Miguel W. Ramos, Obá Oriaté
Florida International University, Department of History
May, 2008

The discovery of iron by early human civilizations some 10,000 years ago permanently transformed humankind. Iron became fundamental in tool-making, but even more so in agriculture, with the invention of the plow. This new tool revolutionized agricultural production, and by extension human society, by exponentially multiplying the amount of food that people could produce. The technological advances that followed had a direct effect on human intellectual development by placing greater demands on the brain that allowed for the expansion of the existing knowledge base. Humanity crossed a major intersection.

For the Lukumí and their Yoruba forebears, an orisha or deity was responsible for this process: Ogún, the orisha of iron and war.[2] The roles played by this deity are multiple, as are the uses of the element with which he is associated. While there is no doubt that iron tools and implements brought unprecedented growth and advancement to humankind, iron also gave birth to more efficient tools and weaponry that proved destructive to every aspect of the natural world, humankind included. Hence, while considered benefactors and promoters of change, prosperity and growth, Ogún and iron are also atrocious and bloodthirsty warriors that when enraged, castigate with death, destruction and misery.

Ogún’s wrath can be brutal. For some, this brutality influences his intellectual capacity. In the modern world, olorishas—priests/priestesses—associate Ogún with trains, automobiles, airplanes, guns, tanks, and everything that is made of iron–and by extension, metal.[3] They seek his assistance to avoid unnecessary “contact” with his element: accidents, violent crimes, unexpected surgeries, warfare. Few however associate Ogún with intellectual pursuits. In fact, many olorishas often perceive and describe Ogún as un santo bruto. In Spanish, the term bruto implies someone that is not only brutal in terms of strength and behavior, but also suggests a lack intelligence.

Albeit, if iron is acknowledged as one of humanity’s most influential discoveries, then from a Lukumí-Yoruba perspective, Ogún is one of the most important deities of the pantheon. Thus, the deity of iron and war is also the patron of rationalization, creativity and ingenuity. Far from being bruto, Ogún is possibly the most intellectual of the Lukumí-Yoruba orishas. He presides over all forms of technological innovation and human inventiveness. In the modern era, then, Ogún should also be associated with all intellectual endeavors and places of learning—schools, universities, repositories—as well as with the fruits of these pursuits. In the final decades of the twentieth century and thereafter, this aspect of Ogún’s influence has been most strongly felt in the age of computers and the Internet, the most recent intersection crossed by humankind. Maferefún Ogún![4]

I began participating in the online community in 1995. Initially I was an enthusiastic participant, as my expectations were that this medium would benefit the Lukumí and Orisha communities in this country by bringing us together.[5] Soon after, though, I noticed that a completely different world was emerging. In constructing my hypothesis about the value of the Net, I failed to account for the most elemental factor: human beings. Like its “patron deity” and the ancient discovery he presided over, the Internet is an ambiguous medium. It has proven to be one of the, if not the, most revolutionary inventions since the creation of the plow some 6,000 years ago. Its greater proliferation in the 1990s opened up an entirely new medium of communication for the growing Lukumí communities in the United States. Until this point, these groups had interchanged on a more localized level; through personal interaction in rituals and religious festivities; or by mail and/or telephone, especially when communicating with religious forbears in Cuba or outside of the local communities.

It has been estimated that by 1998, ten years after the Internet’s explosion, there were 159 million Internet users across the world, the greater part of these—88.3 million—in the U.S.[6] These figures are not surprising, as the U.S. was and continues to be the country in which there are the greatest numbers of personal computer users.[7] The Lukumí were no doubt an insignificant minority in terms of the greater Internet community. However, by no means was the Internet insignificant for those Lukumí that ventured into cyberspace soon after the “super highway” opened and the general public began using it. Many saw the Internet as an important network that could be put to positive use to research their religious legacy and share it with their Osha family.[8] For others, it was a means of keeping in touch with their religious elders or family. Most saw the Net as a positive medium for clarifying social stigmas, exchanging information, elucidating the misinformed, and expanding the U.S. Lukumí/Orisha knowledge base. Some even went as far as predicting that cyberspace would eventually transform Lukumí devotion and ritual processes; the possibility of online rituals and ceremonies in the cyber world!

Conversely, there were those who perceived the Internet as a new means to proselytize and sell their religious services. By the mid 1990s, unscrupulous olorishas—“headhunters”—charlatans and frauds portrayed themselves online as qualified and experienced olorishas, boasting about their great knowledge and their many years of practice. Some of these had been recently ordained, in the U.S. or Cuba, but the Internet provided an anonymous veil. A number of people fell prey to these individuals and were subsequently ordained—and exploited—by cyber-olorishas whose ethics and level of religiosity left much to be desired. Many of the victims were credulous dreamers; Bohemians in search of a magical cure-all to assuage all their troubles, and were just as culpable as the deceitful olorishas they had encountered online. These newcomers to the religion frequently used the medium to vent about the abuses that they had suffered at the hands of dishonest individuals, and were often disparaged by other members of cyber-community who blamed them as much as the ones that had taken advantage of them.

Political and hegemonic agendas soon made their presence felt as well, and the initial collaborative intentions of some of these Internet pioneers were increasingly frustrated by other Lukumís or Orisha groups that competed with them, disrupting the original dreams of achieving cohesiveness, collective ascendancy, and societal acceptance for the religion. What was originally conceived as a valuable tool to disseminate information and clarify historical social misconceptions was increasingly becoming a brutal field where individual and collective agendas were played out. The anonymity of the new medium made these exploits possible. In a relatively short period of time, the Internet became a new battleground—Ogún’s new war turf—for competing agendas. Traffic began flowing on the communication superhighway and road rage was escalating alongside it.

If, as earlier scholars have suggested, the Internet is truly revolutionizing society, surely the Lukumí are no exception. The first website about Lukumí religion, Orishanet, was founded in 1995. An explosion soon followed. By the year 2000, there were at least one hundred Lukumí or Orisha related sites, and no less than a dozen email lists that included participants from all over the U.S.—the great majority—and other countries. What is not clear is the degree to which this revolution is affecting a religious culture that until the advent of the Internet, had for the most part spread through social networks and personal contacts.

The effects of the Internet on the traditional Lukumí transmission of ritual knowledge through active participation; on the exchanges and interchanges with practitioners of Lukumí religion and other Yoruba-based religions in the U.S. and other areas of the world, and on the creation and/or resolution of intra-group conflict—and now increasingly inter-group as well—are areas that warrant further scrutiny and discussion. In the latter 1990s, a handful of scholars began analyzing some of the issues associated with this medium vis-à-vis the Lukumí/Orisha communities. However, twelve years have lapsed since the first study took place. Given the fast pace at which technology is moving, it may be time to take another look and consider some of the changes that have—or have not—come about through this new medium. The current study will entertain some of the issues that have emerged in the last ten years. It will also suggest areas of concern that need to be addressed in the scholarship. Though the Internet has certainly grown in popularity, its effects on the Lukumí community have been minimal because it has not reached the majority of its members, the older, more traditional olorishas that are not in cyberspace. In the major urban centers of the U.S. where the religion is dominant, the Internet has made little if any inroads for a considerable portion of the religious population.

The research on the use of the Internet by religious communities is still in an embryonic state. The Lukumí are no exception. To date, there are but a handful of noteworthy academic studies of the encounter between the Internet and Orisha worship. The pioneering work of Stefanía Capone, George Brandon and Joseph Murphy are of immense value.[9] Though their research did not deal exclusively with Lukumí religion, these scholars began laying the theoretical framework for future research.

