Natalie is a Tarot reader, Medium, and a student of Astrology. She is a Priestess in several traditions of Witchcraft, and enjoys all variety of plant medicine, sigil magic, and ecstatic ritual. She spends her time traveling between the veils, studying the dark arts and crafts, and creating ritual goods and self care items for her online store Skeleton Key Shop. Her favorite moments are spent making magic with her coven Deam Lux and snuggling with her bunny familiars.
Santeria, also known as Lucumi or La Regla de Ocha is an initiatory religion with origins in West Africa, that was brought to Cuba, Brazil and other regions of the Caribbean during the Trans-Atlantic slave trade. Centered around deities known as Orishas, that were often syncretized with Catholic Saints in order to preserve the practice in secret.
I am a Priestess of Yemaya in the Lucumi Tradition, more commonly known as a “Santera”. When you come into my home it looks mostly like everyone else’s. You won’t find huge altars full of statues and candles, or chicken feet hanging from the ceiling. In fact my home looks pretty ordinary besides my penchant for crystals, apothecary jars, and the spaces reserved for my Ancestors and other practices which are usually kept out of sight.
You wouldn’t know what I practice unless I specifically told you, or if you too were a practitioner and able to read the subtle signs. A certain charm on my necklace that is only prescribed during ordination as a priest or the bracelets I always wear that match with none of my outfits. My close friends know that certain foods are taboo for me. I also try to avoid getting wet in the rain – also a taboo for me. Sounds strange, but becoming deathly ill twice after getting caught in the rain makes you realize that your Abuela is sometimes right! My point is that the Lucumi religion is a highly personalized practice that is fitted to the individual. What is medicine for one person can be poison for another.
According to the lore of this practice, which is purely oral tradition, we are all born with our ORI. In new age terms, this is our higher self. This higher self is connected to our life’s path and comes with an innate knowledge of certain things. It has its own power, or ASHE. Although we have free will to make our way through life, it is our ORI that repeatedly nudges us in the direction of our best life, whether this is through people that we meet, or a seemingly random chain of events. These moments and people change the entire course of our lives, as it did mine.
“You wouldn’t know what I practice unless I specifically told you, or if you too were a practitioner and able to read the subtle signs.”
I was born into a family that suffers from Bipolar disorder, Depression, and Schizophrenia. Unfortunately, some of my family members committed suicide. My mother attempted suicide when I was just two years old. She had gone off her medication during pregnancy in order to carry me at great risk to herself. As we know, postpartum depression is very serious. It is even more so for people already living with mental illness. Miraculously, she survived what should have been a fatal injury. Still, she was hospitalized with a fractured spine. For the next three years, she would relearn how to walk and perform basic motor functions. During this time, I was cared for by my grandmother. Abuela was a priestess of Vodou, as practiced in the Dominican Republic. She was also a nurse at an elderly care facility. Every day, I would watch her pray, work, and help the streams of people that came for her assistance. She would sit me at her altar – in this case and practice, there were many statues and candles – and taught me how to pray. I prayed every night for my mother to come back to me as she was, although I was warned repeatedly that she may never walk again. Against all odds and prognoses, she made a full recovery. Though I went back to my normal life, I never forgot my introduction to this world. My innocent prayers were heard by these mysteries, as they were called.
Fast forward to my early 20’s. After years of solitary practice, I found a pagan path where I was exploring traditional witchcraft and being offered initiation. Coincidentally, I was presented with an opportunity to read tarot in a famous New York botanica (Nudge.) At this time, I had absolutely zero interest in the religions of my culture. Yet, I was suddenly immersed head first into this world. Instead of crystals, pretty talismans, and perfume oils, I was surrounded by Catholic statues, camphor, cigars, Florida Water, and images of the Orisha.
A close friend and colleague had been seeing someone whom she called “Her Padrino.” She was super secretive about her interactions with this person, which I found rather creepy. Sometimes, she would show up to work dressed completely in white and be eerily silent most of the day. She was my polar opposite, as I was wearing all black and blasting My Chemical Romance each morning. I was the one that customers would gravitate to for hexing and separation work. Looking back, I realize that I was ANGRY with a lot of things in my life and that this was a perfect outlet at the time. Though my tireless work was effective, my aura was dark.
