Santeria: Assessing its Status in the United States - Religion Essay Example

Santeria is an existent religion considered to be a combination of beliefs from Catholic and Yoruban origins and usually conducts its rituals in secrecy - Santeria: Assessing its Status in the United States introduction. It is the result of expeditions and slavery in Cuba during the earlier points of history. Currently, it is practiced in several countries, including the United States which supports religious freedom and tolerance. However, even though religious freedom is one of the main rights advocated in the United States, it does not necessarily mean that a religion will be accepted warmly or left alone to conduct its ways of worship and rituals.

Due to the fact that Santeria is heavily associated with various negative aspects, its disposition in the United States as viewed by the general community or the majority is rarely seen optimistically. Being connected to cases of murder, human sacrifices, and especially court battles over animal rights due to animal sacrifices, Santeria is further dragged into infamy. Its status is even more aggravated by the media portrayal and the opinions of other religious leaders. Yet, it cannot simply turn away from the practice of sacrifices as it is vital to continuing the Santeria religion.


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However, due to the fact that the general consensus of the current community is to reject the act of sacrificial rituals, it is probable that Santeria will never be considered in a positive view. Therefore, since the rituals of Santeria, specifically the conduct of sacrifices, are in contrast to the established current norms, it is continuously considered as a potential source of negative acts and events in the United States. Basic Facts on Santeria Santeria is a religion that originated from Cuba; hence, it is generally regarded to be of Afro-Caribbean origin (Cuban Information Archives [CIA], 1995).

Unlike the commonly widespread religions of today such as Christianity, the practices and beliefs of those that follow Santeria are regarded as different even to the point of being primitive and exotic. Such perspective is due to its pagan origins, originally worshipping African gods; however, due to the spread of Christianity in earlier points of world history, those that follow the origin of Santeria, the Yoruba, fused aspects of their worship with some aspects of Christianity, in order to assure the survival of their beliefs (Moore, n. d. . The syncretism exhibited resulted in the birth of the Santeria religion, making it greatly similar to other forms of syncretism wherein a direct association between their own deities and the saints of Christianity has been established. For example, the African deity Babalu Aye is perceived in the same manner as Saint Lazarus; an interesting fact is that both of these religion related figures are associated with healing (Owens, 1997). With this, it is apparent that Santerian syncretism or syncretism in general is not without a logical basis.

The associated saints and deities are considerably similar in terms of the nature of the blessings or belief that they demonstrate. Being in one of the countries that were affected by slavery during the early periods of history, African communities were the original roots of Santeria. Times have significantly changed since that point, and slavery is no longer an accepted method to gain significant work force. In fact, slavery is generally frowned upon by people on a global sense.

Another significant change associated with the freedom of every class from slavery is the possibility of pursuit of travel and possible choice selection in terms of the country where an individual wishes to reside. With this, practitioners of Santeria are currently not only seen in Cuba but also in countries such as Argentina, Brazil, Mexico, Venezuela, France, and Netherlands (Robinson, 2007). Along with the focus on freedom and equality, the concept religious tolerance is exhibited and supposedly followed in most parts of the globe, one of which is the United States.

With such an appeal, along with the possibilities associated with living in the country, United States have enticed individuals from all over the world to immigrate in one of their many states. The result is the current concentration of individuals from a Hispanic African descent, in areas of North America, especially Florida (Robinson, 2007). The number of individuals that are considered to be Santerian in the United States greatly varies depending upon the source of statistical information.

The University of New York has conducted related research and has assessed the Santerian population to be around 22,000 (Kosmin, Mayer, & Keysar, 2001). On the other hand, the official church of the Santeria religion in Florida has stated that followers are over five million (Robinson, 2007). Regardless of the number of the number of believers or followers and regardless of the presence of cultural relativity and religious tolerance in the United States, the Santeria religion is not necessarily being expressed without repercussions.

Even though it incorporated some aspects of Christianity, which is the most established religion in the United States, the pagan roots of the Santeria religion is exhibited through its ways of sacrifice in order to honor the deities. The sacrificial ceremonies made by the Santeria have probably led to other people thinking that they have cruel and dangerous ways. Hence, Santerians are generally being selected against and somewhat referred to negatively by the public and even the government.

