There are many misconceptions and prejudices surrounding the Santeria of Cuba. As an outsider with strong ideas and beliefs in Islam, I had many reservations when I first encountered our cab driver. The first thoughts to come to mind revolved around the coincidence of meeting a cab driver who was a member of the Santeria. During the whole trip we wondered how we would be able to gain access to someone knowledge regarding the matter, and it happened without even trying. The driver first took us to a local church, where we encountered a few older women who insisted on reading our palms. Before we knew it, ceremonial water, beads, and flowers were thrown and rubbed on us. After the five minute ritual, the woman told us we were to pay her 50 CUC each. In a country where I could have a three course meal for 12 CUC, my shock was apparent at having to hand over such a large amount of cash. Not wanting to create a fuss, I ended up paying her the money, thoughts of her being fraudulent and greedy fuelling my anger. It seemed the prejudices I’ve read of and heard about were justified.I thought I had been manipulated into the typical tourist trap of fortune telling. Whether the ritual was accurate and foreshadowed my future is uncertain to me. It could have been a matter of faith, and maybe it was worth the 50 CUC for the momentary enlightenment. I will never know. So much of cultural and religious ceremonies depend on societal concepts, personal faith, and the openness with which we approach foreign ideas.

This could have been the end to my desire to seek out the authentic Afro Cuban Santeria experience, but our driver surprised us by taking us to his uncle’s house. The uncle, we found out, was a prominent spiritual leader in their local Santeria group. The next two hours we spent talking was an educational and spiritual highlight of the trip; one that was unexpected and more than I bargained for. It was a monumental learning experience during which we saw firsthand the inside of a leader’s house, the gender norms, the artefacts, and tools used in rituals. The meeting wrapped up with him offering to do a reading for us, guided by our spiritual angel. Fear and doubt coursed through me, but my curiosity got the better of me. It seemed easy to say no, but the coincidence of meeting a Santeria cab driver and never having the opportunity to experience an authentic Santeria ceremony overrode any reservations I had. The ceremony began with a prayer and finding our own personal or “guardian” angel. The angel would speak to the spiritual leader messages, warnings, and encouragement that it felt we needed to know or could benefit from. The reading lasted roughly 30 minutes. Each reading started with passing pebbles between my two hands and showing him which pebbles ended up in which hand. This was supposed to be random and without thought but I am uncertain how much of it was guided by the angel and how much if it was our own doing that the pebbles ended up in our hands in the pattern that it did. Many things were revealed to us. Some of the readings seemed to relate to past experiences, others were about the future. The leader concluded by saying if I followed the guidance of my angel, I would see the result foretold by the end of December. The admonishments and warnings I received were very confusing. I wasn’t sure how much to believe and how much to ignore. It all goes back to belief and the power we give these rituals with intensity of our faith. Part of me is waiting to see what the end of the year brings, before I decide how much faith to put in. However, even if December doesn’t bring the desired outcomes, the ceremony shouldn’t be put at a fault. My lack of conviction in the reading could be the very reason why the outcome wasn’t as foretold. Not knowing is part of the mystery and allure of the Santeria.

Credit: Naznin Ruma