EP121 Orisha, Syncretization, and History with Oba Oriate Willie Ramos

Andrew and Willie talk about how it was growing up in the Lukumi tradition, and Willie’s experiences with Orisha in Cuba, America, Nigeria, and Brazil. They also talk about the nature of syncretization in these traditions. last they discuss a few things to think about if you are looking to get involved in this tradition. 

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Andrew: Hey folks, welcome to the last of six episodes of the spring season of 2021 for the podcast. This final episode, uh, brings my, uh, Lukumi elder to discuss some of the stuff about a Orisha practice. Lots of people have a lot of curiosity these days about that. So I thought I would go straight to the source where I have learned much of the things that I know about it. Um, and you know, as we’re wrapping up this season, we’ll be back in October with six new episodes in the fall. And then again, in the winter with another six episode season I would remind folks that, uh, if you are interested in a available to support the podcast, to check it the links to buy me a coffee or for PayPal and each transfer, uh, through the websites in the show notes for this episode, that would be just dandy. I appreciate the support. This also supports accessibility for the podcast through transcriptions and my work and energy and doing this as well. So please go give it a look and if you can, uh, can pitch in, then please do pitch in our right. That’s it on with the show.

<Intro Music>

Andrew: Welcome to another episode of The Hermit’s Lamp Podcast. I’m here today with Miguel Ramos and Miguel Ramos is Oriate that is an elder and a priest in the Orisha tradition known as the Lukumi. They happen to also be my elder, which is part of why we’re here and what we’re going to talk about. I’ve been wanting to have them on the show for a while, because I know people are really interested in traditional African diasporic religions or ADRs. Oba Olari Oba as he’s known in the tradition is a person who’s got a lot of experience in a lot of different ways and always has something really interesting to say about stuff. For folks who aren’t familiar with you really, who are you? What’s your background? 

Willie: That’s complicated. Good morning. Thank you for having me. I appreciate the opportunity. I was born in Cuba migrated to the US, New York in particular. When I was seven years old, grew up in Brooklyn of all places and was ordained in Brooklyn. I was initiated into Shango at the age of 13 in Brooklyn. Difficult situation because I was not initiated because I wanted to be actually I always say that I was forced into the tradition. It was either come down to the house and prepare for the ceremony or have my father break my stickball bat over my head in front of my friends. I said, all right, let me go down. Of course, he wasn’t going to do that, but that was the threat. Cubans can be a little exaggerated. Nonetheless, I was ordained at the age of 13.

My house was referred to in Brooklyn as the voodoo house, because it was the place where my father, did countless ceremonies. My father died with over 60 years as a priest, functioning priest. I was exposed to the culture from the womb I imagine. My mother was also in the religion, and both my paternal and maternal side. I was born into the tradition. In the late seventies I moved to Puerto Rico where I think I learned things that I could not have learned in New York, especially because of the tropical climate there. I became more familiar with plants, which in New York we had to pick up in [inaudible 00:02:39] little paper bags that were always dry and whatnot.

The value of plants in our tradition is high. I lived in Puerto Rico for about seven years. Then what in 84 I finally moved to Miami where I’ve been for the past what, 30, some odd years, almost 40 years already. Miami has become my home. I like to refer to it as my temporary home, because like all Cubans from my generation, we live the Cuba style [inaudible 00:03:10] I call it the desire to return to this mythical island that no longer exist. Nonetheless, I still would like to return “home” at some point in my life.

Andrew: It’s interesting that the idea of wanting to return home, I think about what I remember before I was seven years old and it’s not very much right?

Willie: Right. But my generation, we were all raised because we were, … The initial groups that came to the United States, we were all raised with the idea, raised to believe that the Cuban thing was going to be a very short lived experience, like every other revolution before that, or every other political issue in the island before that, and then we’d be back home soon. I always referred to my socialization as being brought up in Brooklyn, outside the house and in Cuba, inside the house. I think every immigrant goes through the processes of that sort, especially first-generation.

Andrew: That makes sense. Yet here we are many years later and the revolution such as it is continuous. 

Willie: Yeah, let’s call it that. 

