Babalú-Ayé and the Santo Parado

The elders say that Babalú-Ayé can possess anyone, because he is compared to an ancestor, and anyone can get possessed by an ancestor. Similarly, they say it is because all human beings are subject to illness. So it is no surprise that many people seem to pass Babalú-Ayé or ancestral spirits who serve him.

In fact, in Matanzas City, Chino Pérez is widely known as a horse of Babalú-Ayé, even though he is the keeper of the house of Ferminita Gómez, the home of one of the original Olocuns in Cuba. While he has received Babá’s fundamento, when last I visited him, he had not undergone the full initiation known as the asiento, nor was he inclined to. It seemed unnecessary as Babalú-Ayé came and went quite fluidly in possession, and he frequently did miraculous things when he did appear. In fact, when Saúl Fernández—Babá Ni Beleké made Lucumí Babalú-Ayé direct in Havana in the late 1990s, he called upon El Chino to create the secret that went inside. Justly or not, many people in Arará houses use this fact to disparage that initiation.

There is a long tradition in places outside of Havana of what people refer to as santo parado. Those people with santo parado usually get possessed quite easily, and the orichas who mount them give good, reliable information to the people they encounter—and often do reliable work as well. However, these individuals have not undergone any formal ceremony. This tradition contrasts sharply the asiento, so essential to modern practice in Havana. This tradition was reported to David Brown by Oswaldo García Villamil (Santería Enthroned, p. 142) as the oldest form of oricha worship in Matanzas. William Bascom found similar attitudes in 1948 in Jovellanos, where many people were mounted by orichas, but only about 40 had undergone the full initiation ceremony. Like El Chino, many in Jovellanos considered the asiento to be an unnecessary expense and entanglement (Bascom Papers, Bancroft Library, UCLA, Carton 26, Folder 3, p. 301). The well-documented reality of santo parado provides another example of the diversity of practices in the worship of the orichas.

The idea of santo parado is intriguing. García describes it as having the oricha “by your side,” but the word parado has a wide range of meanings. It also implies having the oricha “standing up,” an expression that is also used to describe a man’s sex organ at important moments. Oddly, it can also imply being “stopped,” "stunned," or “standing on end.” I particularly like this last one as it compares the oricha to your hair after a shower: it’s a little crazy because it´s still in process.


  1. Maybe you could help me make sense of something I am having hard time parsing out. I have also seen the phrase 'santo parado' used in reference to traditions where blood relatives inherit shrines and, by right of inheritance rather than initiation, perform rituals for their community.

    Is this just a term that has been used to refer to several distinct phenomena? Or do these people you talk about also have lineage shrines?

  2. Where have you heard this? Just curious...

    In Lucumí, family members can inherit altars, shrines, fundamentos--whatever you want to call them. And they are expected to continue to attend to the oricha for themselves and the family. They are not usually expected to celebrate rituals for any larger community.

    For other examples you might try Randy Matory´s first book that does explore the phenomenon in modern Yoruba communities.

  3. The most recent place I saw santo parado described in this way was over at, though I know this isn't the first time I heard it formulated as such.

    From there:

    "In the Cuban countryside, and especially in the plantations and sugar mills, the Lukumí religion was carried on in a manner similar to the more personal, family-oriented worship practiced commonly in Yoruba compounds. In this system, the orisha was consecrated for the entire compound or household. The oracles indicated a representative from the family to attend to the deity=s worship and certain ceremonies were performed to grant this individual the right to do so. After being so empowered, he or she could perform cleansing rituals, divination, offerings, and other rites for the compound or community typically performed by an ordained Olorisha. Upon the individual=s death, the deity was inherited by a relative previously chosen by the deceased or determined in divination. This person, although considered an Olorisha because he or she attended to the deity, was not duly ordained into the priesthood; that is, he or she was not crowned. This type of worship in Cuba was called santo parado (standing saint [orisha]), or santo de dotación (workgang's saint)."

