The Orishas

by Efun Moyiwa

This article can also be found on Efun Moyiwa’s World Wide Web page, OrishaNet (http://www.seanet.com/~efunmoyiwa/welcome.html).

The orishas are the emissaries of Olodumare or God almighty. They rule over the forces of nature and the endeavors of humanity. They recognize themselves and are recognized through the different numbers and colors that are their marks, and each has their own favorite foods and other things that they like to receive as offerings and gifts. In this way, we make our offerings in the manner they are accustomed to, in the way they have always received them, so that they will recognize our offerings and come to our aid.

The orishas are often best understood by observing the forces of nature they rule over. For instance, you can learn much about Oshún and her children by watching the rivers and streams she rules over and observing that though she always heads toward her sister Yemayá (the Sea) she does so on her own circuitous route. Also observe how the babbling brook and the flash flood reflect her changeable moods. As you observe the orishas at work in the world and in your own lives, you will gain a better understanding of them and their ways. Yes, they are complex, but no more so than any other living being such as you or I. We are also blessed from time to time in the religion with the opportunity to meet the orishas face to face during a bembé where one or more of their priests will be mounted.

Elegba

Elegba (also referred to as Eleggua or Elegguá) is the owner of the roads and doors in this world. He is the repository of ashé, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe. The colors red and black or white and black are his and codify his contradictory nature. In particular, Elegba stands at the crossroads of the human and the divine, as he is the childlike messenger between the two worlds. In this role, it is not surprising that he has a very close relationship with the orisha of divination, Orunmila. Nothing can be done in either world without his permission. Elegba is always propitiated and always called first before any other orisha as he opens the door between the worlds and opens our roads in life. He recognizes himself and is recognized by the numbers 3 and 21.

Ogún

Ogún is the god of iron, war and labor. He is the owner of all technology, and because this technology shares in his nature, it is almost always used first for war. As Elegba opens the roads, it is Ogún that clears the roads with his machete. He is recognized in the numbers 7 and the colors green and black.

Oshosi

Oshosi is the third member of the group known as the Guerreros or Warriors and is received along with Elegba, Ogún and Osun in order to protect Guerreros initiates and to open and clear their roads. Oshosi is the hunter and the scout of the orishas and assumes the role of translator for Obatalá, with whom he has a very close relationship. His colors are blue and yellow.

Obatalá

Obatalá is the kindly father of all the orishas and all humanity. He is also the owner of all heads and the mind. Though it was Olorun who created the universe, it is Obatalá who is the creator of the world and humanity. Obatalá is the source of all that is pure, wise, peaceful and compassionate. He has a warrior side, though, through which he enforces justice in the world. His color is white, which is often accented with red, purple and other colors to represent different possible paths. White is most appropriate for Obatalá as it contains all the colors of the rainbow yet is above them. Obatalá is also the only orisha that has both male and female paths.

Oyá

Oyá is the ruler of the winds, the whirlwind and the gates of the cemetery. Her number is nine, which recalls her title of Yansa, or “Mother of Nine,” in which she rules over the egun or dead. She is also known for the colors of maroon, flowery patterns and nine different colors. She is a fierce warrior who rides to war with Shangó (sharing lightning and fire with him) and was once the wife of Ogún.

Oshún

Oshún rules over the sweet waters of the world, the brooks, streams and rivers, embodying love, fertility. She also is the one we most often approach to aid us in money matters. She is the youngest of the female orishas but retains the title of Iyalode or great queen. She heals with her sweet waters and with honey, which she also owns. She is the femme fatale of the orishas and once saved the world by luring Ogún out of the forests using her feminine wiles. And, in her path or manifestation of Ibú Ikolé, she saved the world from drought by flying up to heaven (turning into a vulture in the process). Ikolé means Messenger of the House (of Olodumare). For this reason, all who are to be initiated as priests, no matter what orisha rules their head, must go to the river and give account of what they are about to do. She recognizes herself in the colors yellow and gold, and her number is five. Peacocks and vultures are hers, and we use them often to represent her.

Yemayá

Yemayá lives and rules over the seas and lakes. She also rules over maternity in our lives as she is the Mother of All. Her name, a shortened version of Yeyé Omo Eja, means “Mother Whose Children are the Fish” to reflect the fact that her children are uncountable. All life started in the sea; the amniotic fluid inside the mother’s womb is a form of sea where the embryo must transform and evolve through the form of a fish before becoming a human baby. In this way, Yemayá displays herself as truly the mother of all. She, the root of all the paths or manifestations, Olokun is the source of all riches, which she freely gives to her little sister Oshún. She dresses herself in seven skirts of blue and white, and like the seas and profound lakes she is deep and unknowable. In her path of Okutti, she is the queen of witches, carrying within her deep and dark secrets. Her number is seven for the seven seas; her colors are blue and white; and she is most often represented by the fish who are her children.

