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Sacrificial Ceremonies of Santería

A Complete Guide to the Rituals and Practices

Published by Destiny Books
Distributed by Simon & Schuster

About The Book

The first book to explore the history, methods, and thinking behind sacrifice in the growing Santería faith

• Explains the animal sacrifice ceremony in step-by-step detail

• Shares the ancient African sacred stories that reveal the well-thought-out metaphysics and spirituality behind the practice of animal sacrifice

• Chronicles the legal fight all the way to its 1993 U.S. Supreme Court victory to establish legal protection for the Santería faith and its practitioners

Tackling the biggest controversy surrounding his faith, Santería priest Ócha’ni Lele explains for the first time in print the practice and importance of animal sacrifice as a religious sacrament. Describing the animal sacrifice ceremony in step-by-step detail, including the songs and chants used, he examines the thinking and metaphysics behind the ritual and reveals the deep connections to the odu of the diloggún--the source of all practices in this Afro-Cuban faith.

Tracing the legal battle spearheaded by Oba Ernesto Pichardo, head of the Church of the Lukumi of Babaluaiye, over the right to practice animal sacrifice as a religious sacrament, Lele chronicles the fight all the way to its 1993 U.S. Supreme Court victory, which established legal protection for the Santería faith and its practitioners. Weaving together oral fragments stemming from the ancient Yoruba of West Africa, the author reconstructs their sacred stories, or patakís, that demonstrate the well-thought-out metaphysics and spirituality behind the practice of animal sacrifice in the Yoruba and Santería religion, including explanations about why each animal can be regarded as food for both humans and the orisha as well as how sacrifice is not limited to animals.

Shedding light on the extraordinary global growth of this religion over the past 50 years, Lele’s guide to the sacrificial ceremonies of Santería enables initiates to learn proper ceremony protocol as well as gives outsiders a glimpse into this most secretive world of the santeros.


Chapter 5
Blood and Honey
The Sacrificial Ritual

After completing the preparations outlined in chapter four of this text, the sacrifices begin. There are a few things to keep in mind during the ceremony. First, prepare the floor between each cycle of sacrifices. Before putting any orisha on the floor to eat, the priests handling the broom and mop scrub it clean; the ashé of each animal is different, and the orishas are strict in what they eat. Those priests present without active roles in the ceremony form a chorus; in response to each line the oriaté sings, they chant a response. If the orisha being fed is one crowned on an initiate’s head, that initiate kneels with his head on the floor while the sacrifices are made. Also, beside each orisha sits a gourd. While bleeding the animals, the oriaté directs a bit of the blood flow into the gourd. Later, when the heads of the four-legged animals are seasoned as the final part of the ebo (offering) to the orisha Ajala, some of those seasonings will go into the gourd as well. The contents of this gourd are very important; it is used to season the ashéses for the orishas.

The ashéses are an integral part of the sacrifice; they are prepared by the alashé, the sacred cook. Remember that even though we offer the animal’s blood to the orisha when we sacrifice, we do not have the right to take life, and when the ceremony is over it is expected that we present a whole animal to the orishas as an account of what we have done. Obviously the animal is no longer whole because when the blood is removed we have the right to eat the meat; however, by saving certain parts for the orishas, we can present that animal as if it was whole. Those parts are the vital organs; they have the ashé of life, as does the blood, which the orisha has already received.

While the oriaté’s assistant holds the animal firmly, the oriaté scrapes at the neck gently with a sharp knife. While he does this, he sings:

Oriaté: Yakìñá, yakìñá ikú Olorún.

With firm step the dead go to heaven.

Chorus: Bára yakìñá; yakìñá ikú Olorún, Bára yakìñá.

Open the roads so with firm step the dead go to heaven.

It is important to note that the word bára can have a dual meaning in the opening chant. In many Lucumí songs, when the word is used it refers to the orisha Elegguá. In both ancient Lucumí and modern Yoruba, the word bára is a shortened form of Elégbára, a praise name for Elegguá meaning “owner of the vital force.” Also, according to a Cuban orisha priest named Hector “Tiko” Rojas, the word bára is of the old Lucumí dialect and means “open the roads.” As Elegguá is the opener of the roads between our world and heaven, the opening song acquires an even deeper meaning when examined in this context. It becomes a prayer to Elegguá, a request that he “open the roads so that with firm step the dead can go to heaven.” The dead referred to are the souls of the animals about to give up their lives to feed both our orishas and our bodies.

Oriaté: Ya wése ya wése ikú Olorún.

With washed feet, with washed feet the dead go to heaven.

Chorus: Bára ya wése, ya wése ikú Olorún bára ya wése.

Open the roads (Elegguá), with washed feet, with washed feet the dead go to heaven, open the roads with washed feet.

Oriaté: Ogún shoro shoro.

Ogún speaks fiercely (the knife is his tongue).

Chorus: Eje bale karo (also spelled: Eje balè kàwò).

Blood touches the ground; it drops and spills.

As the oriaté sings the words, “Ogún shoro shoro,” he slides the knife into the animal’s neck, slicing both carotid arteries with one smooth motion outward. Ogún is the knife, and its blade is his tongue; therefore, no matter to whom the oriaté offers sacrifice, Ogún takes the first taste of each animal. This is an intense moment in the ritual. Blood is hot, spiritually speaking, and this is the flash point of the ceremony, the time in which that heat explodes in the room.