Andrew: Yeah, for sure. One of the things that I think is really interesting about your experience is that you’ve made a lot of inroads into a lot of different places where the religion exists. You’re deeply connected to New York city. You obviously have deep roots in Miami. You spend all that time in Puerto Rico. I know you’ve been to Brazil often as well as your time in Cuba and your adventurous, not too long ago in Nigeria as well. I’m curious what’s it like for you to see these traditions in different ways in different places, or are they that different? 

Willie: Well, it is an eye-opener. Because my return home to Yoruba Land and especially my most recent trip, which was to Egbado, which is the region from where Lukumi edition, primarily originates. We have two points of origin, Egbado and Oyo which were the most influential ethnic groups in Cuba. That return home was very symbolic, very interesting because my first trip to Yerba land was to Ife. I did not feel at home in Ife. I could not identify with Ife as I identified with Egbado. I Have Not Been To Oyo yet, which is the next stop on my journey.  But in Egbado I was able to see many of the traditions that we maintain, or many links to the traditions that we maintain on this side of the world. In Brazil, I was also able to see a lot of that and more so than I was able to see in Africa.

I attribute that to the historical circumstance that brought the people who were at that point in time in Cuba, were known as Lukumi and in Brazil were known as Jeje or Nago, depending on whether they were from ancient Dahomey or Yoruba Land. People who had more in common because of the time period that they were sharing. Our traditions in Cuba and Brazil are not all that remotely different from each other. I saw greater similarities with the Brazilian practices than I saw in Yoruba Land, but let me just always add that little but there. I still need to do further research and spend more time in Yoruba Land, in Egbado and in Oyo to get a greater understanding. But at this point in time, I was definitely able to establish links and understand some of the processes, some of the changes.

As well as some of the traditions that we may preserve that are possibly older than what is practiced in Yoruba Land today, because contrary to the belief of a good majority of people, traditions evolve. No one can tell me that Yoruba religion that’s practiced today is practiced identically to how it was practiced in the 19th century. It’s impossible, culture evolves. That means changes. The religion evolved or the practices. The way of life, because this is not a religion, this is a spirituality in the way of life. The way of life evolved on three different continents in three different directions affected by the historical circumstances that it encountered in its process and its journey. 

We see different evolutions in Africa, different evolutions in Cuba and different evolutions in Brazil, and add to that Trinidad and Tobago and the Caribbean as well. Where the traditions had to respond to the pressures of the society in which they were replanted. Definitely there’s transformation, but there’s also, there has to be a similarity or else everything would be questionable. I have been able to pick up on a lot, I believe, especially in Brazil and understand our connections, what makes us so similar as a peoples. That we can focus on our similarities and not our differences.

Andrew: For folks who are listening to Willie talk here, you might notice that he sounds like a historian. That’s because he is a historian, and has spent a lot of time looking at these things and studying and talking to elders, especially in Cuba and so on. This idea, really what you’re saying is through the enslavement and the diasporic, the movement of slaves to the Caribbean and south America and all these places. A pocket of time where all those people came from, serves as a bit of a different starting point because those people in Africa, their lives moved in a certain direction and culture evolved and so on. Then those people in the different homes, in the diasporic for these traditions evolved in different ways or changed in different ways because of the cultures there, because of the needs of the people and so on. Is that what you mean now?

Willie: That is definitely true. Again, the factors are many, but the most dominant colonial power in Yoruba Land in particular were the British. You see elements that were molded and made to fit around the British impositions. I always bring up the perfect example of this in the liquor that is consumed. In Yoruba Land for rituals they use gin or schnapps. British [inaudible 00:10:19]. In Cuba and Brazil, we use aguardiente or cachaca aka Firewater. Which is over aguendti rum. All of these are products that were introduced into the practices, from foreign cultures. God knows what the original Oti was or the original liquor used was. We have mentioned in the literature about Palm wine. We have mentioned in the literature of shekete, a wine, which was a wine made out of Guinea corn in Yoruba Land and corn in Cuba.

