Wheaton Alumni Discuss Modern Santeria Practice

Wheaton alumni Judith Gil ’13 and Raul Gil ’12 came to Wheaton on Sept. 21 to discuss their experiences in the modern practice of Santeria with Wheaton students in the Woolley Room of Mary Lyon.

In honor of Hispanic Studies month, TRYBE, Latin Students Association, and Paraiso Latino all collaborated in order to bring the lecture to Wheaton. The purpose of the lecture was to clear up common myths about the Afro-Cuban religion and for the alumni to teach students about the positive experiences they have had with Santeria.

Judith Gil stated that although Santeria is often depicted as demonic, unholy, and ungodly, it actually encourages connections to a monotheistic God and is often sought out by practitioners for its healing properties. Santeria has been growing in pop culture recently, with several celebrities connecting to the religion, including Beyonce, Jay-Z, Usher, and more. However, the Gil’s came to the practice after Judith experienced health problems.

“It saved my life and changed my world,” stated Judith, who became initiated into Santeria after she said it helped to heal a cyst on her ovary, without the help of medicine or surgeries. She credits Santeria with bringing her the healing power that traditional medicine never could.

In Santeria, practitioners go through a yearlong initiation, during which they must shave their heads, wear all white, and cannot dance, drink or participate in vain activities. This brings them closer to God through a spiritual cleansing. People in the Santeria religion worship Orishas, or extensions of God that represent different aspects of nature.

Raul Gil, who himself is currently going through this initiation, provided students with a demonstration of traditional Santeria dancing, which is performed with special drums called Batas.In Santeria, dances are a way to represent the Orishas in a physical manner, and to bring yourself closer to these extensions of God. The belief is that these Orishas have lived every possible outcome of every possible life, and are therefore like guardian angels in that they can provide advice for any aspect of life.

The lecture attempted to demonstrate how the modern practice of Santeria can bring health and prosperity to its practitioners in different ways. Santeria can be practiced in conjunction with any other religion, including Christianity, Judaism, and Buddhism. Not all those who practice Santeria go through initiation, and levels of participation vary greatly. Religion is an important aspect of any culture, and Santeria has continually proven to be a large part of modern Cuban culture.