sevilla family. A lot of people who practice Ifa know the name of [inaudible 00:02:30] or [inaudible 00:02:32] famous Babalawo's from Palmira. And that's my religious family, the Sevilla family. So I guess that's probably who I am, religiously speaking. And I've been running this website "About Santeria" for around six years, I think. As an educational website that aleyo's, outsiders can go to, to get basic questions answered. And just recently I created this page you referred to on Facebook so people can discuss some of the ideas. I'd like to invite anyone who's interested to take a look at that and welcome to the community if you decide to join us. It's a good community. I think lots of very knowledgeable priests in there and good conversations are taking place, so I'm happy with that.

Andrew:

I think it's great. There's lots of really knowledgeable priests, which is a great part of the equation. They're all, at least all the ones that I know, personally or through online interactions, they're all really solid people as well. Which is a really important part of that conversation too, right? Just because people know something doesn't necessarily mean anything anymore. There's this distinction that can happen between those things. That's one of the things that I also dig about that space and why I'm actually hanging out there as opposed to other spaces, where maybe people know stuff, but their character isn't as inspiring to me.

Andrew:

One of the things that I find really interesting is this idea of the distinction between what's going on now in a general way, and how stuff was a little while ago, or how things still are in certain parts of the world. Right? So you're from ... your practice and your connection, your family is in Palmira. What's it like there to sort of be born there and live there and practice this religion from that place, from a sort of real traditional community structure?

Eni:

I feel really fortunate to have had glimpses into everyday life there. I've been going there for over 20 years. And because of my work, I've been able to go and spend considerable amounts of time, like three months at a time, six months at a time, because my university here in Washington state has an exchange program with the university of Cienfuegos. And as an academic, that gave me a license, as ... the United States, it's not always that easy to go to Cuba, but because of my academic license, I've been able to go to Cuba pretty often, spend a lot of time there and really get to know the people very well. I've literally seen a whole generation of people grow up and I know what it's like from their point of view to be born there and be surrounded by this community.

Eni:

And I think it's important for your listeners to understand that this need that we have as outsiders, as people living in a different culture, we're always thinking, "how can I get in to that community"? Or "how can I get into the religion How do I find my way there"? It's always this destination or goal that people are looking for. And the big difference to me is that for people in Palmira, you're already there. You don't have to look for anything. It's all around you. It's in the air you breathe. And that's not to say that every single person that lives in the town is initiated in a religion, they're not, but certainly their neighbors are, or their cousin or their aunt or their grandma, people down the street. It's everywhere around you. And so if you have a concern, if you want to go get a reading done, you don't have to wonder where can I find a Babalow, where can I find a Santero? They're right there. And everybody knows them.

Eni:

There's a lot of accountability because literally these same people have lived there and their ancestors have lived there for 150 years and everybody knows who everybody is. Small town in Cuba, you don't have secrets. And I think that that makes it a really different experience because I've seen babies in their mother's arms at drumming ceremonies, because our ceremonies, our drumming for example, tend to be open to the public, people who live in Palmira, everybody comes and the whole family comes. So you have babies that can't even walk yet in their mothers' arms who are keeping time to the rhythm of the drum. And they are totally comfortable in that environment and they grow up with that. I've seen four year olds playing with their little stuffed animals, their bunny rabbits and teddy bears, and they're acting out an ocha ceremony that they've seen their parents do. So when you grow up with it all around you, that takes away a lot of the mystery. So it's not secretive. It's not hard to find. It's there.

Eni:

Our tradition in Palmira tends to be, for the most part, that we don't initiate very young children. Most people, if their family is religious, everybody in their family tends to get initiated, but they always leave it up to the individual to decide once they reach a certain level of maturity. And so typically you'll find people not getting initiated until maybe they're in their early twenties. That's changing. People now are doing more younger children, but we believe that it's not everybody's destiny to be initiated. That has to be something that's determined on an individual basis. But there are lots and lots of families where half the brothers and sisters are initiated, half aren't, and the cousin show up and they help out with the cooking and the cleaning before and after the ceremony. So everybody is involved in it and everybody feels connected to it, whether they're initiated or not. It's very comfortable. It's very organic and natural to just have it there. And that's such a different experience from what most of us outside Cuba.

Andrew:

I was in Matanzas last year playing for egun, for my godmother, passed away. Some of the things that struck me were, first of all, everybody knows everybody as you say. Right? You know, we're driving around the city with my godfather and he's like, "Hey, pull over" he leans out the window and has conversation with somebody and they'd keep going. Secondly, I don't know about architecturally in Palmira, but in Matanzas there are no windows on the windows, the doors are open. It's hot and you want those breezes. And so we're there doing the formal meal that's part of the ceremony and neighborhood kids who people know, or maybe they're children of people who are there, drift in, say hi, act like kids and run at the back and go and get some sweets or some food-[crosstalk 00:10:08] and they leave.

