Santerķa is an old-world religion rich in symbolism, which is practiced in much of the Caribbean, including Puerto Rico. It originated with the Yoruba people of Africa, in what is known today as Nigeria.
With the slave trade came the Yoruba religion which quickly developed into what is today called Santerķa. The Yorubas, expected to adopt the religion of their masters, converted to Catholicism. They were easily able to make a transition from worship of dieties to a worship of "saints" which were seen as one with their gods. For example, "Obatala" corresponds to "Our Lady of Mercy."
In Santerķa there is one head God with many subdeities. The deities are called "Orishas." The Orishas are said to have descended from heaven to help and console their followers. Orishas are not chosen by people; instead, each person has been chosen by an Orisha and the Orisha watches over him.
Varios symbols, colors, numbers, characteristics, and even foods are attributed to the Orishas.To use the "Our Lady of Mercy" example once again, ("Obatala") this deity's color is white, his number is 8, and his day of the week is Thursday. He has 24 different attributes. His foods include all white foods; he does not drink alcohol. Obatala rules over all things that are white including bones, and skulls. Mountains and hills are also his domain. Obatala was the first Orisha created. He is the god of peace and purity, and specializes in helping great thinkers including scientists, doctors, and lawyers. The "holiday" celebrated yearly in his honor, (Day of Feast) is September 24th. This yearly "holiday" might correspond to "Patron Saint" days for the saints of the Catholic Church.
People may practice Santerķa, but not all are Santeros; Santeros are priests.* Santeros are the only official practitioners. There are several steps to becoming a Santero. It is said that the Orishas decide if a person has passed the tests and completed all the steps necessary to becoming a Santero.
The Santerķa cult also includes ceremonial animal sacrifice, mainly chickens. These sacrifices are only performed on rare occasions, such as during initiations of Santeros. All Santeros are expert herbalists, since flowers and herbs are used in the magical rituals and included in burnt offerings.
Santeros claim there is no "black magic" or "evil magic" in their religion; "black magic," they claim, is part of the "religion" of the Congo or Bantu peoples.
* Note: Santería "Santeros" are not to be confused with Puerto Rico's well known"santeros" - craftsmen who carve and create statues from wood.