Maybe that was the original source, but that’s a perfect example. We see how each culture influenced the tradition. We also see there’s great criticism about syncretism in the Americas. Syncretism was a strategy, no doubt, where the Africans, not only the Yoruba, Africans merged their beliefs or their beliefs were coupled with primarily Catholicism. The evidence is very strong in support of the notion that syncretism did not originate in the Americas. Instead, syncretism already traveled with the Africans, from the continent to the new world. The evidence is very strong for Congo, which is the region where this process probably began, but yet syncretism is normal for human culture in general. But syncretism with Catholicism may have originated in the Congo as early as the 15th century.

Andrew: With the Catholics or with whomever was there.

Willie: With the policies I mentioned. With the policies. I mean the first form of Christianity that was present in west Africa or the west African coast was Catholicism when the Portuguese arrived and established the first church, made arrangements with the Congo. The people that we know in Cuba as Kongos and established a church here. The very first church in Africa, the second was established in Benin, which is the region of Dahomey and very close to Yoruba Land. This idea of understanding different cultural approaches to the divine, different views of the divine, it’s not uncommon. It came from Africa. As a matter of fact, Africans, most African people believe in the adoption and the incorporation of other traditions, other beliefs, other deities, and so on and so forth.

Many of the pantheons in Yoruba Land and Dahomey expanded because of that notion. Because of what we call ashe, the belief in the presence of divine energy, in anything and everything that exists in the universe. If your form or your approach to the divine works and it’s valid and the deity that your worship is valid, and then it’s a form to access the divine. Well, you know what, bring it on. We will worship that to. We will accept that too.

Andrew: It’s inherently practical. There’s a very practical …

Willie: Basically, inclusivistic in nature, not exclusivistic like today Christianity and Islam. We don’t have the exclusive rights to God. We don’t have the exclusive rights to the divine. This facilitated what I see as the syncretic process in Cuba, in Brazil, in Haitian Vodou in Trinidad and Tobago with the Shango traditions there. Because there was already a basis for understanding other cultures and other cultural approaches to the divine and other religious approaches to the divine. It was not foreign to them. When they were forcibly baptized, when they put that holy water over them on the ship, that was the baptism ceremony. It wasn’t anything odd to them. It was okay. It was acceptable. 

I mean, I can continue worshiping Olodumare you guys just call him by a different name. Then you guys had this other character named Jesus, and I’m fine with Jesus too. I have no problem with Jesus. Because at the end of the day, all of these are different manifestations of ashe. I have no issue. This whole idea that grew on the literature and that became very popular in most people’s understandings of syncretism. That syncretism was basically camouflage something that I myself believed at one point in time. I think is false.

I think there was more than just camouflage involved in this process. I think there was an understanding because when you look at the parallels established between the Lukumi deities, over the Brazilian Candomble deities and the saints. You’re going to see similarities in the Hagiography, the stories, what people relate to knowledge that they have about the Saint and the Orisha for example. I had my greatest conflict when I was growing up was being told that Shango and Saint Barbara were one and the same. Saint Barbara is a 13 year old Virgin who was decapitated by her dad. Shango was, God knows how a womanizer, the way we perceive him anyway. Who represents the joy of life, including sex. Saint Barbara was a martyr and a Virgin. In my mind, there was this conflict, a smug kid that grew up in Brooklyn.

Even though I was in Cuba, I was in Brooklyn, the world at large. I was thinking, “What the hell are you guys talking about? I don’t understand this.” But then with the passage of time, when I look at Saint Barbara and I look at some of the iconic symbols, the symbols associated with Saint Barbara. Lightening, after her father decapitated her lightning struck the tower where she was being hidden or kept prisoner and burned it down. She dressed in red and white and she had a sword in her hand. I mean, all elements that we can easily associate with Shango. But there was also an understanding of what happened in the lives of some of these saints that may have had some similarity with the beliefs about the Orisha. It leads me to believe that the people that were brought to Cuba developed an understanding of Catholicism.

It’s not that they just chose a Saint at random and placed them next to an Orisha, and said, these are one and the same. We’re going to cover Shango with Saint Barbara. We’re going to hide Shango behind Saint Barbara. No, there were processes where there was analysis to a degree of what these powers were, what these symbolisms were. Also, and I’m sorry if I’m driving this nail too much, but miscegenation, these beliefs about the relationship between saints and Orisha and Catholicism and Lukumi and Catholicism and Candomble is a product of miscegenation. I had a sociology teacher [Teresita Peresa 00:17:39] who would always stress this point. I strongly believe what Teresita argued. The reality is that there were more African women who obtained their freedom, who were manumitted than men, men were more valuable, more useful on the field, so on and so forth.

