Let me explain for a moment what Sanse is and is not, and the differences between Sanse and Espiritismo Criollo, also known in Puerto Rico as Espiritismo Folclorico or Espiritismo de la Mesa Blanca. Both are very similar in beliefs and structure, but have many differences. If they were both the same, why rename a spiritual tradition that has been established, grounded and is a rooted family spiritual belief system?
Although their are no historical records of when and what family started it, the earliest known accounts of the existence of Sanse on the island have been dated from around the late 1930s to the early 1940s, to a small group of Afro Puerto Rican families that integrated traditional Espiritismo beliefs with that of Puerto Rican Brujeria, Dominican 21 Division and Haitian Vodou. Some individuals credit the origins of Sanse to a single Papa Boko or Houngan that migrated to Puerto Rico in the 1920s. This could be so, but it has been historically documented that in 1960 there was an estimated 1,812 Dominicans living on the island, and that Puerto Rico has witnessed an increase in illegal immigration from the Dominican Republic since as early as 1970s. It is estimated that at present time 200.000 Dominicans live in Puerto Rico. Haitians also migrated to Puerto Rico as early as 1803 with an increase in 1898. With groups of Haitians in the coastal towns of Aguadilla, Mayaguez and Juana Diaz. It has been estimated that around 8.000 Haitians or Puerto Ricans of Haitian descent live in Puerto Rico. These two minority groups greatly influenced the birth of Puerto Rican Sance, similar to how in the 1950s and 60s Cubans influenced Puerto Rican Espiritismo in New York creating Puerto Rican Santerismo.
Sanse soon became very popular amongst Afro Puerto Ricans on the island, and in areas of the United States where Puerto Rican people reside. As many elements of Sanse were added to Espiritista Templos and Centros and its practices has also influenced Puerto Rican Brujeria and Curanderismo.
While ancestral veneration and trance possession in some form has been a part of Borinquen / Puerto Rico before Christopher Columbus set a foot on Borinquen soil. Much of the foundation of Espiritismo Criollo on the island was heavily influenced with the Taino spiritual and religious culture, that was believed to have been completely eradicated by the Spaniards. The enormous genocide and atrocities done to the Taino people can not be disputed and has been recorded in historical texts, not only in Puerto Rico but through out the Caribbean, as well as North, Central and South America. It is also a fact that a few pure blood Taino males did in fact survive and many Spaniards took on Taino woman as wives. These Taino and other indigenous wives gave birth to the first mestizos, and although many of these Taino women where baptized into Roman Catholicism, under the guise of Christianity they taught their children the lore, customs, traditions and belief systems of their ancestors.
Espiritismo Criollo also has a mix of French Kardecian Spiritism, and African Yoruba and Congolese religious beliefs. When the African slaves came into the island, some where brave enough to become fugitives and hid in the caves or rain forests of the island. These fugitive slaves became known as Cimmarones and while many lived in solitude, some where taken in by the few rogue Taino people who survived and hid themselves as well. The paring of the two also created the first Zambaggoas, Zambos or Cambujo / Cambujas on the island. This in conjunction with the mulatto children of slave masters and slaves, were the interracial children that became the first Puerto Riqueños, the first true Jibaro people of the island. Espiritismo Criollo is a tradition of the people, a Jibaro belief system, just like the infusion of various cultures, it became an infusion of the spiritual traditions which at the time was mainly followed by the poor rural mountain folk.
One who believes in this spiritual path works with Spirits known as los Seres or los Muertos as well as venerate Catholic Santos, which traditionally where wooden sculptures that resembled the ancient artistry of Taino Zemi sculptures. Also the belief in various groups of Muertos is observed, these groups are known as Comiciones and can be spirits of people from any country and culture on earth. In life they could have been atheists, spiritual or religious. They could have been Catholic nuns, the souls of other spiritists, shamans, Cacique Indian Chiefs, African housemaids, Zambaggoas, Cimarrones, Pirates and yes even Buddhists or Hindu.
