About an hour ago, the wonderful owner of The Hoodoo Shop and related blog, Carolina González, commented on some terminology I used in a reply that syncretized the saints with the lwa and the orishas. Given her long-time working relationship with all three groups of entities, she is quite well positioned to point out the faux pas on my part (thank you). As I explained to her, I used syncretic language in my reply, the language of association and sameness for the saints in relation to the lwa and orishas because that is common in African Diaspora traditions, having passed through centuries of Christian religious influence. So, despite the fact that I dislike syncretism in its forms, I found myself using that language…and not immediately noticing the problem with it in this particular case. So, that explains it…but does that excuse it? I think not. Why? Because if it were any other religious tradition besides Christianity, I do not think I would have made that mistake. It’s awful, but it’s true. Also, my explanation does not excuse the faux pas because the saints (and other entities in the Christian worldview) are individual forces, separate from the orisha and from the lwa.
Sometimes, I find myself so far off the shore of Christian cosmology that I forget that I actually do believe the Christian god, Jesus, the angels, and the saints are out in the universe doing whatever it is that they choose to do. Because I chronically forget that belief of mine, at times I am tempted in the case of saints and angels to treat them like simple color correspondences for the orishas and for the lwa as well. I am fully aware that each group are separate entities but the tendency of saints to sometimes lend their face to orishas and to lwa makes it even harder to break that habit of using terminology that syncs them (or rather terminology that syncs their iconography!). They are indeed separate beings; I know this to be true. But I wonder about their iconography. Does that belong only to the saints?
So how does one deal with this? I pose this question because I do not work with the saints. They have not called to me, at least I don’t think. Each time I thought I was being approached by a saint, it was a little awkward dance with me and the entity until the entity revealed itself more clearly as an orisha or lwa. Given their centuries of sharing a face, is it problematic on my part to think that an orisha or lwa can throw a saint candle at a person to get their attention or inundate a person with a host of saint references to get the person to raise an eye in their direction?? If that is problematic, if the orisha and lwa do not – at least sometimes – work that way, then I am screwed because now I have to figure out how to get in touch with and appease/apologize to two saints who work within yet another religious tradition system that I would have to become at least mildly conversant in (I was not raised Catholic).This scenario would also cast a bit of a shadow on my budding relationship with one particular lwa.
Again, I am not a fan of syncretism because it conflates entities, shadows their unique being, and obscures their very real individual existence. I think the saints “meet” orisha and lwa situation is an interesting one because it seems to me that on occasion the orisha and the lwa will borrow a saint candle or website to get a person’s attention and awaken her to their presence. That’s what seems to have happened in my situation. The relationships I have formed with one Orisha and one Lwa – which both started with the faces of saints – feel right to me. They feel good. They feel like they may go or are already going somewhere. But what of the saints whose faces they borrowed?