There was a greater number of European men on the island as opposed to European women. It was quite common to have unions, not marriages, but unions where black women lived with white Europeans. This whole notion of advancing the race was actually imposed on Africans. They were led to believe that whitening of the skin meant advancing and growing and prospering as a people. This child is born from these unions. What we call in Cuba and in Brazil, and the Americans, el mulatto. The mulatto or the mulatta, this child who is a product of two “races” inherited the philosophies, the beliefs, the ideas of both his parents. It was very easy for this child to see his father worship being Mary the universal feminine from a Catholic perspective, and his mother worship the being Oshun or Yemaya.

Worshiping the deities that represent the universal feminine from our perspective. This child would very easily identify Oshun as our lady of charity and Yemaya as our lady of [inaudible 00:19:20] without a problem. Because he saw the presence of the divine in both and was taught the ways of life of both his parents. I believe, and this was Teresita’s argument as well. I believe that this was stronger than the alleged camouflage theory and the alleged imposition theory, where these people were forced to worship these deities, these Catholic deities. Not that they weren’t … There was a Cardinal, a Bishop, I think Morelli Santacruz who in the early 19th century went to all the Cuban cabildos. Cabildos were fraternities established for people of African origin, where they could dance. Allegedly they were dancing and having a good time. But in reality, they were practicing religion. 

Andrew: That’s maybe where we see more camouflage, right?

Willie: That’s maybe where the camouflage idea began because Morelli, he quickly understood that what was taking place inside of these Cabildos was not necessarily public dance and celebration. He understood very quickly that it was religion. Especially when you see somebody mounted or possessed by an Orisha, you definitely know there’s more than just having a good time. Morelli is the one that took a Catholic Saint to each one of these cabildos and established it as the patron Saint of the cabildo. There you see imposition and there you see the possible need to syncretize or to at least outwardly appear to be adoring the Catholic deity. Because at the end of the day, I look at them as deities as well. This is a very complex historical process. But not odd, not strange. I mean, Catholicism did exactly the same thing in his origins. How many Catholic saints weren’t actually deities from other practices and other cultures before the Catholics incorporated them. Saint Christopher being the perfect example.

Andrew: You see it in different parts of the world. When I was in India and I was traveling around, meeting people and staying in their homes or whatever. You’d go in and here it’d be Ganesh and then there’d be the Buddha, and then there’d be Jesus. Then there’d be Sai Baba or whoever other person. When I asked them about it, they’re just like, they all have blessings to offer. They’re all welcomed, and I’m sure in other parts of the world, we see a very similar process. 

Willie: Definitely, and the critics who fail to understand, or don’t want to understand, because some cases, many don’t. You know what, I went to Yoruba Land. I was in Egbado. When was it? Before the 2019 I believe, before the COVID. Yeah, exactly March of 2019. I was involved in a Yoruba ritual in a seers house. A Yoruba seers house, with scriptures all over the walls of her shrine room. A ceremony that involved with, that began with the, our father and then the sacrifice of a lamb. There’s syncretism in Yoruba land as well. I hate to be the pin in people’s bubbles, but there’s syncretism there as well. It’s part of human nature.

Andrew: Well, I wonder how much of it, I mean, obviously there’s a general move to syncretize, but there’s also the idea that the historical factory, that at one point this time would be centered around Shango. This time would be centered around Olokun or Oshun or Yemaya or whomever. It wasn’t like there was a truly unified set of this is the order. This is the primary focus, but depending on where you grew up, you’d follow the religion of your parents and your village and so on. Would have much more of that emphasis on one aspect with the other ones being around or some of the other ones being around as needed. 