To understand this, one must understand the teachings of the odu Unle Ogundá in the diloggún. This odu teaches us that humans should not take life; we do not have the right. It is only Olódumare, or one of the orishas, who have the right to end it. Referring to animal slaughter, Ogún is the orisha who slices the neck. The song, “Ogún shoro shoro,” is born of this odu’s ashé; he is the knife, the same sacrificial knife wielded by the oriaté; and as the orisha who takes the life of the animals, he is the first to taste all blood.

Oriaté: Ilé d’ekùn.

The earth becomes a leopard.

Chorus: Eranle ekùn ye.

The leopard eats the animal.

Oriaté: [Orisha’s name] d’ekùn.

[Orisha’s name] becomes a leopard.

Chorus: Eranle ekùn ye.

The leopard eats the animal.

After the knife slices the animal’s carotid arteries, blood drips on the floor. The blood is not wasted; it feeds the earth so that the earth does not feed on us. These two chants are sung again as the blood is directed over the orisha’s sacred implements, and the orisha, like the earth, takes on the nature of the leopard and feeds on the sacrifice. It is at this point in the ceremony that the orisha’s nature changes. No matter the orisha fed, its energy becomes something primal--no longer a human archetype, it becomes a strong, almost predatory force of nature. It becomes like the leopard, an animal sacred to the Yoruba.

About The Author

Author of The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination, Ócha'ni Lele (1966-2019) was immersed in the underground culture of Orisha worship in 1989. By 1995 he had received several initiations in both Santeria and the Congo faith Palo Mayombe and in 2000 he made Ocha and was crowned a Santeria priest.

Product Details

  • Publisher: Destiny Books (August 22, 2012)
  • Length: 256 pages
  • ISBN13: 9781594775000

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Raves and Reviews

“The Lucumi faith - better known to non-initiates as ‘Santería’ - has been one of the most misunderstood and maligned subjects in Western history. The good news is that this is finally changing. The importance of Sacrificial Ceremonies of Santería cannot be overstated. For those inside the religion, it will doubtlessly be a useful textbook - containing not only the sacrificial rituals, but also information on the Orishas. For those outside the religion, this book is an absolute must-read! You will find here secrets never before revealed to the outside world. But, more importantly, you will find a detailed history of the origins of the Lucumi faith, the rise of ‘Santería’ in Cuba and its further migration into the U.S. and beyond. And, best of all, you will finally learn the true meanings and motivations behind the often-demonized practice of animal sacrifice. You don't have to practice it, nor even agree with it, to come to a better understanding of a religious mystery that has such profound and moving significance for those in the Lucumi faith. Ócha’ni Lele has provided us with yet another magnum opus in his ever-growing library of Lucumi textbooks, instruction manuals and mystical explorations. If you study religious movements here in the West, you simply cannot ignore this book.”

– Aaron Leitch, author of Secrets of the Magickal Grimoires

“…very useful to students of religion, history, and folklore, as well as general readers eager to know more about this complex religion. It will be a welcome addition to academic and public libraries.”

– Cynthia Duncan, Ph.D., professor of Hispanic Studies at the University of Washington Tacoma and auth

“This book is an important work that can dispel the fears and false assumptions about animal sacrifice held by the general public and he chronicles in great detail the struggle for Santería to be recognized as a legitimate religion by the Supreme Court. Practioners of the Yoruba, Santería, Candomble, and Lucumi traditions will better understand their common origins and practices after reading this book; and it will serve as a text for the thousands of initiates in priestly training. This book is fully researched, the information is balanced and integrated, and his writing voice is clear, humble, and humorous. It is an excellent delineation of the deeper meanings secured within the sacred Orature of the tradition.”

– Luisah Teish, author of Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical R

“Lele offers every reader insight into ceremonial sacrifice by opening the door to a secret world of the Santeros. He challenges us to both understand and practice authentic sacrifices through ritual and accomplishes a rapport with the reader right from the start. Lele shows how nothing is wasted in a life that includes spiritual sacrifice. And Lele wastes nothing in this beautiful, intelligent and researched presentation of the sacrificial ceremonies of the Santeros. This book brought me a deeper appreciation for the necessary sacrifices in my own spiritual practice and for the unique heritage of his Lucimi faith. A book I would highly recommend for anthropologists and spiritual seekers who want an in-depth look into this remarkable ceremony.”

– Julie Tallard Johnson, MSW, LCSW, author of Wheel of Initiation

“Written in equal parts journalistic/academic style and personal account, Lele gives clear historical and political context for the development of Santeria and explains how ancestor worship factors into animal sacrifice. The account is thorough and gives the Santeran side of conflicts over sacrificial practices. He even digs into Santeran folklore, providing a complete context for these practices...Highly recommended.”

– Diana Rajchel, Facing North, March 2013

“Finally we have an author willing to serve up the spiritual beauty of ancient Africa at the table of the modern world. Clearly, there is a legacy beginning to unfold.”

– Iyanla Vanzant, founder of Inner Visions Spiritual Institute and author of Peace from Broken Pieces.

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