Each year on December 16–17, thousands of Cubans of different religious persuasions make their way to Saint Lazarus’ shrine on the the outskirts of Havana to pray for health and blessings. Some go to honor the orisha Babalú-Ayé. His name translates as “Father of the World” and he’s syncretized with his Catholic alter ego, Saint Lazarus. In the Afro-Cuban orisha pantheon, Babalú-Ayé rules over infectious diseases including small pox and AIDS. Practitioners of Afro-Cuban Santeria (also known as La Regla Ocha and La Regla Lucumi) seek his help with healing and protection from illness.
In Cuban Santeria (also known as La Regla Ocha and La Regla Lucumi), orishas are revered deities who rule over different earthly elements. They are called through dance and drum rituals to interact with humans.
Oshun, for example, is an orisha associated with fresh water. She represents female sensuality and beauty. Oshun’s movement is fluid and coquettish, which is what you’d expect from a goddess of beauty. Her signature color is yellow and she typically carries a fan with her, which she sometimes wields as a weapon. When Oshun laughs, she’s preparing to punish someone. It’s only when she cries that she’s truly happy.