The Yoruba Orisha Part 2 (Part 1

An Orisha (also spelled Orisa or Orixa) is a spirit or deity that reflects one of the manifestations of Olodumare (God) in the Yoruba religious system. (Olodumare is also known by various other names includ
ing Olorun, Eledumare, Eleda and 

Olofin-Orun). This religion has found its way throughout the world and is now expressed in practices as varied as Candomblé, Lucumí/Santería, Shango in Trinidad, Anago and Oyotunji, as well as in some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun and a host of others.

These varieties or spiritual lineages are practiced throughout areas of Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay and Venezuela among others. As interest in Yoruba religion system grows, Orisha communities and lineages can be found in parts of Europe and Asia as well. While estimates may vary, some scholars believe that there could be more than 150 million adherents of this spiritual tradition worldwide. (Please note some of the Orisha have male/female personifications) Click here for A brief understanding    Courtesy: James C. Lewis (http://www.noire3000studios.com)
Do not remove the original comments.

Ori is a metaphysical concept important to Yoruba spirituality and way of life.

Ori, literally meaning “head,” refers to one’s spiritual intuition and destiny. It is the reflective spark of human consciousness embedded into the human essence, and therefore is often personified as an Orisha in its own right . In Yoruba tradition, it is believed that human beings are able to heal themselves both spiritually and physically by working with the Orishas to achieve a balanced character, or iwa-pele. When one has a balanced character, one obtains an alignment with one’s Ori or divine self.

Alignment with one’s Ori brings, to the person who obtains it, inner peace and satistaction with life. To come to know the Ori is, essentially, to come to know oneself, a concept extremely foreign to Western philosophy. The primacy of individual identity is best captured in a Yoruba proverb: “Ori la ba bo, a ba f’orisa sile”. When translated, this becomes It is the inner self we ought to venerate, and let divinity be.

Oriki Ori:

Ori o,

When I look for my path, it is you who walks beside me

may we walk in harmony and not stumble upon each others feet

When I am in my darkest hour, it is you who shine a light

may our depths of sorrow always be matched by heights of joy

When I am lost and without direction, it is you who takes my hand

may wisdom reign in the kingdom of our soul

When I am alone in the darkness I ask

my Ori, what are you?  

you are the other reality inside

you are the owner of righteous intuition you are my power to observe,

reason and inspire you are my one real identity

you are me

Ori o bless your omo

Ase o

Photography Courtesy: James C. Lewis (http://www.noire3000studios.com)

 Text by: Teekay Akin


Voices of the Gods (in full)

This documentary captures the rich legacy of ancient African religions practiced today in the United States. It provides viewers with rare insight into the practices and beliefs of the Akan and Yoruba religions and illustrates how mass media has been used to ridicule and denigrate these belief systems. Voices of the Gods provides intimate and respectful studies of an Egungun ancestral communion ceremony and daily life in the Yoruba village of Oyotunji in Sheldon, South Carolina, the only traditional African village of its kind in the U.S. today. directed by Al Santana. via

for more information on the director, click here. for more information on the film, click here

Yemoja (also known as Yemaya and Iemanja)

The queen of the Earth, owner of all waters, and the orish of motherhood. She is the mother of all living things and lives in the sea. Her name is a contraction of the Yoruba saying “iyá omó eyá” meaning “mother whose children are the fish.” and mer-people are Yemoja sacred offspring. She is the older sister of Oshun.

Yemoja wears seven panels skirts to represent the seven seas of which she rules over. She carries a black haired horse tail fly-whisk, a sabre, or a machete with which she defends her children. When she spins, the rippling edges of her dress are the tempestuous waves of the stormy sea.


Afro-Cuban Santería by Alberto del Pozo

Drawings by Alberto del Pozo of the deities of Afro-Cuban Santería

“Each of the illustrations in The Oricha Collection depicts the principal gods and goddesses that comprise the Afro-Cuban religion of Santería.

The Afro-Cuban orishas can be traced to the 19th Century slave trade, when thousands of men, women, and children were taken from their Yoruba homes in Nigeria to be sold as slaves in the new world. In Cuba, the slaves were introduced to Catholic teachings, resulting in a blending of Yoruba and Christian beliefs over time. Due to structural similarities between the two religions, the Yoruba gods were identified with Catholic saints, and as a result, many generations of slaves continued to practice their religion under the guise of Christian liturgy. This union gave rise to a new system of beliefs known as Lucumí or Santería, the ‘way of the saints.’’

