Vodoun/Santeria/Macumba in Chicago

Where in the Chicagoland area may I go to see rituals or learn about the religions or speak to practitioners of the religions of Vodoun (a.k.a. Voodoo), Santeria, and/or Macumba? The actual thing, not some scam to rip off those who know nothing about it.


WRS - maybe Baron Samedi can help Us keep Mordor impregnable.

Look up “botanica” in the phone book. Especially in conjunction with names like “Legba” or “Ogun”. Rogers Park used to have at least one very active Voudoun group, but it’s been years since I had any contact with those sorts of folks. Pilsen has Santeria groups - you do speak Spanish, si?

Generally, folks into this sort of thing are not eager to have tourists drop by. It might behoove you to do some serious research prior to approaching anyone.

Evanston had a decent-sized Haitian community when I was growing up there, to the extent that we had a Haitian Creole bilingual ed program at my high school. I have no clue, however, about the community institutions; they seem to be restricted to a radio show on the Loyola U. radio station (WLUW 88.7 FM, sometime on Saturday afternoon IIRC).

And yeah, it was a rather insular community, with a few exceptions. I can’t imagine them being all that welcoming to random strangers, but I guess one never knows. It sounds fascinating, though - let us know how it goes!

It IS possible to get into either community - in college I knew people who were active in Voudoun and used to organize annual trips to Haiti for their major festivals. And I know someone where I currently work who is Santerian. But I have those contacts because I know how to keep my mouth shut - they ARE secret societies to a large degree.

In truth, there’s a lot more of this going on than people think - once you know how to spot this stuff you find it all over. But it’s going to take you awhile to gain their trust.

Think RESPECT. Be very, very, very RESPECTFUL. And patient. Especially if you’re white, English speaking, and of Christian background.

Thanks for the responses so far. :slight_smile:

I guess one advantage I have is that I am neither white nor from a Christian background.

These Afrogenous religions are very, very fascinating.

I found a link listing some botanicas in IL - I’ll check them out during the week.

Other than the ethnicity of the practitioners (African for Vodoun, Latino for Santeria, other South American for Macumba), what differentiates the different manifestations of Afrogenous religions in the US?


With the understanding that I am not a practitioner and may be wrong on some of this…

Voudoun/Santeria is very heavily based on Ife, a religion from the Yoruban areas of western Africa - largely Nigeria and some surronding territory. The names of the dieties or loa (Voudoun) or orishas are almost identical. From what little I know, Santeria is slightly closer to the African original. Voudoun is definiately influenced by the native animism of Hispanolia and includes things like veves, a sacred form of drawing, that Santeria does not have.

Both Voudoun and Santeria are syncretized with Catholicism. The folks doing the enslaving in those days tried to impose Christianity by force, with very mixed results. The African-derieved slaves noted the similarity between certain Catholic saints and their own gods, and preserved much of their own religion by disguising it as veneration of the saints. That, in fact, is where the word “Santeria” is derieved from - worship of the saints. And in English, “saint” is used to refer to loa and orishas. You also get some weird (to outside eyes) correlations, like matching up Santa Barbara and Ogun, god of iron and war. Most Santerians are still publically Catholic, as are most Voudoun types, although this may be changing from when I knew folks involved in this.

Macumba is derieved (it is believed) from Congolese religions, but I know too little about it to comment any further than that.

However, even if all these folks are related it doesn’t mean they all get along. Quite the contrary. And there are variants everywhere. Voudoun, being Haitian, is pretty consistent but it seems (at least to me) that every Latin American country has it’s own form of Santeria, influenced by local, Native American practices, the mix of Africans in the population influences, how harsh the Catholics were or weren’t in colonial times…

As if this wasn’t all confusing enough - recent African immigrants have also brought a pure form of Ife to the Chicago area. These folks aren’t syncretized with anyone, they’re the pure item, unmixed with anything. Want more strangeness? For several years their most public representative was a convert of entirely European ancestry - in other words, a Caucasian. Which is not to say he was their official spokesperson or anything - he just was willing to put himself in the public eye. Took a lot of heat for doing so - some folks in the community never spoke to him again.

Only in America, right…?

Any idea what the purists in Chicago call themselves or how to contact a member? (If you don’t want to do so in a public forum like this, feel free to email it to me.)

This information really helps!

How do you know so much? Were you into it at one point?


Nope, sorry - I genuinely did not knowingly know any of the Ife crowd (odds are you do someone practicing this if you live in a large urban area in the Americas, but like I said, they have secret society tendencies)

There was a woman named Maya Deren who converted to Voudoun, then wrote a book called Divine Horsemen, which is a pretty good intro to the religion from an information standpoint. Ms. Deren has long since passed away, but her husband was a tenured professor at the college I attended (he, too, has since passed away) and, though one thing or another, there was a small clutch of professors and students who were actively into it. At one point, we even has a display of religious flags and banners, along with some other paraphenalia, as the “Art of Voodoo” at our school. Among other things, they brought in a Voodoo priest to bless the display. Some of these same folks were involved in the display of Voudoun art and culture at the Chicago Field Museum some years ago as well, and some displays of Santeria items.

