Some people talk bad about Sanse's seeming eclecticism of borrowing from several traditions. These people are overall not really familiar with the tradition, and see or hear of our tools, rituals, statues, or pots and often mistake things for what they are in other african traditions because they look similar. While it is true some people of every tradition add or do things they are not supposed to in their tradition, it really is a disservice to blame the tradition itself which has some similar origin.
While it is true there are regional or house variances, some things do remain the same (for the most part calling the spirits with small variation, initiations and ways to make objects) which define the cultural branch, so it is not true to say there is no one commonality of tradition within a Voudou branch either. People will always say other people are not doing things right but these and certain things should remain relatively the same. Within a branch depending on lineage in Sanse or other branches of Voudou, they may have a different group of spirits served, depending on a) branch or b) temple, c) personal frame or entourage of spirits called a spiritual cuadro, court or frame, which is not chosen by the individual and revealed in ritual.
We should respect the traditions of the new world as being seperate localized mixes in Voudou, and their beautiful differences in the diaspora which are no longer entirely the same as it was in Africa. In some such as in Palo Mayombe moreso especially, and various Palo branches are purely Congo. Whereas the Lucumi religions of Ocha who serve the Orisha, incorrectly termed Santeria (folk magic with saints) retained its Yoruban roots with varying degrees of Catholicsm. Some have gone back to Nigeria and practice Ifa, the root Orisha religion. In the diaspora, the saints are viewed as being on par with the misterios (Orisha or Lwa), or the misterios are viewed as saints, thus confusion, We are monotheist despite claims of how it might have been once in Africa at one time past.
Sanse is a puertorican branch of Voudou, roughly 100 years old, it is predominately west african and catholic in pantheon but has strong congo roots. Our music is all palos, congo drum beats. Voudou such as in Haiti honors the different african tribes, with families of Lwa, and nations, called in order with different dances and drumbeats. It is our belief that an exhiled dominican man who was a Papa Boko of 21 divisions, also called Dominican Voudou by nonlocals, came to Puerto Rico and pacted with Baron Samedi, a Ghede Lwa to form the tradition of Sanse when he saw the local spiritism with the dead. New Voudou lineages and changes in reglemen or rules cannot become created alone from a man or woman declaring it to be so. This is how some of the reglemen in Haiti with the asson lineage was solidified after the first revolution, with a Houngan and the Lwa Loko.
There is not largely a haitian inheritance into Sanse, although many in the north and border of Haiti still practice the tcha tcha lineage way of 21 divisions. We see their Lwa as cousins if not shared, but they can come through. And in the case of our house, many family members and great godparents and uncles were haitian. We stick mainly to the cool tolerant Ginen root Lwa of the Rada, although Petro can be present for a person and honored. They are otherwise not generally called or worked with in our branch of Sanse. We do have 21 divisions in our house and that would be more the route if to be a regular practice. Many haitian houses also do this, only serve Ginen.
Some houses in Voudou avoid the Ghede too, but Sanse deals more with the nonancestral dead like Palo, than some other branches of Voudou or Ocha, where there is some taboo or just not the focus. The ghede are important in Sanse because of voudou, and our focus with the dead. I was taught how to call and do some Petro Lwa management, but would not do this except in crises, nor readily teach this until a student could show responsibility and had learned everything else first in Sanse. I respect them no less than the other misterios, but know how hot even Candelo can be in his manifestations when irked in physical mediumship, or some ensclavos slaves or even dead in a misa or fete, that it is more than most people not raised in the culture can understand or deal with outside of speculation, nevermind purposefully invite.
The dead when they operate this way are easier for an espiritista to deal with than the force of Petro Lwa, even by priests, who cannot really be controlled only guided or calmed. The Petro are revolutionary and warlike, outside social mandates, can be psychotic or demonic, not evil, but can be unforgiving, be demanding, deal out punishments, act aggressively or be violent. To put a candle and do a spell infront of a statue or image and say it is an anima sola (tormented "purgatorial" or earthound dead) or Petro spirit is different than them actually being present or served, using necromancy or know how to deal with them safely. There is alot of wishing, hopeful thinking, foolish egotistical ineffective or unsafe practices, and over intellectual self gratification versus actual (oh shit) moment of actual work and of unimaginable feats, presence and fallout.
There was a greater movement between the caribbean islands than there was caribbean to America until recently. But this does not mean Sanse practices the same as the haitians or cubans. Nor do we practice the same as the dominicans, although we view them as our parent, and we are closer, markedly in my house. Cuban espiritismo is very close to the espiritismo in Sanse, but not exactly the same. They keep their ancestors and guides seperate on the boveda and on a spiritual table or tableau espiritual. I am not as familiar, but they seem more christianized.