Shangó

Perhaps the most “popular” of the orishas, Shangó rules over lightning, thunder, fire, the drums and dance. He is a warrior orisha with quick wits and quick temper and is the epitome of virility. Shangó took the form of the fourth Alafin (supreme king) of Oyó on Earth for a time. He is married to Obba but has relations with Oyá and Oshún. He is an extremely hot-blooded and strong-willed orisha who loves all the pleasures of the world: dance, drumming, women, song and eating. He is “ocanani” with Elegba, meaning they are of one heart. When one sees the quickness with which lightning makes short work of a tree or sees a fire rage through an area, one has witnessed the temper of Shangó in action. Though he traded the Table of Ifá to Orunmila in exchange for the gift of dance, his children have an innate ability for divination. To acknowledge the greatness of this king, all in the religion raise up on the toes of our feet (or rise out our chairs if we are sitting) at the mention of his name. His colors are red and white, and he recognizes himself in the numbers four and six. He is most often represented by a double-headed ax.

Orunmila

Orunmila is the orisha of wisdom and divination. He was the only orisha allowed to witness the creation of the universe by Olorun and bears witness to our destinies in the making as well. This is the source of his title of Eleri Ipin or “Witness to Destiny in its Creation.” His priests, the babalawos or “Fathers of the Secrets,” must devote themselves entirely to the practice of divination and the accompanying arts. Through the Table of Ifá, his priests unfold the secrets of the universe and the secrets of the unfolding of our lives. His colors are green and yellow, which reflect Orunmila’s relationship with Osayín (the secrets of the plant world) and with Oshún, who is his apeteví, with whom he has an extremely close relationship. Orunmila is wisdom and Oshún is knowledge, for wisdom without knowledge is useless, and one who has knowledge without wisdom is merely a danger to themselves and others.

What is Santeria?

by Efun Moyiwa

This article can also be found on Efun Moyiwa’s World Wide Web page, OrishaNet (http://www.seanet.com/~efunmoyiwa/welcome.html).

Santería, or La Regla Lucumí, originates in West Africa in what is now Nigeria and Benin. It is the traditional religion of the Yoruba peoples there. The slave trade brought many of these people to the shores of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad and Puerto Rico, among other places. But along with the bodies being brought over for sale into a life of misery, something else was being brought along. Their souls. And their religion.

First of all, Santería is not a “primitive” religion. On the contrary, the Yorubas were and are a very civilized people with a rich culture and deep sense of ethics. We believe in one god known as Olorun or Olodumare. Olorun is the source of ashé, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe, all life and all things material.

Olorun interacts with the world and humankind through emissaries. These emissaries are called orishas. The orishas rule over every force of nature and every aspect of human life. They are approachable and can be counted on to come to the aid of their followers, guiding us to a better life materially as well as spiritually.

Communication between orishas and humankind is accomplished through ritual, prayer, divination and ebó or offerings (which includes sacrifice). Song, rhythms and trance possession are also means with which we interact with the orishas and with which we are able to affect our day-to-day lives so that we may lead deeper and fuller lives during our stay in this world.

In the New World, the orishas and much of the religion was hidden behind a facade of Catholicism, with the orishas themselves represented by various saints. The slave owners would then say, “Look at how pious this slave is. She spends all of her time worshipping Saint Barbara.” Unbeknownst to them, she would actually be praying to Shangó, the lord of lightning, fire and the dance, perhaps even praying for deliverance from that very slave owner. This is how the religion came to be known as Santería. The memory of this period of our history is also why many in our religion regard the term Santería as a derogatory.

The traditions of Santería are fiercely preserved, and full knowledge of the rites, songs and language is prerequisites to any deep involvement in the religion. Initiates must follow a strict regimen and are answerable to Olorun and the orishas for their actions. As a person passes through each initiation in the tradition, this knowledge deepens and their abilities and responsibilities grow accordingly. In fact, during the entire first year of their initiation into the priesthood, the initiate or iyawó or “bride” of the orisha must dress in white. The iyawo must not look into a mirror, touch anyone or allow themselves to be touched, and they may not wear makeup or go out at night for this year.

La Santería is famous for its “magic.” This magic is based on a knowledge of the mysteries or orishas and how to interact with them to better our lives and the lives of those who come to us for the aid of the orishas. We live under the premise that this world is a magical one. This knowledge seems “supernatural” only to those who don’t understand it, but it really is quite natural.

Although the people were yanked away from their homes in Africa and enslaved in the New World, the orishas, the religion and its power could never be chained down, and the religion survives now – not as an anachronism, but ever-growing, even now in such places as France and the Netherlands.

