Thursday, September 30, 2010


My painful lack of knowledge about Santeria prompted me to pick up a copy of Migene Gonzalez-Wippler's Santeria: The Religion. I've been diligently reading it, and it didn't sound bad at any point.

But, the chapter on Palo Mayombe in it prompts me to ask: just how reliable is this book? If it's fairly reliable, cool. No worries. But, uh, you know. After reading that chapter, I'd just like to make sure the author isn't making shit up.


Josephus said...

As someone who is intiated into Palo and Santeria, I can say that book isn't reliable.

Unfortunately I don't know of a book in English that is.

Pallas Renatus said...

Just out of curiosity, what was it that tripped the woo-woo alarm?

Jack Faust said...

@Pallas: Well, it was published by Llewellyn, so from the start I was a bit wary. Then about two days ago I had a really weird dream after an extended reading session.

In the dream, the book was on the floor while a group of blonde suburban housewives (soccer moms. really.) gathered around it and chanted, very lightly, "Chango power."

Why did that tell me the book was Full of Shit? I have no idea. But I woke up feeling that way.

Then I read the chapter on Palo. Now, I mean. Macabre practices happen. I'm more than willing to believe that she's not always full of shit - but... Uh. Boiling cats? It was the boiled cats that got me. And I kept thinking, "well, you drown a cat in one of the Papyri's spells..."

It still didn't click right. I don't know. There's something about that chapter that really fucking bugs me. Something not right.

Jack Faust said...

@Josephus: Well, at least that means your secrets remain secret! Other than that: thanks for clarifying.

Josephus said...

LOL! Boiling cats?

As far as I know, that is exclusively a hoodoo practice. I never heard or witnessed a cat being used for anything in Palo.

Animal sacrifice is involved, of course. But it is more humane that that done at your local slaughterhouse, if that can be called humane.

Basically, what is secret in Palo is the ingredients and procedures used to make a Nganga (some of which are extraordinarily difficult to obtain), the method of initiation, as well as the sigils used, although many of those have been published. Other than that it's all out there.

People get together, dress a certain way, people sing, dance, drink, smoke. People invoke the spirits, occasionally do a spell and that's that. Nothing particularly gruesome or immoral as some would like you to believe.

Josephus said...

As for Santeria:

It's a very beautiful religion, but it's definitely not for everybody. And it's definitely not something to do on the weekends. It's a way of life.

I also read that book before I was in the religion. The more I learned, the more I realized that a lot of her stuff is innacurate and some of it is ridiculous. Some of it seems made up or comes from someone that mislead her. Either intentionally or ignorantly.

Jack Faust said...

@Josephus: "Perhaps the most evil of all the ngangas is the infernal ndoki, which is prepared by boiling a black cat alive, after torturing the animal for some time." (P. 249)

I blinked a few times, because it was a bit like reading a very 1980s report on Teenage Satanism. "And then the Satanic Cauldron was properly prepared with the horrific and terrible death of this cute kitten..."

I'm not saying that might not occur. That it might not even actually be a valid practice - somewhere. But the language of the paragraph, and the description sound way, way too crazy to be true. And it makes me doubt the rest of the book more than I ever might have before.

As for the religion: I don't, uh, plan to practice. My primary interests lie elsewhere. I just loathe feeling completely ignorant about something that you catch glimpses of all over town.

Harold Roth said...

Sounds like Zora Neale Hurston's description of getting the so-called invisibility bone from a black cat in "Mules and Men." I have always thought she was fictionalizing there. See what you think:

Jack Faust said...

@Harold: That reads more like an astral working. It's possible the terror and confusion of such a ritual could lead to the convolution of such a chapter, but the way the end segments blur together makes me wonder if the ritual - in the physical world - was even done.

But like I said, Betz has the cat-slaying curse in the PGM. You invoke the cat deities into a cat, and then drown it while telling it that it is not you that drowns it, but your enemy, and it/they should take revenge for the act...