So, while I was not into it myself I was around a lot of people who were into it, and who I presume still are. I have since lost contact with them (this was all about 20 years ago) but the communities are still out there.

Like I said, be respectful and patient. When your respectful, patient behavior convinces people you are genuinely interested and not just a tourist looking for thrills you stand a good chance of getting an invitation to start coming to events. There are a lot of books out there, of varying accuracy… it’s good to do a little research but never assume what you read last week applies to the goup you’re dealing with today, except in the most general way.

By the way - although not all things Voudoun, Santerian, or Ife involve animal sacrifice, animal sacrifice is intergral to these religions. Try not to freak out when they kill the chickens. They are aware that, as an outsider, this is probably foreign to you but even so, leaping to your feet and running screaming in horror down the street is definitely a faux pas

It’s also useful to keep in mind that many of these people are from places without many refrigerators. If you want to keep meat fresh, the best way is keep live chickens. Killing a chicken (or goat, or sheep) is the first step in preparing dinner, and no bigger deal than you or I transferring a butterball from the freezer to the fridge to thaw it.

Avoid any book or website associated with New Orleans. They are generally massively distorted and watered down in order to be more acceptable to tourists. A friend of mine was thinking of getting back into the practice of Santeria, and showed me some websites. The genuine (to me anyway) websites were full of all kinds of information. The site of a New Orleans shop contradicted what all the other sites said (Veves should be drawn in powder, on the floor, never just copy a veve design.). The NO site said ‘Here’s our veve for Eshun. Go ahead and print it out and put it on your wall’

Dolls are far more of a Hollywood thing than a piece of genuine Voodoun.

Touch nothing until you’re sure that you’re allowed. It’s rather poor form to be found snacking on the dish of candies left for a Loa. (Fortunately, I was able to convince folks that I was being ridden by the Baron, and avoid an ugly situation).

Fortunately for me, seeing animal sacrifice is nothing strange. I vividly remember the sacrifice of goats and cows in Pakistan during 'Eid-ul-Adha. I also remember, with awe, when my mother and I would go to weekly market to buy vegetables and chickens. The man selling the chickens would take one out of the coop, say a supplication, then slaughter the chicken, skin it, gut it, cut the meat up, pack it in black bags, which my Mom would separate and freeze. It’s almost a natural act, to me. I also believe that slaughtering and preparing any animals - especially if done but with a knife and rope - takes a lot of skill, strength, and expertise. People may “eeeewwww” all they want - but this is the way people still do it. I find it fascinating instead of revolting. My problem might be leaning in too close to see what the sacrificer is doing.

One thing I have learned is that there are Afrogenous religions and there are scams. I want the real thing, not some modern adaptation. From what I have read, tradition is a major element.

I’ll be trying to visit some botanicas tomorrow (technically, today). I’ll try to be polite, respectful, and patient. I just hope they are as patient with my broken Spanish.

Thanks, y’all, for your posts! They broaden my mind!

WRS - ire’ a botanicas hoy para hablar con botanicistos y tratar a buscar un santero o una santera con quien puedo aprender ma’s.

I’m not a practitioner either, but from what I understand about Macumba, it’s kind of a catch-all term for several different Afro-Brazilian spiritualist traditions–the most important ones being Candomble and Umbanda. Candomble in particular is based on Yoruban religion, as many of Brazil’s slaves (particularly those in Bahia) came from West Africa, which is reflected in the orixas. You find many of the same spirits as in santeria, and the same syncretist tradition, though the orixa-saint identification may differ slightly (for instance, in Candomble and Umbanda, St. Barbara is usually identified with Iansa, while St. George is identified with Ogun).

Umbanda is more of a mixture of Yoruba and Bantu (there is where the Congolese element comes into play) traditions, sometimes with a strong dose of Kardecist spiritualism. It includes many of the Yoruban orixas, and also honors ancestral-type spirits in the tradition of Bantu religion. Emphasis differs with individual Umbanda temples (terreiros)–some focusing more on the African traditions, other more syncretic, etc.

The term “macumba” is sometimes identified with Quimbanda, which is a variant of Umbanda associated more with black magic (you’ll also see animal sacrifices in quimbanda terreiros, whereas a lot of Umbanda terreiros denounce the practice).

Candomble is found most often in northeastern Brazil (esp. Bahia), while Umbanda is more often located in urban centers (Rio and Sao Paulo). I know nothing about Chicago, but I would not be surprised if you found some Umbanda or Quimbanda terreiros active there–I would think that Candomble is less common.

Quick update: I went to a botanica in Chicago a few days ago. They had one person there who could speak English, which was a real help. (I can read and write Spanish very well, but understanding it spoken and communicating verbally is a challenge.)