However, the earliest writing and commentaries about the Internet and the Lukumí community online did not originate in academia. Clayton Keck Jr., Afolabí, an American olorisha, began commenting on the use of the Net by U.S. olorishas in his article “Cyber Santeria.”[10] When the use of the Net by the Lukumí was still in its formative years, Afolabí extolled what he believed was the great value of the medium for the Lukumí community, while simultaneously rebuking its misuse by swindlers and frauds that preyed on the weak and credulous. Afolabí was careful to stress that this condition was not limited to Orisha worshippers. He wrote: “Check any other newsgroup or message board, whether it be political, spiritual, sports or entertainment based, and you will find the same rhythm, the same venom and the same desperate attempt to be “King of the Hill.”[11] Unquestionably, the ambiguous effects of the Internet were felt early on.

Afolabí, a young priest ordained in Miami in 1992, had quickly made a name for himself in the growing cyber-Orisha community.[12] Continuously, Afolabí posted on what were probably the two most important forums of the era, Orishanet and Orishalist.[13] Many participants grew to enjoy his commentaries, and Afolabí developed a considerable following in a short period of time. All the same, not everyone liked his candor and the often contemptuous manner with which he expressed his opinions. Afolabí had frequent online scuffles in which very harsh words were exchanged. Still, there is no denying his influence on the Lukumí Internet community in the 1990s. In fact, Afolabí was the individual that lured me into this fascinating world, and soon after, I too found myself posting on these two lists, although for a brief period. Afolabí was also instrumental in the creation of my own website, Eleda.Org, which I began in 2001.

In his article, and his subsequent commentaries on these forums, Afolabí identified the various types of Orisha devotees in cyberspace.[14] Though the categories are quite piquant, they are also significantly revelatory. Cyber “Elders,” he wrote, are those

“. . . armchair Pontiffs” that “. . . present themselves for public scrutiny . . .” on “. . . the net, or at ‘media’ Orisha functions (e.g. classes, lectures, symposiums, exhibitions, etc.). . . . They seem to occupy a parallel universe, a universe in which the importance of Shango and Yemoja pale in comparison to that of authors, lecturers, academics and recording artists. In this universe, priests cite the teachings of (often uninitiated) authors rather than our esteemed ancestors. You will hear Robert Farris Thompson or William Bascom much more quickly than you will hear Liberato [Valdez] or [Timotea Albear] Ayai Lewu La Tuan. Songs and Odu are no longer learned from our initiators. Instead we are told which CDs to buy or which books to read. We are told to foribale [pay homage] to screen names and e-mail addresses, and to ask the bendicion [blessings] of our monitors.”[15]

He referred to those that used the Net to seek religious contacts and instruction as “novices” or “newcomers.” Afolabí admitted that he often attempted to rescue these people from “the clutches of . . . frauds,” in his role as “rescuer” or “saver of the world,” the third category. The rescuer was as a “. . . sort of reference librarian” that remained active in Lukumí forums posting legitimate information and providing services to people that were turning to the Net as a genuine source of instruction. Finally, there was the cyber-groupie, the “jack-of-all-trades;” the individual that reads academic publications, confers with Nigerian babalawos, Cuban and Brazilian olorishas, practitioners of Palo Mayombe—Afro-Cuban Bantú religion—and Haitian Vodou Houngan or Mambos, all the while looking for elements to incorporate into his or her own practices. In some cases, these “groupies” may also practice new age religions, such as Wicca or Egyptian spirituality—and may have no true desire to join Lukumí religion, but do want to “pick and choose” those aspects that they find appealing or compatible.

Inadvertently, Afolabí’s critique of the cyber-Orisha world acknowledged two other types which he did not reflect upon at the time. I will call these the “observant onlooker” and the “alien to cyberspace.” The former tends to monitor cyberspace for his or her personal interests, encounters the online cyber-Orisha “junkies” and the different agendas that are manifested online, but stays on the periphery without becoming directly involved. This individual quite probably considers that these agendas are non-consequential because they have no bearing on the real community and the vast majority of worshippers that are not online.

The other possible category that Afolabí touched upon, the “alien,” probably the older, more traditional olorisha or devotee, either totally ignores the existence of these cyberspace communities or has heard about them but has no true understanding of what they and the Internet are about. This group is simply concerned with the greater world at large; with the communities in which they live and experience their religion on a daily basis, and have no need or desire to turn to a virtual world because they are part of an actual religious community that some ardent Internet “junkies” may often lack.

Italian anthropologist Stefanía Capone was probably the first scholar to write about the encounter between the Internet and the Lukumí. In 1999, Capone published a significant and groundbreaking article that explored the Internet and its encounter with the Lukumí. This exposé stemmed from an analysis of Orishanet’s message board. According to Capone, when she began her research, there were only two Orisha-related websites and one discussion group. Capone believed that the Internet and the debates that took place on Orishanet were the perfect terrain to observe the transformations that Afro-Diasporan religions undergo as they cross their traditional geographical boundaries and become universal religions.[16]

Capone classified the types of “cybersanteros” that were active on these websites and forums. The “recruiters,” she wrote, aim to make money through the Internet by attracting new clients or new godchildren.[17] They actively participate in online discussions and are avid “headhunters,” continuously looking for opportunities to increase their clientele. “Lost souls,” Capone noted, are devotees that have split away from their religious mentors or godparents and wish to continue pursuing the religion and learning without making a firm commitment or establishing a link with a new godparent. Then there are the “suspicious ones,” les mefiants; those that use the Internet to confirm what their godparents or other elders tell them, expecting to find more reliable information online.[18] There was great similarity between Capone’s mefiants and Afolabí’s “cyber-junkie,” which Capone also recognized, but labeled Bricoleur du Web.[19]

At the time that Capone began her research, Afolabí was an enthusiastic “rescuer” on the Orishanet discussion board. By then, he had gone through a major clash on Orishalist and was no longer participating. Soon after, he uploaded his Cybersantería article to his own website, Yemoja.com, and was quoting or reiterating some of his ideas on his own guestbook and the Orishanet discussion board. Capone quoted some of Afolabí’s commentaries about the Internet and “cyberadepts.”[20] In addition, Capone discussed the “autodidactic,” another cyber-type that was probably derived from Afolabí’s ideas. The “autodidactic” is the cyber-authority whose knowledge of the religion is derived from the work of scholars. The ancestors most revered by this type are anthropologists, historians and academians in general—Samuel Johnson, Melville Herskovits, Fernando Ortiz, William Bascom, Nina Rodrigues, Pierre Verger, Lydia Cabrera, Robert F. Thompson, and many others. For the autodidactic, these scholars are the ultimate source of knowledge.[21]

Capone’s conclusions are important. She believed that the Internet would not alter the traditional exchanges between priests and religious houses or ilés that are characteristic of the Diasporan traditions. Albeit, she believed that the new technology would introduce new alternative forms of these relations. Cyberspace will expand the number of ways in which people may join these religions and provide new tools that will ultimately prove beneficial to all Afro-Diasporan religions by making them appealing to non-African people who will subsequently adopt an African religious identity while retaining their own cultural and ethnic personae.[22]

Recently published, Brandon’s and Murphy’s work add important dimensions to this discussion. Brandon studied the manner in which the Internet and concepts of orality and literacy eventually affect religious transmission.[23] He countered the idea that there is a “kind of radical and antagonistic opposition . . . often assumed to exist by some scholars. . .” between orality and literacy. Instead, he asked scholars to re-evaluate the approaches that are in current use.[24] Based on his examination of Islamic, Christian and Yoruba religions, he concluded that the current theoretical models are ineffective. He stressed that there is a need to redefine orality and literacy in terms that are applicable and meaningful to Yoruba religion. Only then will scholars fully come to understand the “. . . multiple forms and complex interactions through which the transmission of Yorùbá religious tradition has taken place.” The perfect stage to test these new ideas would be the Internet.[25]