Andrew:

We were doing the drum in the front room and there's no ... the window's open and people are just walking by looking. People are walking by and they'll just start having a conversation with somebody who's there that they know. And it's very different than my experience of other things which it's done in somebody's house probably in their basements where do you see it? You don't see it anywhere. Right? As opposed to there. And also, as you say, driving around, you drive around and Oh, is that another drum going on over there? Oh yeah, it is. We should go by, Oh, is that another drum going on over there? There you go. You know?

Eni:

It's exactly like that in Palmira and it's hard to hide a drumming ceremony when the houses are so close together and all the doors are wide open. And everybody kind of spills out into the street and that interaction you were describing what the kids coming and going and people coming in and out all day. That happens literally every single day. When I'm in Palmira, I feel like I'm sitting in my godmother's house but it's like a train station with people coming and going and just, "Hey, what's going on?" and "anything going on?" And they have, you maybe know this expression in Spanish, radeo bemba, which means word of mouth, how the word spreads really quickly from person to person. So if somebody is going to have a drumming or somebody who's got an ocha birthday party or whatever's going on, everybody in the town knows everybody and they're very likely to just go by and drop in And see what's going on.

Andrew:

I think that this sort of leads to this idea of what does it look like to, as I said, is what are we looking to arrive in? I mean, really one of the things that we're looking for, whether we understand it or not when we start out is, we're looking to be welcomed into somebody's family.

Eni:

Yes.

Andrew:

We are looking to build a relationship and a connection hopefully to the community, to those people. I was at an event, I'd been hanging out with the Orisha community in Michigan where I was initiated 19 years now, 20 years, a long time. And we were having a conversation and somebody mentioned something and I'm like, "I was there when ... I helped make that person, I helped make that person, I helped make this person. I was there when this person was made, but I wasn't made yet". And there's this like longevity of connection, right? Whereas a lot of people sometimes come to these things with this idea that you're going to just arrive and be welcomed in, just arrive and suddenly everything's great or just arrive and you suddenly can get access or get recognized or whatever. But it's not really that way. I mean ideally it's not that way, right?

Eni:

No, you're absolutely right. And I think that a lot of this has to do with our understanding and we use the words in our religion. We talk about aleyo's, outsiders, strangers literally. And people in our culture tend to find that a little bit offensive. They think that means that they're not welcome. But in Cuba, that's not what it means. We simply differentiate for ceremonial purposes the people who are initiated, the Oloricha's. They have a certain role, a certain function, they do certain things. And if you're not initiated, you do other things and the rules are not identical. There is a hierarchy there. Not based on your worth as an individual or how smart you are or anything else. It's just are you initiated or not initiated? If you are, go in that room, if you're not going the other room. Right?

Eni:

I think Americans and, I don't know, maybe Canadians as well, people from outside that culture had a really hard time with that because we here in the U.S. where I live, we have such a consumer mentality and we identify something that we want and then we think "I'm going to get it. It's my decision, it's my choice. I'm in control of the process, here's my money, how much does it cost? Here's the money, okay, now I have it and it's mine." And they expect some kind of immediate acceptance or, "now we're the same. Okay. Because I paid my money and I'm just like you." And that is not how it works.

Andrew:

No, exactly. And that sense of entitlements that can be there is definitely a problem. And I think in two ways. One, as I know you do too, I get contacted by people sometimes who are like, "I need you to crown me" and I'm like, "my friend, I am not ... I don't even know." Why would I choose to incur a lifelong and perhaps more than this lifelong connection with you as being responsible for your spiritual wellbeing and to some extent your practical wellbeing forever, when I've never even met you. You know? So that's the challenge. And then the other side of that, of course, in a world where we're approaching people that we don't know who are not aleyos, but complete strangers irregardless, there's not that community knowledge of you should go see ... whatever, right? It should be because "I think they could be a good person for you, I think they could guide you, this person's a renowned diviner you should go see them." You don't have that connection.

Andrew:

And so all of these people, no matter what we think we know about them from seeing them on social media, they're all strangers too. And that's where so much of those problematic situations where people will be like, "Sure, yeah, absolutely. You've got the money, just give it to me, we'll be good." And then it's not good because those people on the other side are just looking to take that money and take advantage as well. It's a big problem.