Willie: You know what at the expense of being crucified, pardon the pun. JD, what is it? JD White Peel, the British historian has argued that religion per se, and from a Yoruba perspective, took shape in the late 18th, early 19th century. There was no unified system of worship. There was the local worship of the local deities. Eventually it’s quite possible that this encounter with people from other areas of the world, primarily Europeans may have created this whole idea of a Pantheon that we have today. If you look at the history there’s an excellent book called Hail Orisha by McKenzie. I forgot his first name. Excellent research, excellent documentation of, he reviewed the memoirs and the journals of Christian missionaries in Yoruba Land in the 19th century. It’s very clear from there, at least from their perspective, from what they wrote, from what they documented biased as it may have been, it’s very clear that there was no uniform system of worship. The move to the Americas, may have established that as a primary necessity in order for the traditions to survive. 

Andrew: Because what we see in Cuba, and I guess, other places too. Was that at a certain point, there was a change in protocol and practice in order to cement the traditions. In order to make sure that there was enough representation of different Orisha and around the preservation of traditional aspects, that might’ve been much more separate before that.

Willie: Definitely so.

Andrew: Like the process of receiving, when you’re crowned you receive Shango and Yemaya and Oshun or Obatala and so on. This is part of one of those cultural historical transformations to preserve that knowledge. To preserve those traditions.

Willie: Definitely so, no argument there. It gives birth to this whole notion of a Pantheon. To this day the idea of Pantheon in Yoruba Land is not as clear, not as cut and dry as it is in the Americans. Again, it not only happens with the Yoruba tradition it’s very clear with Haitians voodoo. There is a Pantheon, which did not necessarily exist in 19th century Yoruba Land and Cuba’s perfect evidence for that. There were people who brought specific deities to the island, for example, Olokun and the Bablawo arrived to Cuba with one priestess olokun and this priestess was the one that expanded the worship of this deity in Cuba. Olokun becomes part of this Pantheon. Obatala Odua Yewa what we call Egbado deities were brought by a particular group.

There were two important migrations to Cuba. There was the group of people brought to the island in the latter 18th century, which were primarily Egbado. Then the people who followed after the decimation of Oyo sector 1825, 1830 or so, which were primarily Oyo but there were other ethnic groups present at the time. Each one of them brought a different contribution. The people from Oyo brought a specific drumming style that was not available in the island until they arrived, which was the bata drum. Again, this whole creation of a Pantheon of a group of deities, as we worship today is definitely a product of the 19th century, 19th and 20th century.

Andrew: Well, and you also get the people from the Congo. Also the Arara coming as well as a separate group.

Willie: The Igbo to bring the Abakwa traditions as well. Many people at first, there were cultural flashes. The Congo’s and the Lukumi’s did not get along. Eventually they all learned to survive because there was a greater form. Which was the system that was in place that affected all of them. But now in Cuba, as we were talking earlier, this whole idea of Ashe, were the perfect example. You have Cubans who practice Congo tradition, Alur Bantu practices. You have Cubans who practice Bantu, Abakwa which is the Igbo tradition. People who Lukumi, who have influence from the Arara from the ancient Dahomey and people who came to the island. On top of that, who are good Catholics who practice coordination spiritism.

It’s okay. Reality is that it works. We’re not telling everybody do what we do. You guys want to believe just in Jesus and the image of a God who tells you don’t worship any other gods, but me, that’s fine. We don’t, we believe that there is more to the world than just this one deity. There are many ways to approach God, many energies that represent God in the world, and it’s fine to worship them or deal with them, or make them part of our life.



Andrew: Well, and I think that, talking about this cultural changes and this mixing and adjusting and changing that happens over time to me, it reminds me of the importance of lineage too, right?

Willie: Yes.

Andrew: Because if we’re understanding that there is this progression over time, not [inaudible 00:29:40] but change and progression. Then understanding who we come from. Who that lineage is, is one of the things that helps us navigate a lot of stuff around this tradition. 

Willie: Well, the lineages also maintain the ethnic differences in practices. Which linked us to those specific groups and their distinct practices. Those of us who will be sent from the Egbado lines may have minor differences in our approaches, in our ceremonies and our rituals. Then those who will be sent from the Oyo. Then the Arara people are totally different as well. Then within these ethnic groups, we also have the principle lineage or the trunk, and then the branches that began splitting off. Responding to historical circumstances as well. Because for example, we have the people who no longer shave the head of the initiate, but rather shave a small section of the center of the head. That responded to a historical need. 