    Which is pretty much what Matory describes in Sex and the Empire.... I probably should be a little more careful with my own language. When I said 'community,' I just meant that compound relation, which is a little more complicated than just family (at least as I tend to think of 'family').

  4. As an aside, though, there does seem to be a difference between inheritance within a Lukumi line and the sort of inheritance described by Matory and this country tradition.

    In Lukumi, the itutu determines *if* an orisha will stay and be inherited, while in these traditions, it is *presumed* that the orisha will be inherited and it is only a matter of determining who exactly the inheritor will be.

    Also, at least in Matory's study, it seems that what is inherited is not simply the orisha and its ache, but the ache of the recently deceased priest. Although, again, I have only read one substantive account of the New World itutu and, even that, in reference to the practice in Brazil, not Cuba (much to my dismay, I can't remember the source for that Brazilian itutu).

    Though, again, if I understand Matory's point in Black Atlantic Religion, this rests upon a fundamental divergence that occurs in African religion more broadly--namely, that there is a kind of religiosity associated with kingly traditions that "steal" children away from their patrilines in order to lay claim to them as "wives" (thus establishing royal authority over rivals) and an "acephalous" (for the lack of a better word) tradition rooted in local village/compound/family dynamics.

    While Matory focuses on the Yoruba angle, it seems like it would also well describe what is going on in Dahomey and Dahomey-influenced traditions as well.

  5. Two thoughts:

    When an oricha is inherited in itutu in Lucumí, I have been taught that the specific oricha is there to protect the inheritor but really as an extension of the aché of the priest whose oricha it was originally, so I think it is not too different from what Matory describes.

    The acephalous nature of Lucumí and Arará traditions (writ small, i.e. in Cuba and its diaspora)is well-documented and the source of much ideological struggle and/or work.

  6. A thought for a thought.

    As I understand Matory's example, the new initiate basically replaces the deceased initiate. They inherit the priestly duties, too. The ache isn't just for the inheritor, but for the compound as a whole. That seems to be a pretty dramatic difference from the Lucumi case where the inherited alone can access the ache of the inherited orisha.

    I'm not sure Lucumi is really acephalous like the village-compound-family traditions in Africa or the 'santo parado' Ramos describes (and I don't think those two are quite identical forms, either). It is an interesting hybrid case. The pattern of initiation in Lucumi rites tends to operate like the royal traditions--namely, the initiate is 'reborn' into a new family, that of the ile. The commitments that come with that initiations are to fellow initiates first ("the religion of godparents and godchildren").

    Contrast this with the inherited traditions. I ask, in part, about how your use of the term 'santo parado' relates to the other use because of this. If both uses refer to different aspects of the same tradition...well, that's a long discussion!

    It gets mighty interesting to think about people like Adela Alonso and Armando Zulueta as folks operating in the trading zone between two forms of orisha worship.

  7. In practice, I think it more like being reborn into a second family. I have yet to see an initiate look to the commitments to other initiates as first. More often it is additional commitments.

    It is hard to tell with so little data if we are talking about different aspects of the same tradition or not. That said, Armando spent many years working with santo parado, so it seems relatively clear that he was operating the trading zone between two forms of oricha worship, as you put it.

  8. "In practice, I think it more like being reborn into a second family. I have yet to see an initiate look to the commitments to other initiates as first. More often it is additional commitments."

    That's a good point. I tend to lose sight of the 'in practice' from time to time; a little too much reading, perhaps.

    I picked up the 'trading zone' phrasing from Peter Gallison's Image and Logic. I like it just because it emphasizes the negotiations and the conditions under which they occur.

  9. Is Santo Parado the same as Santo Lavado?

  10. Santo parado refers to people who have received their head oricha without being crowned but still embody that oricha in possession. Sixty years ago this was very, very common, and it still happens in the countryside in Cuba.

  11. I just received a Lukumi Orisha via an Elder's itutu. I've not been active in Orisha for a few years now. What does this entail??


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