Eni:

It's a big problem. And I think that a lot of it has to do with the fact that people just get too impatient and they want it now. And a lot of times they don't even know why they want it and they don't even actually know what it is. And so the process always, in my opinion, has to be organic. It has to happen in kind of a natural way, right time, right people, right place. And you can't force it. I think that that's the key thing. You're not in control really. It's going to happen when the Orishas and your egun want it to happen. And the more you push and resist and try to get it all to go your way, I think you're just creating a lot of trouble for yourself.

Andrew:

One of the expressions that ... I didn't have the pleasure to meet your magua but a very famous oricha who's connected to my godparents ... one of the expressions that I hear, they used to say a lot was, "no, no, what you need to understand is, orisha is the boss here". We as people, we have our say and we get to make our choice. And it doesn't mean we have to accept everything or ... it is a relationship. But at a certain points your orisha needs to be the ones that we trust to dictate and to find the right time and space and, and all of those things. It's like the proverb, "every head is looking for its home". Not every little person, not every house, not everybody's situation is in right alignment for anybody. Right? Maybe someone comes to Palmira and they're like, "Oh, this actually doesn't fit for me". And not pushing there, not trying to push ahead one way or another makes the most sense in that situation.

Eni:

My own experience I think is a good example of that because I went to Palmira for the first time just because I was invited to somebody's house for dinner and I had absolutely no intention of making ocha there. It wasn't even on the horizon for me. I knew about the religion, I liked it, I was interested in it, but kind of from an academic standpoint. And I went to dinner at a colleagues house, a professor from the university and she introduced me to another professor from the university, her neighbor who lived the next block over and he turned out to be the head of the Sevilla family, a familia who was running a casto at that time.

Eni:

And I just became friends with that family and visited them for years, just dropping in and having coffee and chatting with them. And I wasn't showing up on the doorstep all the time saying, "teach me about the religion I want in help me, you have to be my godfather. It happened in a very gradual way where I started getting readings. I think most of us began that way where we get readings that guide us.

Eni:

Then over a long period of time, year. Little by little it came out that I needed to get this or I needed to get that. I got my warriors, I got cofa de orula and then it wasn't until I got cofa de orula [inaudible 00:20:06] in eka, was that I eventually needed to make ocha, and that was really stressed. Eventually, one day before you die. And my godfather said, "Think about it. Don't do it now. You need to kind of wrap your head around this and think about what it means and take your time and do it when you're ready". And I don't know, about four, three or four years later, it just happened like serendipity. That's what we're talking about here. These things just kind of all come together magically almost. I got a sabbatical from my university, I got a scholarship, it was a grant, that paid me to go to Cuba to do this research project I was working on and that turned out to be the gear I was able to make ocha because I was able to be in Cuba.

Eni:

And that's the experience I wanted with those people that I have known for many, many years and it just happened in a very natural way. And if someone had said to me 15 years earlier, "Oh yes, you're going to go to Palmira and make ocha". I would have said, "what's Palmira I don't even know what you're talking about."

Andrew:

I think that it's, even for me, I went looking for the religion. I had been explore ... doing Western ceremonial traditions and initiatory groups for a long, long time. And I had sort of hit this place where I felt like I really needed to connect with something deep and traditional. I was trying to figure out what that was, where this was in a pre-internet era. It wasn't like you could just jump on Facebook and find a bunch of things. And eventually I found my way to the community in Michigan and even at that, although I received my elekes and my warriors, I still was involved in that community for eight, nine years before I was crowned. I was one of those things like, "yeah, someday you should do that".

Andrew:

You should start putting aside your money and when you have the money you should think about doing it. One of the things that I noticed with people I have conversations about it now sometimes is they get to the end of the reading and they're like, "okay, but what do I need to receive? When do I need to make ocha?" One of the questions that I often returned to them with is, "well, is your life horrible? Is your life a hot mess? Are you sick? Are you like having horrible problems? You're reading doesn't say you're magically afflicted? Is there something going on? Your life is a disaster and you need to be saved from it". They're like, "Nope". I'm like, "man just keep living your life and as you need things, stuff will surface if you need things".

Andrew:

And I think that's another thing that, we don't understand. I didn't understand fully myself, even though I was aware of it going into it, is this notion that within the tradition, these things are medicines of a sort. They're there to either provide very specific kinds of guidance or specific energies or to counter specific energies so that we can live our life to the fullness of our destiny. As opposed to being things that we can collect or accumulate or that give us status or those kinds of things. You know?

Eni:

That's exactly right. That's how I feel about it too. And, and I think it's hard for people to understand that maybe they don't want to hear it when they're so enthusiastic and so determined that this is going to be their path. That's what they want to do. And one of the things that I hear a lot, and I think you do too, is people get frustrated and say, "okay, you're telling me to be patient, but what am I supposed to do? Just sit here and wait?". They want tips, how can I do something to make me feel like I'm moving forward? And so I actually do have some suggestions if you're determined that you want to learn and do more with this religion, I have some kind of practical tips that might get you started.