There was great persecution at the beginning of the 20th century of all African practices in Cuba and people, or practitioners or priests and priestesses were forced to go underground and hide their practices. Something that occurred again after 1959. Where the revolution also established certain conditions, certain prescriptions and one of them being the initiation of children. Many people who practice these traditions for centuries, not for centuries for generations would initiate their children anyway, but in hiding. Again, the practices of the lineage may also reflect historical responses. The circumstances that they had to deal with that at the moment in time. 

Andrew: The lineage also is a connection to your ashe?

Willie: To your ancestry. 

Andrew: To your ancestry. Because it’s not just, I get to join the club. It’s that you become part of that lineage yourself. You become part of that family at that point, which I think is something that people don’t necessarily understand the scope of that.

Willie: Orisha is a big family. This is something that’s actually losing a lot of importance in our day and age. But once you join an Orisha ile, and Orisha house, once you find a godparent, you’re not just a client off the street who, the godparents self religion, too. You’re part of the family and that connects you with everybody else who is part of that family, generations back. This whole notion of lineage, because one of the greatest ideas that we have, that we sustained through this very day is that once you’re initiated, you don’t die. The body may die. But the soul, the mind, the memory of the individual continues to live through its descendants. 

Our religious DNA, so to speak. We continue to transmit a generation to generation. You’re in a family, you’re a member of the family. As a godfather, I’m your religious father. As your godmother, is your religious mother, you have siblings, you have aunts, you have uncles. This whole idea of lineage, not only bonds us as a people, it tries to keep us together as a people. As it connects us to our origins and to our ancestors who we maintain, or keep alive through our worship and through our veneration and our memory of them. 

Andrew: Well, I guess it highlights how important [inaudible 00:33:38] it is [inaudible 00:33:39]. This is, and I know as a person who lives way up here in Canada, this is a religion that is very difficult to practice away from other people who practice it. It’s very challenging to not have access to that family and connection to that family and so on.

Willie: Canada continues to be a growing community and it’s had a lot of hurdles to overcome. I mean, there have been priest there trying to establish practice since at least the seventies. I don’t know why they’re having such difficulty there. Applying medicine is a problem. Being able to import certain things like plants, for example, from the tropics is an issue there. But there’re also, I think it’s a very small community. I don’t think many Carribians are lured into the cold of Canada. I think most people look, they can accept New York, which is not as cold, but I think or other cities in the country. But most people look for similarity also. The United States opened more doors to people from Cuba than any other country until recent times. That’s also a reason. I still think that, Canada will be an issue for other factors that you and I are familiar with as well. Especially sacrifice, animal sacrifice in your region is not that well, looked upon. I don’t know. We don’t know what the future holds in store for us. 

Andrew: That’s true. I think actually what we see here is that, if people are moving that ahead, it’s actually the Hindu people and other traditions that also use a lot of that stuff in certain practices. When you go to the live animal markets, it’s a worldwide affair for who all you’re looking at when you’re there. For sure. Maybe as we’re reaching the end of our time here, let me ask you this. I know, and you know we’ve written about it and we’ve talked about it, that one of the other challenges for people who are drawn in this direction, but who didn’t necessarily grow up in it is, how do you avoid these frauds? How do you avoid the challenges? How do you learn who to look to, or how to look to lineages or other things? What are some red flags for you? What are maybe some things that are markers that the person might consider exploring that connection more?

Willie: Sadly, the lack of structure. The approximately century and a half of persecution. Of stigmatizing these traditions of accusing us and accusing all African traditions of atrocities that we are incapable of committing has created this air around us. That as a people, we are very distrusting, therefore structures are not necessarily accepted. We lost the structures that we had with the Cabildos in Cuba, for many reasons, Cabildos eventually lost ground. Though we have roots and organization that’s also been lost. Persecution made us go into hiding. We became masquerades and put our heads in the ground. Maybe we were priests and priestesses, but we denied it because we were afraid of the stigma. We were afraid of the police, and after 1959, afraid of the revolutionary forces. All of this created a very inhibited mind frame.

