Getting Involved in Candomblé VIII: The cost of involvement

by Iya Melissa

Years ago in the United States, Orisha worshippers seeking initiation began traveling out of the country for ceremonies thinking they would save money.  Initiation in the US can cost up to $10,000 or more depending on the state, the ile, and the Orisha.  Some people thought it was in their best interest to travel to a foreign country, where initiation may only cost about $3,000.  Unfortunately, they didn’t realize that Orisha worship is not about bargain hunting.  There are quite a few posts here about getting involved in Candomblé, but none of them specifically address finances.  Let’s go there, in a nut shell.

Logistics

You’ll need a current passport and a visa (depending on your nationality).  As of 2014, a visa to Brazil for US citizens costs $160.00. Obviously, you’ll need an airline ticket to get there.  Depending on your point of departure and the time of year you travel, you could be looking at anywhere between $1,000 – $2,000.  You also want to factor in ground transportation which varies depending on where you land and how far from the airport you need to travel to reach your final destination.

Will you be staying with a friend? Your Baba/Iya? Some other member of the ile? Lodging at a hotel? Maybe consider a hostel where you can rent your own room with a bathroom; they’re pricier than dorm-style hostels, but much cheaper than hotels.  Are you traveling specifically for Candomblé, or do you want to sight-see and experience night life?  Factor all of this into your budget.

If you have a pet, you’ll need to think about lodging while you’re away.  If you plan on traveling with your pet, a visit to the vet before their international travel can easily run you $400.  Add to that an airline approved carrier ($20-$50) and the fee to fly with your pet (about $175 each way depending on the airline).

You’ll also want to visit your doctor for any recommended vaccines.  You’ll want to bring things like sunscreen, cortisone, and an antihistamine in case you suffer any surprise allergic reactions, in addition to stocking up on other medication you may need.  Whether you buy these things OTC or get a prescription, they’re additional costs to be considered.

Presents

You didn’t think you could show up empty handed, did you?  While North Americans don’t typically have the custom of bringing gifts to their hosts, the rest of the world does.  If this is your first time visiting, bring a bunch of generic (but meaningful) souvenirs.  While you’re actually there interacting with folks, observe and get a sense for what they might like on subsequent visits.  If someone else is bringing you down, they would be a good resource for appropriate gifts.

Additional Ceremonies & Continuing Education

If your goal is to follow Candomblé, you’re in it for the long haul.  You want to develop a relationship with the ile before being initiated (if that’s your path).  You want to actually learn about the religion, and not just come back to the States wearing pretty beads.  You want to contribute to the ile and help out in other people’s obligations the way they contributed to yours.  If your goal is to follow Candomblé, you’ll be making more than one visit (and visiting more often than just for your own obligations).

There aren’t many priests who are doing Candomblé initiations in the United States. Younger priests who are just building their ile may not have the resources (other Candomblé priests to help, drummers for the Xire, space/a terreiro) to perform initiations here (though they are capable of performing ebos, Boris, etc.).  Therefore, they may need to take you to their Baba or Iya’s terreiro in Brazil for initiation and obligations.  And since your Orisha will live where they were born until your Baba/Iya has the conditions to open their own terreiro in the US, you may also want to factor in yearly travel to celebrate your ajodun (Orisa birthday).

To understand the cost of initiation itself, consider the price of animals, food (for you and everyone who will be staying in the terreiro for nearly a month, in addition to food and drinks for the feast where at least 100 people will be present in most cases), utilities of the terreiro (compared to the US, electricity is extremely expensive in Brazil and the light bill alone in a terreiro could be upwards of $300 per month), the whites you will dress in daily, the clothes you and your Orixa will need for the feast, souvenirs, money for transportation (We don’t have derechos in Candomblé, so people are not paid for helping in your initiation. It is not uncommon, however, to offer someone gas/bus/train money as they travel to and fro to help in your initiation.), beads, and other materials. Depending on your ile, the priest may charge their own service fee; have this conversation so you can factor it into your budget.

So, while the initiation itself may only cost about $3,000, over the course of at least seven years you’re looking at $15,000 – $20,000 when it’s all said and done.  But you’re not bargain hunting, so who’s counting?  Besides, making small sacrifices (like giving up cable or quitting smoking) easily covers the cost of your airline tickets! Putting yourself on a budget so you put a little away each month is helpful instead of trying to come up with all of the money you need at once.

If you’re interested in following Candomblé, even if you don’t yet belong to an ile, it’s a good idea to begin saving now. At the very least you’ll need some cash for your first reading and any ebos that may come up. It’s never too early to put yourself in the routine of saving for your future.

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