Andrew:

I'd love to hear them.

Eni:

I break down things into little lists, but I think many people begin with kind of an academic approach to it. So they read books and you mentioned 20 years ago we didn't have as many resources as we have now. Now we have the internet, we have lots more books than we used to have. We have all these religious forums on Facebook and many people are offering online classes of this kind or that kind. And all of those approaches are limited. I think that's the first thing I want to stress is that there's nothing wrong with reading books. There's nothing wrong with reading stuff on the internet, but there are lots of buts attached to that, lots of limitations because yes, there are some good books out there. Fortunately, thank goodness people like Willie Ramos is writing really good books on David Brown and other people who have the credentials and the research methodology down. And what they present is accurate and very good and very helpful. And that's always great to read.

Eni:

But I remember when I first started looking for books on religion, there are some really wacko books out there because now anybody can publish a book. It's all self publishing. You might go on Amazon and look for books and you might find 20 different titles and you just don't know which ones are good and which ones are not good. You can read the reviews but those are always written by somebody's friend and they don't necessarily tell the truth. You have to be careful when you're reading books too. First of all, evaluate the source. Who is this person writing the book? And if they say magic moon goddess has been practicing 300 world religions for the past year and a half and she's the author of this book on Santeria, I would not necessarily consider her a reliable source because if she's not even initiated what does she know about the religion?

Eni:

But if it says, "Willie Ramos is a professor of history who wrote his thesis on Havana in the 19th century" and whatever, and he has written these books that are published by university presses and published in scholarly journals. For me, that's an indication that those are serious things that I can read. And even after I read them though, I remember when I first started reading some of those books like David Brown's "Santeria Enthroned". It's a great book.

Eni:

But I didn't understand it. I was reading it and half of what he was talking about I had no idea what any of that meant and it took me years to realize that I was going to have to piece together all of this information I was accumulating and put it into some meaningful pattern because to my knowledge, there's not one book, a Bible that you just go to and it tells you everything you need to know. Every book will tell you a little bit or something, but nobody's going to tell you the whole story and you have to decide how does this information fit in with other things. You have to analyze it. And the same is true, especially on the internet because there is some good stuff on the internet but there's also a lot of terrible misinformation and the religious forums are the same.

Andrew:

One of the things that's really important to understand is, not only is there not one book that can tell you everything, It wouldn't even be possible, Right? Like the scope of this tradition is so massive. And when you start talking with someone who's an elder [inaudible 00:28:41] they're a knowledgeable Babalawo, whatever right? Someone who has lived in the tradition for such a long time, the amount of things that come up that are just different situations. I was at a ceremony recently and the person running it was like, "Oh yeah, you know what, your name's Oba tilemi right? Because I know the sound for that one." And so they sang the song that relates to my ocha name, which maybe I had heard it before, nobody had highlighted it, but I never pick that up before because there are so many songs for Shango. There's so many songs for everybody. There's so many stories, there's so many pieces and ceremonies and ideas and advices that it just expands in an unbelievably sophisticated way.

Eni:

They say the more you know the more you realize you don't know. It truly is a lifelong, lifelong process. But reading books is not a bad place to start given all these limitations that I've talked about. Because I think the positive thing about it is that way at least people who are interested and burning and to know something, feel like they have a little bit of control. Like, Oh, I found a book, I'm so excited and that's great, but it's limited. And eventually, like you mentioned earlier, this is about belonging to a community. And so sooner or later you have to get out of the world of books and meet people in a religion. It must be a personal experience and you must become part of a community because you cannot do this on your own.

Eni:

And you know that's full of challenges as well because then you have to say, how do I meet these people and are they legitimate? Are they going to cheat me? Is this community a good fit for me? You have to consider things like your physical proximity, because if you're like my ocha community is in Cuba and when I made ocha there, I had to decide, am I going to be able to go back to Cuba on a regular basis? Do I have the money to be able to travel? Does my job allow me to go there whenever I want?

Eni:

You have to really think about these things because if you don't live near your ocha community, you've got to travel. You know that. You also have to think about the language and the culture, and this just completely confuses me. I hear about people who go to Cuba, they don't speak Spanish, they know nothing about Cuban culture. They make ocha, they're there for a week and they go home and then they say, "I don't have a good relationship with my godparent". I'm like,"well, who is your godparent"? "I don't know. Some guy that lives in Havana."