Because of that, we have no churches. We have no structures, we have no legal representation because we still have not made a major effort that it requires to do so. There is a very admirable attempt here by [inaudible 00:38:11] who has worked for decades trying to establish that. My own work all modesty aside, the reality is that the vast majority of Orishas are not interested in establishing a church because their churches are in their home. That’s where they feel, they worship period. Nobody’s going to change that mind frame because it was created and it’s been in existence for over a century at least. What are the warning signs that you would say here? What are the red flags that we need to look to? Well, I’m very wary of those people who put on drama, who put on the shows.

I’m the best there is. Nobody’s the best there is. Those things, as soon as you see that, that should be a red flag immediately. Excessive rituals or rituals that are made to impress. I think the drama and in many cases, yes, there’s beauty to Orisha. There’s devotion and we give the Orisha the best that we have available, the best that we can afford. But we also need to remember that we do so today because we have the financial possibilities. Our people were very poor, were very humble. They came, they lived in homes with dirt floors and none of these luxuries that we have today. We were …

Andrew: [crosstalk 00:39:32] I got to see some of the most religious people I know and the Orishas are in this sopera, they came in 20, 30, 40, 50 years ago. 

Willie: And very humble.

Andrew: Maybe with a string of beads on them and that’s it. 

Willie: Basically, very humble [inaudible 00:39:49], very humble vessels. Today well I mean, I see if I live in a home that’s nice, it’s flushed or whatever. I’m going to have my Orishas in a nice style as well, and in this comfortable way as well, but I’m not going to forget my origins. I know my Shango, I call it the, my [inaudible 00:40:07] vessel for Shango I call it the Olympic pool because it’s four feet tall and about three feet wide. God, that was not my doing. My godson, gave that to Shango, but nonetheless our worship and our veneration and the way we represent our Orishas is a reflection of our lifestyle. 

That’s acceptable. I can see that, but once it’s excessive and that is also noticeable. Once we have drama, once you ask a question, and the response is that you don’t need to know that right now. That’s not for you to know. If it’s not a question about ritual practice. That’s not the adequate response. If a godson is asking, Padreno what do I have to do? What is required of me? You need to sit down and tell them that and the vast majority of these charlatans that are out there abusing people don’t know how to do this. Now this is the way it is and period. Those are red flags. There are other things that we can talk about but would be a little difficult. Sexual abuse, all right. Disrespect of any sort. That should be the first red flag. That [inaudible 00:41:23].

Andrew: I think, there is and there never should be [inaudible 00:41:31]. There never should be any sexual anything between godparents and godkids, it’s a hard line.

Willie: Godparents are your parents. 

Andrew: There’s nothing in our religions, in our ceremonies that necessitate that. I think that that idea of respect. For me, one of the ideas that I think is really significant is unlike our parents of origin and maybe orient our destiny, say we don’t have a choice about who crowns us. But we’ll put that aside for a moment and say, unlike our parents of origin, we have some choice about who we’re going to build this relationship with. If they don’t respect you, if your life and their life don’t line up in certain ways. If they have biases or whatever, that don’t suit who you are, keep looking, you’ll find people. 

Willie: I agree with that. 

Andrew: There’s no reason to put up with things and I recently was talking to somebody who realized afterwards that they were talking Spanish and making fun of the person while they were doing something for them. I’m like, that’s not unacceptable. Because even if we’re having a connection, that’s more like a client, less like a family, as a lot of these sort of begin, if there’s not that respect there where’s that ever going to come from. 

Willie: The respect has to be mutual as well, and this is another issue as well. I am not going to accept anybody coming in to seek my religious guidance or my advice or a relationship with me as their godparent and come in and impose their ways on me. Because in a lot of people, and especially today with the greater access to literature and greater access to the internet and all of the announces that is being published out there by people whose intentions are highly questionable at the time. They also lay the groundwork for those people who come to you and they’re already sweating know more about the religion than you do. 

They want to tell you how you have to do things for them, or how you have to approach things from, and you know what I tell them, there’s the door. This is my practice. If you’re looking at me as your godfather, you’re going to have to follow my tradition my way, the way I know, and the data that I don’t know, I’m honest enough to tell you, I don’t know, let me find that. 

