This religion has found its way throughout the world and is now expressed in several varieties which include Candomblé, Lucumí/Santería, Vodou, Shango in Trinidad, Anago, Oyotunji as well as some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun and as well as many others.
These varieties or spiritual lineages as they are called are practiced throughout areas of Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic , Guyana, Ayiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, and Venezuela among others….
Traditionally, Yorubaland consisted of semi-independent states governed by kings. Under those twenty or more kings, a greater number of subordinate rulers, at least 1000, were responsible for single towns and villages. Therefore there was never much political unity. The principal source of ethnic identity was language, which distinguished the Yoruba from the neighbouring traditions such as the Hausa speaking peoples.
However ancestral cultures directly related to the Yoruba once flourished well north of the Niger. Portuguese explorers “discovered” the Yoruba cities and kingdoms in the fifteenth century, but cities such as Ife and Benin, among others, had been standing at their present sites for at least five hundred years before the European arrival. Archaeological evidence indicates that a technologically and artistically advanced, proto-Yoruba (Nok), were living somewhat north of the Niger in the first millennium B.C., and they were then already working with iron. [Note: This is a measure of a civilizations’ “advancement” for scholars].
Ifa theology states that the creation of humankind arose in the sacred city of Ile Ife where Oduduwa (the first king) created dry land from water. As a result, a large but undetermined number of Africans migrated from Mecca to Ile Ife. At this point the Eastern Africans and Western Africans synergized. Ife was the first of all Yoruba cities. Later, the cities of Oyo and Benin were created, and expanded as a consequence of their strategic locations at a time when trading became prosperous.
Ife, unlike Benin and Oyo, never developed into a true kingdom. Though it remained a city-state it had paramount importance to Yoruba’s as the original sacred city and the dispenser of basic religious thought. Until relatively recent times the Yoruba’s did not consider themselves a single people, but rather as citizens of Oyo, Benin, Yagba and other cities, regions or kingdoms. These cities regarded Lagos and Owo, for example, as foreign neighboors, and the Yoruba kingdoms warred not only against the Dahomeans but also against each other. Both Benin and Oyo are said to have been founded by Ife rulers or descendants of Ife rulers. Benin derived its knowledge of brass casting directly from Ife, and the religious system of divining called Ifa spread from Ife not only throughout the Yoruba country but to other West African cultures as well.
SPIRITUAL CONCEPTS OF THE YORUBA
The royal dynasties are said to descend from a single ancestor, the first king of Ile Ife – Oduduwa. During Oduduwa’s lifetime, or soon after his death, his sons and grandsons are said to have left Ile Ife to found their own kingdoms. In several oral traditions, the founders of the principal kingdoms are presented as the children of Oduduwa specifically by his principal wife, Omonide or Iyamode. In Cuba this King and Queen are known as Obatala and Yemaya. There are many variations on the story of creation and how the Orisha were born from the coupling of Oduduwa and Omonide (Obatala and Yemaya). An example is given in this excerpt from Dr. Marta Maria Vega’s Altar of My Soul:
Obatalá was instructed to use the chain to descend from heaven. When he reached the last link, he piled the loose earth on top of the water. Next, he placed the hen on the pile of earth, and ordered her to scatter the earth with her toes across the surface of the water.
When this was finished, Obatalá climbed the chain to heaven to report his success to Olodumare. Olodumare then sent his trusted assistant, the chameleon, to verify that the earth was dry. When his helper had assured him that the Earth was solid, Olodumare named Earth “Ile Ife,” the sacred house.
Before he retired to the uppermost level of heaven, Olodumare decided to distribute his sacred powers “aché”. He united Obatalá, the Orisha of creation, and Yemayá, the orisha of the ocean, who gave birth to a pantheon of orishas, each possessing a share of Olodumare’s sacred power. At last, the divine power of Olodumare was dispersed. Then one day, Olodumare called them all from Earth to heaven and gave Obatalá the sacred power to create human life. Obatalá returned to Earth and created our ancestors, endowing them with his own divine power. We are all descendants from the first people of the sacred city of Ile Ife; we are all children of Olodumare, the sacred orisha who created the world.
For every Yoruba in the Diaspora, the ancient city of lle-lfe is their ancestral home and root. It is incontestable that Oduduwa who all sources of history proclaim as the progenitor of the Yoruba race, had his house (sacred grove) in lle-lfe. Oduduwa is believed to have had several sons (16 in number) who later became powerful traditional rulers of Yoruba land: Alafin of Oyo, Oni of Ife, Oragun of Ila, Owa of Ilesha, Alake of Abeokuta and Osemawe of Ondo.
