Babalú-Ayé is the Santería (Cuban) or Candomblé (Brazilian) manifestation of God as lord of the Earth.
He is syncretized with the Catholic Saint Lazarus. Saint Lazarus is the patron saint of the poor and sick. The Biblical Lazarus is a poor old man who can’t get into heaven that Jesus raises from the dead.
Babalú-Ayé is the manifestation of sickness or health. He is a popular representation of God in Cuba.
La Caminata at the Church of Saint Lazarus in Rincón, Cuba
The Church of Saint Lazarus in Rincón, Cuba becomes a pilgrimage on December 17 every year. People walk to the church. Some crawl. Some push little carts with a statue of Saint Lazarus dressed in burlap and wearing a red cloth. In an African tradition, people blow cigar smoke at the images of the saint.
The pilgrimage may be done in hope that a prayer will be answered or to give thanks for a prayer delivered.
The devoted make themselves bloody and dusty crawling as they meditate on the harsh quality of life.
This is a famous Cuban pilgrimage.
In the awán ceremony for Babalú-Ayé, an empty basket is circled with plates of food. Practitioners cleanse themselves with handfuls of food which they throw into the basket. There are many local variations of this.
Babalú-Ayé is often covered to hide his diseased skin. He uses a ritual broom for purification, earthen vessels, and cowry shells. People offer him grain.
It’s interesting how the god of the earth, and of sickness and health is worshiped at this time. In the northern hemisphere, the Earth sickens through Fall, dies in Winter, and returns to health in Spring and Summer. The Earth is brought back to life like Lazarus in the bible story.
Babalú is also associated with movement. In the north, we are entering the slowest time in the cycle of life, but are about to get moving again.
Candomblé and Tango
On a side note, the milonga form of Argentine Tango must be related to Candomblé, the Brazilian form of Cuban Santería. Tango comes from Milonga. Milonga descends from Candombe, a dance of African slaves in Uruguay. Candombe, Candomblé, it all must be the same thing.