Andrew: Sure. 

Willie: It is a two way street though, and it can be very difficult. Especially more so nowadays because of the greater access to information or disinformation that is available through social media.

Andrew: I think there’s a saying that I like a lot, which applies to this, which is 10 minutes with a wise person is better than reading a hundred books. I think that when we’re talking about these traditions, that books are helpful. I read a lot of books, you write some great books. There’s stuff out there. But even at that, those are just a small piece of the conversation. I think that one of the things that becomes really important is that these religious traditions become very personal, not just in terms of the relationship, but also in terms of the advice. Because the advice for me is different than the advice for somebody else. It’s different than the advice for other people, because there’s not a simple thing that you could write in a book and say, this is the standard for everything. Some right, but a lot of them are not so universal they’re depending on circumstances and Odu and Orisha so on and so on. It’s not as clear cut as that most books. Some are just a nightmare.

Willie: Despite the fact that I have published several books on the traditions, literature and social media do not replace hands-on practice. You have to be present. You have, and this is one of the issues with places where there aren’t large practicing communities. Experience is built upon practice here. You can know, and you can have all the theory you want on hand and all, and read all my books and everybody else’s books and visit every website and every Facebook page that exists. But if you’re not out there, if you’re not exposed, if you’re not dealing with practitioners, frequently all, you have is theory. You have to gain experience by practicing.

Andrew: Well, maybe that’s a good place to end it and because otherwise I’ll just keep you here all day talking about stuff. If people want to find these books, if people want to find where you’re hanging it online where should they come and check you out?

Willie: My website is eleda.org E-L-E-D-A and you go to the publication section and all of my books are available through there. My books are also available on amazon.com. They’re not available in [inaudible 00:46:52]. Those are the two places where you’ll find my publications at this point. There are, some of my books have been purchased by many of the libraries in the country as well. There is a bookseller in England who sells my books also, Blackwell’s I believe is the name of it. Maybe I’m wrong with the name. But they’re also available in England, at least for those who are interested.

Andrew: Perfect. You also have a Facebook group?

Willie: Yes. I have several Facebook groups. I conduct seminars for priests and priestesses on Facebook as well. My Facebook is also eleda.org and I have a page for the publications, the section eleda.org publications. All of those are available on Facebook, Instagram and the internet. 

Andrew: Perfect. Well thank you for making time today to hang out with us. 

Willie: You’re very welcomed. 

Andrew: All right. 

Willie: Great moment. 

Andrew: It’s been a pleasure.

Willie: Thank you for having me. You have a good day and I wish all your listeners that they find the path that they seek in life. It doesn’t necessarily have to be Orisha or Lukumi religion. One needs to find a path. One needs to have a goal, no matter what faith you use to approach it. 

Andrew: Perfect.


Andrew : Hey folks. I just want to jump in here for a second and Remind people that The Hermit Lamp is also a store. So I have an online store and an in-person store in Toronto that sells over 400 Tarot Decks 300 kinds of crystals and incense, incense holders, candles, oils, and all the magical goodies you might want for whatever spiritual practice you were up to. I think we have great prices on stuff. Everything is sourced to the best of my ability to be authentic, and we offer pickup or in store shopping when it’s not COVID in Toronto and we offer delivery just about anywhere in the world. So do me a favor next time. You’re thinking about stuff drop by thehermitslamp.com. Check it out. See if we’ve got something you need there, because I always appreciate that support.


Andrew: All right. My friends that wraps it up for the spring season. What do you think of the new format? Drop me a line and let me know. Who do you think I should have in the fall series? Drop me a line. Let me know and do me a favor support. The podcast links are in the show notes for it and spread the word, give it a rating, share it amongst your friends. Put it up on social media. All of these things help continue to move the podcast forward and keep it alive and vibrant. All right, I’ll be back in the fall, but don’t worry. I’ll be around with other things in between. So make sure you’re following me, uh, on social media somewhere. Instagram’s the best place @TheHermitsLamp to see what else is going on or jump on my newsletter through the website as well. All right. Talk to you soon. Bye bye.

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