European academics called everything african in the new world voodoo, adding to the confusion to the layperson. Sanse practices spiritism mixed with local ancestral practices, more correctly folk spiritism espiritismo, heavily influenced by Allan Kardec and Catholicism. However the seances, also called reunions, sessions or misas are kept seperate from the higher spirits called misterios such as the Lwa in Voudou services. The table of our dead of guides and ancestors is kept seperate than the divisional table with the Lwa. Most saints are kept off the boveda in my Sanse unless for a specific reason such as for light or as a cover for the main spirit guide. The saints are kept with some of the Lwa. It can be seen as two traditions in one, yet kept distinct.
It is rare but there are a few exceptions to this rule of seperation, as in cuban espiritsimo higher misterios but heavily related to the dead such as the form of St Lazarus or as Babaluaye, I have heard, has come to misa in physical mediumship or mounted a person, likely when there was Santerismo ( practioners of both espiritismo and Ocha present). I have not seen this but Candelo has come to a crowning in epiritismo with misa when there were sancistas, santeros and palero/as present. He is very important in our temple and although viewed now as elevated Rada, he has Petro aspects by being a new world or american spirit, and viewed as coming up through being a Ghede slave.
Picture of Lwa Manifestation of General Candelo Cedife in waterglass smoking 3 candles
Otherwise the Lwa do not come to seances. We can have any dead come, hopefully the good only if the session was set right, although part of our work is to help and process other spirits. This means dead houngans, mambos, mama mambos or papa bokos, santeros, paleros, africans of several tribes etc as priests can come. Most times they retain their religions, and will take on aspects of a higher misterio as they become like in energy stream. They may act like or give the name of a Lwa, which many outsiders or unpracticed will take for the Lwa themself, but they are really an emissary an emissario dead of this other spirit. For example they may say I am Ogun, or Charles Ogun or Ogun Charles or give some other combination of names. There are many ways of determining who the spirit is when they come and names are only a small part of our assessment as priest/esses. This is why some people mistakenly get upset that they think people are claiming Lwa are coming or being faked in seance, when it is still the dead.
Although any Orisha acknowledged are under Ogun in Voudou as the Nago nation, we do not view Ogun as the most part as being the same as the Orisha Ogun, and the Lwa are legion or many under a chief/tess, whereas the Orisha are seen as one Ogun but having different roads or paths like flavors to their aspects. For example there are almost limitless Legbas in the Legba or Lebane family, but most people have only heard of Papa Legba. Wheras to my understanding, as I cannot legitimately speak on the religion of Ocha or Ifa, there is only one Yemaya, Babluaye, or Ochosi but with different "appearances"or ways to come through.
Candle manifestation of my Legba during a simple offering. I never touched the wick to make the cross and staff arrangements.
I was using St Christopher at the time, still do along with St Anthony
Because slavery had a mix of african tribes in the caribbean plantations, some lineages retained a handful of familial or hereditary Orisha along with their Lwa in Hispanola or Puertorico. As there are hundreds of Orisha, not many made its way into the predominately west african influenced sect. There is not a whole pantheon to select from, neither is that the way Lwa or Orisha are worked with. In Hispanola they may still use just the ovoid smooth river rocks to represent their spirits, or throw the cowrie shells Ifa, which is not generally found within Voudou orthodoxy:temple religion. They can use special stones to represent Lwa. There are these family lineages who may retain only about 2-3 spirits they pass down to their children, who may never kanzo or initiate into the religion, but be associated possibly with temples, especially for larger issues. In Sanse we do not throw shells of the dillogun, Ifa. Nor the coconut or kola nut shells ncobo to the orisha, nor the chain, or chamalongo to the mpungo palo spirits.
In my lineage of Sanse which was recieved from a puertorican family tradition, we do not work with the Orisha at all. Our spirits are the 7 chief Lwa of our lineage, along with handful of other lwa who may be personally interested in the individual. My godbrother who is also puertorican, came from another house in Sanse before joining ours, and does honor a few orisha in his spiritual court. I believe this is because of his bloodline, but also a few Orisha may call to a person regardless of race. The difference is in working with the spirits who are truely in our spiritual court, besides our 7 Lwa pantheon. I have no Orisha as a Sancista, however the congo do call me. 4 people therefore, within 2 temples and 2 puertorican family groups, have one or two each of Orisha that I know of. So that is about 5 percent or less that are known in my experience of people who have Orisha coming through Sanse or associated espiritistas. I am not saying this is generally true. When this happens that an Orisha stands for a person in Sanse we can give general offerings, petitions and fetes to the personally involved Orisha.