Yoruba believe in a supreme being, in primordial divinities, and spirits that have been deified. God is known as Olodumare (the one who has the fullness of everything) and Olorun (the owner of heaven, the Lord whose abode is in the heaven above). Other names are also used that reflect the Yoruba belief that God has all the possible attributes of a person. As the Supreme Being created heaven and earth, he also brought into existence hundreds of divinities, and the spirits (Orisa, or Imole, and Ebora). Other historical figures, such as kings, culture heroes, founders of cities, etc. were deified, and are invoked along with personifications of natural forces such as earth, wind, trees, river, lagoon, sea, rock, hills and mountains. As in other African societies, Yoruba also believe in the active existence of the deceased ancestors.
The Yoruban philisophy includes the beliefs that:
- There is One Supreme God
- Except for the day you were born and the day you are supposed to die there is not a single event in ones life that cannot be forecast and if necessary, changed.
- Your spirit lives on after death and can reincarnate through blood relatives
- You are born with a specific path.
- Divination serves as a road map to your path.
- Our ancestors exist and must be honored, respected and consulted.
- The Orisa (forces of nature) live within us and deal with the affairs of men.
- You must never harm another human being or the universe, which you are apart of.
- Spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional realms of our existence must all work together and be balanced.
- Sacrifice is necessary to assure spiritual success.
Egun is the collective representation of the Ancestors.
We often call our Ancestors by the name, Egun, which in Yoruba language means bones.
As we walk upon the Earth our feet press against the bones of the Ancestors on whose shoulders we stand. Like most indigenous cultures of the world, Africans believe that those who go before us make us what we are. When we walk on the Earth, we literally stand on the shoulders of those who bodies have been committed to the soil, the water, and the wind. Our Ancestors influence our lives through heredity and human culture. However, there is an even deeper connection to the Ancestors as active spirits who continue to influence our lives. We humans honour them with altars, music and prayer. They in turn offer us guidance, protection and prosperity.
We treat our ancestors with loving reverence. Asking for help from our Ancestors must first be balanced with honouring their lives. In the Orisha tradition, as in many other traditions, we commemorate the work, struggles, and triumphs of our Ancestors.
To know the stories of your Ancestors is to know your history. To know your history is to know where you are from. To know where you are from is to know where you are going. To know where you are going is to have the ability to dream outside the box that others may try to put you in. To dream outside the box is to know and believe in all that you could possibly become in the world. And to do that would honour your ancestors deeply because all of their hard work and sacrifice would have not been in vain!
Our Ancestors, who anchor us on the face of this Earth. It is the reverence of our ancestors, and paying homage to our ancestors that gives us the strength that will keep us on the face of the earth for a long time.
Ancestors are at an disadvantage because they know how to improve things and yet they do not have the body required to act on what they know. We are at an disadvantage because, although we have bodies, we often lack the knowledge required to carry out things properly. This is why Spirit likes to work through us. A person with a body is an ideal vehicle for Spirit to manifest things in the world. It is important to understand that when we feel that something is missing in our life, when we feel somehow disconnected or displaced, that these feelings are a sign for us to repair our connection with the world of the Ancestors and spirits.
Malidoma Some, The Healing Wisdom of Africa p. 196
Ori literally means the head, but in spiritual matters is taken to mean an inner portion of the soul which determines personal destiny and success. Ase, which is also spelled “Axe,” “Axé,” “Ashe,” or “Ache,” is the life-force which runs though all things, living and inanimate. Ashe is the power to make things happen. It is an affirmation which is used in greetings and prayers, as well as a concept about spiritual growth.
An Orisha (also spelled Orisa or Orixa) is a spirit or deity that reflects one of the manifestations of Olodumare (God) in the Yoruba spiritual/religious system (Olodumare is also known by various other names including Olorun, Eledumare, Eleda and Olofin-Orun).