Eni:

If you don't speak the language, if you don't know the culture, how can you fit in that community? How can you learn anything? And like you mentioned, you also have to consider a character there of the people. Are they upright people? Are they honest people? Do they have good reputations in the community? I've been talking just about the Lukumi practice, which is my practice. But for a lot of people who are at the very early stages, they have to decide what branch of this religion do they want. A lot of people want traditional Yoruba and they want to know about those practices in Nigeria. I don't know about that. I can't teach you that. I'm Lukumi.

Andrew:

Well I think that's also a whole other branch, right? But the problem remains the same. You and I would likely have equal ... we'd be next to ground zero by just dropping into Nigeria or wherever. I'm just going to go hang out with some traditional people. It's a roll of the dice. Right. You just never, hopefully it's good, but you never know given that every other day I'm befriended on Instagram by a Nigerian Prince wants to help remove the curses on me if I'll just send them a bunch of money by wire transfer. That stuff is out there, it's everywhere.

Eni:

And not only that, but our actual ceremonies are different and we have the same basic route. But, I only know how to do ocha ceremonies in Cuba and if I went to Nigeria, I'm sure they do it differently. I can't just walk in there as a functioning priest and expect to be accepted in this community because I don't know anything about them and they don't know anything about me. Before you waste time reading a million books on Lucumi, and then you decide I don't really like Lucumi, I want to be a traditional Yoruba. Make that decision first I think. And focus on what resonates with you.

Andrew:

I think one of the other things that I would say if you're reading books and I'd love to hear your thoughts on this as well, is the more a book on Orisha tradition talks about what you could do or should do on your own, the more likely I am to think that it's not helpful at all. There are some folks that there where they're like, do this super power Orisha bath and it's like, well, probably not right? These things come from, ideally come from, divination or they come from the ashy of an elder who speaks of where they come from. You know, an Orisha possession.And they don't come from, "huh, I really wish that this was different, maybe I should do this thing", right?

Eni:

I honestly don't think a reputable priest would write a book like that. I'm sorry, that probably sounds really harsh. But the books that I value ...

Andrew:

Please, feel free to be harsh, that's fine.

Eni:

The books that I value are written either from a historical perspective, maybe I'm just a history buff. But that really, really helped me to understand how this religion came to Cuba and how it transformed and who are founding mothers and fathers were and how the religion spread. And having a historical foundation, to me, has just been so valuable. That really helped me.

Eni:

And I also like books, like the most recent series that Willie is doing where there's a whole book that's just about, Oshun and another book that's all about Obatala and he talks about, these are the songs and these are the prayers, and these are the herbs, and these are the characteristics of Oshun and these are the different roads. That's great. Because it gives you more profound insight into who that Orisha is. But it ... I never ever have found a book helpful that starts telling you, "okay, you're not initiated but you can still throw the shells and learn how to read them and do these spiritual baths and make up all this stuff. And you don't need a priest and you don't need to be initiated". If I see that, I throw that book in the garbage.

Andrew:

Yeah, that's totally fair. I think one of the things I think is also significant and understanding tradition is one of the things about understanding initiation, especially, well even becoming, just taking on somebody, becoming someone's godparents, you're becoming part of, in a way that lineage, right? That lineage is tied to those people and to those places. My lineage goes back to Mantanzas and when I was there with my godfather, he took me to meet certain people and certain Orishas who are close to the sort of origin of that. And there's this living legacy of those connections from me to my godparents, to their godparents and so on, all the way back to the beginning of this tradition as it stands now in Cuba and then beyond into sort of the, the reaches of history. And that's really significant. That's a really important part of this tradition because without that lineage, in some ways nothing happens, right? Like what happens without that.

Eni:

That's exactly how I feel. I feel so grateful to be able to go to a place like Palmira and [inaudible 00:37:22] when you go to Mantanzas, same thing, it's like you have a very clear sense of this is where it comes from. I'm connected to this and it gives you such a grounding that it ... I don't even know how to explain it, but it's just really powerful. And I want to connect to something that you said earlier because when you were talking about somebody just contacting you out of the blue and saying, I want you to be my godfather, or please initiate me immediately. Here's the money. I think it's important that people understand that priests have to be selective about who they choose to initiate because it's a big responsibility. Like you said, it's a lifelong commitment.

Eni:

And if I don't know you and you turn out to be a crazy person, I'm bringing you into my religious family. I'm bringing you into my house and you're going to disrupt everything and make everybody miserable and cause trouble. I don't want that. There really is this kind of trial period and a lot of people who want an immediate access are so put off by that. They'll say, "I went to somebody's house and I asked them to be my godfather and he said, no". Well that's because he doesn't know you and it's premature and it's like you said, why do you need to be talking about making ocha right now? There's nothing to indicate you need that. So this idea that priests should be available 24/7 and a lot of people think "Oh, our religious communities or our centers or wherever we do our ceremonies. They imagine it like some kind of community center or maybe a Christian Church where there's this physical building and there's a little office attached and the priest gets paid a salary and sits there 9:00 to 5:00 and receives people.

