A Year in White
Cultural Newcomers to Lukumi and Santería in the United States
- ISBN: 9780813571195
- Published By: Rutgers University Press
- Published: December 2015
When people think of the Afro-Diasporic faiths—Vodoun, Santeria, Lukumi, Macumba, and others—we think of them as ethnically bounded. They are seen as for Latinx and African Americans exclusively, and for people raised in the tradition, not as religions that have converts… and certainly not as religions which attract, in a serious way, converts from the white American majority.
C. Lynn Carr, one of those converts, sets out to study newcomer initiates into these traditions. Like T. M. Luhrmann in Persuasions of the Witch’s Craft (Harvard University Press, 1989), which examined practitioners of witchcraft in England, Carr is interested in the process by which people in the dominant culture come to believe in an entirely different spiritual and magical worldview. Lucumi is a polytheistic tradition, with a strong emphasis on trance and possession, a metaphysic and understanding of the gods in relation to humanity, the natural world, ethics, and daily life that is antithetical the mainstream Christian culture of the United States. For a person from outside of the religion to come into Lucumi, especially a person from outside the ethnic subcultures that provide the principal support for the religion and its practitioners, a deliberate enculturation into its norms is required. This is a matter of a strong call from the gods, personal curiosity and desire, and specific ritual and teaching.
An intense period of shaping is indicated in the titular “year in white.” After initiation, all Lukumi practitioners who seek to become initiates (and this more intense clergy path is a minority taste) must observe thirteen months of restrictions on what they eat and drink (abstention from alcohol for one thing), where and how they sleep (and with whom), social restrictions, and most notably, how they dress. Dressing completely in white clothing, which provides a visible reminder of their set-apart status to their community of faith and the ethnic subculture, provides a series of challenges in the larger society. This once uncommon practice is becoming an expected part of religious devotion in these communities (169).
Carr’s survey and interviews focusing on the year in white produced a pool of 249 results, with participants largely ethnically Hispanic or African American and largely from Christian backgrounds. The metrically inclined will be pleased with Carr’s charts and tables, but the heart of the work is the autoethnographic exploration of her year and the personal accounts and explorations of the 162 participants that she quotes directly.
“The year in white is a lesson in lived religion,” says Carr (170). The mundane intersecting with the sacred during this year gives it a peculiar and lasting power in the religious lives of Lukumi practitioners: all of life is charged with the sacred and one is reminded afterward of that reality when one goes back to being profane. And one re-evaluates the parts of life that are restricted in this time set aside, seeing them in the light of the sacred.
A Year in White is a very fine account and a thoughtful exploration of conversion, deepening faith, and religious socialization, and a thoughtful portrait of the worldview of the Lukumi religion from the inside and how it is incorporated into the lives of the converts that Carr studies.
Samuel Wagar is a doctoral student in theology at St. Stephen's College, a Wiccan priest, and chaplain at the University of Alberta.Sameul WagarDate Of Review:November 8, 2017