Santeria as a Nature Based Religion
by Patricia Althouse
At heart Santeria is a religion grounded in Nature. For example: the river is sacred, known as a physical embodiment of the Orisha Oshun. The lightning is sacred, known as the will in motion of the Orisha Chango. The forest is sacred, known as the center of plant mystery and magic owned by the Orisha Osain. Everything in nature harbors the quintessential magic of Ashe; the life force that flows through all matter: including you, me, and brother Maple tree.
Orishas are worshipped in Santeria much like Gods and Goddesses, Spirits, Angels, Saints, or other aspects of the Divine. They are a pantheon of archetypes whose spheres of influence are rooted in the World, in Nature, in our everyday experience. They spring from the humble, yet they are mighty.
Commonly found natural items can become living avatars of divine Orishas. is is part of the mystery of Santeria; that magic is all around you, in your environment. The most common of objects can be transformed into Divine mysteries. Each and every one of us is surrounded by Divine energy. According to the will of Olodumare, the Universal One, the Orishas were created to aid and guide humankind, speaking through forces in the natural world and through divination. As we talk to nature, we talk to the Orisha. As nature talks to us, we hear the Orisha speaking.
Interestingly, Santeria does not follow the seasons of the year like other nature religions do. This can be a hurdle, a feeling of something missing, for those with a European symbolic background. My personal theory is that the natural environment of the Yoruba people, who practiced Orisha worship in Africa before transplanting their spirituality to the Americas through their forcible removal from Africa during the slave trade, is an equatorial tropical environment and does not have the dramatic change of seasons that North America and Europe have. It is entirely natural and necessary for peoples of northern climes to
incorporate the cycle of the seasons in their spirituality - if they don’t respect Winter and give it proper attention, it will kill them. In Santeria, the forces of nature that occur in a hot tropical areas take precedence.
The focus is not on the season but the weather. Storms, winds, tides, thunder and lightning – these are the forces that speak in Orisha worship. Drought is their Winter. Strong elements in Orisha worship also include farm, forest, dirt, ocean, river, and plant life. The immediate environment of the native African is the language used to communicate with the greater Divine. At its historic core, Santeria is the religion of the hunter/gatherer and the farmer. Because of this, it is a spirituality which is accessible to anyone wishing to live close to Nature. There is much fertile common ground here for everyone with a nature intensive spiritual sense.
The magic in Santeria is nature based, too. Sympathetic magic that channels the Ashe of plants and animals toward one’s goal is vital. Results of divination will often direct supplicants to give off erings of special plants and fruits to bring proper Ashe into one’s life or to give reverence to specifi c Orisha. Several Orisha share the magic of plants but perhaps the greatest of them is the Orisha Osain, who owns all wild plants and knows the magic of turning plants into the spiritually powerful liquid that bears his name, Osain. Being an herbalist is highly respected in the Santerian community. Herbalists know how to heal, attract love, cleanse, and bring good luck, all using the power of nature.
Santeria is not for everyone - divination will reveal those meant to walk this path - but the Orisha are out there in the environment for anyone to commune with who has the spirit of nature in their heart. They are in the forest, the garden, the river, the ocean, and the storm, and they will hear you if you speak to them.