The pantheon of orishas include Aganju, Obalu Aye, Erinle, Eshu/Elegba, Yemoja, Nana Buluku, Obà, Obatala, Oxossi/Ochosi/Osoosi, Oshumare, Ogun/Ogoun/Ogunda, Oko, Olofi, Olokun, Olorun, Orunmila, Oshun, Osun, Oya, Ozain/Osanyin, and Shango, among countless others….
|* Eshu (Eleggua, Exú, Esu, Elegba, Legbara, Papa Legba) – Eshu is the messenger between the human and divine worlds, god of duality, crossroads and beginnings, and also a phallic and fertility god (a god of Life) and the deliverer of souls to the underworld (a god of Death). Eshu is recognized as a trickster and child-like, while Eleggua is Eshu under the influence of Obatala.Eshu is the Divine Spirit of Communication, the well-spoken orator who speaks all languages. Esu translates messages between humans and Orisha. Without Esu our prayers would not be understood in heaven and we would be unable to understand the language of Orisha or our ancestors (Egun). Esu is the guardian of the crossroads, as such he opens and closes all doors and ceremonies.
Eshu is the owner of ase, the dynamic power that pulses throughout the universe. He is one of the most tactile Orishas constantly stimulated by all he encounters. As such, Esu hates to be bored.
As a force in nature Esu is absolutely masculine; however, Esu also has a nurturing side. Esu statues are sometimes sculpted with him having a large, erect penis and well-developed breasts. Esu’s primary colors are red and black.
(Obatalá, Oxalá, Orixalá, Orisainlá) – arch-divinity, father of humankind, divinity of light, spiritual purity, and moral uprightness
Obatala, is the chief of the White Cloth, the Orisha who in Yoruba cosmology, first descended from heaven to earth with the tools for making the earth livable for humans. Obatala is considered the father of all orisa and is said to make the inner and outer heads of all humans.
Obatala is associated with purity, ethics and humility. Obatala is the Orisa of the elderly as well as the Orisa of those with physical disabilities.
Ochosi is the Orisa associated with hunting and tracking. Ochosi is a nimble, strong, fast Orisha, a supreme marksman. A “cool” Orisha, Ochoosi is called the “Left-handed Magician”, owing in part, to his ashe of stealth. Yoruba scholar, John Mason writes, that “Ochosi attacks like Ogun, sudden and deadly, yet the victim never sees the assailant or hears the report of the weapon, and that, “Ochosi only has to find a suitable perch and wait for his victims.”
Ochosi helps us to find the most efficacious path to what we aim to achieve. While Esu opens the door and Ogun clears the path, it is Ochoosi who, with bow and arrow aims and creates for us the path of least resistance.
Ogun is the Spirit of iron in Yoruba culture. Both a hunter and a warrior, Ogun uses an iron machete to cut through dense forest to procure food and medicinal herbs and to protect the lives of the community. Ogun helps us clear physical, psychological, or spiritual obstacles that block our ability to achieve our goals. Similarly, Ogun protects us from physical, psychological, or spiritual dangers.
As the Spirit who can clear away all deception and confusion, Ogun is invoked when we seek to understand the truth in any situation –- Ogun is always able to cut to the ‘heart of the matter.’
Aganju is the Orisa of the Uncultivated Earth, Lord of the Volcano, Lord of Caves, The Divine Ferryman.
Aganjú is most often referred to as the Volcano.He is also the Orisa of untamed lands,from desert to mountains, the brother/husband of Yemoja. Like Olokun, is fabulously wealthy. As Lord of Caves he owns all the mineral wealth of the earth. Aganju is also the navigator, knowing the safe passages and fjords across the river. Followers of Santeria equate him with St. Christopher, for like St. Christopher, he will dance at a bembe with little children on his shoulders. Aganju is the bearer of burdens, (the shoulders and back belong to Aganju) the defender of the helpless, down trodden and enslaved. Aganju is a force of life that overcomes obstacles and does the impossible.
Aganyú is the symbol of all earth forces, particularly the core of the earth, the desert, and the volcano. He represents a brute and regenerative force that is responsible for all cataclysmic upheavals that change the face of earth. Volcanic lava is seen as his fiery breath and his power makes the earth gyrate upon its axis. Aganyú is depicted as the father of Shangó in some patakin, and a younger brother of Shangó in others.
Perhaps because of the association with Saint Christopher, Aganju is also considered the Orisha of travelers. His main domain is the desert. When the Yorubas migrated to their present home, after migrating for years through the desert, Aganjús worship waned. Much of the knowledge related with the orisha was eventually lost. In Cuba, Aganju acquired more popularity as an orisha in the early twentieth century. As a result of the obscure state of his cult, his omos are often initiated through Shango or Oshun.
