Santería is a popular religious movement originating in Cuba that combines African and Roman Catholic themes. Santería, “The Way of the Saints,” developed among African slaves in Cuba, and has spread throughout the Caribbean and the United States. In it, Catholic SAINTS are identifi ed with traditional African deities, mainly Yoruba from the area that is now Nigeria and Benin, and worshipped in colorful rites that include vegetable and animal SACRIFICES.

Santería ALTARS and costumes are often magnifi cent works of art. The most impressive ceremonies are those in which the deities, called orishas, “mount” or possess initiated devotees. The possessed one will then speak and act in ways characteristic of that god. The rites by which a devotee becomes an initiate of a particular deity, able to mediate that god through possession, are long and elaborate, involving a lengthy period of isolation and instruction. On the other hand, many people use simple everyday Santería practices for divination and luck.

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Santería has fl ourished in the late 20th and early 21st centuries, both in Cuba (despite the revolution of 1959) and in the United States, where Cuban exiles have made it a presence in most major metropolitan areas. Although it has occasionally been controversial in the United States because of its use of animal sacrifi ce and alleged magical practices, it appears to be well established and has drawn some non-Cuban adherents.