The Diloggun: The Orishas, Proverbs, Sacrifices, and Prohibitions of Cuban Santeria, by Ocha’ni Lele (B. Stuart Myers)
Inner Traditions, 089281912X, 2003
The author of this book, Ocha’ni Lele, has been involved in the religion of Santeria since 1989, and has been a priest in that religion since 2000. He is a priest of Oya and brings his experiences over the past several years to bear on the topic of divination by this little understood system.
He does not equivocate or make excuses for the requirement for sacrifice. Many readers may be uncomfortable with these statements and feel that the religion is “too primitive” or “too brutal” to be considered a “real religion,” but that is, in my opinion, simply a result of the culture many of us have been raised in.
He is, by no means, the ultimate authority on the system of diloggun, as he is the first to admit. There are many more experienced diviners out there. What he is, is the first to write a book from the perspective of an actual user of the system for those who are not members of the system.
In this book, be continues the exploration of the divinatory systems of Santeria, adding a wealth of knowledge to an area which has, traditionally, been veiled in secrecy. While not everyone is happy to see this information becoming more readily available, no one can deny the importance of recording it. It has been passed down, orally and through handwritten libretas for centuries. It has now been accessible to the general populace.
He begins the book with a brief (eight page) “Introduction to the Lucumi Religion.” For those with no background knowledge of the faith, this is quite valuable. It agrees, in most particulars, with other accounts, although there are some areas which may be interpreted differently by other authors. Still, this is a succinct, readable condensation of several hundred years of evolution into a few pages.
At the end of this introduction, he agrees with some critics that his work should not (and cannot) take the place of personal instruction. That has never been his intention. In his previous offerings (The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination and Obi Oracle of Cuban Santeria both from Inner Traditions), he has stressed that his work is intended as a resource to be used in conjunction with the personal training and contact which is vital to the continuation of this religion.
Although not specifically stated as such, this current book is a continuation and expansion of the first-mentioned book. It contains a much fuller explanation and interpretation of the diloggun system of divination. It contains all the previously released information and a lot more. It is not a book to be approached lightly
He relates some of the oral history of the Lucumi in the late-19th and early-20th century Cuba. While it would be difficult, if not impossible, to verify much of this history, it does provide some much-needed grounding. While much of this information has been available to Santeras and Santeros, those coming to the faith will benefit from hearing this. The background given in this book is much more extensive than any I have ever seen before. The explanations given for the requisite behaviors are clear and concise.
If you wish to learn the basics of this system of divination, this book will give you all the basic information you need. HOWEVER, reading and using this book is not enough. In order to fulfill the requirements for many of the readings, it is necessary to have the proper connections with the Lucumi community, and that does not come out of a book.
The sheer amount of information contained within the covers of this book is astounding. I have never seen a book which explains this type of divination in anything like this amount of detail.
The size and price of this book will serve to discourage the casual browser, I am sure. It will, however, fill an important gap in the available information for the student of diloggun. While it cannot replace the personal instruction which is a vital component of that training, it can serve as an inspiration for the student.
Sacred Sounds of Santeria: Rhythms of the Orishas, by Raul Canizares
CD: Destiny Recordings, 1594770026, 60 min, 2004
This CD is a reissue of a previously issued cassette tape. It is not likely to appeal to a large audience, since it consists of songs to the orisha of Santeria (or Lucumi as it is sometimes called). There are no translations provided.
The liner notes provide a bit of background and recommendations from a Cuban high priest on who could benefit from each of the songs included in this collection.
The songs are divided into two sections – those recorded in the studio and those recorded “in the field.” The recordings, therefore, vary in quality. The studio versions have much more polish and consistency, while the field recordings are not as crisp and sharp. For all of that, the field recordings come across with a certain level of power and immediacy that the studio sessions just cannot convey.
For those who have an interest in this faith, who have never actually attended a ceremony, these songs and rhythms can begin to give a feeling for the energies involved. For those who are occasional participants in the ceremonies, these recordings can serve as a reminder between attendances.
Because these songs were recorded in Cuba, and are primarily in the language of the orisha (various African-derived dialects), they can be used as a meditation tool without distracting the conscious mind by easily understood lyrics. One can allow the sounds and rhythms to carry one along.
One word of warning may be appropriate with reference to these songs. They are designed to invoke the orisha, so they may “ride” their followers. The orisha expect to possess their followers, and even when they don’t do so, the power of their presence may be unsettling (and/or overwhelming) if you are not used to it.
This disk is a welcome addition to an all-too-small group of readily available recordings of “traditional” or “indigenous” music. There is a need to preserve these songs and rhythms, and the technology available today should make this easier to accomplish. Field recordings offer a better feel for the culture they come from.
Mr. Canizares has added a few non-Lucumi songs, also recorded in the field. These are from faiths which are related to Lucumi, and share the same sense of power. There is an instance of a song in Spanish (after all, Cubans do speak Spanish in their daily lives), but most of the songs are untranslatable to the average listener.
The CD is enjoyable on several levels – as an example of Afro-Cuban music, as a sampling of the power and majesty of Afro-Cuban religious expressions, and as background when reading material relating to the Lucumi faith (such as Mr. Canizare’s excellent Cuban Santeria). While it isn’t for everyone, it can certainly by an eye-opening experience if you allow it to be.
