To the untrained eye, the practices of Santeria and other Afro-Creole religions like Palo Mayombe and Vodou appear to be sinister and otherworldly. In an attempt to diffuse these negative stereotypes would like to propose a whitepaper that can be used accessible via a suitable website on Afro-Cuban religion. The white paper will overview the five major characteristics or themes that all of these religions share: pragmatism, polytheism, personalized, possession, and a path to the priesthood.
White papers have been a long-standing tradition in the marketing field, and still are relevant to this day. A white paper is a brief document traditionally used by companies in an attempt to inform their potential customers on the basic information they need to know for a given product or service. When done correctly, they are informative and digestible. Whitepapers are not meant to sell, but to educate the reader. Clearly, It’s difficult to condense such a dense topic like Afro-Cuban religion into such a small, compact form, but this white paper is not meant to give the reader a complete understanding of these faiths – it is supposed to get the reader interested in learning more about them.
The first page of the white paper will introduce the reader to how some of these particular religions came into being. It will discuss how the Caribbean became so ethnically diverse as a result of the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. This page will also introduce terminology like transculturation, which is an important concept to consider when looking at how these religions came to be.
The second page will go over the first “p” of Afro-Creole religions: pragmatism. It will discuss how, as a result of the harsh conditions that some of the slaves faced, these religions sought out how to get through troubling times of strife. It will also go over how some religions like Santeria became syncretized with Christianity in an attempt to disguise their faiths in order to prevent themselves from facing further persecution.
The third page will discuss polytheism. This page will talk about how many of these religions trace their roots back to the polytheistic traditions of Western African Yoruba. It will also discuss how, based on the pragmatic nature of Afro-Creole religions, polytheism helps the faithful get their problems solved more efficiently. Having multiple deities that preside over varying different aspects of daily life means that they are better equipped and to cater to the specific needs and desires of the people that worship them.
The fourth page will go into personalization. Because the people who practice these religions seek out help and guidance from these deities, they will often forge a personal relationship with them. They are a resource for those who are looking to improve their lives. The cultivation of this relationship is usually brought about through worship and veneration. It will also discuss how personalized offerings are made to altars devoted to these deities by initiates, and how this act further binds them together
The fifth page will talk about possession. Possession is about the most intimate connection one can have with their deity or another spirit. The initiate will go into a trance-like state where the spirit inhabits their body. When the initiate is possessed, the spirit will often provide pragmatic advice to other members of the community. Importantly, this page will mention how Afro-Creole spirits are often earthy and boisterous in nature. These deities and spirits are not other-than life: they are larger than life.
Lastly, the sixth page will briefly discuss how, in most Afro-Creole religion, there is often a path to the priesthood. The personal relationships that initiates have with their deities also extends to the this path. Initiates are usually associated with a particular deity that they represent, which is sometimes determined through divination or through other spiritual figures. Those who are initiated into a given Afro-Creole religion endure a long, and sometimes challenging or disorienting path to becoming an authoritative spiritual figure. Some initiations span up to a year or more before one is accepted into the priesthood.
Hopefully, this brief introduction to the five “p’s” will give a basic overview to those who are unfamiliar with Afro-Creole religions, and guide them to an understanding that will challenge their previous assumptions, and maybe even spark their curiosity.