However we do not crown or give the Orisha.We do not make items under the Orisha such as macoutes (like a paket), elekes (necklaces recieved in ritual from the orisha religion rituals) or Orisha pots or in soup tureens as in Ocha. I recommend to be referred to a Santero in our community for further guidance with these spirits to serve them, for directives and any large issues if they are very present. If someone goes to a Santero outside of Sanse, with no prior contact with Orisha, now with direction honor their Orisha, they do not now include them in Sanse, they are kept seperate as Ocha. We can petition, but should consult with a priest to mediate the offering desired if serious to make them happy because the shells and authority speak for the Orisha, not just by psychic thought, and they do not always want the same thing all the time and for different work.
They are otherwise treated as a saint, but we know our spiritism can be 20% wrong if we are excellent, and to have humility and respect. One must receive Orisha in Lucumi religion properly to do work for others with Orisha, and empty statues are not the point worked with. Just because we have an africana spirit guide, does not mean we can give them things to make under an Orisha for another person. Our spirit guide would work for us only on these matters on their discretion with or without our request or without our direct involvement. We are Voudouisants and Espiritistas and not Olorishas. Repeat: We are not Orisha priests. Even when people receive the Orishas in Ocha, there are levels that they can only work with them for themself, and not other people as priestclass. There are many many taboos in the regla of Ocha to be observed: rules. It does not matter that spiritualism has made is way into indigenous cultures all over the world, that we can now claim to properly work with their spirits either.
I will say that folk saints are the exception. We should honor and be sensitive to their cultural origin, but again, they are the dead. They will have more personal preferance who they want to work with or if they are in your court/ than cannonized recognized official saints who can also show interest or preferance. They mostly like to be kept by themself, and honored in specific locations. Official saints can be approached by anyone, but again they might just be a beneficial or random dead stepping into that mask, which is problematic for the unitiated working with african spirits through or with the saints or any images......without the spirit point, crowning or direct guidance. Official saints are venerated elevated dead, and the Lwa, not all of them have had human lives, nor the Orisha.
If a person has a frame with more Orisha, they should consider Ocha or Ifa instead or as well after Sanse. (perhaps due to the order sometimes desired by crowning Orisha). If they have alot of congo dead, they should maybe look into Palo. That doesn't mean they should not do Sanse however, which can only add ability or psychic sensitivity. Some like the purity, groundedness and coolness that Sanse can balance a more firey or lofty tradition, although these other religions are on their own and independent entirely. If a person has a lot of problems with the dead, or their dead require a misa, a santero may then refer them to an espiritista however, if they themself do not practice this, have them host a misa for the dead in their community. Some in Ocha, as stated, are also espiritistas, and so are some palero/as also espiritistas. Some in Ocha or Ifa are also in Palo, but we keep our religions and traditions clear and seperate when practiced. But when outsiders see a priest with various items or practices, even if seperate, might think them all the same culture or tradition. We have many traditions and african religions in our house and we respect each other.
As sancistas, we do not work with the Mpungo spirits, incorrectly called the fetish name Nkisi's of Palo. We do not use the symbols or sigils, the firmas, patipembas, or ponto riscados of Palo, or the Exu and Pomba Gira spirits of brazilian Candomble, nor any other diasporic cult. We do not wear the cross body bead sash, the bandera of Palo. Our spiritual cauldren, cardero or caldero resembles an nganga, kindembo or prenda, but is not built the same, neither is it under the guardian as in Palo. It is also a portal to the dead, especially congo for us. And in Sanse there is normally no animal sacrifice, which is needed to feed alot of these items, rituals and offerings made in the other branches of Voudou, and other religions of Palo and Ocha. So we should not claim or pretend we are the same, and it does not make us as sancistas, any less. Normally the Petro or sometimes Ghede rituals do require blood, and this can be outsourced within our community unless a Sancista is crosstrained.
We have a clay pot called a tindjo that some lineages of Dominican Voudou have, as a portal for the indian spirits, especially the Taino and Arawak speaking first peoples who lived in many areas such as Puerto Rico and Hispanola, especially if this is represented in our guides or ethnicity. We do not make pots for every single Lwa or for Orishas, but we do have a head pot with our guardian Lwa which also links us to our frame. We do have some small pots beside guide dolls if they cannot be hollowed out to be prepared to contain their secrets.