Now Sanse although it has many similarities to Espiritismo Criollo, is also viewed as a branch of Vudú, and is an infusion of three cultures Puerto Rico, Haiti and the Dominican Republic. The three cultures blending and intermingling belief systems created Sanse on the island. For many decades Sanse was an underground subculture that was genetically practiced by Afro Puerto Ricans and was kept hidden and apart from the White Spanish masses. As many Puerto Ricans were and still are suspicious of Brujeria and feared anything Vudù. Also one must understand that non Catholic Puerto Ricans where not allowed freedom of religious expression until 1898, when the United States took the island from Spain.
Sanse like Espiritismo incorporates the Comiciones but also work with Muertos known as Los Sances. (Also spelled Sanses). These Sanse in life venerated the African and Indigenous Misterios known also as Loases. The Sanses are generally the mulatto, cimarrones, negros, indios and zambaggoa ancestral spirits of priests, priestesses or followers of African based traditions, as well as Taino indigenous Shamans, known as Bohiques or Buhuithu or even Caciques.
In one's personal Cuadro one can have a Sanse who in life was a Dominican Papa Boko or Puerto Rican Bruja, lets say to the Loa "Misterio" Papa Legba, this spirit will be an embajador of that punto of spirits. Lets also say his name in life was Jose, he will come down representing Legba and have similar characteristics as Legba but still hold on to many characteristics that he displayed in his lifetime. Many times they even use the name of the Misterio they venerated in life and are the Sanse of. For example, in life Maria venerated (notice I do not use the word Worship) Anaisa or Jose venerated Legba, they will come down using the name Maria Anaisa, Juan Legba or simply Mama Maria, or Papa Juan. In Sanse the Misterios do not take possession of a host in full as does traditions such as Cuban Lukumi, Brazilian Candomble or Haitian Vodou. In Puerto Rican Sanse, when the Misterios come down, they do not come slithering like surpents, juggling fire or eating glass. They come down quickly in observance, either within a Casilla or their pressence is felt within the centro or templo; then they usher in the Sances that work under them. Similar to the possesion of Pentecostals, with the Holy Spirit, the Misterios energy is very powerful and takes over the Sancistas body in jerking and shaking motions, with heavy breathing which calms down as the Sance is ushered in. A Spiritual Death and union occurs as the Casilla's mind and bodily function is placed under suspended animation and sleep while the Sance or Muerto takes over the casilla's body.
The Casilla are also called bancos or caballos. Usually speaking the Sances are very calm and usually work seated, or in a similar fashion as they worked in life. Often they speak in the tones or dialects and use phrases of the time and era when they walked the material plane, and incorporate indigenous and African words into their often broken Creollo Spanish.
In possession the Casilla's face, body composure contorts and hand gestures become very profound. Similar to that of Brazilian Umbanda and Venezuelan 3 Potencias Espiritismo.
Usually the casilla is possesed by Legba, a Guedeh, or their very own Guia who usher in the Sances. (Ones Centinela does not physically possess a person in this manner.) So lets say a Sance by the name Joaquin comes down and he in life was a Babalocha a Lukumi follower or believer in the Orisha Ochosi, he will come down either as Joaquin Ochosi, Joaquin Chosi or simply el Hermano Joaquin. He will display characteristics of Ochosi but still display many characteristics he had in life. Yes the Sanses of the jerarquía of Orishas can and do participate in Sanse sesiones.
Contrary to popular belief, Sanse is not a religion, it is a magico spiritual set of beliefs, and although it has many traditional structured views on how to perform misas, how one performs bautismos, ceremonies, in what order or what prayers are said for any given situation, has a structure on how misas are held, how one conducts themselves during a sesion, order of various division of Misterios, their likes and dislikes, and the color of clothing worn and tabus. Sance is not bounded by religious dogmas or doctrines as each and every Sociedad although they practice in very similar fashions, can and also does have various elements of differences. The main goal of Sanse as is with Espiritismo is based on the desarollo of ones spiritual faculties on the material plane, and the enlightment of the spirit in the realm of Spirits.