Brandon made extensive use of Afolabí’s and Capone’s categories, though he failed to recognize the former’s contribution. He introduced a new category, the “border-crossers,” that is in some ways comparable to Afolabí’s “cyber-junkie.” Brandon wrote that this group’s existence is facilitated by the decentralized and open-access nature of the Internet, which allows them to easily navigate between the different religious traditions represented on the Web without anyone being able to oppose them. Border-crossers have a stable religious identity, but attempt to establish relationships between their religion and the Orisha traditions, something that will undoubtedly spur debate on Orisha forums. As such, Brandon argued, adherents of this particular group legitimized links with other traditions that they perceive as universal.[26]

Murphy’s article called attention to the “unfathomed influence” that the new technology, and especially the Internet, was having on the Orisha religions. His work looked at the movement of these traditions from “local to global to virtual.”[27] Accordingly, Murphy wrote that there was an ambidirectional progress whereby Orisha traditions and the new medium were affecting and influencing each other. To support his argument, he provided an examination and analysis of Internet websites, which he divided into five categories: Organizational—associated with pre-existing Orisha communities or associations; Individual—used by priests and priestesses as “self-portraits” to extol the role of the orishas in their lives; Devotional—what Murphy called “visual altars through which to encounter the òrìşà in beauty and devotion; Academic—sites constructed by scholars; and Commercial—sites that sell items used for ritual and worship.[28]

Murphy considered that the websites he analyzed were significant in various ways. He wrote: “Each site displays, and at times merges, the concerns of institution and identity building, information dissemination, and commerce. Their number and exponential growth signal new trends in òrìşà traditions, expansion beyond borders conceived in Africa or the African Diaspora.”[29] Like Afolabí and Capone before him, Murphy was wary about possible abuses and the numerous debates that take place on these websites that reflect the often-controversial nature and personae of some olorishas. Most importantly, Murphy cautioned that the Internet demonstrated a trend “toward atomizing the traditions rather than building strong communities, virtual or actual.[30] This observation is highly significant and merits further analysis.

What the available research has not stressed sufficiently is that most of the Orisha devotees that participate in these online forums and email lists are not the great majority of the Orisha devotees. In fact, these forums are usually frequented by a limited group, and generally most contributors are active on several forums at the same time. As a practicing Oriaté in Lukumí religion, I have opportunity to meet and speak with hundreds of olorishas annually. My constant travels for rituals outside of Miami, place me in contact with a vast community of olorishas, many of which either completely ignore the existence and/or the nature of Orisha-cyberspace, or totally misunderstand it altogether. Few have ever visited a website or plan to do so, while only a handful may have ventured into one or two of the growing number of online Orisha super-stores.

Given the limited access to computers and Internet in the major centers of Orisha religion—Nigeria, Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad—the vast majority of the participants are based in the U.S. It thus becomes necessary to stress that when discussing the greater Lukumí community, in Cuba as well as abroad, a considerable number of olorishas are not active in the virtual communities. For these people, the Internet is a foreign concept that has no bearing on their daily lives and much less on their religious interaction. It is quite plausible that the Lukumí are not the only Orisha devotees that feel this way. In all probability, the global Orisha community shares this sentiment.

Capone wrote that Americans probably composed the majority of the new initiates to Lukumí religion and thus were the ones that had taken the religion online, and I am in complete agreement.[31] If this is the case, then, there is an inherent bias in the cyber-communities given that the bearers of the tradition, the community of elders, are silenced because they are not contributing to debates that, as some scholars have posed, may alter the direction of Lukumí religion in the twenty-first century.[32] An oracular proverb emphasizes the importance that the Lukumí give to the elders: the ear cannot surpass the head. This proverb is often used to caution the younger olorisha about respect, deference, and reverence for elders. There is no doubt that cyberspace discussions are being guided by a group of greatly inexperienced newcomers to the religion. For a religion that places so much emphasis on tradition, oral transmission of religious knowledge, priestly hierarchy, years of experience, and respect for these years, this is a highly contentious issue.

The Internet has become the arena for frequent debates between several factions that have arisen in U.S. Orisha worship. I have addressed the issues associated with these in an earlier study in which I classified the factions into three groups, namely the orthodox, revisionists and reversionists.[33] The orthodox movement, composed primarily of Cuban-ordained olorishas and the first waves of Latinos initiated in the U.S., chooses to remain faithful to the traditions that were brought from Cuba. Many of the traditions they uphold have undergone transformation in Cuba, but they nonetheless perceive them as the traditions that were handed down by the Lukumí founders in the nineteenth and twentieth centuries and thus inalterable. For this faction, change is scorned and mocked as invento, menacing and unacceptable, as it did not originate with the founders.[34]

The revisionists believe that some degree of change is necessary and are especially adamant about numerous issues such as identity, structure, centralization, and abandoning the Catholic veneer adopted by the founders. Change for this faction is deemed as unavoidable, and in most cases welcome. Still, they stress that this process must be careful, thoughtful, and rational. The reversionists, a school of thought that stems from the African-American nationalist movement of the 1960s and 70s, seek a purist return to Yorubaland and Yoruba ways, and propose a purge of all Western influences that they believe have “corrupted” Yoruba religion and culture in the New World. They seek changes that some consider radical, in which the African roots and identity of the religion are re-appropriated and re-focused, and applied through the lens of Africa and its descendants in the Diaspora. Practicing Yoruba religion, then, becomes integral to the adoption of African culture, lifestyle and identity. Given the near absence of the orthodox factions online, the greatest contributors to these cyber-debates are the revisionists and the reversionists.

These debates are not necessarily new. Instead, they seem to reflect a typical trait in the Lukumí and other Orisha religions, especially in the Diaspora. Due to their lack of an official structure and centralization, many traditions are localized and their dogma is influenced by factors that are social, historical, and geographical; sometimes even human capriciousness plays a role. What is considered orthodox or acceptable in one region may be heretical in another. These controversies undoubtedly originated in Africa as the roots of the religions practiced in the New World emanate from diverse regions in Yoruba territory where different perspectives regularly exist. In the Diaspora, Orisha priests from all the traditions frequently quarrel over the correct manner in which to perform rituals or ordinations. Some of these quarrels have had considerable repercussions on regional practices. In an article that I published in 2004, I discussed one of these cases in nineteenth-century Cuba, which led to the separation of two Lukumí lineages, one remaining in Havana and the other departing to Matanzas, each giving rise to variations in the ordination ceremony.[35] Undeniably, as Afolabí and Capone noted in their work, modern day debates between these two U.S. factions are in some ways contributing to the transformation and internationalization of Lukumí religion through cyberspace. Still, various questions arise that I am not sure may be satisfactorily answered at this point.

First, to what degree is the Internet transforming and contributing to the internalization of Lukumí religion? Secondly, how effective will these cyber-debates be in the long-term? What are the possible long-term repercussions for the religion due to the orthodox faction’s distance from these deliberations? Most importantly, can these inter-groups disputes fracture the traditional, albeit often-loose structure of Lukumí religion, and give rise to numerous variations and modes of worship, something akin to the Protestant Reformation? At this point, we can only speculate.

