03 August 2009

Religious Freedom Unless You're A Goat

The Texas Religious Freedom Restoration Act is the political result of the power of the conservative Christian movement in the state. Ironically, one of its first applications is to preserve the right of Santeria believers to sacrifice goats in their own homes despite municipal restrictions on slaughtering animals without a permit.

Modern-day Santeria originated in Cuba and is a fusion of western African tribal religion and some elements of Roman Catholicism. Its practice centers around spirits called orishas, which are divine representatives of Olodumare, the supreme deity. Santeria rituals seek to engage these orishas, honor them, and encourage their involvement in the material world. Doing so requires the use of life energy, or ashé, the highest concentration of which is found in animal blood. Thus many Santeria rituals involve the sacrifice of live animals to transfer ashé to the orishas. Although animal sacrifices are used to celebrate a range of events, including birth, marriage, and death, the most complex ceremony takes place when a new priest is initiated. This ceremony, at which a new shrine is consecrated, generally involves a sacrifice of five to seven fourlegged animals (lambs or goats), a turtle, a duck, ten to fourteen chickens, five to seven guinea hens, and ten to fourteen doves in addition to other elements (songs, drum music, and the offering of other objects). The animals are usually cooked and eaten after these sacrifices. Santeria ceremonies are highly dependent on the will of the orisha to which they are directed. Home shrines, which are symbols or physical manifestations of the orishas, are integral to Santeria, and ceremonies and sacrifices usually take place in the home of the officiating priest, although occasionally they may take place in a temple or at the home shrine of another priest. The orishas determine where sacrifices are to be conducted, and the priests divine the orishas’ will by a complex divination process. There are more than 250,000 practitioners of Santeria in the world, but only two Santeria temples, neither of which is in the continental United States. Thus, home sacrifice is not only the norm, but a crucial aspect of Santeria, without which Santeria would effectively cease to exist.

Historically, conservative Christians have been a leading force trying wipe out pagan practices and their resurgence. One of the most comprehensive efforts to wipe out ancient history and culture in the human experience took place for just this reason in the late Roman Emprie. These days, pagans and conservative Christians are political allies, albeit, sometimes unintended ones.

1 comment:

Dave Barnes said...