Aganju provides access to the realm of unknown, the depths from which the world was and is created. Aganju provides access to all unexplored, inaccessible areas, climes hostile and potentially hostile to human existence: desert, forest, arctic, Antarctic, mountain heights, caves, caverns, chasms, mines, etc. Aganju can be translated as agan: barren, ju: wilderness, or perhaps more accurately as the unknown, unexplored, uninhabited places; those places where only the heartiest and or best prepared people survive. Aganju is found in the depths of the ocean, in the depths of space, and in the untapped power and understanding of mind and emotion. Aganju is the guardian of the passageway through which inexplicable depths of human emotion are experienced and expressed. Dark, gut wrenching, mindless, unreasoning, incapacitating, paralyzing fears are the realm of Aganju.
It is through Aganju we learn to overcome our fears. It is through Aganju, that we learn to channel and redirect these emotions. Aganju has a close relationship with Oshun. They are linked in several ways: by emotion, Aganju is the depth of emotion in its raw, rough edged, harsh incarnation. While Oshun is the depth of emotion in its poignant, sweet/bitter sweet incarnation, Aganju explores, overcomes and conquers the river. Oshun fosters trade and social intercourse by the same means. Aganju surmounts the barriers and obstacles to see what is on the other side. Oshun plants culture and brings the light of civilization. Aganju is the opening to new, unexplored, unexpected possibilities. Therefore Aganju is the opening the all the riches of the world.
The mineral riches of the earth mines and mining of all kinds belong to Aganju (but it is through the technology of Ogun that humankind may access it and obtain it). Aganju is the force that drives explorers, inventors and scientists.
Aganju is both a celestial and terrestrial orisha, in addition to the unexplored regions of Earth, rivers (above and below ground in caves etc.), rivers are in Aganju’s custody. Aganju the cosmic navigator, the celestial boat man, the invention of boats, i.e. the overcoming or surmounting of obstacles is credited to the “Aganju personality.” In that same legend Shango did not know that Aganju was his father neither did Aganju know he had a son. When Shango discovered who his father was he went to Aganju and said “You are my father.” Aganju denied it, but Shango persisted, angering Aganju. Aganju struck Shango and threw him into a fire. When Shango emerged unscathed and unafraid, Aganju knew without doubt that Shango was his son and accepted him. Aganju is hard on his children, demanding the best from his children and will accept nothing less.
Olokun is the Orisha of the ocean. In Yorubaland, Olokun refers to the entire ocean, but in some areas of the New World, this Orisha refers only to the bottom of the sea, with Yemoja governing the top. In those references the ocean is seen as governed by Yemoja/Olokun.
Given the nature of the bottom of the sea, where even metals dissolve, Olokun governs transformation, the birth of new forms/children/ideas, and the generation of wealth, which Yemoja can bring to the devotee.
Often Olokun works in consort with Oya, the Orisha who governs the winds of change to bring transformation of all kinds. For example, floods are brought by wind, and wealth in the form of new ideas, children, or money brings transformation.
Yemoja is the “Mother of the Children of Fishes.” As such, she is the penultimate symbol of motherhood. Yemoja is the all encompassing mother; like the sea, her ability to nurture is vast. Though associated with the ocean in the African Diaspora, in Yorubaland, Yemoja is the Orisa of the Ogun river. Yemoja is associated with the top layers of the ocean-Olokun is considered the deep, deep realm of the Ocean. The Ocean is the largest environment for life on the earth, therefore Yemoja is viewed as the mother who gave birth to civilization and who continues to sustain us.
|* (Ọṣun, Oxum, Oshún , Ochun, Oschun) – divinity of rivers, love, feminine beauty, fertility, and art, also one of Shango’s lovers and beloved of Ogun
Oshun is the Orisa associated with fresh water. The name Oshun translates to mean “spring” or “source.” As the Orisa of fresh water, Oshun is the source of all life. She is the owner of the Osun river in Oshogbo, Nigeria. She is a powerful healer, especially as it concerns to issues of conception, women’s health and love relationships. Oshun is a great diviner and is said to own sixteen cowrie divination. Oshun is the champion of women and protector of mothers. Like the river, this Orisa has many faces. As it is said, “the river is calm, but it also rages.” Osun is the spark of creation; she is abundance and joy and reminds us that we are meant to have abundance, joy and love in our lives.