Collecting and measuring data on religion is a difficult task, and even more so in the case of the Lukumí. Less than 6% of the U.S. Latino population is said to practice non-Western religions.[36] Possibly, these figures are somewhat comparable with those of African-Americans, and significantly higher than the figures for white Americans. A 2005 survey recorded that 6.2% of African-Americans and 4.4% of white Americans practiced non-Judeo-Christian religions. Unfortunately, Islam was not excluded from these figures so the totals may be a bit skewed.[37]

The issue becomes even more complex when attempting to measure their online activities. This is a major stumbling block; one for which there is no simple solution. In any case, based on the available data on Internet usage by religious groups, it may be safe to conclude that presently, the Lukumí/Orisha devotees in cyberspace are not a significant population. In 2000, it was estimated that there were 360 million Internet users worldwide, 97% of which were in developed countries.[38] A 2001 survey estimated that the majority of U.S. religious surfers were Christians (91%), and only 3% were identified as followers of “other religions.”[39] By 2007, only 6% of the 72% of American adults using the Internet were searching for religious information.[40]

Among U.S. Latinos, the figures vary. A survey in 2006 revealed that only 56% percent of Latinos in the U.S. use the Internet.[41] Of these, 32% were identified as Spanish speakers, 76% bilingual, and 78% spoke more English than Spanish. The “offline” Latinos responded that they did not go online because of insufficient access (53%), they found it too difficult or frustrating (10%), access is too expensive (6%), lack of time (5%), or simply lack of interest (18%).[42] Simply put, Latinos in the U.S. are not navigating through cyberspace as often as other Americans. These figures seem to reflect Capone’s argument that Americans—regardless of ethnicity—dominated Net usage. They also stress the importance of DiMaggio et al’s observations about the role of English as the Internet’s dominant language.[43] If these figures accurately reflect the U.S. Internet communities, and language does play such an important role, they clearly prove the earlier point. A considerable degree of the elders of the U.S. Lukumí community are not Online, as in many cases, and especially in Miami, New York, and Los Angeles, the majority of these elders either speak a minimal amount of English or do not speak it at all. If this is the case, then, what experience and authority can Internet Lukumí groups draw upon to determine religious doctrine or direction given the absence of the bearers of the religion?

Accurate figures on the number of Lukumí devotees in the U.S. are nearly impossible to obtain. One source, quoted by Capone, estimated that there were at least 500,000 active devotees in Miami. These figures include ordained olorishas and those that frequent them for their religious services.[44] In the 1980s, it was estimated that a minimum of 600 devotees were ordained into the Lukumí priesthood annually.[45] Only 22 of the 50,281 participants in the 2001 American Religious Identification Survey responded that they practiced “Santería.” Interestingly, 116 of the respondents identified themselves as “Spiritualists.”[46] The two categories may overlap, as many olorishas also practice Kardecian Spiritualism. Surely, these numbers have increased dramatically, though evidently there are no exact figures. Given the large number of practicing olorishas in the U.S. and the growing trend of traveling to Cuba for ordination, especially after the onset of the Cuban Special Period in 1992, these figures have surely undergone significant expansion. Based on personal calculations, at least 1,000 ordinations annually is a prudent estimate of the number of U.S. devotees that enter the Lukumí priesthood, whether in the U.S. or Cuba.

How effective is the Internet in attracting newcomers to the religion? As I write this article, I continue to ask myself this question. Attempting to gage this, I conducted various Internet searches using a number of possible terms that I believed would be used by a person that is interested in learning more about Lukumí or other Orisha traditions. These were the results:

Regla de Ocha101,00084,10014,870
Yoruba religion1,890,000148,00078,200

The fact that the searches for the term Santería would bear the greatest results (2,544,000, 1,740,000, and 205,000) was unanticipated. Surely, there is some overlap in these search results. Nonetheless, for such a young medium and such a numerically insignificant community when compared to other religions and to the usage of the Internet by other religions, the figures are noteworthy. Even after subtracting the results that referred to the song “Santeria” by the rock-and-roll group Sublime (167,000, 346,000, and 27,000), the figures for possible Lukumí links are astonishing. These figures undoubtedly attest to the impact of the U.S. community on the dissemination of the religion online, supporting Capone’s assertions. Clearly there are more resources available for those who seek the religion.

Some researchers consider Google’s search engine to be more popular than others.[47] I was surprised to find out that in this particular case, it may not have been so. Yahoo’s engine seemed more productive than Google’s. AOL’s was surprisingly limited. Albeit, these results do not necessarily reveal anything extraordinary as it would be necessary to visit each one of the results from the searches individually to better gage the search engine’s effectiveness. This would be a grueling task for any single investigator. A better possibility would be to analyze statistics from websites that cater to the community in question. This is a more feasible task because the number of websites on Lukumí religion is relatively small. I will sample the figures from my own website, Eleda.Org, to attempt to cast further light on the possibilities for research afforded by these data.[48]

I have hosted Eleda.Org since October of 2001. The website was originally created as a knowledge base for people interested in Lukumí religion. With time, I began adding articles and sections that would interest all Orisha devotees, still keeping a strong Lukumí focus. The articles on the site deal with a broad number of issues: historical, theological, instructional, informational, news and community events, critiques of unorthodox ritual practices, and others. In February of 2002, I began using Webstat, an Internet-based service that keeps track of website data for statistical purposes.[49] I was most interested in calculating the number of yearly visitors, the countries from which these visitors connected, and the pages that were visited most often.

Yearly visitors (Feb. 2002—May, 2008)

Jan-May, 200831,026

Countries (Feb. 2002—May, 2008)

CountryPage views% of total

Since it was founded, Eleda.Org has had visitors from all over the world: 185 countries are represented in the figures gathered by Webstat for the site. Some visits were from unexpected locations (e.g. Micronesia, Lybia, Myanmar, and the Vatican), and were probably accidental given that only one or two pages were viewed. Of the 185 countries, 133 of these had at least 10 visitors to the site; 79 countries surfed through Eleda.org’s pages 100 or more times. Even the U.S. Government visited the site on several occasions.

As would be anticipated, the U.S. topped the list with 680,553 (64.58%) pages viewed. Surprisingly, Venezuela followed, though the numbers stagger considerably when compared to the U.S. figures.[51] Brazilian page views are also a bit of a surprise, though Brazilian Orisha sites have been on the rise in the last 10 years. I have had considerable help from Brazilians in translating my articles to Portuguese. Of the countries with the most frequent visits to the website, 11 of the top 25 were First World countries: U.S., Spain (31,866; 3.02%), Canada (12,625; 1.20%), Great Britain (9,557; .91%), Germany (5,103; .48%), Italy (4,991; .47%), Portugal (4,850; .46%), Netherlands (4,417; .42%), France (3,781; .36), Australia (2,476; .23%) and Switzerland (2,147; .20%).

The figures for Cuba, Trinidad/Tobago, and Nigeria were not unexpected. The limited access to computers and the Internet that olorishas in these regions suffer prevents them from being active participants in the Internet debates. This is worrisome because, as already stated, it limits the active involvement of the progenitors of these religious traditions. As such, Internet agency is in the hands of second parties; devotees that claim to speak either on behalf of these silent elders in Nigeria or Cuba, or based on alleged teachings they received from these elders on short-term visits to their countries.

