Blending religious scholarship with the firsthand impressions of an initiate, first-time author Murphy offers a fascinating introduction to Santeria, the mysterious religion brought to the New World by African slaves. Between the 18th and 19th centuries, an estimated half-million Africans made the slave passage to the New World. The majority who landed in Cuba were Yoruba, members of what was once a mighty kingdom in Nigeria. Sketching life in the secret societies of freed slaves in Havana, Murphy emphasizes the complex influence of the Spanish Church. Forced to convert, the slaves concealed their Yoruba gods, the orisas, in the foliage of Catholicism; but genuine respect for the saints and the power of the sacraments flowed into orisa worship, forging a new syncretic religion--Santeria. In 1959, after the Cuban revolution, santeros fled to New York and Miami. Murphy inserts himself as one of a new wave of initiates. Studying with Oba Ifa Morote, a babalewo (a teacher and diviner, reputedly the founder of Santeria in New York), Murphy describes the major rites of Santeria: divination by cowry shells and palm nuts; animal sacrifice (which he justifies by insisting that all the meat from these clean, quick kills is consumed); the initiation ceremonies; and possession by the orisas during drum celebrations--the last he describes as a return to the source of consciousness, proof of the mysterious energy, that moves the world. Georgetown Univ. professor Murphy serves Eleggba, the orisa who travels between two worlds, and his fine book is just that: a western-oriented introduction to a misunderstood religion of African roots that is a profound symbol of the force of the spirit against slavery.