Therefore, even with the United States being a considerably suitable location for spreading a religion, the differences in practices of the Santerians in comparison to conventional religions have caused problems affecting its establishment and status in the country. Discussion The Santerian religion, as mentioned, is an amalgamation of Christian and Yoruban beliefs. Although the Christian faith is exhibited through the acknowledgement of the saints, Yoruban ways are practiced through a more active approach in the form of ritualistic sacrifices.

Given that the sacrificial practices of Santeria is not made known to the general public, the public is then understandably left in a state of doubt and fear regarding Santerian rituals. In relation to this, the media has often connected several cases of murders and killings to Santerian rituals. This assumption is however not without basis as the original observations regarding the Santerian religion in Cuba was actually not in any way positive; it was mentioned that kidnapped babies were once used for ritualistic and sacrificial purposes in order to gain the favor of the deities (Backer, 2006).

Such an act, seen through the common perspective of today, is undeniably horrible and unforgivable. Thus, most assume that the presence of such killings is no longer present in the current times. This is untrue, as there have recently been cases possibly linked to Santerian practice. In fact, news regarding the discovery of a child that has been heavily disfigured in Thames was connected to sacrificial rituals by Santerians; another related incident is the actual raids done in order to prevent human sacrifices in African temples to further progress (Minchakpu,. 2004).

The cases of human killings mentioned are either from a distant past or in a different country and actual relationship to Santeria with some not established or proven. These should not have been irrelevant in terms of creating negative imagery in the minds of the public in the United States. However, being fueled by the media such news is in part causative to the negative views regarding Santeria. The problem of being associated with human sacrifice is amplified due to the fact that Santerians that practice their belief in the United States are also commonly associated with another form of sacrifice, mainly a substitute, animal sacrifice.

However, events of animal sacrifices are not as far-fetched as that of human sacrifices as evidences are found throughout several locations in the United States. The most well-known case of public distress regarding animal sacrifices occurred in Florida wherein the main church of Santeria, the church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, is located. Commonly, exhibitions of rituals containing animal sacrifices are not seen in public, however traces of such acts were observed by non-Santerians.

Remains of animals of various kinds are seen and discovered in various places such as trees and railways (Clary, 2008). There are also several instances when people observed such rituals and of course raised concerns regarding welfare of the animals being used as sacrifices. Hence, as a result, animal rights groups have become aware of the cruelty that Santerian rituals may inflict upon animals such as goats and chickens. In relation to this, several cases have been filed against the Santeria church regarding the ritualistic animal sacrifices.

In 1987, a lawsuit was filed against the Santeria in Hialeah, Florida. The concern is the rights of the animals that are supposedly killed in an inhumane and unnecessary manner throughout the sacrificial rituals. In rebuttal, the Santerians stated that they proceed with sacrificial rituals through a humane manner, and the animals are commonly utilized as food after the ritual; also they mentioned the importance of such animal sacrifices in order to maintain their beliefs and religion (Robinson, 2009).

The result, however, was not to the favor of those conducting sacrificial rituals as the portrayal of such acts are technically banned through the formation of ordinances that considerably limit such practices and protects animals from further use in sacrifice. The first case was closed in 1993, but the controversy did not end there. Understandably, the conflict resides upon the fact that America tolerates the practice and belief of any religion. However, since the capacity of the Santerians to conduct rituals vital to their religion has been stripped, it is thought that freedom in religion is breached.

Thus, expectedly, the church of Lukumi Babalu Aye has filed a case against the city of Hialeah. The basis of their case was that the free exercise clause of the first amendment was breached; in fact, due to the ordinances, it has become illegal for them to conduct any sort of animal sacrifices since the ordinances clearly aimed towards defining the purpose of killing animals only for consumption and nothing else (Robinson, 2009). The case sparked a conflict between animal rights groups and religious rights groups.

