What is Sanse?

The first African known to arrive in Puerto Rico was baptized Juan Garrido, a free man who came with Ponce de Leon in 1509. Then, the first enslaved Africans arrived in Puerto Rico in 1513. A significant enslaved African population didn’t develop until the 19th century. They feared persecution for their religions and paired or syncretized many of their spirits with Catholic saints as a way of disguising their religious practices. 

Puerto Rican Espiritismo existed in Puerto Rico in the late 1800s. Espiritismo is made up of Spiritism from Allan Kardec and Puerto Rican curanderismo, such as herbal healing, natural treatments, and shamanic rituals. Espiritismo is also influenced by Christianity, European Spiritualism, and both indigenous and New Age spirituality. Espiritistas believe in God, spirit guides, ancestors, and many other various realms of spirits.

Dominicans, who practiced 21 Divisions, came to Puerto Rico around 1910. 21 Divisions, which is from the Dominican Republic, is made up of African and Taino spirits who are the lwa, other Mysteries, and saints. The Dominicans were welcome to join in the Espiritismo spiritual services called misas. Papa Boko, a 21 Divisions priest from DR, came to Puerto Rico around 1918. However, some say that he might’ve been a houngan from Haiti. He and three other Espiritistas channeled information for the creation of Sanse. Sanse started around the late 1930s. Though the information for the creation of Sanse occurred around 1918, it was not called Sanse until the 1930s or 1940s. Papa Boko and the other Espiritistas worked and maintained a temple for the spirits until then.

Sanse is a combination of 21 Divisiones and Espiritismo Criollo or del Pueblo. It also includes Puerto Rican Brujeria (i.e., spells and magick). Depending on the lineage, the Sanse practices of different houses may be more influenced by 21 Divisions or Espiritismo. Sanse is a spiritual healing tradition. Sancistas shouldn’t use their spirits or spiritual gifts to harm others. Sanse is monotheistic. Sancistas believe in and worship God (Papa Buen Dios) or the Divine that created the heavens and the earth.

In some African religions, God is seen as inaccessible. However, in Sanse, Sancistas believe God is involved in all things and is active within the Universe. Sanse is geared toward becoming closer to God because God is viewed as the principal life force of the universe. We believe that we can have a universal connection to God. Without this connection, we are unable to have connection to the spirits we serve. The spirits we serve (also called the Mysteries or Misterios) are God’s agents. Again, we must have a connection to God to connect with these spirits. 

Sanse does not discriminate against any type of person, regardless of age, sex, gender, race, nationality, sexuality, ethnicity, or even religion. The spirits choose those who baptize as Sancistas. Because Sanse is an initiatory practice with oral traditions, one is not able to self-initiate into Sanse or learn about Sanse without consulting a Sanse priest or priestess. One must first consult the spirits to determine if Sanse is his, her, or their chosen path before moving toward the initiation process.

The lwa chose me to be a priestess or mambo. I’ve been taught the traditions, prayers, songs, ceremonies, and secrets. My priestess training includes taking many courses on the lwa, doing inner work, meditation, and serving my spirits and my spiritual house. The characteristics of a priestess, which is also called a mambo (a priest is called a houngan) include integrity, a good moral structure, holding ceremonies, mediumship, emotional control, and community contribution. The responsibilities of a priestess include attendance at spiritual ceremonies, faithfully serving the spirits without complaint, excuse, or exhaustion. In Sanse, mambos and houngans put God first, the ancestors, spirit guides, and lwa second, and everyone and everything else comes after God and the lwa. Sanse priests and priestesses are also called papa bokos and mama mambos, like in 21 Divisions.

Sanse might be a good fit for you as a spiritual practice if the following apply to you:

You wish to elevate yourself spiritually.

You are connected to your spirits.

Your spirits come from different backgrounds (i.e., Orisha, Indios, Gitanas, etc.).

You want to spiritually elevate your spirits.

You prefer to work alone without much guidance from a godparent.

You prefer not to work with strict rules and regulations, like in Haitian Vodou or Lukumi.

In 21 Divisions, the African influence is more prominent than in Sanse. There are more Misterios whom they work with under their African-infuenced names. There’s also a greater amount of African tribes or nations represented in the Divisions. Taino practices as more prominent in Sanse than in 21 Divisions. Because of this and the Congo influence, Sancistas focus more on the dead or muertos and spirit guides.

In some lineages of 21 Divisions, they practice animal sacrifice, while most Sancistas do not. Sansistas will use animals from time to time, but often, the animals aren't sacrificed. They are usually released or kept as pets. In some 21 Divisions lineages, animal sacrifice is usually reserved for very important ceremonies and rituals only, such as initiations, certain consecrations, etc. 

In 21 Divisions, possession or trance is the main form of communication with the Mysteries but doesn’t have to be in Sanse. The Misterios must call someone to be a caballo or horse who can be possessed in order to receive baptism or bautizo. To be a priest or priestess in 21 Divisions, one must be able to mount in order to baptize someone else. One does’t have to mount or be a caballo de los Misterios to be a priest or priestess in Sanse. 

The focus of Sanse is most often spiritual healing, whereas in 21 Divisions the focus can be on magickal practices. Healing is sometimes secondary to brujeria in 21 Divisions. Some who focus on magick refer to themselves as brujos or brujas, and other 21 Divisions initiates who are more interested in elevation may refer to themselves as servants of the Misterios.