Eni:

And to my knowledge, I have never seen anything like that in our religion. We do our ceremonies in our homes most of the time. And I'm not going to invite a stranger into my home. It's my home. That can really be off putting to people who are new to the religion, but they need to understand that you have to gain someone's trust. They just think they're protecting themselves. Like, "how do I know my Godfather's not a crook and he's cheating me"? Well, that is a concern. You need to know that. But at the same time, the godparent is looking at the potential godchild saying, "is this person a good fit? Do I want to do something with this person"? And people don't like to be judged. They think, here's the money, take it, give it to me.

Andrew:

No, for sure. I think it's kind of like asking somebody to marry you on the first date. It doesn't make sense. And if the person agrees, well, 99% of the time you should be really suspect about that because that person's got some issues. Go deal with those issues, right?

Eni:

Exactly. Or it could be like "we have never met, we just know each other from Facebook. Do you want to get married"?

Andrew:

It's such an interesting modern phenomenon. Right?

Eni:

Yeah. And another thing that's connected to this that I think is really difficult for newcomers or people who are looking for the way in, is they don't understand that some knowledge in our religion is only meant for priests. It's not open library, here's all the information in the whole world that anyone can access. Traditionally it's been passed by oral communication from generation to generation. You learn it from your elders, you learn it from hands on experience, some information you simply cannot know before you've been through the ceremony yourself. So when somebody comes with a million questions and the potential godparent is saying, "I can't tell you about her. That's not for you to know", Or "that's something only priests do". People get offended by that and think, "Oh, it's secretive they won't share their knowledge".

Andrew:

I think it's one of those things, and also depending on what we're talking about, I think it's fair for people to ... for the keepers of the tradition to honor the tradition by managing where that information goes. And if they think you're going to be online telling all your friends about this and that and making orisha baths and selling them on the internet when you're not even initiated or whatever, then probably they're going to hold that back as well. There needs to be the evidence of respect over time.

Eni:

Yeah, for sure. Going back to my little tip sheet though, after the recommendation of get to know people in the religion, sometimes people don't even know how to do that because they say, "where I live there isn't anywhere, It's not visible or I can't find it". So sometimes you have to start with just a wild goose chase in a sense that you might look for some public events that are advertised maybe on Facebook or in your community. Somehow you might look for like a tribute to Oshun at the river that's going to happen on such and such a date and everybody's invited. You make a point to go to that and you can meet some people. Or maybe if you get invited by somebody you know to an ocho birthday party or a drumming, definitely take advantage of those kinds of invitations that come your way.

Eni:

If you don't know anybody in the religion who could invite you to something, you could even just start with universities in your city or cultural centers, because a lot of times they'll have performances of some kind that's related to Afro-Cuban culture and there might be dance ... Orisha dancing or there might be drumming as performance. There might be lectures, films, scholars who work on that topic. And that's a place that you can meet people. If you just go to the performance or the dance, you might meet somebody who would then invite you to something. So I think that's a pretty safe way to do it if you can find something like that to attend and just keep going. You're going to see the same people showing up and you'll start talking to them, they'll start talking to you. That's a good way to meet people.

Eni:

Botanicas, a lot of people will say, "Oh, I went to the botanica and I met somebody". I think that can be good. There are some good botanicals, but there are also some shady ones.

Andrew:

So many shady ones.

Eni:

Yeah, so many shady ones you have to be really, really careful. You can't just walk into a botanica and assume that the person behind cash register is an orisha, maybe they're not. You can't just go in there and buy a bunch of stuff and ... be very, very careful about the botanicas. It's possible you could meet somebody legitimate there, but it's very likely you're going to meet as a person who wants to scam you.

Andrew:

The thing is, because I run a store, right? It's not a botanica the sort of sense that it focuses on orisha stuff in that sense. But it's not that dissimilar either. I sell candles and herbs as well as a bunch of other stuff. But I think that that's where also ... do some reading and know what it's really about, and what things are and so on, that you can ask the person some questions and see what happens.

Andrew:

There was a time where I sold more orisha specific stuff and people would come in and they'd start asking me questions, who were initiates and then they quickly realize, "Oh yeah, okay, this guy's an initiate, he knows what's going on". You could have a certain conversation about stuff and that doesn't need to mean that you need to be an initiate to know about that. But you could be like, "Oh well, where were your initiatives? Who are you an initiatives? What's your lineage? What's your orisha?" or whatever things that can come up and you can gauge things from that person that way and sort of feel them out a little bit.