Eleda.Org’s Traffic Patterns (Feb. 2002—May, 2008)

WebpagePage TopicNumber of visits% of total
http://ilarioba.tripod.com/botanicas.htmListing of botanicas—businesses that sell religious products (nationally and internationally)96,1149.14
http://ilarioba.tripod.com/articlesmine/ashewe.htmArticle about herbs used in rituals with photos59,3535.64
http://ilarioba.tripod.com/thrones2.htmRecognition of Lukumí artists that install “thrones”—used for ordinations & celebrations39,0673.71
http://ilarioba.tripod.com/calendar.htmInforms about upcoming national and international events that are of possible interest to the religious communities30,9632.94
http://ilarioba.tripod.com/news.htmReports newsworthy items to the communities28,3332.69
http://ilarioba.tripod.comHome Page19,4671.85
http://ilarioba.tripod.com/store/store1.htm[52]Sales of books, CDs and DVDs18,4071.75

A 1996 analysis of Internet traffic log patterns argued that the popularity of a website’s pages followed a “power law.” Jakob Nielsen’s research indicated that in general, only some pages on a website were exceptionally popular, a larger set were somewhat popular, and the vast majority comprised what he termed the “long tail” of low-traffic pages.[53] In 2006, Nielsen re-tested his hypothesis. Once again his conclusions were the same.[54]

The Eleda.Org website has 348 pages. Of these, only 29 pages, 8% of the website’s content, received 10,000 or more visits, totaling 568,536 (54.03%) of the total visits over the approximately six years that the site has existed. The most frequented pages were those associated with religious arts and aesthetics (11 of the 29); followed by the pages that provided information (10 of 29) such as retail establishments, contact information for providers of services, and articles related with general information about other Orisha communities (e.g Candomblé). Only 4 of the news and community affairs pages were among the top 29; followed by 3 instructional pages and 1 for the online store. The Homepage was the 11th most frequented page. Nielsen’s Homepage ranked first on his list of most frequented pages.[55] Eleda.Org’s first was its list of retailers for ritual effects.

What do these figures reveal about the manner in which the Lukumí/Orisha communities in the U.S. surf the Internet? Clearly, olorishas are not seeking religious instruction, knowledge or online rituals. The Eleda.Org figures seem to indicate that while some initially considered that the Internet would be a tool for education and knowledge, it may not be the ultimate source of learning for most cyber-olorishas. The figures may indicate that a considerable portion of olorishas turn to the Net for functional information.

The visits to the arts and aesthetic pages and the informational pages are clearly linked. The former contains hundreds of pictures of ritual paraphernalia, garments, altars, vessels and events. Olorishas may be consulting these pages to see actual applications of Lukumí aesthetics to imitate in their own creations. The informational pages, such as listings of botanicas and contact information for providers of services—bead-makers, throne-makers, carvers, drummers, and the like—are necessary recourses in this fast-growing religious world. While in yesteryear’s Cuban religious houses most olorishas may have performed some of these services for their own ilé or lineage, in the new Lukumí communities outside Cuba demand has created a number of specialists to cater to the larger community’s needs. Internet websites such as Eleda.Org that provide this information may well be the future cyberspace “Yellow Pages” for the Lukumí.

The impact of email lists and websites with discussion forums is not as clear due to the unavailability of reliable statistical data. Still, it is probable that these discussions trickle down to the larger community in some ways. Eleda.Org has an email list with 220 recipients. The list is used to communicate news and community events, but it is not used for discussions. Sites with discussion boards and forums apparently receive more annual hits. Orishalist currently has 647 members.[56] Data provided by Orishanet’s administrator, Frank Discussion, indicates that currently there are 135 people registered on the forum. Discussion told me that Orishanet was the earliest site with a forum for debates, which originated as a guestbook and soon after evolved into a medium where olorishas met to discuss their concerns. In 2007, Orishanet received a staggering 781,087 hits.[57] The Church of the Lukumí’s website, according to its founder, receives over 500,000 hits annually.[58] One site, the Palo and Lukumí Organization, established in 1999, claims to be among the top 3% of the Internet’s most visited websites. This website is multifaceted, catering not only to the Lukumí, but also to practitioners of Palo Mayombe, Spiritualism and Ifá, the divinatory system associated with Lukumí religion.[59]

Some commercial sites become popular very quickly. Beaded-Mazo.com, established in September, 2007 by two American Lukumí priestesses is a perfect example.[60] These priestesses initially began beading for their own community, and gradually started offering their services to others outside their religious family. Since its creation, the site has had approximately 29,000 hits from 66 countries, with the U.S., Mexico, Brazil, United Kingdom and Germany topping off the list. Their orders, however, are always from the U.S.[61] Folkcuba.com is one of the most popular commercial sites for cyber-savvy olorishas. It was established by art historian and priest David Brown in 2000. The site is a virtual supermarket where devotees of numerous Afro-Diasporan religions may purchase religious supplies online, all the while listening to Lukumí drumming.[62] This is one of the few sites that many olorishas are aware of, even if they do not surf the Net, because their younger followers serve as points of reference between the online superstore and their godparents.

If these websites’ figures are representational of other sites, then they too support what Capone wrote. The Internet may have a direct effect on how people pursue the religion and subsequently join it. The availability of contact information for providers of services available on Eleda.Org and other sites is one door that may be used to find an olorisha. There are others. Still, as Murphy seemed to stress, there is a degree of danger involved in this process. The newcomer may encounter legitimate olorishas, but the likelihood that individuals encounter charlatans, abusive olorishas, or people posing as priests/esses is probably greater given the degree of anonymity that is possible online. This idea is echoed by some of the more popular Lukumí websites. The Church of the Lukumí has posted a series of guidelines for selecting a reputable olorisha. Its commentaries on the religion in cyberspace are important:

A new form of guidance is provided through Internet web site’s [sic], board, chat, and private membership site’s [sic]. Most are a personal website. Cyberspace presents a new risk challenge [sic]. Anyone can create a web site and hide behind a fictitious name. Moreover, they can present themselves as experienced priests or you could fall pray [sic] to scams.[63]

Some olorishas also continuously echo these sentiments. Olorisha Sarah Lora, one of the founders of the Organization for Lukumí Unity, established in 1997, recently wrote me an email in which she commented about her cyberspace experience: “I have grown very distrustful of materials presented on line and moreover, of the motives behind those who use the medium for poaching or for collecting godchildren.”[64] In all probability, the Internet may never successfully replace the traditional networks and the personal contacts that have historically served as the primary means by which devotees join the religion. As an impersonal medium, it cannot provide the most important means of communication for the Lukumí: individual, one-on-one, face-to-face interaction. Nonetheless, the Internet will surely contribute as an additional resource, one that could connect those seeking that personal aspect that does not exist in cyberspace with actual olorishas. As such, it will unquestionably be used and misused.

The possibility of religious proselytism, worship and religious rituals in cyberspace is another area of interest. The mainstream religions—especially the Christian denominations—already make use of the media, televising or broadcasting their services. Many denominations are increasingly taking their churches online. One scholar estimated that by the year 2006, over 90% of American churches that had resources and more than 2000 members of the congregation attending church services weekly would have websites.[65] In 2002, sociologist Scott Thumma said that there were few quality church websites and that most of these were usually created and maintained by a member of the congregation and not by the church leaders. Thumma wrote that “perhaps the most significant implication of a wired reality for a church is its public presentation,” as a source for posting sermons, events, newsletters, and providing inspirational and educational resources for the congregation. Nonetheless, these processes would have repercussions in that they can generate a series of demands from the congregation that place an additional load on the church leaders who will thus have more responsibilities in their hands.[66]

However, for many Christian churches in Africa, this does not seem to be an issue because their intentions are to proselytize and increase their following. In a significant study of the encounter between cyberspace and Christianity in Africa, Ghanaian theologian J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu argued that historically older and more established religions are not as keen to use modern media resources, and by extension the Internet, as are the more “evangelically oriented, missionminded and theologically innovative new African religious movements.”[67] The older religions use the Internet as a means of communicating with their followers, many of which now live outside Africa. As is the case with Thumma’s churches, these Diasporan churches create web pages for their “public presentation”: to keep in touch with the mother church in Africa, to communicate about upcoming events and holy days, request prayers, pay tithes and make offerings. However, the newer Christian religious movements see the Internet as another tool in fulfilling God’s desire for evangelization. Religious zealots see the Internet as a way to “combat Satan” who they believe also uses the Net to confound God’s children.[68]

