Where Men are Wives and Mothers Rule: Santeria Ritual Practices and Their Gender Implication

Explores the philosophy and practices of the Orisha traditions, principally the Afro-Cuban religious complex know as Santeria, as they have developed in the Americas and suggests that, unlike many mainstream religions, these traditions exist within a female-normative system in which all practitioners, regardless of their own understandings of their sex, gender or sexual orientation are expected to take up female gender roles in the practice of the religion. In spite of a growing body of feminist analysis, much theological thinking assumes a normative male perspective.  Not only are many of the major thinkers across religious traditions men but the descriptions of both the gods and human beings seem to imply that maleness is the norm; the gods and the people incorporated into theological thinking are presumed to be male unless they are specifically identified otherwise.

Explores how our ideas of religious beliefs and practices change in the light of gender awareness. Because it challenges not only Western theological traditions but also misogynistic attitudes promulgated by some scholars and practitioners, this book is provocative. By arguing that gender is a fluid concept within these religions it suggests that the qualities associated with being female form the ideal of Santeria religious practice for both men and women. In addition, it argues that the Ifa cult organized around the male-only priesthood of the babalawo is an independent tradition that has been incompletely assimilated into the larger Santeria complex.

Additional Readings

Chapter 1: Introduction

Read an Excerpt

  • Bascom, William. 1969. The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Brandon, George. 1993. Santeria from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Gross, Rita M. 2003. What Went Wrong? Feminism and Freedom from the Prison of Gender Roles. Cross Currents 53 (1):8-20.
  • E. Bolaji Idowu. 1994. Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief. New York: Wazobia.
  • McKenzie, P.R. 1976. Yoruba Orisha Cults: Some Marginal Notes Concerning their Cosmology and Concepts of Deity. Journal of Religion in Africa VIII (Facs. 3):189-207.

Chapter 2. Gender

  • Abiodun, Rowland. 2001. Hidden Power: Òsun the Seventeenth Odù. In Òsun across the Waters, edited by J. M. Murphy and M.-M. Sanford. Bloomington: Indinana University Press.
  • Bascom, William. 1969. The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. New York: Holt, Rinehart and Winston.
  • Boyarin, Daniel. 1998. Gender. In Critical Terms for Religious Studies, edited by M. C. Taylor. Chicago: The University of Chicago Press.
  • Garfinkel, Harold. 1967. Studies in ethnomethodology. Englewood Cliffs, N.J.: Prentice-Hall.
  • Hawkesworth, Mary. 1997. Confounding Gender. Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 22 (3):649-685.
  • Ortner, Sherry B., and Harriet Whitehead. 1981. Sexual Meanings: The Cultural Construction of Gender and Sexuality. Cambridge: Cambridge University Press.
  • Oyewumi­, Oyeronke. 1997. The Invention of Women: Making an African Sense of Western Gender Discourses.
    Minneapolis, London: University of Minnesota Press.

Chapter 3. Destiny and Divination

Chapter 4. Initiation

Chapter 5. Possession Phenomena

Chapter 6. Sacrifice and Violence

  • Sered, Susan. 2002. Towards a Gendered Typology of Sacrifice: Women and Feasting, Men and Death in an Okinawan Village. In Sacrifice in Religious Experience, edited by A. I. Baumgarten. Leiden, Boston, Köln: Brill.

Chapter 7.Witchcraft

  • Barstow, Anne Llewellyn. 1994. Witchcraze: A New History of European Witch Hunts. San Francisco: Pandora.
  • Evans-Pritchard, E. E. 1983. Witchcraft, Oracles and Magic among the Azande (abridged). Oxford: Clarendon
  • Hallen, B., and J. O. Sodipo. 1986. Knowledge, Belief & Witchcraft. London: Ethnographica.
  • Herbert, Eugenia W. 1993. Iron, Gender, and Power: Rituals of Transformation in African Societies. Edited by C. S. Bird and I. Karp, African Systems of Thought. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
  • Kamen, Henry. 1997. The Spanish Inquisition: An Historical Revision. London: Weidenfeld & Nicolson.
  • Ortiz, Fernando. 1973 (1906). Los negros brujos. Reprint, Miami: Ediciones Universal.
  • Palmié, Stephan. 2002. Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition.
    Durham and London: Duke University Press.

Chapter 8. Conclusion: A Distinction without a Difference