* Shango (Shangó, Xango, Changó, Chango, Nago Shango) – warrior deity ; divinity of thunder, fire, sky father, represents male power and sexuality
Ifa and Merindiloggun Odus, folklore, prayers and songs portray Shango’s ashe in nature, and among the clients and communities of Yoruba/Ifa practitioners. The fires of courage, passion, inspiration, and integrity appear in many forms from righteous, hot, thundering anger against lies, injustice or stupidity, to steady warm fires of the heart, hearth and home, to the fire of loving commitment to cultivate the wealth of the Earth for the benefit of community and relations. Shango also enjoys the fires of passion and sexual love, and is reputed to have an endless supply of this energy much to the satisfaction of his lovers, wives and consorts such as female Orishas Oya, Oshun and Oba.
Lightning reaches from the Realm of the Ancestors to Earth as a reminder of the humbling power that exists within Nature itself.”
In Ifa, Divine Justice is symbolized by lightning, one of the primal fires of the Earth in existence since the beginning of time. Shango is the Orisha associated with the power of lightning and thunder, as well as the name of the Fourth Alafin (Chief) of Oyo. Oyo was a major Yoruba city and the name of a federation of city-states that existed during the 14th and 15th centuries in West Africa.
Thunder and lightning storms inspire awe, humility and respect. They also bring thirst quenching refreshment, nourishing growth and renewal of the Earth. Shango’s ashe (powers, energies, stories, lessons, medicines) embody and express Ifa concepts of courage, justice and spiritual transformation. Shango’s ashe expresses the consciousness of fire and the role that fire, heat, pressure, passion and inspiration, physical and mental, play in transformation of mind, body (ara) and inner spirit (emi). In ire, Shango’s ashe has the potential to challenge and eliminate destructive manifestations of fire and heat such as arrogance, egotism, unstructured rage, greed, and jealousy as they manifest within and among humans, or to channel this energy for positive internal transformations, and positive external actions.
Oya is the complex Orisha who guides transformation and change in life. As the Goddess of the Winds, she can come as a fierce tornado or hurricane or as a cool breeze on a hot summer day. In her transformative mode she is always moving toward ideal justice for all. She wants the best for each of us, and sometimes that means taking away our illusions about the world regarding things and people. Oya is also known as the keeper of the Ancestors. In this capacity she serves as the guardian of Egun (Ancestors) at the outskirts of the cemetery, serving as mediator between the living and the sacred dead. There is a Yoruba prayer for Oya that says, “ Ajalaiye, Ajalorun, fun mi ire,” translated as “the winds of Earth and Heaven bring me good fortune.” She moves heaven (ancestors) and earth (living) to create communication between the realms. Finally, as Patron of the Marketplace, Oya is a shrewd businesswoman who reigns over commerce and exchange. Invoke her before you go shopping. Take an offering to her and leave it at the opening to a flea market, and she will smile upon your bargaining. She is also called Iyansan (The Mother of Nine), particularly in Brazil. Her number is nine, and she loves eggplants and red wine. Oya- Iyansan is a complex warrior deity who will go to battle for her children out of love and justice.
there are many others orishas including,
* Orunmila (Ifá) – divinity of wisdom, divination, destiny, and foresight
* Ochumare (Oshumare, Oxumare) – rainbow deity, divinity of movement and activity, guardian of children and associated with umbilical cord
* Nana Buluku as Yemaja, the female thought of the male creator Ashe and the effective cause of all further creation.
* of the sea and loving mother of mankind, daughter of Obatala and wife of Aganju
* Oba (Obba) – Shango’s jealous wife, divinity of marriage and domesticity, daughter of Iemanja
* Ibeji – the sacred twins, represent youth and vitality
* Ozain (Osain, Osanyin) – Orisha of the forest, he owns the Omiero, a holy liquid consisting of many herbs, the liquid through which all saints and ceremonies have to proceed. Ozain is the keeper and guardian of the herbs, and is a natural healer.
* Babalu Aye (Omolu, Soponna, Shonponno, Obaluaye, Sakpata, Shakpana) – divinity of disease and illness (particularly smallpox, leprosy, and now AIDS), also orisha of healing and the earth, son of Iemanja
* Erinle (Inle) – orisha of medicine, healing, and comfort, physician to the gods
* Oko (Okko) – orisha of agriculture and the harvest
* Osun – ruler of the head, Ori
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