The Divination Systems of Santeria

When it comes to divination, or the ability to ‘divine’ the future or to communicate with the spirit world, most Westerns are familiar with only a few styles. Astrology, tarot, numerology are likely the only styles of divination that most Westerns are familiar with, and psychics and psychic mediums are often associated with these forms of divination and spirit contact. Divination, however, is something that has been recorded since the beginning of human history throughout the world. When it comes to divination, it seems every culture on nearly every continent has had it’s own version of telling the future and contacting the spirit world. One unique approach to divination comes from Santeria.

Santería (sometimes called Regla de Ocha, La Regla Lucumí and Lukumi) is a unique spiritual practice or religion that is actually a blend of spiritual practices and concepts. Santeria originated with the Yoruba people of ancient Nigeria, however, over the centuries Santeria Divination Santeria has incorporated spiritual concepts and practices from other religions such as the Catholic Church, Native Americans as well as from other African tribes. The beginnings of Santeria trace back to the West Africans slaves sent to the Caribbean to work on sugar plantations beginning in 1500 AD century and continuing into the 1800s. The spiritual practices included dance, animal sacrifice and trance states in order to communicate with orishas (saints), egun (the dead) and other spiritual deities. These spiritual practices began to crystallize in Cuba, eventually evolving into the Santeria most people can see today.

Within Santeria there are spiritual practices allowing the ‘babalawo’ to contact his guardian angels and the orisha who are spiritual deities who translate the wishes of the Divine or God. The word ‘Babalawo’ is from the ancient African language Yoruba and translates as ‘father or master of the mysticism’ and is considered a high priest of sorts. It is through Santeria methods of divination that the high priests of Santeria can look directly into the lives of their followers and ascertain the root of the problems in a follower’s personal life and deciphering the best way to solve them. One could say the babalawo utilizes divination to find spiritual answers to problems and assist in providing practical actions to correct those problems.

Santeria has four major divination systems: Cowrie Shells, Table of Ifa, The Coconut (the divination method is call the Obi) , and the Okuele. Only santeros, santeras and babalawos are allowed to utilize these forms of divination. ‘Santeros’ is a female ‘santera’, who are individuals adapt at the divination methods of ‘The coconut’ and ‘Cowrie Shells’. The babalawos are the only ones allowed to use the divinational techniques of ‘Table of Ifa’ and ‘Okuele’. The ‘aleyos’, or the uninitiated followers of Santeria, are strongly advised to stay away from using the divination techniques themselves. They are cautioned the without proper training they can do more harm than good, to others and themselves.

Briefly, let us go over these four major divinational techniques:

The Cowrie Shells
The cowrie shells utilized for Santeria divination are a small seashell, with a closed side and a side with an open ‘mouth’. Sixteen cowrie shells are used during a reading (called a ‘mano’. The cowrie shells selected for a reading are called a ‘diloggun’. The diloggun are considered the mouthpieces of the orishas (spiritual deities) and the santero or santera will literally listen to what the cowrie shells speak to the them.

The santero will begin the reading by sprinkling some water around where the reading will take place. This is to refresh the home and remove negative energy; to energize the diloggun or select cowrie shells;, and to ‘cleanse’ the person seeking advice. A series of prayers and blessings in the ancient language of Yoruba follow. The santero is asking for the blessings of his elders and religious brothers who have already passed on. He will then say additional prayers to the orishas and the spirit guides of whomever is receiving the reading. Finally, the santero will touch the shells to this person’s forehead, knees and hands before beginning the reading.

The santero or santero will then seat him or herself on a straw mat and begin the reading by tossing the cowrie shells gently in front of themselves. Depending on how many land ‘mouth’ up, the santera can then begin to translate what the orishas or spiritual deities have to say. There are 64 distinct patterns within the diloggun. Each of these patterns has its own set of stories, phrases, myths and proverbs. In this way, the santera can decipher what message the saints or orishas have for the person being read.

The Coconut or Obi
Unlike the cowrie shells, the coconut is generally never used to perform a specific reading for an individual. Instead, the coconut is utilized during various rites, ceremonies and occasions. The coconut is most often used to verify whether a saint or orisha is satisfied with a ritual, ceremony or offering. If the occasion is blessed, all is well. If not, how do the attendants gain the blessings of those in the spirit realm. Any of the orishas (spiritual deities), as well as the spirits of the dead (egun), may be consulted via the coconut. The Coconut divination technique is often called ‘Obi’.

This divination system requires four coconut rinds of fairly equal size. The coconut pieces are cast into the air and allowed to fall to the ground. Because each rind is brown on one side and white on the other, there are five distinct patterns which can emerge:

Alafia: 4 White Coconut Sides Up –
The answer is "Yes, there are strong blessings!". This is such a strong confirmation, though, that the priest may cast the coconut pieces again seeking confirmation. If the toss produces the pattern for Alafia, Etawa or Ejife, then the strong blessings are confirmed. The word ‘alafia’ can be translated as ‘peace’. With this pattern blessing of peace and good fortune are upon this group.

Etawa (Or Etagua): 3 White Coconut Sides Up, 1 Dark Side –
Three pieces fall white side up, while the fourth falls brown side up. The answer is uncertain, and the coconuts must be thrown again. This usually implies that something is missing from the ceremony. One could say the answers is "maybe", which for the majority of rites and ceremonies is not the answer you want. With a second throw one needs an Alafia, Etawa or Ejife for the answer to an unequivocal "Yes, the ceremony is right". Should a Oyekun or Okaran be thrown, the answer is "No, there is something wrong".