To say that the Sanses 'Ancestors' can only come from a certain Division is absurd. They can be the messengers to any Misterio from any division, as long as that Misterio is the Guia Principal or head punto of your Cuadro Espiritual. Meaning that if your guia is Adogan Piel, Pa Cande, or Anaisa Pye, then your Sanse will work under that punto.. Also it is important to understand that many historical Sanse have become elevated into Misterio status such as Ofelia Balendjo, Amalia Belcan, Rosita Legba, Luis Eleguedesito while others such as the Venezuelean Jose Gregorio have become elevated into a folk saint heroe statues, to name just a few and have become either vueltas / caminos of the Misterio they venerated in life or a separate divinity "Misterio" all together: within the same division, and have their own Sances as well. Many individuals have the misconception and argue that la vuelta of Marta la Dominadora known as Marta La Bruja is an ancient Lwa from Africa, while others say she is a Native Misterio of the Petro (Black) Division, or an indigenous spirit, well last time I checked the name Marta has its origins in Aramaic "Israel or Iraq in origin" and la Bruja is the Spanish word for Witch. What happened with Marta la Bruja is that in life she was or might have been a zambaggoa bruja of Arawaque and African descent and she venerated Marta la Dominadora / Metresa Lubana and her life became a part of the folclore and tradition of Lubana and associated with her, she became a vuelta a camino a sister to Lubana. (Note, in Puerto Rican Sanse their is a division of Misterios known as las Metresas which although a part of the same division can also be a part of another. The word Metresa a Creole French word which means Mistress.)
In Sanse we all have a guia espiritual, which is a Misterio, we have a Centinela, a Legba and a Guede, and often our spirits come from that group, but Sancistas are not limited to working or being the casillas to only these Misterios as Sancistas can be the casilla to muertos and Sances that do not make up their cuadro. Especially when doing an investigacion or bautismo for an ahijado or ahijada. Who better to determine your Guia your Sanses, your Cuadro, then your Guia her/himself. Why would my guia, Cachita Tumbo come to a client giving the names to the Sances of Papa Candelo, Gunguna, Madre Sili or Adogan Piel? It makes no sense.
Many people say that either you practice Puerto Rican Sance or you practice Dominican 21 Divicion, and not to mix it, which in all reality we do not. The Sances are Sances and the Misterios are Misterios, or as my abuela would say. "Al Santo, Santo, y al Angel, Angel." As I have stated the Sances are the Muertos or Ancestors that work under the punto of a Misterios. (Traditionally speaking, candles where used for the dead and the Saints, to give them light so they may find light and elevation, while incense was used for Angels, so that our prayers, thoughts and intentions would reach them. In present day, candles and incense are used for both.)
If your Guia is Cachita Tumbo, Anaisa Pye or Gran Bwa then your Sances will come down as embassadors of them, they will work under them and often act like them. Many people say do not mix, but their very words are unethical, because while they say "don't mix, it can be very dangerous" they themselves mix traditions and religions. What Religious philosophy or Spiritual tradition in the world today has not borrowed or taken from another, Sanse is not the first nor will it be the last. Other practitioners of African based traditions say that when you work with the Orisha/Lwa Oggun you should say, Tres Padre Nuestros, an Ave Maria and a Credo. Or they use the prayer to San Luis Beltran or other Catholic saints in their practices. This is as mixing as it can get. "That is like mixing bleach with amonia, but unlike those dangerous ingredients together, in this case they do and will work. To a Roman Catholic's perspective, your damming your soul to an eternal pit of fire and sulfur, while being taunted, poked, and tortured by Demons for all eternity. If this is not dangerous, what is? But in Sance you are, 'Desarollando Espiritualmente.' And yes in Sanse we say our Padre Nuestros our Plagerias del Naufrago, our Ave Marias and Credos while listening to Cuban, Dominican Spiritual music, Taino music or Puerto Rican Bomba, Plena or Salsa music of the 1970s as we pray and call on our Sances who are the embajadores of a certain punto of Misterio. Why do we do this? For the simple fact that it works, shows results and as a people we represent all the cultures and blood lines that run through our veins, no matter what religious donomination they followed in life.