Obi: Oracle of Cuban Santeriaby, Ocha’ni Lele (B. Stuart Myers)
Destiny Books, 0892818646, 2001
This book, by a priest of Santeria, who also holds initiations in the religion of Palo Mayombe, offers a look within a divination system used in Santeria. Like his previous work, The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination, it presents information unavailable before now, except through oral transmission within the structure of the religion. For this we owe him a debt of gratitude. While it is not possible (nor would it be desirable) to reveal all the intricacies of a system of divination in a book, the author provides much valuable information, and gives a good foundation for understanding the background and history of this little-known (and even less-understood) system of divination.
Like the system outlined in his previous work (the diloggun), it is advised that one use this book as a training tool, as an accessory to learning from an accomplished practitioner of the art. There is much which cannot be conveyed except by experience and guidance from a more experienced individual.
Even though this system of divination is simpler than the previously explored one, it is by no means simple. A great deal of information must be committed to memory, including prayers in an unfamiliar language, ritual gestures, and an assortment of requirements and prohibitions.
This book contains all the basics needed to begin using this method of divination, but there are many nuances which can only be learned by observation and by doing. While it would be possible to begin using the Obi system without having a more experienced practitioner available, I don’t feel it would be advisable. Unless one has been raised in the faith, and is thoroughly familiar with the orisha, their likes and dislikes, their requirements, and their interactions with humanity, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation and misunderstanding.
Where this book will be of greatest value, besides being a valuable resource for one being trained by an experienced diviner, is as a reference for the novice who has a reading done using this system. It would be possible to return home and, assuming one was paying close attention during the reading, look up the signs that appeared as a way of obtaining further insight. Nothing in this book, of course, should be considered as a contradiction of the advice given by the diviner, since the book contains merely the bare bones, and an experienced diviner calls upon his/her experience and deeper knowledge of the orisha.
Once again, as I said in my reviews of The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination, this is not a must-have book for the average reader. For one wishing to learn about this particular system of divination, it is the best book on the subject I have seen. It is clearly written, easy to read, and the author does not talk down to the reader. It is easily affordable, and well worth the effort to obtain and read it.
The Secrets of Afro-Cuban Divination: How to Cast the Diloggún, the Oracle of the Orishas, by Ocha’ni Lele (B. Stuart Myers)
Destiny Books, 0892818107, 2000
This is an extremely specialized book on an extremely specialized topic. The Diloggun is a divination method which, until the publication of this book (as far as I know), was handed down only within the Santeria community, and even then with restrictions firmly in place.
Although I have had readings done for me in the past, this book has helped to open up the experience. Had it been available twenty years ago, I’m sure I would have gotten even more from my first readings. I’m not sure about the wisdom of providing this depth of information to those not associated with the religion. One needs to be immersed in the culture, in my opinion.
The author intends this book as the introductory volume in what must ultimately be a much larger exploration of the subject. No one volume can truly give the information, background, stories and accessory data which make the reading of the shells such an intense experience. He speaks from experience, rather than theory, which is the only way to explain this complex system.
This book is aimed at followers of the Lucumi faith. While it is possible for others to use this method of divination, it seems to me that an immersion in the culture and belief system is an integral part of the experience. There is much more to this system of divination than the mere words on paper.
It is important to realize that this system of divination relies not on psychic ability, but upon a set of living, growing traditions. This way of communicating with the universe relies on proper forms of address, proper attitudes of respect, and proper interpretation of the responses received. Pronunciation of the invocations and prayers is expected to be correct; rhythm is important; reverence is paramount. This is not a system to be used in a frivolous manner. If you want to know if your lover is true to you, get out your Tarot cards. If you want an overview of the major influences in your life, this may be the system for you.
The prayers are given in the traditional language of the Lucumi, as is proper and traditional. Some of the information contained in them needed to be fine-tuned (assuming you know which orisha is your parent). If that is unknown, generic prayers are given.
Those who never been exposed to the Lucumi religion, and specifically to diloggun, will probably find the procedure confusing. It is far more involved than most commonly used system, takes far more preparation for the readings, and is far more exacting in the procedures to be followed, and the sequence to be adhered to. Do not even consider learning this system if you are at all impatient. There is much to be memorized, and perfected, before one is competent to use this system.
This book is best used as an adjunct to learning at the knees of an experienced practitioner. I would go so far as to say that this is the only practical way to learn this system.
The first 54 pages of this work lay out the groundwork which needs to be carried out for each reading. This is the smallest part of the book, yet it is vitally important. There are no shortcuts in the diloggun system. Once this section has been absorbed, it is time to move on to the possible results.
There would be little point to discussing this part of the book, as it makes far more sense to see it as a teaching tool (which it is), and not as something to simply read.
This book concludes with samples of readings; a short list of mail order sources of supply (unnecessary if you live in or near a large city); a thirty page glossary which, while not extensive covers all the basics; three pages of suggested reading (with comments on some of the more “popular” treatments); and an index.
This book should be considered as a start of a library devoted to the divinatory systems used by the Lucumi. There are several other volumes which should be included in such a library, and this author has promised to produce at least some of them.
This is not a book intended for the general reader, who might find themselves either confused, or bored, or both. Rather, it is intended for a relatively specialized audience. For that audience, however, it is one of the best, clearest, explanations of that divinatory system I have ever been exposed to. If you are very interested in learning about the diloggun system of divination, this book will provide you with an excellent start on the path.