Eni:

Absolutely. And by all means, don't walk into a botanica with a wad of money in your hand and say, "I want to get initiated". That's not going to work out well. Or they'll say, "my uncle can initiate you, step in the back room". Go ahead. Sadly that has happened so you have to be careful.

Eni:

I think social media is similar in a sense that you can be on these religious forums and you can meet some great people on social media. I met you on social media. There are definitely some good connections to be made on social media, but you have to be so careful and don't just put out there, "Hey, I'm looking for a godparent who wants to initiate me". There are also charlatans on social media. You don't know who's who's going to grab you. So for me, the most reliable starting point, Sooner or later you've got to get to a point or you can go get a reading, a consulta. And by that I mean by an orisha or by a babalawo who will use the traditional divination tools of orisha to tell you what's going on with you. I have nothing against taro cards and psychic readings and all these other things. But that's not how you find out what's going on with oricha.

Andrew:

Exactly. I've created and made an orisha tarot deck that is not for marketing orisha things. It is for exploring and understanding the philosophies and the ideas. Exploring how some of these worldviews overlap in the worldviews of tarot. But if you go and somebody says, Oh yeah, "[inaudible 00:47:51], your Orisha with my taro deck". You should get up and leave maybe even ask for your money back, because it's not what it's for. It doesn't work that way.

Eni:

I think that finding a good diviner is so crucial. That's to me, a turning point because if you can find a good, reliable, honest diviner, that person is going to be able to guide you. Even if that person doesn't turn out to be your godparent, that person is going to be able to hook you up with the right people if they're a member in good standing and in their Orisha community. I think that having these kind of warning signs to look out for, that's very important. You need to go understanding that if you sit down with a diviner, you've never been there before, the first thing he says is, "Oh my God, something really horrible, your children are all going to die unless you make ocho right now". If somebody starts pressuring you like that and trying to manipulate you and make you be really afraid and you have to be initiated right now, that's a warning sign to me.

Andrew:

One of the things I think that people ... in life there's not always solutions. But one of the things that I understand now at this point in my journey is I've been through some very hard stuff. Last year my business burned to the ground. It's not easy, life isn't always easy. But when I got a reading about that with my elder, it was so comforting. Even though there's a ton of hard stuff still in front of me, and there are ways of which we can approach difficulties and there are ways in which we can make a bowl, do little ceremonies and offerings or whatever, to make our situation better for almost every situation. And it's one of the things that I think is fascinating and different is that there's not ... sometimes there's a miraculous transformation.

Andrew:

Sometimes there's something you do and it just turns everything around. But there's always something to do, even in difficult times. Approaching it with fear or putting fear into the other person's heart, it's one of the worst things that I think people could do. Divination should come with solutions as well. Advice to mitigate it. And even if it comes we have this sort of orientation where it comes Okinawa, where it comes ... what you brought from heaven. Meaning you can't change it. But we can use it. You can find ways to mitigate your suffering. You can find ways to fortify your strength. There are solutions. If people are working to make you afraid, it makes me so mad when that happens. So, don't fall for it.

Eni:

And the solution doesn't have to cost $2,000 all the time. There are lots of solutions that are much less expensive. We always just start out with fresh water, omi tutu and coconuts and fruit and things like that. And a lot of times a simple abo an [inaudible 00:51:13], prepare some rice pudding or [inaudible 00:51:15] or whatever it doesn't have to be $2,000.

Eni:

I think that if people get to the point where they can find a good divine and rely on that information and understand the process of divination and what it's for, that is definitely going to put them on the path they need to be on. Because as we said at the very beginning, not everybody needs to be initiated. If your life is fine and you don't need to get X, Y, or Z, you don't need it, you're fine the way you are. And you don't need to go into the religion thinking, "I'm going to acquire ... I want to have 30 ori shots and I want to have the fanciest soperas and beautiful decorations. That's great, but that doesn't make you a more devoted orisha worshiper than the poor, simple Cuban who's just got his Orishas in a little clay pot.

Andrew:

I remember talking to this person and they gave all their money to buying things for their Orishas. And they're like, "well, the orisha is going to give it back to me twice as much". But then they were always broke because they were always spending all the money they got on ... You know and at a certain point you have to be mindful of the realities of these dynamics and even if the Orishas did reciprocate one of their offerings with double the amount of investment or they were so happy they blessed them, that's great. But then when you take that blessing and you turn it ... and you don't put it to use in the way it's intended. That's not helpful either.

