In many parts of the Diaspora where Orisha worship has continued, Syncretism is very much a feature of the practise. Today is the 2nd February 2021. Today in Brasil the Festival of Yemonja is celebrated. Whilst in some parts of Cuba, it is Oya’s feast day. On the 4th December, Brasil Celebrates Oya, whereas in Cuba, Shango is honoured. The reason why these Feast days are different is because the Orishas were syncretised with different Saints around the Diaspora.
Today is the day that La Virgen de La Candelaria is celebrated. She is known as the Patron Saint of the Canary Islands. She is another of the Black Madonnas although she has also been white washed across the world.
Is it essential to keep paying homage to the Saints and continue with the practise of Syncretism?
I would say that not all sizes fits all. In Cuba and Brasil where Syncretism is very much part of the Culture, there is an overall understanding that the Saints are NOT the Orisha and I think it will be a long time before the Saints lose their symbolism within the Orisha tradition. For newcomers and converts, however, it will be different. People are finding their way to this tradition worldwide where Catholicism may not be practised and so it may not be part of the person’s experience. In addition, some people who come from the stifling world of Catholicism where there is a general culture of repression and emphasis on sin, do not feel comfortable in incorporating the symbolism. Others may reject it as part of the religion that represented Colonialism. There is also confusion with some newcomers where they make big mistakes in believing that the Saints ARE the Orisha, building elaborate altars for the Saints whilst naming them the Orisha. In these circumstances, I have observed that this causes all sorts of negative experiences for these individuals.
I believe that it is important to understand and pay lip service to the practise of acknowledging the Saints in the understanding that our ancestors within the tradition did so, however personally I am not particularly attached to them and I also would never force any newcomer to my Ile who felt uncomfortable in taking on this symbolism, although I believe a historical understanding is helpful. Whether or not you honour the Saints as part of your practise is up to you, but for sure, the biggest feast days for our Orisha are held on the days of the Saints and I think that will be the case for years to come!
On the Right, the Yemonja Festival in Brasil. On the Left La Virgen de Regla, syncretised with Yemaya In Cuba.