Is Santeria Voodoo? Here Are The Main Differences And Similarities

These two religions have the same place of origin: West Africa. They also adopted some features from Catholicism. Although many people think that they are one and the same, Santeria and Voodoo have quite a bit of differences. Let’s start with an elucidation of Santeria and then Voodoo before jumping into the list of similarities and differences, or feel free to skip ahead.


Santeria merges as a diversity of different faiths. It means ‘way of saints’ or ‘honor of saints. It is an amalgamation between the orthodox Yoruba religion in West Africa and Catholicism.

The religion is also known as La Regla de Lucumi or Lucumi or ‘Lukumi’s Rule’. It emerged in Cuba between the 16th and 19th century. The roots go back to Africa, where the Yoruba tribes practiced the Lucumi religion. Between 1940 and 1960, the immigrants from Cuba spread Santeria in the United States. The religion also features Spanish Catholicism, and to this extent, it is also characterized by Spanish culture. It is well developed in Spanish-speaking people and colonies.

Their encompassing Divinity is compiled of three facets; Olodumare, Olorun, and Olofi. Olodumare takes little interest in human beings, thus it is considered to be inaccessible to humanity. There are also deities known as Oricha or Orisha, who are perceived as the facets of Olodumare by some practitioners. Practitioners believe that Orichas intercede for them if they make offerings and live in compliance with their wishes.

The masters of Santeria are mostly located in Cuba, although it is now being practiced by individuals of various nationalities. Being an Afro-Cuban religion, Santeria is an adaptable tradition that has no central authority.

Santeria fought its way up, and even after the Constitution in Cuba proclaimed freedom of religion, the religion continued to face much opposition. The Catholic Church criticized it as being folksy witchcraft, which was associated with criminality. Cuba’s government considered it ancient sorcery.

Today, almost 80 percent of the Cuban population practice Santeria, which is sometimes described as the “national religion.”


Voodoo is a word originating from Western Africa, and it means ‘moral fiber.’ It blends elements of French Catholicism and traditional religions of West Africa. It developed in Haiti between the 16th and 19th centuries during the Atlantic slave trade. Voodoo can be traced to the Fon and Ewe in West Africa, currently known as Benin. Voodoo can also be spelled as Vodou or Vodun.

In Voodoo, Iwa is a veneration of deities frequently identified as Yoruba gods and Roman Catholic saints. Iwa is an intermediary of the distant and magnificent figure that does not involve itself with humans, Bondye (God).

Voodoo’s paranormal ancestral connection is passed from generation to generation by rituals and spiritual practices. The rituals involve performers drumming that make most of the music, singing, dancing, praying, and even animal sacrifice. These actions inspire Iwa to possess one of their members with a spirit. Once the spirit comes into the member, it can speak to the god (Bondye), dead people, heal, protect, and even do magic.

There is no centralized leader within Voodoo. It is practiced differently in rural and urban areas and also in Haiti and other locations such as New Orleans, a very popular center. Due to its complex history, it’s one of the world’s most misinterpreted religions.

Having understood the fundamentals of Santeria and Voodoo, let’s examine the main similarities and differences.

Main similarities between Santeria and Voodoo

  1. Both Santeria and Voodoo are religious practices upheld by people who believe in a common God that is served by several spirits.
  2. Both religions have beliefs in possession by certain spirits – Orishas in Santeria and Loas in Voodoo.
  3. Both spirits – Orishas and Loas – are sometimes identified with Catholic saints.
  4. Santeria and Voodoo were both presented in the Western Hemisphere by slaves from North Africa, most likely Nigeria. The slaves permeated these beliefs into Christianity to avoid being persecuted, since their traditional religious expression was forbidden.
  5. These religions’ ultimate goal is to preserve rituals and cultures to future generations.
  6. Animal sacrifice is integral in both Santeria and Voodoo since they use blood for initiations and cleansing.
  7. During their ceremonies, both use dancing, singing, and drumming to connect with and worship their deities.

So the similarities between Santeria and Voodoo get many people thinking that they’re the same. However, that’s not the case. There are many clear differences between these two religions.

