For me becoming an Iyawó is akin to becoming one with the saint. The traditions and rituals are intended for the initiated to be in service of the Santo that governs one’s ori. The Iyawó is married to the santo the moment they are crowned. It is a powerful experience and one I am forbidden to share in detail because there are secrets I must honor. But what I can say is that for example when one is chosen as child of Ochun it is a lifetime commitment to serving her, and the same goes for all of the other saints in the pantheon.
As I write this I am in Cuba celebrating another year of birth in my santo and it is a time of great reflection for me. This time of year I re-read all of the messages from the saints that came through the Ogba who officiated my ceremonies. When one celebrates another year of birth as the child of their saint it is right to meditate on where you are and reflect on how you are living your life. What areas do you still need to work on? How are you disobeying your santo?
This year has been very painful for me but it has also brought me beautiful blessings. When I sit and re-read the messages I received as an Iyawó I see which things have come to fruition and what areas in my life still need work. This is one of the beautiful things about Santeria, the Yoruba tradition, the practice, the faith, the rituals… all of it is intended to help guide you on your path. When one receives santo it is a high blessing but also a promise that one makes to live their lives in accordance with the path the santo has chosen for us. It is a commitment to walking a certain way and serving the santo in the way they deserve to be honored.
Every santer@ has a story about their birth in the religion, and what their time was like as an Iyawó. I love that I was initiated in Habana because here in Cuba there is a long tradition of Santera/os and babalowos that can be traced back decades and each Iyawó is born into a familia santoral y espiritual—venimos de una rama! As I reflect on my birthday I am thinking about that first year, I am reminded of how lonely being an Iyawó can feel. There are so many rules to follow. You can’t go here. You can’t do this. Be home by this time. The iyaworaje is a year of many tests.
There was one day during my year where I was worried about something and wanted to take to the streets. I saw myself throwing on my jeans and converse sneakers and going to handle my business, but I was an Iyawó, I was not allowed to be in the streets at night because I needed to protect myself from the elements. However, life happens outside of this belief system I carry and was born into. As an yabo you will be tested and it not easy.
For me this year has been one of the hardest moments of my life. Losing my brother is a nightmare. I wanted to completely abandon the religion and throw my saints off of the highest cliff. While my brother was dying I bargained like crazy with Ellegua, Yemaya, Obatala, Oggun, y Chango. I prayed and gave offerings to every saint. I wanted to save my brother. I wanted him to live. I prayed for a miracle. I did everything in my power to help him. However, just because we are crowned with a saint, this does not make us the saint/god/orisha. Believing that we possess their powers is all ego.
It got to a point where I needed to sit with Oya and trust that what was happening to my brother in that moment I had no control over. I was being called to surrender, and that was not easy. The most I could do during that moment was bring my brother light, love and laughter. And I needed to trust that what I brought my brother was enough.
However abandoning the religion is not uncommon. Life is a series of pruebas to see what we are made of. And here I am, with all of my santos en Cuba, re-centering myself, trying to connect to spirit and grounding myself for what comes next.
—to be continued – PART IV
Wishing you peace, love and prosperity!