African evangelicals—and especially Pentecostal/charismatic churches—have a mission, and the Internet supports it. “For African Pentecostal/charismatic communities, the Internet is an extension of television and radio ministries—media through which people could be made Christian.”[69] Through the Net, they offer online prayer chains, devotional pages, and electronic confessions to Jesus Christ. Stressing that the Holy Spirit was directly employing the World Wide Web as a point of contact to influence lives, African Pentecostals, the author asserted, positively confused “the line between the provision of religious information and the actual practice of religion.”[70]

The use of the Internet by religious communities seems to be opening new doors for many religions to worship online and seek converts. So-called “New Age” religions such as Wicca and Ancient Egyptian Religion are making greater use of the Internet as a ritual space in which to conduct religious services.[71] In 2004, Marilyn C. Krogh and Brooke Ashley Pillifant researched Kemetic Orthodoxy, an Egyptian revival religion that developed its following largely through the Internet. Though they have a temple in Chicago, this group makes extensive use of the Internet for worship, conducting bi-weekly online services. Worshippers may also perform ancestor worship and dedicate online petitions to the gods, and collective Temple rituals are conducted simultaneously at the Temple in Chicago and online. The authors underscored that “the ritual elements of physical co-presence, coordinated voices and gestures and sacred objects are translated from the temple into online temporal co-presence, coordinated text messages, and the manipulation of ritual objects by individuals sitting in front of their computers.”[72]

Communications expert Stephen D. O’Leary discussed another new religious trend, the Technopagans.[73] He transcribed an online ritual that was taken from the archives of the Compuserve Religious Forum, Pagan/Occult section in which devotees performed a ritual that paralleled the Christian Eucharist. One stanza instructed the follower to take bread, muffin or grain and split it in half, and stressed that if the individual did not have any of these before them, “virtual” bread could be used in its place. O’Leary stressed that for the believer, the ritual did not require the physical presence of these elements to be effective. Two other rituals that the author discussed allowed for the use of cyber-candles and cyber-flames.[74]

O’Leary also described online neopagan Goddess rituals through which devotees demarcated their discussion forums or networks as “sacred space” through prayers and symbolic, textual rituals. “After the space is claimed, the angelic powers that inhabit the four directions of North, South, East, and West are invoked, and a ritual circle is cast. Within this circle a variety of other ritual actions are performed: initiation, investiture, and so forth.”[75] Clearly, for some groups, religious worship is gaining momentum in cyber-space.

Given the number of misconceptions that many Lukumí elders have about the Internet, the idea of cyberspace rituals and the revelation of secret ritual knowledge online have been challenging topics whenever younger olorishas attempt to explain the Internet to them. The elders themselves fail to understand that for the Lukumí, online rituals are impossible. In most respects, the neo-religious trends discussed above have little if any possibilities of arising in the Lukumí world. Historically, Lukumí rituals have taken place in the ilé osha—the home of the olorisha or the devotee, where the orishas reside. Despite the inroads that have been made in cyberspace, Lukumí ceremonies cannot be detached from the ilé. However, there is one possible exception to this rule: divination. For the Lukumí, divination is possibly the most important factor for recruitment of adherents and their subsequent introduction to the religion. Regrettably, divination is the area that may be exploited most by the unscrupulous online “headhunters.” Already, numerous sites, even the more respectable and traditional ones, are beginning to offer divination through email.[76]

Other, more dubious sources are entering the online realm as well. In 2005, the Miami Herald reported that a new website had opened that provided online counseling and divination.[77] The owner of the new website has been the object of frequent controversies and scandals in Miami. In 1996, the Church of the Lukumí publicly ostracized him, stating that he was not duly ordained and thus a fraud. Nonetheless, Rigoberto Zamora, the media’s “babalawo” of choice in Miami, is often interviewed and quoted by the press. “For $40,” wrote the reporter, “paid by credit card, Zamora also provides online readings and consultations.”[78]

Infrequently, there have been other disturbing breaches of religious ethics and ritual protocol online. Of late, and especially after the onset of the periodo especial in Cuba, babalawos and olorishas have been gradually permitting foreigners to film rituals, something that before this time was strictly forbidden. Many foreigners currently travel to Cuba to perform ceremonies. Some travel to the island in search of the faith; others travel and encounter the faith out of curiosity. They bring the much needed hard currency, and olorishas increasingly ordain extranjeros, in many cases literally selling the religion and the priesthood to people who have little if any understanding of what it entails. Often, rituals are invented, created or molded to suit the extranjero’s needs or preferences. Several tourist “documentaries” have appeared on sites such as MySpace.com and Youtube. As recently as March of the current year, an Italian traveler uploaded a ceremony in which babalawos were sacrificing fowls to Olokún, the orisha of the seas.[79] Another clip shows a babalawos sacrificing a chicken to some “entity.”[80] From the chants he is singing, the sacrifice is directed to the ancestors, yet he is sacrificing on top of an image that resembles an Elegbá, orisha of the crossroads. In traditional Lukumí practices, this would never occur. Elegbá as an orisha would never receive sacrifice with the ancestors. Each occupy separate realms and are thus kept apart. Obviously, he was creating a ritual ad lib for the extranjero’s camera.

These infractions of ethics and protocol are not the norm, but they most definitely nourish the fears of those elders that worry about the recklessness that can possibly occur online. Still, while there have been indiscretions, online olorishas for the most part respect the private aspects of ritual knowledge and are generally careful about what they discuss online. Some email lists are exclusively for ordained olorishas and the membership application requires that the prospective participant provide verifiable information of his or her religious status. However, once received, emails can be forwarded to anyone, and there are no guarantees that some of the information exchanged among the list’s members will not be forwarded to the non-initiated. Rightly so, some participants are often wary and choose their words carefully.

One final issue is the notion of community and actual practice as opposed to online discussions and theoretical religiosity. Afolabí and I often discussed that many of the cyberspace olorishas lacked a fundamental element: practical, hands-on experience. A considerable number of the cyber “junkies” are distant from practicing communities and have little opportunity to share in actual ceremonies. Their community is, for all intents and purposes, a theoretical one. They are limited to books, journals, museum exhibitions, short trips to Cuba, Brazil, or Africa, and increasingly, the Internet. Participants may exchange theoretical perspectives, compare practices in Cuba, Brazil, Trinidad, Haiti and Africa, give opinions on topics that they know only in theory, and regurgitate what elders have told them, but not much else.

Religion cannot be practiced in isolation; especially African religions that require numerous participants performing a variety of tasks through which to make the ritual and the religious experience meaningful and effective. While online candles, prayers and breaking bread may be possible for the more esoteric religions, Lukumí offerings have to be placed in direct contact with the orishas. Lukumí cleansing rituals cannot be performed without the benefactor being present. Ordinations and major rituals cannot be performed through the Internet or purchased by e-mail order catalogs delivered to the devotee’s home in small, do-it-yourself packages with instructions. Most certainly, despite Ogún’s influence in the development of the technology, one cannot sacrifice a rooster to Ogún over the PC.

By definition, Lukumí religion falls in the category of Asamoah-Gyadu’s older, more historical churches, partly because of its relationship with Catholicism. Some of the Lukumí religious adaptations or reinterpretations that took place in Cuba—and in other areas of the Americas—were influenced by, or patterned on, comparable elements in the Catholic Church. The positioning of the orishas in a pantheon, many of which were local or regional deities in Yorubaland, is one of several of these New World transformations, possibly linked to the eschatological relationship that exists in Catholicism between God and the saints. The great similarity between the worldview of the enslaved Lukumí and the dominant Spanish/European slavemasters facilitated this transculturative process, recognizing the many similarities between the two religious systems and the worldviews of its followers.[81] The links established between the two religions eventually gave birth to a multicultural society in which these associations were beneficial to both.

