Santeria is a set of related religious systems that fuse Catholic beliefs with traditional west African religions, practiced by black slaves and their descendants in the Caribbean islands, and, later, in Mexico and Hispanic population centers in the United States such as Florida, New York, and California. "Santeria" means "way of the saints", originally a derisive term applied by the Spanish to mock followers' seeming overdevotion to the saints and neglect of God. The slaves' Christian masters did not allow them to practice their various west African animistic religions. The slaves found a way around this by concluding that the Christian saints were simply different manifestations of their various gods. The masters thought that their slaves had become good Christians and were praising the saints, when in actuality they were continuing their traditional practices.
Santeria ritual is highly secretive and primarily transmitted orally. Known practices include animal sacrifice, frenzied dancing, and magic spells. Chickens are the most popular form of sacrifice; their blood is offered to the orisha, or lesser guardian deities, who correspond to Christian saints. Drum music and dancing are used to induce a trance state in participants, who may become possessed by an orisha and speak with the orisha's voice. One's ancestors are held in high esteem in Santeria. God is referred to as Olorun, or the "owner of heaven".
Many animal rights activists take issue with the Santeria practice of animal sacrifice, claiming that it is cruel. Followers of Santeria point out that the killings are conducted in the same manner as many food animals are slaughtered and are not needlessly sadistic. Additionally, the animal is cooked and eaten afterwards. In 1993, the United States Supreme Court ruled in Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye, Inc. v. City of Hialeah that animal cruelty laws targeted specifically at Santeria were unconstitutional, and the practice has seen no significant legal challenges since then.