UNDERSTANDING AND PRACTISING LA REGLA DE OCHA IN THE UK:
The rise in social media attention to African Traditional Religions in general and Lucumi in particular has given the impression that these practises are wide spread and that there are communities everywhere. I have received emails recently asking me to make recommendations of practising Iles (Religious houses) all over the UK. This is a reminder that what you experience on Social Media is a false reality. Social media does not determine what is going on in the UK and there is a big difference between what is going on in the UK and in countries where this tradition is established.
I will be speaking only about Lucumi Practise since this is my practise and something that I can speak with authority on. Take into consideration that there are also Candomblé practitioners, Umbanda, Traditional Ifa, and everything in between. The UK, in particular its major cities, are melting pots, people will have come and settled here and brought their practises with them and a lot probably goes on behind closed doors.
I have been practising this religion for most of my adult life, my daughter will be 32 this month and I had my first reading whilst I was pregnant with her, whilst living in Cuba.
What I have noticed is that there does seem to be an increasing interest outside of the traditional practise, and I also would say that in the UK, there are probably hundreds of practitioners, however having said this, active Iles are not as prevalent as imagined. We have a different history here in the UK to, for example, the USA, in that so far, nobody has been initiated here as yet. When I say initiated, I mean crowned with Ocha, or to be more precise, the ceremony of Kariocha. Since this tradition is lineage based i.e. Ile structure is based on family structure which is entirely dependent on initiation, priests and priestesses of this religion, or to use the correct terminology, Olorishas, babalochas and Iyalochas will have been initiated outside of the UK and will have lineage ties to Cuba direct or to the USA. Ultimately Lucumi practioners will have lineages going back to Cuba. Anyone who has been initiated within Lucumi, should be able to tell you the name of their lineage and history of that lineage. The fact that in the UK there have been no Kariochas as yet has implications:
- It is possible that you may meet someone that has been initiated with Ocha, but it will not mean that they are knowledgeable. Those that have been crowned, have not necessarily spent time learning. In addition, there are steps within this tradition. The initial ceremony of Kariocha is not complete without Ebo and even then, in order to work the religion, you have to be presented to someone else’s initiation. Without this ceremony you are not entitled to practise on behalf of others. There are no shortcuts, and there are steps to be taken post initiation which gives priests license to practise. There is generally a disconnect between practising in the UK and being able to connect with your elders and learn. We don’t have the extensive Ocha work going on to be able to learn here, and it requires dedication and willing and sacrifice in order to become knowledgeable.
- Those that have made the effort to learn, are those that spend a lot of time, effort and money travelling backwards and forwards to their country of initiation. Those that have made it a priority to learn and to spend time and effort connecting with elders in the country of initiation. These people are few and far between, although they do exist
- In my experience, in the UK, there are Cubans who have been initiated with Ocha. There are also those that are not native to Cuba who have been initiated in Cuba. There are also communities from places such as the Venezuela, and Colombia who may practise within their own communities. There are a few that were initiated in the USA. Most of these practitioners are English speaking in general. In my experience also, there are different styles of practising and guiding godchildren. Adaptations have had to take place due to large distances, work schedules and general lack of space.
- Some things in our favour: Multicultural cities where there are people from all over the world, access in large cities to food and supplies essential for offerings to our Orishas. It’s reasonably easy in London depending on the area you live in.
- Some things not in our favour: the weather and climate which means that certain herbs essential to our practise are difficult to find or grow.
There are pros and cons and differences in how it is possible to practise wherever you are in the world. Where you are historically and culturally will have an impact on who practises and how.
Why no Initiations here yet:
There are now probably sufficient Olorishas in the UK, if not, in Europe, however, practically and regarding what is required for such a huge ceremony, it is not yet possible. I am sure in the future it may become possible and indeed necessary. Derechos (monetary offerings) have more than quadrupled since I became initiated in Cuba, and the fares to get there have also gone up. Flights are extortionate. The fact that there is more communication between Cubans and the rest of the world, has meant that derechos are being slowly matched to what is being asked for in the States. In addition, the fact that more foreigners are going in, has meant that the prices of everything have been augmented. Anyone thinking of being initiated in the USA, will find the derechos steep to say the least. At some point it will be necessary to do things closer to home. I know that ceremonies have taken place in Spain and Holland, and it will become possible in the future I am sure.
Hidden communities:In general, people are not particularly open about their practise and this is with good reason. Discrimination, fear and ignorance still exists regarding this practise. Ridiculous stereotyping and misinformation exists and on top of it all, you have social media personalities misrepresenting. It’s also the case that Olorishas are not supposed to be evangelical so anyone who is practising ethically will not really be advertising their services or pushing themselves onto others. This will mean that in general, the community is hidden and not that visible.
Recommendations.I often get people asking me if I can refer them to someone in their area. I no longer make recommendations. In my experience, it is all about human connection and what suits one person will not mean that it will suit someone else. Human relationships are complicated. That is the overall message that my experience has taught me, since I was ordained with the mysteries of Oshun. There are knowledgeable Olorishas in the UK but in my experience one style of guiding is not another person’s style and one size does not fit all.
Expectations:Don’t have unrealistic expectations of this way of life and practise and those who are initiated within this tradition. People are people. In addition, those that publicly state their interest in Orisha are not necessarily the ones that know what it means to follow the tradition. Be aware of those who post on social media interest in the Orisha without understanding really what they are saying or doing.
In the UK, those of us who are practising are laying foundations for those to come, but we are not self -sufficient YET so the community that people think exists, actually is a myth.
What does following this tradition in the UK mean?
For me personally, it means regular connection with ancestors; It means a continuous commitment to learning so that I can teach; It means, giving up my free time to guide others; It means also regular care of myself spiritually; when you take care of people, you ultimately have to be taking care of yourself first. On a spiritual level it means you have to be on the ball with regular divinations, attention to the advice Orisha gave on initiation and it means putting money aside for spiritual work to be done. It means understanding that I have a destiny to be followed and to do what is necessary to align myself with my destiny. It means travelling in order to work ceremonies and to learn from my elders. It means learning wherever I get the opportunity.
For someone new to this path, it will mean a change of mindset, an understanding that there is a bigger picture. First and foremost, ancestor work, in which ever way you feel is right for you. Regular divinations from either a reputable Olorisha or a reputable Babalawo. That is how you will connect to Orisha on a very practical level. You have to be prepared in the long term, to travel until the religion takes roots here, Whether or not you go further is determined by divination, whether you find your spiritual family because that is how it is practised, will be determined by what your ancestors and Orisha want for you. Lastly there are some that are not destined for this path. If it is not for you, that is OK. There are other spiritual paths you can walk! What I would say is that be prepared for a challenging road, this path has never been easy nor was it meant to be, and it is for selected heads.
WARNING: Ancestor work. This is fundamental and has to come before anything else so that you are equipped to avoid pitfalls. There are individuals who may be influenced by other agendas. Listen to gut instincts. If it does not feel good, walk away. Trust as I have often said before is really important here because when you are not initiated it requires you to put your life in the hands of others.
Note to Godparents or future godparents, don’t undermine the responsibility you have towards others.
Good luck on your paths!