How Santería Led Me to My Paternal Grandmother

One of our most powerful connections to other realms is through our ancestors who have passed away. This guest post by Naikazi Jones describes how she was reunited with her paternal grandmother through a meaningful Santería ritual.

By Naikazi Jones

People should consider themselves blessed if they’ve had the chance to meet and really know their maternal and paternal grandparents.  It’s harder yet if you don’t live in the same country as your grandparents or they passed away before you were born.  At a very young age, I developed a strong bond with my maternal grandparents because my family would travel to Uganda for Christmas or summer vacation, and every other year my grandparents would stay with us for two to three months. To this day, I consider them my guardian angels.

woman with her head wrapped after receiving a Rogacion de Cabeza. (Painting is "Woman in a White Turban" by the artist Madge Scott)
Woman with her head wrapped after receiving a Rogacion de Cabeza. (Painting is “Woman in a White Turban” by the artist Madge Scott)

However, my paternal grandfather passed away shortly after my parents got married, and my paternal grandmother passed away two weeks after giving birth to my father. They say that a name carries a lot of meaning, and I am my paternal grandmother’s namesake.  Growing up, my siblings and I would ask questions about my paternal grandparents, yet we never made much headway.  I have seen pictures of my grandfather and was told that he was very quiet, but I’ve never seen a picture of my grandmother, and we were only told, “She passed away shortly after giving birth.”  After a summer trip to the Dominican Republic and an unexpected, yet welcome opportunity to participate in a Santería ceremony and ritual celebrating saints and honoring our ancestors, I finally know more about my grandmother’s story—at the age of 30.

Excerpt from BBC: “Santería religion focuses on building relationships between human beings and powerful, but mortal, spirits, called Orishas through rituals and ceremonies. An Orisha is a manifestation of Olodumare (God). Followers believe that these spirits will give them help in life, if they carry out the appropriate rituals, and enable them to achieve the destiny that God planned for them before they were born. This is very much a mutual relationship as the Orishas need to be worshipped by human beings if they are to continue to exist.”

A vital unit of the Santería community is the ‘house’ called a casa or ilé. This is often the house of a senior  Santería priest, who heads an extended family.  I had the opportunity to have my head cleansed (Rogacion de Cabeza)—part of a preventive spiritual regime meant to strengthen, cool or balance the mind—by a  Santería priest. There are many different ingredients that are used, but the fundamental one is done with coconut, water, cotton and cocoa butter among other ingredients.

Divided coconut shells are also used to determine if the ancestors would like for the ritual to proceed, which is interpreted by the fall of the shells.  During this process, I knew my maternal grandparents were present, and those in the room felt them, too.  In fact, I had a tribe of ancestors show up, and they could not ignore the presence of a woman who desperately wanted to be acknowledged—this was my paternal grandmother.  The entire process was very beautiful, loving and positive, and I left the experience determined to learn more about my grandmother—especially because I had recently discovered that I was expecting my second child.

When I returned to the States, I was given instructions of how to meditate, set up my own alter, and engage in rituals to continue my practice.  I have always been a person who trusts my gut and do not take coincidences lightly.  Through journaling and sharing my dreams with my Santera, there were instances where we dreamed the same thing, or people close to me had the same random thought and acted upon it.  After completing a 9-day ritual for my paternal grandmother, reassuring her of my love and praying for her enlightenment, I asked my mom for more information.  My mom shared with me that they had been given a picture of my grandmother within the past five years—she was beautiful and fairly tall.  I always knew that my father had three siblings, but I learned that my father was her only child.  I discovered more than I’ve ever known about her, and in turn, learned more about my father, too.   I have asked my parents to bring the picture of my grandmother when they visit after I give birth.  If anything, I know ALL of my ancestors will be in the delivery room that day, praying for a healthy birth and encouraging me to see through the pain to receive our little blessing.

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