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Becoming a Practitioner in Santeria
Every so often, I get an email with the question "how can I get started in practicing Santeria." Most of the time the question is from someone which is not close to any of the major cities where orisha worship is practiced in the U.S.. You can tell there is an orisha worshipping community by searching in local directories under the keywords; Botanica, Botanica Products, Santeria meetup group, or spiritual products. Here is a list of cities in which I know for a fact have Orisha Worshipping Communities.
1) Manhattan, Brooklyn, Bronx, & Queens - New York
2) Newark, Union City - New Jersey
3) Washington, DC, Baltimore, Maryland
4) Atlanta, Ga
5) Miami, West Palm Beach, Orlando, Tampa, & Jacksonville - Florida
6) Chicago, Illinois
7) San Antonio, Houston, Dallas - Texas
8) Las Vegas, Nevada
9) LA, San Diego, San Francisco - California
10) Memphis - Tennessee
11) Carolina, Bayamon, Ponce, & other places in Puerto Rico
I apologize if I have failed to mention other locations. These are location in which I have the pleasure of working and still keep in close contact with friends and associates. One more thing too know. Santeria botanicas are also cultural or tradition based, as in Mexican, Lucumi, Dominican, Central & South American.. etc.. So, there are distinctions. If you are looking for lucumi orisha practitioners. You'll most likely have to ask if the store carries lucumi products, or practitioner business cards. This will be a good indicator of an active orisha community in the area. For those wishing to become active participants it is paramount that they live in an area beaming with orisha activity. At least the first couple of years. The exposure to the variety of styles, ideologies, and practices, can be a mechanism for decision making and learning.
Once, an individual finds a botanica close by they are to ask the owners or caretakers for recommendations. These recommendations are of individuals that are regarded within the community as elders or experienced priest, priestess, or babalawo. Inquire about those with good reputations. The next step is to call one of them and set up an appointment for divination or reading. Please take the divination serious, approach things with an open mind, and follow your heart. If you do not feel a connection or that the individual is not genuine enough. Please do not follow up with the ritual work. There are other priest or priestess in town for you to follow up with later. Once you acquire a good feel or vibe for a person. You are to go forward with the recommended spiritual, religious, or ritual work marked by way of the divination. This is where the fun begins. I say this because there is no better way of practice, participation, and involvement than through your unique spiritual experiences. The proof is in the pudding, it has to work for you. Having issues, traumas, situations and resolving problems with the support of the Orisha is a reason for involvement. Other reasons for involvement are; to promote a positive change in your life; maintaining all around well being; good health, and happiness.
Take your time. Visit various elders, not all in one week by the way. Analyze the atmosphere, delicacy & care taken with you. One does not need to be told you're in a good place. You can feel it and tell by the service rendered. Courteous, respectful, peaceful, and an overall positive environment, is a clue. When one enters an experienced elders home, you are overcome with the sensation of peace & rest. Folks enter my home, and aside from the peacefulness and being greeted. They are immediately offered at least a glass of water. Most of the time it is accompanied by shot of cuban style espresso coffee. It's a traditional custom and a bit of a habit too. Then, depending on what time you arrived, lunch or dinner will be served, and it is always an honor to serve a guest. It's the custom, shown to me as a child, which I hold proudly today. Priest and priestess are not required to cater to folks in this way. This is just my personal touch. I'm not the type to attend 10 to 15 people a day, all in a roll sitting in a awaiting area, like it's a barber shop, with vending machines for snacks; with a ring of a bell and a Shout --NEXT!--.
I can't help but express to folks again too please take their time. Visit and participate in as many divination and therapeutic rituals for a realization to take place. Do not allow for anyone to coaherse you into being initiated until you are absolutely ready for the responsibility and change of life. The apprentice chooses that teacher never otherwise. Allow for them to guide you step by step throughout the processes that they are accustomed too. You are in control, do not allow for anyone to scare or freighten you into doing what you do not feel comfortable. Respect and be respected. This is not a religion of verbal, physical abuse or sexual violations. If it feels wrong then 9 times out of 10 it is. All advices and work done must seem logical and natural. Experienced individuals are organized, clean, and of a good nature and passive temperament. Experienced individuals make the work look effortless, simple, and rituals flow smoothly. If you feel uncomfortable or someone makes you feel uncomfortable do not stay, ask to be excused and politely leave. I mention these things because there are many fakes or phony people that say they are Olorisha priest or babalawo, and they are not. Their work ethics and style exhibit all that is morally and ethically corrupt within their own minds. And, they utilize the religion and the feelings of others for their pleasure or entertainment. Filthy, smelly, & stinky, does not like, neat, clean, and perfumed.
There is one more way of getting to know orisha worshippers utilizing the botanica. Ask the owners or workers there for business cards belonging to any Orisha drumming(Bata or Guiro) groups. When calling explain to them that you were recommended by the botanica, where you picked up their card. Then have them invite you to their next drumming gig. I call this, learning orisha by way of following the music.