Via the Cuban Heritage Collection, University of Miami Libraries
Thanks to luminousinsect

"So the slaves displayed the images of the saints but addressed them in the parallel names of their own deities - St. Lazarus/Sopona, St. Anthony/Ogun, Our Lady of the Candles/Osun, etc. and here is the point: this never constituted a spiritual dilemma since the system of the gods has always been one of complimentarities, of affinities, and of expansion - but of the non-aggressive kind. the deities could subsume themselves within these alien personages and eventually take them over. 

one cinematic illustration of this suggests itself - those films of alien body snatchers where the creatures from outer space insert their beings into the carapace of earthlings, eventually dominate, not only the human forms but the environment and culture, insert themselves into crevices of landscape and social actualities, and can only be flushed out with the aid of weed killers, flame throwers, gamma rays or quicklime. the difference, of course, is that the African deities were made of sterner yet more malleable stuff - the principle of alloys. always generous in encounters with alien “earthlings”, they accommodated, blended, and eventually triumphed.”

-Wole Soyinka from his essay in Orisa Devotion as World Religion: The Globalization of Yoruba Religious Culture ed. by Jacob K. Olupona and Terry Rey

Afro-Brazilian Umbanda devotees pouring libation as way of reaching their ancestors

Umbanda is a syncretic religion that incorporated Catholicism, Native South American beliefs and Kardecism — French spiritualism — into the African possession cults that survived Jesuit extermination. The origins of Umbanda go back to the Yoruban religion, brought to Brazil by the African slaves in the 16th century.  This African religion, based on the channeling of deities who represent forces of nature while sharing, like the Greek gods,  human passions,  is the foundation for a variety of possession cults of which Umbanda is a later manifestation.

Babalu Aye (also known as Omoluaye, Asojano, or Shopona)

Orisha who rules over infectious diseases and healing. He is one of the most feared and revered orishaw because of his power over life and death. Babalu Aye’s worship originated with the Fon tribe of Benin, in Western Africa, but his influence was so powerful that tribes up and down the West African coast adopted his worship. He is the patron of those suffering from many infectious diseases. Babalu Aye has a special relationship with the orisha Shango because he was the only one who reached out to assist him when he was sick and homeless. Babalu Aye is frequently called upon for help with healing and overcoming these plagues.

Mami Wata, often portrayed with the head and torso of a woman and the tail of a fish, is at once beautiful, jealous, generous, seductive, and potentially deadly[.] A water spirit widely known across Africa and the African diaspora, her origins are said to lie ‘overseas,’ although she has been throughly incorporated into local beliefs and practices. Her powerful and pervasive presence results from a number of factors. Of special note, she can being good fortune in the form of money, and as a ‘capitalist’ par excellence, her power increased between the fifteenth and the twentieth centuries, the era of growing international trade between Africa and the rest of the world.
     Mami’s powers, however, extend far beyond economic gain. Although for some she bestows good fortune and status through monetary wealth, for others, she aids in concerns related to procreation—infertility, impotence, or infant mortality. Some are drawn to her as an irresistible seductive presence who offers the pleasures and powers that accompany devotion to a spiritual force. Yet she also represents danger, for a liaison with Mami Wata often requires a substantial sacrifice, such as the life of a family member or celibacy in the realm of mortals. Despite this, she is capable of helping women and men negotiate their sexual desires and preferences. Mami also provides a spiritual and professional avenue for women to become powerful priestesses and healers of both psycho-spiritual and physical ailments and to assert female agency in generally male-dominated societies. Rapid socioeconomic changes and the pressures of trying to survive in burgeoning African urban centers have increased the need for the creative powers of Mami Wata priestesses and priests.
     Half-fish and half-human, Mami Wata straddles earth and water, culture and nature. She may also take the form of a snake charmer […], sometimes in combination with her mermaid attributes and sometimes separate from them[.] …
     … She is a complex multivocal, multifocal symbol with so many resonances that she feeds the imagination, generating, rather than limiting, meanings and significances: nurturing mother; sexy mama; provider of riches; healer of physical and spiritual ills; embodiment of dangers and desires, risks and challenges, dreams and aspirations, fears and forebodings. People are attracted to the seemingly limitless possibilities she represents, and at the same time, they are frightened by her destructive potential. She inspires a vast array of emotions, attitudes, and actions among those who worship her, those who fear her, those who study her, and those who create works of art about her. What the Yoruba peoples say about their culture is also applicable to the histories and significances of Mami Wata: she is like a ‘river that never rests.’

Henry John Drewal, Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and its Diasporas (Los Angeles, CA: Fowler Museum, 2008), 23, 25.

Images of Mami Wata recur throughout a variety of artworks and media—masks and headdresses, sculptures, paintings, African pop music, and contemporary installation art—and in a number of cultures and religious systems across Africa and the African diaspora (showing up most prominently within the networks of the trans-Atlantic slave trade). And she, of course, figures prominently in Sir Victor Uwaifo’s great 1967 highlife/ekassa song “Guitar Boy,” where he advises, “If you see Mami Wata, never you run away.” (NB: On some releases Uwaifo’s song was called “Guitar Boy & Mamywater.” Younger ears and indie boys might recognize the central riff as the sample used by The Very Best on “Warm Heart of Africa.”) Below is a small cross-section of artworks involving Mami Wata. For more details on Mami Wata and examples of more Mami-inspired art, check out the preview of the Fowler Museum’s 2008 Mami Wata exhibition published in African Arts, and/or the New York Times article (and accompanying slide show) that came out when the exhibition made its way to the Smithsonian Institution’s National Museum of African Art in 2009, and/or just pick up Drewal’s book/exhibition catalog, which will give you all the detail you’ll ever need.


