Blending beliefs: When Cuban Catholicism meets Yoruba and Santeria

Growing up in a Cuban household is like living in a multi-layered spiritual universe. You might find yourself listening to tales of saints and sinners on Sunday, and then hear whispers of ancestral spirits and divine orishas by Tuesday. The interplay of Catholicism with older world folk spiritual practices like Yoruba and Santeria makes for a weaving of traditions that is as vibrant as it is confounding.

Sunday Mass and Monday Magic

Sundays in our household were pretty standard. We’d go to church, make the sign of the cross, go to CCD, and celebrate our baptisms and first communions. At home, a portrait of the Virgin Mary would serenely look down upon us. But as you turned a corner, there was an intricate bead necklace, or “eleke,” hanging gracefully next to rosaries. And if you dared to delve deeper, perhaps you’d find a hidden room or closet space dedicated to the orishas, complete with candles, fruits, and the rhythmic beat of bata drums.

The Protective Power of the Evil Eye

One of the most perplexing integrations of beliefs can be seen with the evil eye – or “mal de ojo.” This age-old symbol, believed by many to ward off negative energy, can be found hanging next to our family’s crucifixes.

The emblem of the evil eye traces its origins to Mesopotamia around 5000 BC and finds resonance in Christian, Jewish, Muslim, Buddhist, and Hindu traditions. Throughout history, humans have gravitated towards protective talismans and symbols imbued with significance for safeguarding and direction.

Now, the irony doesn’t escape me. Here we are, a devout Catholic family, seeking protection from an amulet that originates from ancient civilizations and pagan practices. Yet, it doesn’t seem out of place to us. In fact, the blend seems almost… natural.

Dictating Our Luck

Cuban spirituality isn’t just about seeking protection or appeasing deities. It’s about actively engaging with the universe to dictate our own fortunes. That might involve lighting a candle to Saint Lazarus or consulting a Babalao, a Santeria priest, to throw cowrie shells and decipher the patterns, revealing the messages from the orishas.

But the real comedy begins when family members take matters into their own hands. Tia Maria might swear by sprinkling salt at the doorstep to keep bad vibes at bay. Meanwhile, Abuela will have none of that and will promptly sweep it away, muttering about how salt might ruin her freshly washed floors.

Embracing the Chaos

There are times, of course, when these overlapping beliefs create confusion. Like when a family member is torn between wearing a Saint Christopher medal for a journey or an eleke dedicated to Elegua, the orisha of crossroads and opportunities. Or when we can’t decide if it’s a patron saint’s feast or an orisha’s celebration that deserves a bigger party.

But here’s the wonderful thing about it: in the midst of this delightful chaos, our Cuban family has found a way to embrace it all, to cherish every ritual, every symbol, and every belief.

For many, spirituality is a straightforward path. But for a Cuban family deeply rooted in a medley of traditions, it’s a dance — a dance that celebrates the past, acknowledges the present, and hopes for a blessed future. And as we cha-cha-cha between Catholicism, Santeria, and old-world beliefs, we can’t help but smile at the humor and heart of our wonderfully tangled web of faith.

Keep the faith, but most important — keep the family. Join us at and learn about the Cuban community’s very complicated but colorful culture.

There is power in prayer. May God bless us all.

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