For these two older “churches,” the Internet thus far has been a medium to reach the community at large, announce celebrations, disseminate news, and provide general information to its adherents. The Vatican’s website, by far more elaborate than any Lukumí or Orisha webpage, differs little in terms of the overall content and functions of the site from the Lukumí sites. Both focus on providing information, reporting news that is of relevance to the community; they contain articles of social and historical significance, and discuss theology and religious worldview.[82] The Vatican’s site even has an area where the faithful can make financial contributions to the Holy Father “as a sign of their sharing in the concern of Successor of Peter for the many different needs of the Universal Church and for the relief of those most in need.”[83] Cyberspace, for these two institutions, will be important but not indispensable; functional, but of little consequence. Both religions will continue to depend on direct contact with its followers as opposed to a virtual, cyberspace connection.

Lukumí religion has gone beyond Asamoah-Gyadu‘s traditional churches in other ways; as such, they share some common traits with the modern African religions. There is an increasing degree of proselytism on the Net arising from the greater dissemination of information online. The possibility of religious conversion aided by the Internet is not a remote possibility. As discussed, divination by email will no doubt appeal to those that live in areas where Lukumí enclaves are lacking or minor. Eleda.Org has had visitors from areas as far away as the Ukraine, Polynesia and China where Lukumí religion has not laid roots[84] The Internet may also succeed in promoting comparative discussions and exchanges between people from different regions of the world whose only other means of communication would be travel, something not everyone can afford to do.

As Murphy stressed, the Internet will in some regards have an atomizing effect. For those that surf cyberspace, the world is no longer as small or remote, and people in distant lands are now within closer reach, at the click of a mouse. However, the personal touch and the traditional sense of community are both lacking on the superhighway. Though there are many vehicles on the road, the cyber-surfer sits in his or her vehicle alone. This too is atomizing, isolating, and impoverishing. The impersonal nature of the Internet robs online communications of the many rich nuances of spoken language, and the absence of body language and physical gestures that are not replicable online, make the Internet a solitary, cold medium that is not compatible with traditional religions.

Without a real community, Lukumí religion cannot and will not function. The Internet may spread its “word” and visibility, disseminate aesthetic elements and news, facilitate communication between priests from different regions and traditions, but it cannot fill the void created by the lack of the actual practice. To be a Lukumí, or an olorisha in any of the Orisha traditions, one has to actively participate in rituals that take place in the real world and not in cyberspace. The Internet’s theoretical olorisha will never be a genuine olorisha unless he or she “surfs” through the realm of the actual. In Afolabí’s words, “You place them in an osha room [where actual rituals take place] and they will be utterly lost!”


