Posted by: Nyxks | August 24, 2007

Urban Santeria

Urban Santeria
by Medicine Hawk Milburn © 2003
Three Moons Media
ISBN 0-9725164-8-4
296 pages Includes Appendices and Bibliography
Paperback
$14.99 (U.S.)
reviewed by: Mike Gleason

I have to warn folks that this is a long review. It consists of two parts. The first part of the review was written before I even delved into the book. It consists of my impressions based upon the “blurb” on the back cover, since that is what a lot of people use to decide if they will buy a book. If you are not interested in those perceptions, you may skip to the plainly marked second part of the review, dealing with the book itself.

PART ONE
The back cover gives a capsule history of what Santeria is and where it came from. It invites you to find out “who your orisha parents are and how they can help you.” That certainly is laudable, but presents me with a minor problem. I remember discovering my Orisha parents during an Asiento. I also sat in while my wife had the experience at a later Asiento. In both cases there was some question as to the identification of our parents. Considering that this determination was being made by an experienced Babalwo, I have to question such an identification being made by an inexperienced individual.

The back cover then goes on to explain that the book contains sections on how Santeria applies “to modern situations and environments with high population density.” No problems there.

But then it continues “The spells and meditations are clearly presented for maximum success, with easily obtainable ingredients and even “trouble shooting” advice.” Oops, that makes it appear that Santeria is a brand of “kitchen witchery.” Where is the religious aspect, which is so important?

The final paragraph, however, gives me the longest pause. In its entirety it reads “Santeria and its benefits are for everyone who approaches life with honest intent. The user of this manual need not be initiated, only sincere.” That smacks, to me, of giving a loaded weapon to someone who has no familiarity with it and assuring them they will be fine as long as they are sincere. That is an accident, if not a disaster, waiting to happen.

Maybe the back cover was written by an overly enthusiastic copy editor who didn’t take the time to fully familiarize him- herself with the contents of the book.

PART TWO
Far be it from me to question anyone who follows more than one path (Dr. Wilburn acknowledges Native American medicine path, Wicca and Santeria). Being both a Witch and a member of the Santeria I undoubtedly share some of the same experiences that he has had. However, I must take exception to his omission of animal sacrifice. I know it is a touchy subject, and is very politically incorrect but if the orisha are expecting their “normal” offering and you don’t give it to them, I really don’t know what would happen.

Following the author’s suggestion, I read the Appendices first to acquaint myself with what they had to say.

Appendix I deals with sacred animals. Most of them are ones which are logical based on my knowledge of the orisha, even if they aren’t the ones which commonly come to min.

Appendix II is urban blessings. I found them not only appropriate, but very beneficial.

Appendix III is “Orisha Mamba Mantras,” and consists of praises and “invokings” of the orisha in an urban environment. They are short and easy to remember.

Appendix IV is about syncretization, which in the past was a survival tool for Santeria. It involves seeing the orisha in other forms – classically as Roman Catholic saints. Dr. Wilburn has taken this opportunity to combine his experience in Wicca (and the larger Pagan community) and connect the orisha to other mythologies. To my way of thinking, this listing (although by no means exhaustive) is invaluable.

Appendix V lists “birthdays” for some of the orisha with a recommendation of where to find more information. The only problem with it is that the source for further information is one which many in the faith have difficulty agreeing with.

Appendix VI is about food sacred to the orisha. Dr. Wilburn suggests adding them to you diet (assuming they don’t offer a medical or dietary difficulty) to draw closer to the orisha.

Appendix VII is a correlation of the orisha and the charkas.

Appendix VIII is about a Santerian “Lent,” or abstaining from certain foods for a specified period of time.

Appendix IX correlates the orisha with U.S. coinage – mostly the state commemorative quarters.

Appendix X consists of easy-to-understand pronunciations of the names of the orisha, which will be quite valuable to those unfamiliar with the orisha.

Finally there are glossaries. The first is a Spanish to English glossary. Considering that the largest number of Santeria practitioners are of Hispanic descent, and most of the ingredients used in the spell work are sold in botanicas, this is a valuable item to have. Finally, there is an Urban Santeria glossary.

Now it was time to move into the body of the book, and I honestly wasn’t sure what to expect. I was, quite honestly, prepared to find a “fluffy” version of Santeria, but was pleasantly surprised. Topics which I was afraid were going to be white-washed were addressed fairly early in the book.

The first section of this book is devoted to relating the orisha to a modern environment. There are identifications for 18 orishas. While that does not begin to exhaust the list of orisha, it certainly covers all of the more common ones, and a few fairly uncommon ones.
For the general reader’s information the most common omorisha (children of the orisha) are Chango, Yemaya, Obatala, and Oshun followed by Eleggua and Ogun.

Dr. Wilburn does make a few rather unorthodox suggestions in the next section, but since that is the premise of the book, I wasn’t shocked or surprised by that fact. It is when he gets into “Orisha Pet Dedication” that he is most likely to find objections to his work. Most Santeros I know accept the fact that, periodically, animals must be sacrificed. Dr. Wilburn offers an alternative to this practice which, to its credit, is at least better than the remark I heard one alleged Santero make about substituting fruits and flowers when animal sacrifice was indicated. On a personal level I’m not sure how Dr. Wilburn’s suggestions will be met by the community of Santeria followers, but he has presented an alternative way of considering things.

The patakis (stories) he relates in each of the ebbos (spells) are sure to be new to most people, since they involve the orisha in modern urban environments in place of their usual mythological surroundings. That enables the average person to relate to them in ways many would find difficult in the older rural settings of most familiar patakis.

The ebbos are interesting, to say the least. I’m not sure about some of them, personally, but give them a try. If they work for you, go for it.

Overall, I was impressed with this book. That is saying something considering my preconceptions. I really don’t recommend it to folks who don’t have, at the very least, a passing familiarity with the culture from which it is derived. I have seen far too many attempts to “hijack” other cultures without taking the time to learn about them. The prevailing attitude seems to be that it is perfectly fine to “mix and match” pantheons and cultures. It doesn’t work that way, and Dr. Wilburn makes no attempt to do so.

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