A most interesting twist is the fact that certain reconciliation is reached through an understanding that the constitution supports animal sacrifices as long as it is done in a humane manner as applied in some areas of Florida such as the Miami-Dade County (Clary, 2008). The rule has allowed the Santerians to continue conducting animal sacrifices although at different locations and not at Hialeah. To support this, leaders of the Santerian church have expressed that they certainly conduct humane ways of sacrificing animals as they believe in the presence of animalistic spirits (Clary, 2008).

However, such a rule can never serve a proper purpose especially in terms of spreading or allowing the Santerians to freely practice animal sacrifices. The shift in one area to allow humane animal sacrifices may seem to be a beneficial change in direction or publicity for the Santerians but in reality it simply shows how limited their appeal is in the contemporary society. In fact, there are numerous situations wherein the Santerians and the expression of their ways are suppressed, commonly leading to detrimental results.

One example of such an event is regarding the problems faced by a principal that practiced Santeria rituals in a school in New York. The exact ritual is for the school grounds to be blessed using chicken blood during the school break, along with this, other related rituals were also noted to have been planned; however, due to the complaint of an employee, the principal was removed from his job and was convicted due to improper use of funds (Milne, 2007).

Another incident wherein a Santerian was supposedly filed with several cases occurred in Princeton, New Jersey. A woman in need of improving the status of her luck has been suggested to use mercury; the mercury is not merely stored similar to charms but instead injected into the body (Isherwood & Loayza, 2008). Of course, as a hazardous substance, mercury presented nothing but negative results for the woman. Apparently, it is one of the Santerian rituals to inject or consume mercury to drive away harmful elements.

Researchers and medical professionals were alarmed by this fact and were further troubled upon finding out that numerous individuals in New Jersey have already done similar rituals, hence dangerously increasing the presence of mercury in the population (Isherwood & Loayza, 2008). Another reason for further negative media exposure is based on the accumulation of the points discussed. Given that the Christianity is considerably the most prolific form of religion or worship in the United States, to a degree, it may directly divert or control the mindset or opinions of the majority of the population.

Due to certain conflicts in beliefs, such as offering sacrifices to pagan gods, Christians in general consider Santeria to be of occult nature and satanic origins even though saints are also considered in Santerian belief (Merrill, 2002). This kind of branding or stigma absolutely has negative impacts and imparts a dark view on the opinion of the general population regarding Santeria. Conclusion In order to fully understand the situation of Santeria, one must comprehend the reason behind sacrifices.

In ancient or pagan religions, sacrifices are generally used in order to gain the favor of the deities and at the same time give thanks for current blessings that are given hoping that there is a continuous influx of positive events. These sacrificial rituals are then basically required in order to continue living in a prosperous manner; thus, sacrificial rituals are quite common for these religions. In the current time however, as previously mentioned, sacrifices are not regarded in a positive manner.

There is a general trend for people to place focus upon being humane in order to attain a sense of peace and equal rights. People are also beginning to become more concerned about being humane towards other living beings besides humans, as exhibited by animal rights activists. Thus, in turn, it is quite predictable that religions that practice sacrifice during rituals are looked down upon by society. Most of such religions have already ceased to exist, but instead, Santeria has opted to expand.

Being practiced in the United States originally by the immigrants from Cuba, the Santerians depend upon the rights provided by the amendments of the United States. They hope that their practices will be allowed to continue and be conducted according to what is specified in their religion. However, the sense of freedom and the power of the amendments are driven according to the will of the majority. Hence, if Santerians are perceived as threats and negative elements, they will continue to be selected against.

The attachment of the term Santerian to animal and human sacrifices as well as other elements is surely not beneficial. In addition, the negative inputs provided by media and religious leaders of Christianity regarding the Santerians cause them to be treated as harmful elements of the society that are linked to mass murders, Satanists, and occults which are definitely detrimental for the image of Santeria to the public.

Therefore, the current status of Santerians in the United States is directly affected by the fact that they practice sacrifices and, to an extent, go against Christian beliefs. Even though religious tolerance and freedom are applied by law, the will and attitude of the general community is also a factor in gaining acceptance. Hence, due to practices that go against what the current generation perceives as normal or acceptable, Santeria is continuously considered as a negative unit in the United States in general.

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