Maferefún gbogbo orisha!

The Orishas

The Orishas

by Efun Moyiwa

 

The orishas are the emissaries of Olodumare or God almighty. They rule over the forces of nature and the endeavors of humanity. They recognize themselves and are recognized through the different numbers and colors that are their marks, and each has their own favorite foods and other things that they like to receive as offerings and gifts. In this way, we make our offerings in the manner they are accustomed to, in the way they have always received them, so that they will recognize our offerings and come to our aid.

The orishas are often best understood by observing the forces of nature they rule over. For instance, you can learn much about Oshún and her children by watching the rivers and streams she rules over and observing that though she always heads toward her sister Yemayá (the Sea) she does so on her own circuitous route. Also observehow the babbling brook and the flash flood reflect her changeable moods. As you observe the orishas at work in the world and in your own lives, you will gain a better understanding of them and their ways. Yes, they are complex, but no more so than any other living being such as you or I. We are also blessed from time to time in the religion with the opportunity to meet the orishas face to face during a bembé where one or more of their priests will be mounted.

Elegba

Elegba (also referred to as Eleggua or Elegguá) is the owner of the roads and doors in this world. He is the repository of ashé, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe. The colors red and black or white and black are his and codify his contradictory nature. In particular, Elegba stands at the crossroads of the human and the divine, as he is the childlike messenger between the two worlds. In this role, it is not surprising that he has a very close relationship with the orisha of divination, Orunmila. Nothing can be done in either world without his permission. Elegba is always propitiated and always called first before any other orisha as he opens the door between the worlds and opens our roads in life. He recognizes himself and is recognized by the numbers 3 and 21.

Ogún

Ogún is the god of iron, war and labor. He is the owner of all technology, and because this technology shares in his nature, it is almost always used first for war. As Elegba opens the roads, it is Ogún that clears the roads with his machete. He is recognized in the numbers 7 and the colors green and black.

Oshosi

Oshosi is the third member of the group known as the Guerreros or Warriors and is received along with Elegba, Ogún and Osun in order to protect Guerreros initiates and to open and clear their roads. Oshosi is the hunter and the scout of the orishas and assumes the role of translator for Obatalá, with whom he has a very close relationship. His colors are blue and yellow.

Obatalá

Obatalá is the kindly father of all the orishas and all humanity. He is also the owner of all heads and the mind. Though it was Olorun who created the universe, it is Obatalá who is the creator of the world and humanity. Obatalá is the source of all that is pure, wise, peaceful and compassionate. He has a warrior side, though, through which he enforces justice in the world. His color is white, which is often accented with red, purple and other colors to represent different possible paths. White is most appropriate for Obatalá as it contains all the colors of the rainbow yet is above them. Obatalá is also the only orisha that has both male and female paths.

Oyá

Oyá is the ruler of the winds, the whirlwind and the gates of the cemetery. Her number is nine, which recalls her title of Yansa, or “Mother of Nine,” in which she rules over the egun or dead. She is also known for the colors of maroon, flowery patterns and nine different colors. She is a fierce warrior who rides to war with Shangó (sharing lightning and fire with him) and was once the wife of Ogún.

Oshún

Oshún rules over the sweet waters of the world, the brooks, streams and rivers, embodying love, fertility. She also is the one we most often approach to aid us in money matters. She is the youngest of the female orishas but retains the title of Iyalode or great queen. She heals with her sweet waters and with honey, which she also owns. She is the femme fatale of the orishas and once saved the world by luring Ogún out of the forests using her feminine wiles. And, in her path or manifestation of Ibú Ikolé, she saved the world from drought by flying up to heaven (turning into a vulture in the process). Ikolé means Messenger of the House (of Olodumare). For this reason, all who are to be initiated as priests, no matter what orisha rules their head, must go to the river and give account of what they are about to do. She recognizes herself in the colors yellow and gold, and her number is five. Peacocks and vultures are hers, and we use them often to represent her.

Yemayá

Yemayá lives and rules over the seas and lakes. She also rules over maternity in our lives as she is the Mother of All. Her name, a shortened version of Yeyé Omo Eja, means “Mother Whose Children are the Fish” to reflect the fact that her children are uncountable. All life started in the sea; the amniotic fluid inside the mother’s womb is a form of sea where the embryo must transform and evolve through the form of a fish before becoming a human baby. In this way, Yemayá displays herself as truly the mother of all. She, the root of all the paths or manifestations, Olokun is the source of all riches, which she freely gives to her little sister Oshún. She dresses herself in seven skirts of blue and white, and like the seas and profound lakes she is deep and unknowable. In her path of Okutti, she is the queen of witches, carrying within her deep and dark secrets. Her number is seven for the seven seas; her colors are blue and white; and she is most often represented by the fish who are her children.