A particularly cool shipment of statues came in one day, and my High Priestess presented me with an extravagant gift, a large statue of the Orisha Yemaya. She was a brown skinned, bare breasted mermaid with a pink tail, a jeweled crown on her head and holding a silver star in her hands (Nudge). This was odd as I was being trained in Initiatory Wicca, which has absolutely nothing to do with Orisha practice, or other African Diasporic religions. (This is the realm of usually ill-informed eclectic witches and a whole separate topic). She said simply, “You should have this. This is you.” I laughed, thanked her and accepted the gift, as alien as it was. Truthfully, this lovely statue stayed in her padded foam box for several years as I had no idea what to do with her.
“Instead of crystals, pretty talismans, and perfume oils, I was surrounded by Catholic statues, camphor, cigars, Florida Water, and images of the Orisha. ”
Around the same time my colleague and fellow Bruja invited me to a drumming. An Orisha drumming is not anything like a pagan drum circle. It is normally reserved for initiates or for members of an Ile, a temple or house of Orisha. I don’t know how this even happened, but I went to the event.I could hear the drums before I even entered and they immediately gave me a faint queasy feeling, like butterflies in my chest. When we entered the large room, the air was surprisingly thick and humid. To the left was a huge altar called a Throne. It was adorned with fabric, fruits, sweets and other items gleaming in shades of gold and pink. Three drums were set up in the front of this room. As the drums were played, my friend and I stayed plastered to the back wall hoping that no one would ask us who invited us, or why we were there, as the girl who had extended the invite in the first place was a no show.
I watched the people dance, their methodical steps giving way to abandon and wild movements at times that frightened me. A woman danced alone in front of the drums, her clothes plastered with sweat and her face beet red. After a time she was ushered away, only to return with a glistening blue and silver shawl around her neck, her hair wrapped up in another lovely fabric, and several younger people escorting her where she wanted to go, as she seemed to move through the room like a butterfly, speaking to some and ignoring others. I could see the people present crying and I did not understand why.
I honestly felt a pang of panic at this time and I wanted to leave. When I told my friend this, she flatly said that it was too late to leave. Once an Orisha had joined the event, possessing an initiate, it would be considered extremely rude to walk out the door, and there was no way of doing it sneakily as they (the Orishas) were capable of seeing and hearing everything in the room at once, including our thoughts. Now I was truly shitting myself and broke out in a cold sweat, when this woman immediately made eye contact with me and walked straight in my direction. At first I returned her gaze, but the closer she drew, the more unsettling it became and I shifted my eyes down towards my feet.
She came right up to me and grabbed my chin upwards. At this moment I was being yelled at by my friend who was trying to show me how to properly greet The Orisha, but I was frozen to the spot and her grip on my face was not soft. As per the woman who appeared by her side to translate, this was the Orisha Yemaya who was speaking to me (Nudge). She proceeded to speak about my mother’s accident (I had never shared this with anyone at that point in my life as I was too ashamed). She said that the spirits of my homeland had heard my prayers saving my mother and myself from living out that tragedy, but that I ultimately belonged to HER, and to all of them. I opened my mouth to ask how and my friend shook her head rapidly at me with bulging eyes. Instead I nodded and crossed my arms, bowing my head a little, as I had seen others do. She passed her beautiful embroidered cloth all over my body, and I felt the crackle of energy like electricity as all the hairs on my arms and head rose. Her last words to me were “Don’t worry, you will see.” I did see.
“Once an Orisha had joined the event, possessing an initiate, it would be considered extremely rude to walk out the door, and there was no way of doing it sneakily as they (the Orishas) were capable of seeing and hearing everything in the room at once, including our thoughts.”
The chain of events to follow were less like nudges and more like blows upside the head! I chose to share this to show something that few share on Social Media. The magic of these Orisha goes way beyond spells and altars, and deep into ancestral healing and realignment with one’s destiny. It’s an experiential religion that creates deep, personal growth and change for each person it touches. To those seeking the Orisha, I advise you to really SEEK them, so that you can have these life-changing and miraculous experiences for yourself.
I was recently moved to tears and brought to my knees in front of an Orisha, Babalu Aye (syncretized with Saint Lazarus, Patron of illness and disease) after hearing that a member of my Ile, an elder and sister to me within this practice, was now Cancer Free. This beautiful and humble Orisha not only alerted her to the unknown illness in her body but also CURED her, through his prescriptions and guidance of her elders, in a time span of only several weeks. These stories and experiences are the truth about this religion and practice. This is why practitioners spend so much time, blood, sweat and tears working ceremonies with our spiritual community as well as with seekers needing help and guidance. If your Orisha practice consists only of spells on an altar, or selfies of your beaded necklaces with cigar in mouth, then I am here to tell you that you are missing out on so much more. There is a whole world out there, just waiting for you to dig a little deeper.
Yemaya N’Agbe O,