The Power of the Dead

Spirits, Socialism, and Selves in an Afro-Cuban Universe


  • Diana Espirito Santo University College London



Afro-Cuban religion, Cuban socialism, personhood, Special Period, spiritism


This paper aims to conceptualize the relationship between the main Afro-Cuban religious practices and the experience of varied social and economic difficulties in Havana, and in particular, the role of the dead—the muertos—in its articulation. I argue that the dead are not just to be seen as socio-historical idioms or representations but as constitutive elements of a Cuban religious personhood, which must be discerned, acknowledged and objectified through one’s actions in the world. Achieving harmony in relation to oneself with one’s environment at any given moment thus requires a theory of self, and in the ritually and cosmologically fluid Afro-Cuban religious sphere this is most effectively given by the spirit mediumship cult of espiritismo cruzado.


Download data is not yet available.

Author Biography

Diana Espirito Santo, University College London

I did my BSc in Philosophy and Psychology at the London School of Economics, and am now finishing a PhD in anthropology at University College London. My interests are spirit possession, anthropology of the self or person, and cognition.


Argyriadis, Kali, 2005, “ ‘Religión de indígenas, religión de científicos:’ ‘construcción de la cubanidad y santería’,” Desacatos, 17 (Jan–April), 85–106.

Basso-Ortiz, Alessandra. 2005. Los Gangá en Cuba. Havana, Cuba: Colección Fuente Viva, Fundación Fernando Ortiz.

Bolívar, Natalia. 1990. Los Orichas en Cuba. Cuba: Ediciones Union.

Bolívar, Natalia, and Roman Orozco. 1998. Cuba Santa: Comunistas, Santeros y Cristianos en la Isla de Fidel Castro. Madrid: Editorial El Pais.

Bolívar, Natalia, and Carmen Gonzalez Diaz de Villegas. 1998. Ta makuende yaya y las relgas de Palo Monte: mayombe, brillumba, kimbisa, shamalongo. Havana: Ediciones Union.

Brandon, George. 1997 (1993). Santería from Africa to the New World: The Dead Sell Memories. Bloomington & Indianapolis: Indiana University Press.

Eckstein, Susan. 2003 (1994). Back from the Future: Cuba under Castro. London and New York: Routledge.

Figarola, Joel James. 2006. La Brujeria Cubana: El Palo Monte, Aproximacion al Pensamiento Abstracto de la Cubania. Santiago de Cuba: Editorial Oriente.

Fuentes Guerra, Jesus, and Grisel Gomez. 1996. Cultos Afrocubanos: un Estudio Etnolinguistico. Havana: Editorial Ciencias Sociales.

Goldman, Márcio. 1985. “A construção ritual da pessoa: a possessão no Candomblé,” Religião e Sociedade, 12.1, 22–54.

Gordon, Avery. 1997. Ghostly Matters: Haunting and the Sociological Imagination. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press.

Hagedorn, Katherine J. 2001. Divine Utterances: The Performance of Afro-Cuban Santería. Washington and London: Smithsonian Institution Press.

Lachatañaré, Romulo. 2001. El Sistema Religioso de los Afrocubanos. Cuba: Editorial de Ciencias Sociales.

Lambek, Michael. 1989. “From Disease to Discourse: Remarks on the Conceptualization of Trance and Spirit Possession,” in Colleen Ward ed. Altered States of Consciousness and Mental Health: A Cross-Cultural Perspective. London: Sage Press, 36–61.

Limonta, Illeana Hodge, and Yalexy Castaneda Mache. 1998. “El Espiritismo Cubano en Los 90,” http.//

Mederos, Aníbal Arguelles, and Illeana Hodge Limonta. 1991. Los Llamados Cultos Sincrtéticos y el Espiritismo. Havana: Editorial Academia.

Ortiz, Fernando. 1940. “Los Factores Humanos de la Cubanidad,” Revista Bimestre Cubana, 2.XIV (La Habana) (March–April), 161–86.

Palmié, Stephan. 2002. Wizards and Scientists: Explorations in Afro-Cuban Modernity and Tradition. Durham, NC and London: Duke University Press.

Toren, Christina. 1999. Mind, Materiality, and History: Explorations in Fijian Ethnography. London: Routledge.



How to Cite

Espirito Santo, D. (2010). The Power of the Dead: Spirits, Socialism, and Selves in an Afro-Cuban Universe. Fieldwork in Religion, 3(2), 161–177.