Auguring life: Interpretation and guidance in Lukumi cowry shell consultation

Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Philosophy (PhD)




Philip P. Arnold


Lukumi, Santeria, Cowry shells, Divination, Cuba, Yoruba

Subject Categories



Lukumi is referred to by various names including Santeria, Ayoba, and La Religion , or "the Religion." This dissertation examines the role of el Diloggun , or cowry shell reading in Lukumi . Cowry shell reading is a structured practice that examines the unique spiritual frame of the Lukumi practitioner. The process whereby an individual's unique spiritual frame is examined in terms of spiritual, emotional, physical and financial requirements for well being is captured. El Diloggun prescribes ritual action to rectify any spiritual imbalance found and offers guidance to the individual practitioner regarding how to live in terms of their unique spiritual requirements. How cowry shell reading informs a Lukumi practitioner's sense of self and generates other rituals within the tradition is explained. Some of the types of rituals generated by el Diloggun that are situated include further readings of the cowry shells, kariocha , or ordination into the Lukumi priesthood, various types of ebbo , or offering, animal sacrifice, despojo , or purging, the casting of idembe , or spells, and the appeasement of egun , or the dead. The interrelatedness of key concepts within Lukumi is explained. Key concepts include: Ashe (divine force, or essence), Eleda (the "soul," individual destiny), Ile (non blood spiritual lineage) ancestor worship, blood ancestor worship, Orisha (semi-divinities), Olorisha ( Lukumi priest/priestess), Italero/Oriate (priest expert in reading the cowry shells and master of Lukumi ceremonies), spirit guides, attached spirits, ebbo (offering, sacrifice), Spiritism (practice Lukumi borrows from that believes in reincarnation, spirit mediumship and spiritual evolution), animal sacrifice, Ileke (charged necklaces), Patakies (cosmogonic myths), and spirit and Orisha possession. Lukumi history including its Yoruba roots in West Africa, its development on Cuban soil, and relevant issues of Cuban cultural identity are situated. The dismissal of Lukumi practices in Cuba and the United States is accounted for. The concept of a "nondismissal-dismissal" is introduced to explain the dismissal of Lukumi practices. The dissertation is written in the first person tense and the anthropological participant observer model is utilized. The problematical operation of the Cartesian "I" in the participant observer model is situated and challenged. An alternative model drawn from Lukumi concepts is advanced.


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