When you see "new age" items, or other modern religions and ideas such as Wicca, added or other cultural influences it is a personal preference, heritage, or an addition, or under the personal preferance of a spirit guide such as astrology with an asian or arabian spirit guide. Our guides retain their folk practices or religions, such as you may see a Ganesh elephant god statue beside a Hindu spirit, on or beside the mesa blanca white table. That doesn't mean that kundalini, chakras, or now Hinduism, other paganism, their gods or polytheism is now Sanse. But that doesn't mean you shouldn't explore the teachings of these areas if your guide tells you. There is no one true religion revealed on the otherside once we die. It is my belief that we go and who we associate with as spirits is where we have spiritually aligned. This can change after lifetimes or incarnations. We rectify the idea of other gods as not needed in our framework, as demigods or on the mystery level, and that there is still one unifying manifesting source. That does not mean it is ok to keep greco-roman or european gods with the Lwa, although Thor is used by some for the Lwa Papa Sobo and Bade twins because of the goats and association with lightening. I mean, Barbies can be used, hair dressing heads, movie posters, or baby dolls too for some Lwa. The point is keep the traditions seperate, despite the imagery seen.
Many like the idea of ceremonial magic, but truely most people have a poor understanding of the grimoires. The inclusion of catholicism/christanity is heavily veiled mysticim and qaballah magic itself. We can practice all kinds of folk magic, hoodoo, or congo spells, even under our misterios or muertos/dead but this is not Voudou nor Sanse propers core. We do not do hurtful magic and call it Voudou. We can add what we like and have flexibility and in the way we do and interpret as we are not overly dogmatic as long as it is not claimed by anothers religion in which we have no right or authority which would be disrespectful. Be clear about what is original to be preserved. We need to be clear what is Sanse. And hopefully I have been clear what Sanse is, and what my Sanse looks like.
My godfather says, "you can add, but never take away, and be clear what you have added". Sanse is not therefore, anything and everything added including the whole fridge and kitchen sink.
That's why I teach 100% traditional, as I was taught, and then explain how I like to practice if any differences they might see, and the reasons why the change is acceptable. For example, heartfelt prayer in the right energy polarity and elements needed, yet nonchristian, can be used, although I do both in espiritismo. It is up to the child how to proceed traditional or their educated variant, yet able to pass on the tradition intact. This also helps one learning to understand the why of how we do things and what the words mean in code, instead of parroting memorized scripts, adds feeling and success to the desired effect.
It is true spiritualism or working with the dead is not a religion, but in my opinion Voudou is even if some say Sanse is a spiritual path and not religion, and is compatible with any religion that believes in a higher power, it still contains Voudou, is not a solitary practice, within a society. It is true that these religions are more a way of life than some, in comparison to leaving it at the church on Sunday, as a living tradition because it is so experiential. Some do practice espiritismo unbaptised (uninitiated), or by association, but the protection it can afford, and the inner teachings are imperative with a lot of involvement or when "unwanted" possession or getting ridden by spirits occurred that mediumship is happening. Inversely if no or limited experiences are happening it can help evolve your abilities and forge these spiritual relationships and connections.
Let's respect the traditions and keep them intact and alive, even if they evolve. The problem comes when confusing other people, when there is no training in these other traditions. People think Candelo, Orisha or espiritismo such as Mama Francisca is Palo Mayombe. Some Orisha did go into other branches of Palo and Christianity. People thinking spirit guides or Candelo are folk saints, or that La madama is one person anyone can work in hoodoo. People tagging Chango statues as Candelo, the list goes on.
This is understandably why some people get protective of their traditions, when it seems people confused are mudding the waters or straight fraudulent. People think they can do whatever they want uninitiated can fool themself, but its sad when misrepresented to others and then a game of telephone ensues. Especially when people have heart, respect, and faith and want to truely learn their spiritual path and religion, and want to pay their dues, which can only be done within a legit house and ceremony. It is the initiated priests job to be the bridge to the community and provide services. Respect these traditions people have died and sacrificed so much to keep them intact, and dedicate their lives to. Support the traditions by getting guidance properly.
I do not mean to offend any Sancistas, Espiritistas, or legitimate priest/ess in the african diaspora, and I do not need to defend myself or Sanse, but rather to explain how we do things and address the bias that I have seen people talk bad about Sanse, from my point of view, as it saddens me. Hopefully this will help the people that do this see what it is we really do, or in my lineage do.
Let there be peace between brothers,
as together we are stronger.
Sancista Siete Encruzhiladas