  1. Paper first presented at the ACHTUS 2008 Colloquium—Cultura en lo Cotidiano: Intersections of Faith and Popular Culture. Miami Beach. June 3, 2008. Subsequently published in the Journal of Hispanic Theology (Online). Http://www.latinotheology.org/.
  2. Lucumí or Lucomi was the term used in Cuba and other Spanish possessions in the New World to denote the people known today as Yoruba, currently residing in Southwestern Nigeria. In Brazil and Haiti, the Lukumí were called Nago, the name given to them by the peoples of Dahomey. Yoruba as a collective name for this group was adopted after the British colonized the region. It is derived from the Hausa Ayoba or Yooba meaning “cunning,” used to refer to the Oyo people. See Samuel Johnson. The History of the Yorubas (London: Routlage and Kegan Paul, 1921); William Bascom. The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria (New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston, 1969); Timothy Awoniyi. “The Word Yoruba,” Africa Magazine, (1981) 104-07; Isabel Castellanos, “From Ulkumi to Lukumi-A Historical Overview of Religious Acculturation in Cuba,” in Santeria Aesthetics in Contemporary Latin American Art, ed. Arturo Lindsay (Washington: Smithsonian Institute Press, 1996.)
    Lukumí is an alternative spelling for the term, preferred today by most Cuban orisha worshipers in the U.S. For the purposes of this paper, I shall use the term Lukumí to refer both to the religion practiced in Cuba and the Cuban Diaspora, and to the people brought to the island under that nomenclature. The term santería, which has gained popularity in the U.S., especially through sensationalist media coverage, is a pejorative misnomer that I prefer not to use. Originally, it was a derogatory idiom used to describe the practices of medieval Catholicism and the cult of the saints in Iberian Europe. Lukumí Orisha Worship, Afro-Cuban Orisha Worship, or simply, Lukumí religion, are more amenable terms, closer to the Spanish Regla de Osha or La Osha, the more popular designates used in the early twentieth century.
  3. The term olorisha literally means “owner of an orisha.” Once ordained, all devotees are olorishas. Olosha is an abbreviated form of the term.
  4. Let us praise Ogún!
  5. When I use the term “Lukumí,” I will use it to refer strictly to the Yoruba-based traditions and people associated with Cuba and the Cuban Diaspora. I will use the upper cased “Orisha” to refer to other Yoruba-derived traditions in the U.S. and elsewhere.
  6. World Development Report 1998/99 in Andrew L. Shapiro. “The Internet,” Foreign Policy, No. 115 (Summer, 1999), 14-27; 21.
  7. Shapiro, The Internet . . . : 21.
  8. In the Lukumí tradition, the term orisha is generally abbreviated to osha. While it may be used to refer to the deities, it is more commonly employed to identify the religion (e.g. “la osha”).
  9. Stefanía Capone. “Les Dieux sur le Net: L’essor des religions d’origine africaine aux Etats-Unis,” L’Homme 151: 47-74; George E. Brandon. “From Oral to Digital—Rethinking the Transmission of Tradition in Yorùbá Religion,” in Òrìşà Devotion as World Religion—The Globalization of Yorùbá Religious Culture, eds. Jacob K. Olupona & Terry Rey (Madison: The University of Wisconsin Press, 2008) 448-69; Joseph Murphy. “Òrìşà Traditions and the Internet Diaspora,” in Òrìşà Devotion as World Religion . . . : 470-84.
  10. Clayton Keck, Afolabí. Cyber Santeria. Www.Yemoja.com. 1998.
  11. Afolabí, Cyber Santeria.
  12. Personal interaction and communication with Afolabí. I was the Obá Oriaté for his ordination.
  13. Established in August, 1995, Orishanet was the first website that dealt with Lukumí religion. Orishalist claims to be the oldest internet forum for the discussion of traditional African religion. I was unable to find out the date that Orishalist was established.
  14. Personal communication with the author.
  15. Afolabí, Cyber Santeria.
  16. Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net . . .: 48.
  17. In the Lukumí tradition, the relationship between the olorisha and the followers is seen as a parental relationship. The olorisha is the iyá—mother—or babá—father—in Orisha (iyalorisha {iyálosha}; babálorisha {babálosha}). In Spanish, the preferred terms are madrina or padrino (godmother/godfather).
  18. Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net. . .: 53.
  19. Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net. . .: 54.
  20. Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net. . .: 54.
  21. Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net. . .: 55.
  22. Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net. . .: 66.
  23. Brandon, From Oral to Digital . . . : 449-51.
  24. Brandon, From Oral to Digital . . . : 453.
  25. Brandon, From Oral to Digital . . . : 467.
  26. Brandon, From Oral to Digital . . . : 466.
  27. Murphy, Òrìşà Traditions . . . : 471.
  28. Murphy, Òrìşà Traditions . . . : 472-5.
  29. Murphy, Òrìşà Traditions . . . : 475.
  30. Murphy, Òrìşà Traditions . . . : 481.
  31. Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net. . .: 50.
  32. E.g. Murphy, Òrìşà Traditions . . . : 472-5.
  33. Miguel W. Ramos. “Ashe in Flux: The Transformation of Lukumí Religion in the United States.” Paper presented at the New Perspectives on Religion and Social Change in the Americas Conference, the 47th Annual Conference of the Center for Latin American Studies at the University of Florida, March 26-28, 1998.
  34. When the Lukumí classify something as an invento—invention—the term usually has pejorative or demeaning connotations. Inventos are deviations from the traditional and are therefore unacceptable.
  35. Miguel W. Ramos. “La División de La Habana—Territorial Conflict and Cultural Hegemony in the Followers of Oyo Lukumí Religion, 1850s-1920s,” Cuban Studies, No. 34 (2003): 38-70.
  36. “The Latino National Survey.” Nov. 2005—Aug. 2006. Http://depts.washington.edu/uwiser/documents/LNS_toplines_FIP_Dec6.pdf (accessed May 19, 2008).
  37. Baylor Religion Survey 2005. “Religious Tradition (Demographic Patterns).” The Association of Religion Data Archives. Http://www.thearda.com/quickStats/qs_58_p.asp (accessed may 19, 2008).
  38. Paul DiMaggio, Eszter Hargittai, W. Russell Neuman, John P. Robinson. “Social Implications of the Internet,” Annual Review of Sociology, Vol. 27, (2001), pp. 307-336; 312. This group expressed these reserves, questioning the Internet’s possible influence upon society vis-à-vis concerns about power and inequality in the access to the new technology.
  39. Elena Larsen. “Cyberfaith : How Americans Pursue Religion Online, part 1.” Pew Internet & American Life Project (Http://www.pewinternet.org/ Dec. 23, 2001) 8.
  40. Pew Internet & American Life Project. Oct. 24-Dec. 2, 2007. Http://www.pewinternet.org/trends.asp.
  41. The figures for white and African Americans were 74% and 61%, respectively.
  42. The Pew Hispanic Center and the Pew Internet & American Life Project. “Latinos Online.” June 5 – July 3, 2006, and August 10 – October 4, 2006. Http://pewhispanic.org/files/reports/73.pdf (accessed May 19, 2008).
  43. DiMaggio et al, Social Implications . . . : 312.
  44. Rick Mitchell. “Power of the Orishas: Santeria, an Ancient Religion fron Nigeria, is Making its Presence Felt in Los Angeles,” in Capone, Les Dieux sur le Net. . .: 51.
  45. Personal conversation with Ernesto Pichardo, president of the Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé. These figures stemmed from Pichardo’s investigations in the 1970s and 80s.
  46. U.S. Census Bureau. “The 2008 Statistical Abstract. Self Described Religious Identification of Adult Population.” Http://www.census.gov/compendia/statab/cats/population.html (accessed May 20, 2008).
  47. Jakob Nielsen. “Traffic Log Patterns.” Uploaded July 10, 2006. Http://www.useit.com/alertbox/traffic_logs.html (accessed May 15, 2008).
  48. I requested figures from other sites but for various reasons, they were unable, and in some cases unwilling, to provide them.
  49. Http://www.webstat.com/.
  50. Including Puerto Rico, which had 16, 169 visits or 1.53%.
  51. Though no exact figures are available, in all probability, the U.S. has exhibited the greatest growth in the number of Lukumí faithful since the triumph of the Cuban revolution in 1959. Notwithstanding, since approximately 1980, Venezuela has had a remarkable expansion in the number of ordained olorishas. I am convinced that Venezuela is the Latin American country where Lukumí religion has experienced the most significant growth after 1959.
  52. The store was not the fifth most-frequented page: it is in the 17th place. Rather, I included it in the chart to compare it with other online retailers of Orisha supplies.
  53. Jakob Nielsen. “Zipf Curves and Website Popularity.” Uploaded April 1997. Http://www.useit.com/alertbox/zipf.html (accessed May 15, 2008).
  54. Nielsen, Traffic Log Patterns . . ..
  55. Nielsen, Traffic Log Patterns . . ..
  56. Orishalist. Http://groups.yahoo.com/group/orisalist/ (accessed May 19, 2008).
  57. Frank Discussion, Baba Ejiogbe, email message to the author, May 19, 2008.
  58. Ernesto Pichardo, email message to the author, May 20, 2008.
  59. Palo and Lukumi Oranization. Http://www.palo.org/ (accessed May 17, 2008).
  60. Http://www.beaded-mazo.com/.
  61. Jackye Anderson, Babá Ladé (founder of Beadedmazo.com), email sent to the author, May 16, 2008.
  62. Http://folkcuba.com/.
  63. Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé. “Selecting Priests: beware of the Unscrupulous.” Http://www.church-of-the-lukumi.org/Site%206/CLBASelectingPriests.html (accessed May 19, 2008).
  64. Sarah Lora, email message to the author, May 19, 2008.
  65. Scott Thumma. “Religion and the Internet.” Paper presented at the Communications Forum lecture at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. April 18, 2002. Http://www.hartfordinstitute.org/bookshelf/thumma_article6.html (accessed May 1, 2008).
  66. Thumma, Religion and the Internet . . .
  67. J. Kwabena Asamoah-Gyadu. ‘“Get on the Internet!” Says the Lord’: Religion, Cyberspace and Christianity in Contemporary Africa,” Studies in World Christianity, (2007) Vol. 13, No. 3, 225-242; 225.
  68. Asamoah-Gyadu, Get on the Internet . . . : 227-8.
  69. Asamoah-Gyadu, Get on the Internet . . . : 228.
  70. Asamoah-Gyadu, Get on the Internet . . . : 235-6.
  71. Marilyn C. Krogh and Brooke Ashley Pillifant. “Kemetic Orthodoxy: Ancient Egyptian Religion on the Internet: A Research Note,” Sociology of Religion, Vol. 65, No. 2, (Summer, 2004), pp. 167-175.
  72. Krogh and Pillifant, Kemetic Orthodoxy . . . : 173.
  73. Stephen D. O’Leary. “Cyberspace as Sacred Space: Communicating Religion on Computer Networks,” Journal of the American Academy of Religion, Vol. 64, No. 4, Thematic Issue on “Religion and American Popular Culture”, (Winter, 1996), pp. 781-808.
  74. O’Leary, Cyberspace . . . : 797-9.
  75. O’Leary, Cyberspace . . . : 800.
  76. Orishanet (http://www.orishanet.org/consulta.html); The Church of the Lukumí Babalú Ayé (http://www.church-of-the-lukumi.org/Site%206/CLBADistanceCounseling.html).
  77. Ihosvani Rodriguez. “Santería mysticism enters online realm: Practitioners share shrouded religion with Web surfers,” The Miami Herald. July 23, 2005.
  78. Rodríguez, Santería mysticism . . ..
  79. Cerimonia di Olokun. Http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&VideoID=30148043.
  80. Santeria, Part 2. Http://vids.myspace.com/index.cfm?fuseaction=vids.individual&videoid=33640399.
  81. Mercedes Cros Sandoval. Worldview, the Orichas and Santería: From Africa to Cuba and Beyond (Gainesville: University Press of Florida, 2007).
  82. The Holy See. Http://www.vatican.va/index.htm.
  83. The Holy See. “Peter’s Pence.” Http://www.vatican.va/roman_curia/secretariat_state/obolo_spietro/documents/index_en.htm.
  84. Though there are no known Lukumí communities in China, in the past ten years, jars, vessels, and Lukumí religious implements are being manufactured in China, commissioned by Miami-based wholesalers who are taking advantage of the current trade relations with the Chinese.

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