Ejife: 2 White Coconut Sides Up, 2 dark coconuts –
When the coconuts fall with two white and two brown sides, the answer means "yes, all things are right and blessed". This toss also means no more questions should be asked.

Okanran (or Okana Sode): 1 White Side Coconut Up, 3 Dark Sides –
This is a definite indication something is wrong. The orishas should be consulted for answers. Something is not right within the ritual or ceremony, or there are forces at work against this gathering. Before a blessing can come the situation needs to be corrected.

Oyekun: 4 Dark Coconut Sides Up –
This is a very serious indication something, perhaps many things, are not right. It is likely that spiritual cleansing is need for negative forces are at work. This toss is often considered the toss of darkness and the spirits of the dead may have a message (or wish that something special needs to be done before the ceremony can proceed. Once the problem or problems are revealed, then the ceremony or ritual can resume.

The Okuele
The okuele itself is a chain that links together a series of eight medallions. These medallions can be made from tortoise shell, coins or even coconut shells. One side of each medallion is blank which the other side is etched with a Christian cross. The understanding and use of the okuele is a closely guarded secret of the babalawos or high priests. This form of divination can only be preformed by the babalawos.

The reading begins with the sprinkling of water to refresh or cleanse the location and the person for whom the reading is going to be performed. The babalawo then lays out a mat upon which he sits. After a series of prayers and blessings recited in ancient Yoruba the reading begins. The babble will be seeking the counsel or advice of Orunla (or Orunmila) who is a spiritual deity who was present at the creation of humanity. Orunla is said to have knowledge of every human soul and their destiny. In Santeria, to follow one’s destiny is to be in harmony where straying from one’s destiny is thought to bring disharmony.

Orunla is often associated with Saint Francis of Assisi. In fact, all the orishas or spiritual deities in Santeria are associated with Christian saints and guardian angels. It is believed that the African slaves in the Caribbean, in order to keep their spiritual practices alive, ‘Christianized’ their spiritual deities to appease the Christian missionaries and slave owners.

The spiritual deity Orunla is believed to have been present at the creation of humanity and the forging of souls. Orunla therefore has the knowledge of the ultimate destiny of each soul, which is an important facet of Santeria practice. Working toward one’s destiny is to promote harmony. To move contrary to it creates discord, so believers look for insight as to their destiny and what they might currently be doing that runs contrary to that.

When a man becomes a babalawo, then Orunla becomes the ‘patron saint’ of the babalawo. Orunla is ‘patron saint’ of all babalawos. Babalawos are expected to direct there prayers and entreaties to Orunla above all other saints or orishas (spiritual deities).

As the babalawo asks questions of Orunla he drops the chain onto the straw mat where he sits. As the chain falls onto the mat, some medallions will fall on the plain side, while others will fall with the etched side up. The babalawo will contemplate the pattern, often recording the pattern on a piece of paper. These resulting patterns are then interpreted by the babalawo. From these interpretations the person being read will be given insights, messages and ways to find solutions to whatever problems this person is facing.

One of the key uses of the okuele within Santeria helping individuals discover who his or her personal Orisha (guardian angel) is, which is a process of learning to connect with one’s guardian angel and/or spirit guides.

The Table of Ifa
As with okuele, the Table of If is a divination tool that is a closely guarded secret and can only be used by the babalawo. Unlike the okuele (which can be consulted for just about anything) the Table of Ifa is often reserved for only the most serious issues such as the death of another babalawo; to initiate other babalawos; ;serious matters that may be faced by a Santeria community; and on rare occasions an individual person be granted a reading from the Table of Ifa.

The Table of Ifa is a round wooden board with ‘odduns’ (letters) carved into it. There 256 different possible combinations to these letters and the babalawo must know all the meanings, symbolism and mythology behind each letter and each possible combination. It is said the Table of Ifa is the divine property of Orunla, the patron saint of babalawos, and that Orunla acts through this table to communicate with man.

Divining with the Table of Ifa is very involved and time consuming. The babalawo begins by spreading some of the sacred powder known as yefa on the board covering all the engraved odduns or letters. Then the babalawo poses his question(s) to Orunla. Using and ancient ritual involving 16 palm nuts passed from the babalawo’s one hand to the other to determination when and where a mark is made on the Table of Ifa. Once 8 marks are made on the Table of Ifa the process is done. The 8 marks will reveal various odduns or letters beneath the sacred powder. The babalawo then must study the exposed symbols and translate the message provided.

To most Westerns Santeria appears to raw and primitive. Consider how raw and primitive it was to bring men and women from Africa, enslave them, then required they be baptized into a Christian religion while forcably removing their humanity and spiritual beliefs. There are always cultural biases at work where spirituality is concerned, regardless of what culture you belong too. This is understandable. The effort here is not to argue any one type of spirituality or divination originating in a specific location is superior to another. The greater point of this article is to show the great diversity of types of divination, and that divination is really universal. From Coffee Cup Reading to Scrying different forms of divination have arose world wide through out time. The methods may be different, but beneath the techniques there is a larger, more mysterious spiritual universe that is revealed.

Do you have questions about the future? One popular form of divination is Tarot and there are no questions that Tarot cannot answer. If you have questions, give Tarot Reader And Clairvoyant Yoly. You can contact Yoly at 1-800-326-5923. Should you need help with selecting someone skilled in divination, contact Psychic Selection, they offer free help selecting the perfect psychic, tarot reader, astrologer for your questions and needs. You can call them at 1-800-340-8374.