12 Main Differences Between Santeria and Voodoo

  1. The Santeria deities are known as Oricha or Orisha, while the Voodoo deities are known as Iwa. However, they are both known as the Yoruba gods and Roman Catholic saints.
  2. Santeria means “the way of saints,” whereas the term voodoo meaning “moral fiber” has its origin in African-Haitian religious, traditional practices.
  3. Santeria is based on Yoruba beliefs, while Voodoo is based on Fon and Ewe beliefs.
  4. There is a Spanish influence in Santeria, whereas in Voodoo religion the French influence is more prominent.
  5. Santeria developed among Afro-Cuban communities while Voodoo developed among Afro-Haitian communities.
  6. Santeria’s house of worship is known as the Casa Templo, while Voodoo’s temple is cited as the Ounfo. In Casa Templo, there is an inner room called igbodu, where rituals take place. The ceremonial site found within the Ounfu is known as peristyle.
  7. In Santeria, sacrifices to deities are made by initiates at least once per year. Ebbo is the name of the offering, which can contain a butchered animal, fruits, flowers, or candles. On the other hand, Voodoo demands sacrifices too, but different Iwa are believed to like different food types in this religion. Oungan organizes the annual feasts where animal sacrifices are made to diverse Iwa.
  8. Possession of spirits. In the possession ceremonies in Santeria, the possessed member is referred to as the “horse,” and they say that at the point where the Oricha has already “mounted” them. After the possession, the individual claims not to have any memories of the event. In Voodoo, the possessed individual is known as chual, whereas the act of possession is known as “mounting a horse.”Crise de iwa is the trance of possession.
  9. Santeria practitioners believe that herbalism is a foremost essential in their healing practices and plays significant roles in their members’ health. In Voodoo, Oungan is consulted but he may often send his clients to medical professionals.
  10. In Santeria, the ritual performing ceremonies are known as Toque De Santo. They are also known as Tambor. In these ceremonies, the Oricha is summoned, and the practitioners believe that he is capable of healing the sick and blessing those who deserve it. The Voodoo’s ceremony is often known as the dans. The word comes from dancing, which has a prominent role in religious gatherings. In most cases, the gatherings are held at night with songs and dances, and the Iwa is summoned to join the rite. Food offerings and animal sacrifices are made to Iwa during these ceremonies.
  11. Initiation in Santeria is known as kariocha. The initiation requires a payment, but the amount is decided according to the status of the practitioner and the client’s wealth. Santero oversees the initiation ceremony where the initiate is called Iyabo. It is usually a seven-day ceremony. Sacrifices are made to the Oricha, and a four-legged animal is slaughtered accompanied by twenty-five birds. After the ceremony, the initiate sare supposed to go through a year-long period called the journey of iyawo.  During this period, they are expected to perceive numerous restrictions. They are to learn about different deities and how to make sacrifices to them. This is always marked as a life-changing event. Initiation in Voodoo tends to be expensive and needs a lot of preparation. The initiate, who is also known as Kanzo, goes through four levels of initiation. Once the initiate completes the fourth stage, the individual becomes a manbo.
  12. In Santeria, there are rites sketched to make peace with the soul of the departed called itulu. Santeras or santeros are believed to communicate with the spirits of the dead. Practitioners believe that spirits offer advice and give warnings. Voodoo followers also believe in the afterlife. But there’s a different approach. For one year and one day, they believe the deceased’s spirit to be trapped in water and mountains or anywhere one can call and hear an echo. After one year and one day, a ritual is performed to release the deceased’s spirit into the world to live again. Now the spirit can live anywhere, in the trees or even the wind.

Final Word: Santeria vs Voodoo

Santeria and Voodoo are not witchcraft but a religious belief that is highly misunderstood . Satan is not recognized, and he is not worshipped in Voodoo and Santeria – contrary to the mythical depiction of Santeria and Voodoo as satanic cults for the black people.

The bottom line is that Santeria is not Voodoo, as many people believe, but they share a common history. Secretly the practitionres prayed to their ancestor’s gods as they hid behind Christian saints. Slowly, the African religious rituals merged with Christianity. In Cuba, the practice became known as Santeria, while in Haiti, it started being referred to as Voodoo.

The one thing that is for sure, both Santeria and Voodoo have mysterious, occult practices. They are marred with dark mystery due to the secrecy that guards these esoteric segments of their practice. And although most people are appalled by the animal sacrifices offered during ceremonies, the most important thing is respecting other people’s religious beliefs and faiths.

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