All cultures have popular sayings that reveal folk wisdom, but the refranes of Santería are more than that. They are linked to Odu, the sacred patterns that fall on the mat during a consulta, or a reading done through divination with the cowrie shells. These readings carry special meaning for the client, and the patakís (sacred stories) and proverbs associated with each odu help the diviner remember what the most important lessons of the odu are. A good diviner will know as many of the patakís and refranes as possible, because they encapsulate key ideas that the client needs to know in order to live a more prosperous and meaningful life.
In addition to their important religious function in the divination process, the refranes of Cuban Santería are fascinating windows into the history and philosophy of the Lucumí people. They reveal strategies for survival developed by oppressed people in difficult circumstances. They reflect the values of the Afro-Cuban people, such as the need for discretion, the importance of keeping a cool head, and the dangers that go with excessive pride, envy, or arrogance. Most of the refranes have several levels of symbolic or metaphorical meaning that take them way beyond their literal sense. Despite their old-fashioned flavor, they're timeless jewels of wisdom. Anyone can benefit from them, at any time. They can be easily applied to every day life lessons.