Thursday, January 24, 2019

The Relationship between Espiritismo and Afro-Cuban Religions

Just as there are different Afro-Cuban Religions, there are a number of forms of Espiritismo extent in Cuba today. These include Cordón (Orile), Caridad, and Cruzado, the last which may also be described as Espiritismo Popular Cubano.

In discussing the unique connection between Espiritismo and Afro-Cuban Religions, the majority of our attention will be given to Cruzado, and the reason for that will be made clear.

Apart from among a few people, notably in the US, where Afro-Cuban Religions have gained some small popularity,, Espiritismo is closely tied to all the Afro-Cuban Religions and plays an integral, supportive role in the spiritual development and practice of their adherents.

 Converted communities outside Cuba may on occasion have Cuban origins, but often are non-Cuban whether Latino or not. Many of these groups of necessity, rely on the interpretation of one or maybe two individuals augmented by literature, and as a result may lack a broader experiential sense of what is  understood as normative within the native Cuban context. I often hear positions defended with the explanation that "my godfather said that..." or "we do/don't do that in our house." Both of those are perfectly fine explanations for why you may practice a certain way. They are not a basis for extrapolating an overarching value which privileges any given practice over others. In other words, just because you do it that way doesn't make your way more correct, nor ever more rational. It just makes it your way.

In contrast I have inquired in Cuba, the home of these traditions, as broadly as possible, what people do, and don't do. Some of that concurs with the practice in my own lineages, and some contrasts with them. What I get from this is that while there are some small numbers whose practices may vary in significant ways from the norm, and some may offer negative opinions of these more significant variations, there are many more minor variations in practice and in attitude, and such minor variations seldom are commented upon. The upshot of all that is that it is possible to charactize, at least in broad terms, what is the most common practice.

The following comments explain how Espiritismo came to be closely associated with Afro-Cuban Religions, and why it both makes sense and is a valid practice.

Afro-Cuban Religions, as they evolved into their contemporary forms in the late 1800s shared a variety of similar social and political experiences. All of them, as a result of the experience of slavery, had effectively lost the cult structures of their various African homes related to the veneration of both the recent dead and familial dead. West African Egungun traditions survived in one single location in Brazil, but not at all in Cuba. Traditional Kongo ancestral veneration required both family elders and the accumulated remains of the dead in their traditional homeland, which of course could not even be approximated in the new world. In both those examples, veneration of the generah and ancestral dead had always been a separate cult with a separate priesthood.

The arrival of espiritismo provided a widely available and flexible substitute which Afro-Cubans found appealing and adaptable to their needs. It had the added advantage of being perceived as socially acceptable.

North American Spiritualism arrived in Cuba in the 1850s with Kardecist Spiritism arriving a decade or more later. It was soon noticed and emulated by Afro-Cubans, who embraced the practice, as did slaves and Free People of Color in other parts of the Americas, most notably among Haitians, Creoles in New Orleans, and in Brazil.

The early development of Cuban Popular forms of Espiritismo, folk or Afro-Cuban Espiritismos if you will, cannot be charted or dated with certainty. While it might be tempting to speculate about what the earliest predecessors of these Espiritismos looked like, barring the discovery of new documentation, such speculation would consist of equal parts guess work and wishful thinking.

It is safe to say that modern uniquely Cuban forms of Espiritismo, while probably coming into existence a few short years after the documented arrival of Espiritismo in 1856, did not come to be a documented movement before the foundation of the first Templo Cordonero, in Monte Oscuro n 1905. Named Buscando Luz y Verdad; it was founded by Salustiano Olivera, a veteran of the Cuban war of independence.

At what time the Espiritismo often called cruzado or cruzao came to approximate its current forms (because it is a varied and idiosyncratic practice) it is impossible to say with certainty. Even its proper name is debateable. The name was apparently coined by Cuban anthropologists to describe any form of Espiritismo practices being performed in conjunction with any Afro-Cuban Religiion, a practice which seemingly was normative and not new enough to deserve comment within the religious community as early as the 1920s.

Many who practice Espiritismo Cruzado simply refer to their practice as Espiritismo. Although some have no problems embracing the term Espiritismo Cruzado, other object, due to the multiple meanings the word "cruzado" has. While it was coined by Cuban academics to describe an Espiritismo which is perceived as mixed with Afro-Cuban Religion(s), and in that sense the term is both correct and neutral, being devoid of value judgement, the word also has a coloquial meaning used to describe something which is mixed-up, messed up, or incorrect. Those who object to the term assert that there's nothing wrong with the way they practice Espiritismo, and of course, they are correct.

Until a better and catchier term presents itself, Cruzado or Cruzao is a convenient name. It represents those forms of Espiritismo used in concert with Afro-Cuban Religions. As long as we keep in mind that this refers to a range of practices and not a monolithic tradition with a fixed set of rules, we will remain on target.

Errors and misunderstanding occurs when we try to define fixed boundaries based upon narrow definitions and visions.  If you cannot be comfortable with a degree of contradiction, then none of these traditions are right for you.
Misas are the common group ritual, and almost the only one that most in North America are familiar with. They're also often quite different from what North Americans are exposed to. In spite of that, most work in Espiritismo is done at the boveda and or in consultations.

Cruzado has its own pantheon of spirits and also may deal directly with ancestors. It's connections with Palo should need no explanation, as the most common and numerous spirits in Espiritismo Cruzado are the Congos and Congas.  The logic which gives Espiritismo a presence and infuence in Ocha comes from Ocha itself which maintains that Iku lobi Ocha, the dead give birth to the saints.
Cuban culture is distinct from those of other Caribbean nations, even the Spanish speaking ones. The nation that comes closest to Cuba in its multiplicity of African ethnicities and religion

 Brazil, is still very different due to its geographical expanse. For all the sense of "shared experience" and sympathy, the culture and traditions of Cuba are not those of the DR much less Puerto Rico. Cuba had to develop ways of speaking across ethnic divides that Puerto Rico never had to, and that the DR largely has failed to do.

The way in which Espiritismo Cruzado bridges the divide between secular, non-initiate, and spiritual sectors of popular culture and Cuba's various ethnic subcultures, is very much a part of this Cuban accommodation of ethnic difference while asserting a cultural commonality called Cubanidad.

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