Shangó

Perhaps the most “popular” of the orishas, Shangó rules over lightning, thunder, fire, the drums and dance. He is a warrior orisha with quick wits and quick temper and is the epitome of virility. Shangó took the form of the fourth Alafin (supreme king) of Oyó on Earth for a time. He is married to Obba but has relations with Oyá and Oshún. He is an extremely hot-blooded and strong-willed orisha who loves all the pleasures of the world: dance, drumming, women, song and eating. He is “ocanani” with Elegba, meaning they are of one heart. When one sees the quickness with which lightning makes short work of a tree or sees a fire rage through an area, one has witnessed the temper of Shangó in action. Though he traded the Table of Ifá to Orunmila in exchange for the gift of dance, his children have an innate ability for divination. To acknowledge the greatness of this king, all in the religion raise up on the toes of our feet (or rise out our chairs if we are sitting) at the mention of his name. His colors are red and white, and he recognizes himself in the numbers four and six. He is most often represented by a double-headed ax.

Orunmila

Orunmila is the orisha of wisdom and divination. He was the only orisha allowed to witness the creation of the universe by Olorun and bears witness to our destinies in the making as well. This is the source of his title of Eleri Ipin or “Witness to Destiny in its Creation.” His priests, the babalawos or “Fathers of the Secrets,” must devote themselves entirely to the practice of divination and the accompanying arts. Through the Table of Ifá, his priests unfold the secrets of the universe and the secrets of the unfolding of our lives. His colors are green and yellow, which reflect Orunmila’s relationship with Osayín (the secrets of the plant world) and with Oshún, who is his apeteví, with whom he has an extremely close relationship. Orunmila is wisdom and Oshún is knowledge, for wisdom without knowledge is useless, and one who has knowledge without wisdom is merely a danger to themselves and others.

What is Santeria?

What is Santeria?

by Efun Moyiwa

Santería, or La Regla Lucumí, originates in West Africa in what is now Nigeria and Benin. It is the traditional religion of the Yoruba peoples there. The slave trade brought many of these people to the shores of Cuba, Brazil, Haiti, Trinidad and Puerto Rico, among other places. But along with the bodies being brought over for sale into a life of misery, something else was being brought along. Their souls. And their religion.

First of all, Santería is not a “primitive” religion. On the contrary, the Yorubas were and are a very civilized people with a rich culture and deep sense of ethics. We believe in one god known as Olorun or Olodumare. Olorun is the source of ashé, the spiritual energy that makes up the universe, all life and all things material.

Olorun interacts with the world and humankind through emissaries. These emissaries are called orishas. The orishas rule over every force of nature and every aspect of human life. They are approachable and can be counted on to come to the aid of their followers, guiding us to a better life materially as well as spiritually.

Communicationbetween orishas and humankind is accomplished through ritual, prayer, divination and ebó or offerings (which includes sacrifice). Song, rhythms and trance possession are also means with which we interact with the orishas and with which we are able to affect our day-to-day lives so that we may lead deeper and fuller lives during our stay in this world.

In the New World, the orishas and much of the religion was hidden behind a facade of Catholicism, with the orishas themselves represented by various saints. The slave owners would then say, “Look at how pious this slave is. She spends all of her time worshipping Saint Barbara.” Unbeknownst to them, she would actually be praying to Shangó, the lord of lightning, fire and the dance, perhaps even praying for deliverance from that very slave owner. This is how the religion came to be known as Santería. The memory of this period of our history is also why many in our religion regard the term Santería as a derogatory.

The traditions of Santería are fiercely preserved, and full knowledge of the rites, songs and language is prerequisites to any deep involvement in the religion. Initiates must follow a strict regimen and are answerable to Olorun and the orishas for their actions. As a person passes through each initiation in the tradition, this knowledge deepens and their abilities and responsibilities grow accordingly. In fact, during the entire first year of their initiation into the priesthood, the initiate or iyawó or “bride” of the orisha must dress in white. The iyawo must not look into a mirror, touch anyone or allow themselves to be touched, and they may not wear makeup or go out at night for this year.

La Santería is famous for its “magic.” This magic is based on a knowledge of the mysteries or orishas and how to interact with them to better our lives and the lives of those who come to us for the aid of the orishas. We live under the premise that this world is a magical one. This knowledge seems “supernatural” only to those who don’t understand it, but it really is quite natural.

Although the people were yanked away from their homes in Africa and enslaved in the New World, the orishas, the religion and its power could never be chained down, and the religion survives now – not as an anachronism, but ever-growing, even now in such places as France and the Netherlands.

Maferefún gbogbo orisha!