“The Letra del año (English: literally Letter of the year) is an annual proclamation of predictions and advice by Santería babalawo for the coming year, usually issued every December 31 (New Year’s Eve on the Gregorian calendar). It originated from the annual predictions made by a council of babalawo during the Odun Ifa (New Year) festival in Yorùbáland during June.” (From Letra del Año).)
Tuesday, January 03, 2012
Much has been made lately of the role of religion in the political culture of a variety of places, ranging from the identity of a supreme religion with the apparatus of state to the importance of religion as a folkloric element of national culture.
The Washington Times Communities, Jan. 2, 2012)
These discussions have been elaborated in advanced western states, like that of the United States where it remains quite respectable to drape oneself in the social norm positions of one or another religious establishment whose adherents may exercise the franchise. This has been apparent at the start of the current presidential election cycle in the United States. "Religion has had an extraordinary presence in the buildup to the first-in-the-nation Iowa caucuses on Jan. 3" Tom Carney, Catholics silent in Iowa caucus hype: Despite low profile, Catholic activists say they’ll play role in GOP choice, The National Catholic Reporter, Dec. 30, 2011.
In most states, the priestly role has been transformed. But it is useful, as one examines the priestly role in modern western states, to consider a more traditional relationship between the priest and the state. One of the more interesting manifestations of the role of religion within political life is that of the priests of the practitioners of the old religions of Africa as re-established in the Western Hemisphere, particularly in Marxist-Leninist Cuba.
In Cuba, the preconditions are made by the Consejo Cubano de Sacerdotes Mayores de Ifá. The religions of Cuba brought to Cuba from Africa have had an impact on Cuban cultural life, and is a great source of those social norms and understandings that can have an impact on social and political life in Cuba. The relationship of these religions to the state is complicated. For the most part these religions tend to be treated like folklore, and as an integral part of the construction of Cuban national identity. Kristina Wirtz, Santeria in Cuban National Consciousness: A Religious Case of the Double Moral, Journal of Latin American Anthropology 9(2):409-438 (Sept. 2004).
The 2012 Letter is described in Larry Catá Backer, Letra del Año 2012 Desde Cuba, Nuestras Voces Latinas, Jan. 2, 2012. And, of course, priestly voices can be diverse, even within the relatively well structured confines of traditional Afro-Caribbean religions in Cuba.
The letter of Comisión Organizadora de la Letra del Año. Miguel Febles Padrón for 2011 differs in some respects from that of the Sacerdotes mayores de Ifá.
The letter of the Puerto Rican priests, Concilio de Babalawos del Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha de P.R. Letra de Año 2012 is also available.
What emerges in Cuba is in some respects little different, though more traditional and less veiled by the vestments of modern technology and the cloaking language of post Enlightenment discourse in the West. The semiotics, more raw in the Caribbean original, signals better both the relationship between religious exercise, through the medium of the priest, and political exercise, through the medium of the political representative. Where the priest advises, through communication with the divine, the separate roles of state apparatus and social norm structures of religious community are better managed. Where the priest herself serves not merely as a transmitter but also as the keeper of systems of law-norms, that is, where the language of law (of a governance community) is substituted for that of the oracle, then the interaction between priest and politician becomes more complicated.