Gods of Santeria
After a long gap of doing other things, artistic inspiration seized my hand and I started doodling. We are in Venezuela, waiting out the hurricane season, learning Spanish language in a serious way. First complete book that I read in Spanish was a learned discourse on Santeria, a syncretic religion practised in Cuba, Porto Rico and Venezuela. Term “syncretic” suggests a mixture of two religions, but Santeria is anything but syncretic. Catholics contributed names, everything else comes from Yoruba, currently a part of Nigeria. Orisha, the gods of Santeria, are elusive: they change shape, they change gender, they behave even worse than people. Fratricide, adultery and incest are common, myth and legends are fluid and cruel, yet full of humour. Inspired by such a fresh view on a sacred pantheon, I drew a few “guardian deities” on the first pages of my new log book, to light my way.
Eleggua is a guardian of the paths, opener of the doors, without his help no other Orisha can do a thing for you. Original doodlings in the journal were done with left hand (I am a right hander). I am not sure why, but it feels right.
Yemaya, known in Brazil as Yemanja, is a goddes of the sea, part woman and part fish, unless she feels like taking other shape. You don’t want to hear about her marital life, nor about all the progeny that her own son sired on her.
Olokum is a dark horse, a late arrival in the Caribbean. Guardian of the ocean depth, he is chained to the sea bottom as punishment for trying to drown the entire human race. The only Orisha that cannot possess its priests during the rituals, as he is the ocean in its entirety.
I am not sure how the iguana ended up on the next page. Two dozen of them are prowling around the marina where we are staying. Four foot long, once they warm up in the sun in the morning they behave like spoiled vegetarian cats. Love banana skins and papaya peels.
After first few pages of benedictions I made a cover for the journal. A4 size, paper is old nautical charts cut to size. Beads around the edge are a genuine Santeria neckless dedicated to Ellegua. Black and red are his colours. Eleggua outline is from another neckless that we were given by a manic Indian Swami from Trinidad. Eyes and mouth from small cowrie shells traditionally dedicated to the Orisha.
Lizard in the corner appeared one day in my sewing box.
While I was at it, I whipped out another cover, a Yemaya. Outline is from the other half of the Swami’s neckless, black hair is a teased rigging rope from my boat, her crotch I cut off from a goat skin that covers my chart table when I am using a type writer.
I was having so much fun that I pinched some canvases from my love and painted a definite version of the Orishas in acrylics.
Eleggua, enamoured of cigars, is about 12″ by 16″. White mouse is one of his animals. Ornament in the bottom left is a “veve” of Eleggua, from Haitian voodoo.
Olokun always wears a mask in front of his face. Steering wheel and a pair of oars belong to him.
One more Yemaya of the long hair. Blue and white are her colours. The writing (all written by left hand) are invocations and benedictions in Yoruba, as practised by today’s Santeros. So I am told.
The last Orisha I painted was Osain, lord of the forests, patron of herbs and herbal medecins. One eye, one leg, one arm, crippled and crooked, result of a rather trying extramarital tryst in the early days of his tenure. Like all the rest of Orishas he is no pussy cat and proper respect is expected. 12×16″ canvas.