Also what good is it of me to play music or pray for that matter in a dialect or language that is unknown or not understood to the people at a Misa or Sesion. In some way the language must be fully understood for it to resonate deep within our very souls, and trigger our subconcious minds. If this was not the case, Roman Catholics would still be saying the Holy Mass in Latin.
In Espiritismo Criollo, the beliefs in Catholic Saints and Angels is a very big part of the tradition. Sanse does not differ as images of Saints,Angels and African deities known as atributos de los santos, adorn the tableau espiritual, similar to Espiritismo, with the exception that within Sanse the Saints and Angels can and often do go by the names of the Loas or Orisha known as Misterios, and many of the Catholic Saints are viewed as Embajadors or mensajero to these very Spirits, not the same but of the same.
Lastly Sanse often deals with folk magic, yerbatero herbalism, curanderismo healing and divination that traditionally are not a part of Espiritismo Criolla. This folk magico system is closer in nature to Puerto Rican Brujeria than Haitian Vodou. It deals with the making of herbal baths, protective amulets, charm bags, and candle magic.
Both Sanse and Espiritismo do not perform any blood sacrifices. If a Sancista says he/she offers blood sacrifices its because he/she is also a Houngan, Palero or Babalorisha and have received the proper initiation ceremonies to do so. But the main goal of the Sanse Sociedad is the elevation of both their cuadro espiritual and themselves, and while offerings of food, liquor, tobacco, candles, and herbs are given to the Comiciones, Sanse, Santos and Misterios, generally speaking blood is not offered within Puerto Rican Sanse.
Sanse and Espiritismo Similar Traits.
1. Both Sanse and Espiritismo are monotheism spiritual tradition and have the belief in one God, the Supreme Intelligence, the creator and cause of all there is, ever was and ever will be. In Sanse God is often called Papa Dios, Buen Dios, or El Todo Poderoso, and is not limited to sexual gender or human name. Although the word Papa which means father is often used to describe God. Buen Dios is the Cause of all there is in the Universe. Each individual has their personal take and belief on what is God.
2. Both believe in reincarnation, meaning that the soul of an individual can and will reincarnate within the family bloodline or a different culture altogether.
3. Both believe in the plurality of the worlds.
4. Both believe that communication and interaction between the living and the spirit world is possible and occurs frequently. Spirits can interact with the living as well as interfere Also one does not have to be a part of Espiritismo or a Sanse Sociedad for this to happen, it happens regardless of your beliefs or disbeliefs.
5. Both believe in the progression of the Soul and that the Spirit can evolve.
6. While many view either or as a religion, many view both Sanse and Espiritismo as a spiritual foundation or philosophy.
7. Traditionally speaking those who participate in, Espiritismo Criolla and Sanse do so because it is a family tradition, and ones parents, grandparents, godparents, aunts, uncles and ancestors practiced a form of trance possession and had a belief in the communication and interaction with Spirits and the preservation of the memory of ones Ancestors and descendants.
8. Both Sanse and Espiritismo Criolla were developed with the Puerto Rican cultural experience at the time, and is always progressing, ever evolving and growing. Both are traditions of the people, and both are not subjected to the philosophies, institution or hierarchy of any one tradition. Remember both Espiritismo Criollo and Sanse have their primary roots in three cultures, Taino, African and European Spanish.
9. The traditions of both are learned within the home from elder family members, and both are simultaneously practiced with other institutionalized religions, such as Catholicism, Pentecostals, or even African or Indigenous belief systems.
10. Both believe in the law of Cause and Effect. "Karma". What you throw into the universe, good or bad, will come back to you like a boomerang.