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The Alter of My Soul: The Living Traditions of Santeria
Synopses & Reviews
Long cloaked in protective secrecy, demonized by Western society, and distorted by Hollywood, Santería is now emerging from the shadows. . . .
In The Altar of My Soul, scholar Marta Moreno Vega recounts the compelling true story of her journey from ignorance and skepticism to initiation as a Yoruba priestess in the Santería religion. This unforgettable spiritual memoir reveals the long-hidden roots and traditions of a faith that originated on the shores of West Africa and was transported to the Caribbean and the Americas via the trans-Atlantic slave trade that started in the fifteenth century. Today, with an estimated 75 million followers worldwide, Santería is being recognized as one of Africa's gifts to the world. But gaining such acceptance was not easy.
As an Afro-Puerto Rican child in the New York barrio, Marta paid little heed to the storefront botanicas full of spiritual paraphernalia or to the Catholic-style images her parents turned to in times of trouble. Yet she often wondered why her grandmother prayed to those saints by other names: Yemayá, Ellegua, Shangó. She became fascinated by her grandmother's ancestral altar table with its rose petals, candles, perfumed water, and figurines--among them one of a magnificent African woman.
These memories comforted her in the trials she faced later in life as a minority student and teacher, as a divorced mother, and when a rift tore apart her once-close family. But, in the deepest sense, Marta was living rootless. Her activist work for the community, where things African were mostly shunned, still left an emptiness inside her. In search of a religion that would reflect her racial and cultural heritage, Marta was led to Cuba by the spirits of her ancestors, where at last she awoke to the centuries-old West African Yoruba-based Santería tradition--the Way of the Saints.
Little by little, Marta learned the legends of the individual orishas: those African goddesses and gods who made us in their image, from Ogun the god of justice and the warrior-god Shangó to Yemayá, the ocean mother, and the messenger-god Ellegua, who stands at the crossroads of life.
Dr. Vega took part in the prayers and rituals, drumming and dancing, trances and divination that spark sacred healing energy for family, spiritual growth, and service to others. And finally, her initiation revealed the orisha with whom her personal affinity and destiny lay, her own guardian angel.
Written by one who is a professor, santera priestess, mother, grandmother, and godmother to new initiates, The Altar of My Soul lays before us an electrifying and inspiring faith--one passed down from generation to generation that sparks the sacred energy necessary to build a family, a community, and a strong, loving society.
Marta Morena Vega recounts the true story of her journey that took her to her initiation as a Yoruba priestess in the Santeria religion, and unveils the hidden roots and traditions of Santeria.
About the Author
Marta Moreno Vega, Ph.D., is an assistant professor at the City University of New York's Baruch College. Professor Vega is founder of the Caribbean Cultural Center African Diaspora Institute and Amigos del Museo del Barrio. She has curated major visual arts exhibitions, including "Santería and Vodun in the Americas", and organized three international conferences on "Orisha Tradition and Culture."
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