Eni:

It's not all about material wealth either, because we have to remember that this religion came from, for the most part, very poor people. People in Cuba, the old people, a lot of times they didn't have anything. If they could go out and buy one apple to give to Chango on their Orisha birthday, that represented a big sacrifice. That's all they could do. They weren't going to go get a loan to buy something better, but they spent their money buying that apple for Chango and they gave it with love and they spent the whole day sitting there with Chango and praying and singing and receiving friends and godchildren. Those people are incredibly blessed even though materially they're poor, they have a really rich spiritual life. And for the most part they have long life, good health and they would say that their life is going well. Even though from our perspective it's like, "Oh my gosh, you don't have anything, you're so poor". They have what they need.

Andrew:

I think that it's funny because people have often a very strong reaction to the financial part of the religion, that we have to pay money for these things to happen. And I get it, it's not always easy, it can be a lot of money, especially in North America. I mean really anywhere, any Cubans, a lot of money for people who are in Cuba. Also, it's not just people ... I almost want to say their, despite the way in which money plays such a significant role in the tradition, so many of them are less capitalists than a lot of people are They're less caught up in that consumerism. And so they are way more content with doing things and being a part of things and showing up.

Eni:

There are lots of different ways to make sacrifice. You can sacrifice your time, you can give your attention, your love. There are many, many ways to show devotion. It doesn't have to all be about money.

Andrew:

Exactly. Do you have anything else on your list there?

Eni:

I have a little summary.

Andrew:

Okay let's hear it.

Eni:

We've talked for a long time here, it's been really interesting. But first of all, I guess I want to stress that there's only so much that you can do alone. This is not a religion that you can practice all by yourself. There's no such thing, in my opinion, as self initiation. I really don't like it when people just appropriate and steal little parts of our religion and say, "well I don't like that other part. I'm not going to do that, but I like this little part, I'm going to do this". No, you're either in it or you're not in it. And if you're in it, it means you follow the tradition and the rules of your house. You have to show respect that way in my opinion.

Andrew:

I want to add to that point, I live in Toronto. There are a few other people in the area, but pretty much everybody here travels to do anything of any consequence. There are no Ochas happening in Toronto, there are no whatever. What it means to, even for me, who has dedicated a lot of time to study and to try to learn the tradition and so on. There's so much that you can only learn by watching somebody do it. And whether that's how you peel the stem out of a leaf or whether that's how you put things together in a certain way. There's all this knowledge that it's just deeply practical that nobody would ever even think to explain to you because you would just see it by being in the room. But when you're not in the room and you're reading about these things, you can learn a bunch of stuff, but still doesn't mean that you know how to do anything, which is a really, I think, important distinction to understand.

Eni:

Oh, absolutely. That was one of my points as well, that if you're geographically isolated from a large Orisha community, you are definitely going to have to either travel a lot or move. I feel so bad for people who say "I live somewhere in the middle of Nebraska and I want to be initiated". Well unless they moved, I don't think that's going to happen unless they can travel a lot. You have to be practical. Some people live in these isolated communities where there is no Orisha community and if they can't travel and can't go anywhere and can never participate in anything, there's definitely a limit to how far they can go or what they can do. Y

Eni:

You do have to be proactive like we talked about, you have to get out there and look for opportunities and connections, but at the same time you have to be really careful that you don't fall into the wrong hands and you have to be patient as things happen in their own way. Sooner or later at some point you're going to need a mentor. And usually that turns out to be a godparent who can lead you along. You can only go so far on your own.

Eni:

My final point, and the one that is the most important that I say over and over again, is you just have to have faith that if it's meant to happen, it will happen in the way it's meant to happen and you can't control the process.

Andrew:

Absolutely. I think that is a great summary and maybe that's a great place to wrap it up. For people who want to follow along more with what you're doing, how do they connect? Remind us of your websites and how do they connect with your new Facebook project as well?

Eni:

My website is www dot about Santeria, all one word and no capital letters aboutsanteria.com. www dot about Santeria dot com. If people go to that website, there's a little button, click here to contact me, and you can write to me and I'll write back. Or you can go on Facebook and we have the About Santeria page where people can find connections on Facebook to what's on a website. And there's also the About Santeria community forum and that's open to aleyos, non initiates as well as priests and the Lucumi. I'm keeping a focus on Lucumi because I'm not qualified to talk about traditional Yoruba and I want the focus to be on Lucumi.

Andrew:

Perfect. All right, well thank you so much, Eni for making time to be here. We've been talking about it for a while and I'm really glad that we finally got our time zones coordinated and made everything happen.

Eni:

Thank you for the invitation. I really enjoyed the conversation.

Andrew:

Oh, it's my pleasure.

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