A man there would throw shells and then advise what would need to be done, if anything, to achieve one’s goal. But he doesn’t read the shells. One can learn about the past, present, and future if one reads the shells. But without reading them, they could tell me very little. The lady told me I would need to consult a santero or babalawo. When I asked if they could recommend one, she told me that she would ask, but that she doubted since they (she and the man) didn’t like dealing with santeros or babalawos. To my good fortune, a babalawo came into the store. The three of them talked for some time, then the lady took me to the babalawo and we spoke for a short while. He said he would leave the address of a santera with the store. He was a babalaw, so he didn’t read shells. Santeros did, though. I also got his phone number, so I could keep in touch with him.

I have to go back to the store soon to get the address.

(What was odd was that the man and the babalawo then sat down to smoke and watch TV. I wonder if the whole “I don’t like santeros and babalawos” schtick was to prevent nosey “aleyos” (outsiders) from interfering too much in what, as you guys have said, is a secret system.)

I don’t know what I’m basing my impressions on, but it seems there’s more commitment in being involved in Santeria than in Vodoun. I may be wrong.

Anyhoo, more as more happens!

WRS - Making some progress! Woohoo!

Cowrie shells? Sounds like the divination system based on the “table of Ife” - it’s not related to the Asian I Ching system but there are some similarities.

Whether you like santeros or not, you would never be so rude as to express a dislike to their face. They are treated with utmost respect and courtesy.

And yes, discouraging nosey outsiders probably plays into it - but the babalawo decided to talk to you, which means you may not stay an outsider.

Huh. I wouldn’t think so… but if you find out do please check back and inform us (unless, of course, you are sworn to secrecy).

There have long been rumors of human sacrifice for the deep sea *loa * of Voudoun… which would certainly constitute a commitment on the part of her clergy. But those are just rumors (so it is said).

There is more than one level of practitioner. You can participate in rites and worship the orishas without more commitment than, say, the laity of the Catholic church. Once you’re initiated into the service of an orisha, though, the commitment is much greater and lifelong.

I will now fight the urge to make a Cthulhu joke.

Re The Shells

Either the man was faking it and just taking money. Or (and I consider this more likely) he can read the shells perfectly well, but isn’t inclined to share more information with customers than telling them what steps to take.

“Hmmm. I’ve gotten pattern 495-the parable of the three owls. I could spend a week explaining the intricacies of the parable to this guy, which would probably violate one of the oaths I took while learning the art. Or, I could just boil it down to ‘You’ll never get that promotion unless you apologize to your father.’ Yeah, I think I’ll just tell him that.”

What’s the problem. Doc? That’s how all fortune-telling is done!

Are you referring to the first or second possibility?

If the first- Whether or not divination actually works, any person consciously faking it is a fraud and a liar.

If the second- I have no problem with it. My doctor doesn’t explain the tests and diagnosis in detail. He just says ‘It’s Hans Sprungfeld syndrome. I’ll write you a prescription.’

Second. I meant second - well, of course there are SOME who are guilty of #1

Folks who get a tarot reading, as an example, are not interested in a two-hour dissertation on, say, the iconography of the Hanged Man - they want it short and sweet.


I am now a member of the greater Santeria family. Although I cannot be called an “official” member of the religious system yet, I have a foot in. The official part comes after receiving the Warriors.

This afternoon, after finding a madrina or godmother some time ago, I received the collares.

I found my madrina by calling a list of botanicas I found online. This was the only place where they admitted they had a person who worked in Santeria. I did get some numbers from a botanica I visited before, but nothing seemed to come from it. I couldn’t get a hold of anyone.

Anyway, once I met my future madrina, I was impressed. She was very skeptical and cautious about me. But she answered my questions. She consulted the shells, and said that Ellegua was my guardian. With Yemaya (her Orisha). She said that in order for Ellegua to open the doors, I would need to receive the collares and Warriors. Which is what I wanted anyway. :slight_smile:

So, today I went, was purified, and received the collares.

(Side note: one interesting part was that when passing them to me, she dropped each collar. I picked each up and handed it to her. She explained that she does that so that should a collar fall and I pick it up, the Orishas will not be offended, since they fell before placed around my neck.)

I am now saving up and preparing to receive the Warriors and Orunla (the latter which will determine who my guardian Orisha is). My madrina said she would take me to the babalawo when I am ready.

One thing I like about my madrina is that she believes in tradition and in being cautious. She’s very skeptical about everyone - everyone needs to be tested and taken with a grain a salt. The fact her madrina grossly overcharged her is why she is cautious - which is good for us, her godchildren, because she will make sure no one fools us or takes advantage of us. She’s a very nice person. :slight_smile:

She will be initiating someone into the priesthood (making Ocha) later this year, and she invited me for a feast, adding I should come early to help. :slight_smile: That made me feel good - if this is to be ile, it would be nice to help out.

I have learned quite a bit from her and from books and online. This is very fascinating!

WRS - que los Egun y los Orishas nos bendigan!