Mask, circa 1970s, Yaure peoples, Côte d’Ivoire, Fowler Museum at UCLA / Photo by Don Cole

John Goba, Headdress, 1980s, Sierra Leone, Collection of Mr. and Mrs. Jeremiah Cole / Photo from Fowler Museum at UCLA and National Museum of African Art

Zoumana Sane, Mami Wata, circa 1987, Senegal, Collection of Herbert M. and Shelley Cole / Photo by Don Cole

Abdal 22, Mami Wata, 1989, Kinshasa, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Private Collection / Photo from Fowler Museum at UCLA and National Museum of African Art

Moyo Ogundipe, Mami Wata, 1999, Nigeria/Denver, Colorado, Collection of Chike Obianwu / Photo by Don Cole

Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings, Maulana Karenga

If you are looking for a beautifully poetic, highly sophisticated interpretation of selected Odus, this is the book you need. For those of us who are longterm and serious students of classical African philosophy, the great Dr. Maulana Karenga is a well-known and respected name. His research and writings on the continuity of African culture and the singularity of our traditions from ancient Kush and Khemit  to (western Sudan) the West African nations is unsurpassed by any other scholar. His work laid the foundation for the establishment of the African-American holiday of Kwanzaa, as well as the recognition of the connection between African-American dialectic colloquialisms and the languages of the Congo and Bantu. This text is actually more than just a book of poetic interpretations of the Odu, it is a continuation and exploration of his earlier work, “The Husia”, in which Dr. Karenga clearly illuminated the common origins of the Christian Bible, namely the Book of Psalms; the Koran; and the religious texts and oral tradition of Ancient Khemit and the Yoruba religion of Ifa, respectively. That is why this work has such great value. It is not a quick reference book for fledgling diviners, it’ a treatise on African culture.

To compare “Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings” with “The Sacred Oracle of Ifa” is appropriate, but only with a proper understanding of the connection between the two. As most who read this review will know, the co-author of the latter text is Philip John Neimark, a White Jewish-American businessman and publisher who studied in Nigeria and received the initiation of Babalawo. The other co-author and true creator of the book is the late great master Babalawo of Ifa, Dr. Afolabi A. Epega of Nigeria. When Dr. Epega was seeking to compile his vast learning into a text that would make the teachings of Ifa accessible to the Western audience, particularly converted followers of Ifa and American- and Caribbean-born African priests, he approached countless members of the African-American and Caribbean religious community for assistance, and no one was interested in participating. Finally, he gained the patronage of Mr. Neimark, who, in exchange for a co-authorship credit, agreed to help compile the text and assist with getting the work published. Once the work had been published, Mr. Neimark, ever the businessman, actually attempted to trademark the ancient Odus of Ifa, which would have given him legal and financial rights to a spiritual and religious corpus far more ancient than his own and certainly by no means his property! It was an outrage and a perceived affront to African people everywhere and the African-American spiritual community in particular, who were the primary audience of such a book which translated Yoruba divinatory and moral teachings into English. It was in response to this treachery that Dr. Karenga penned “Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings.” This work was a direct challenge to the attempted European-ization and commercialization of African spiritual heritage. It helped to subvert and defeat Mr. Neimark’s goals of gaining ownership of ancient African religious teachings, and also paved the way for other authors to continue the very important work of compiling, translating, and interpreting the sacred Odu. They are no one’s property- but definitely an African legacy!

Inside the text of “Odu Ifa” you will find many eloquent passages which illuminate the moral teachings of the Yoruba people. Dr. Karenga has selected several odu for in-depth interpretation and commentary. His insight as a pre-eminent scholar and expert on African traditions is remarkable. It is, again, not a guidebook for divination- but the Yoruba way of life and worldview is not just about divination and magico-religious practices. That is the entire point of Dr. Karenga’s life work. He wanted to introduce to the rest of the world the beauty, validity, complexity, and eloquence of African philosophy- as opposed to the stereotypical and outdated modes of thinking which relegate African spirituality to mere superstition and witchcraft. He wanted to demonstrate through his research and texts that African religions are and always have been just as advanced as any developed in Asia or Europe, and that in fact, the African way is the genesis of all others by virtue of Africa being the birthplace of human civilization. This book will help you to understand the cultural context of the teachings of Ifa as well as other African-derived systems. It will help you to see the human story behind the divine teachings. It is also a beautiful piece of literature, an introduction to Ifa for those who are just beginning to learn about their African culture. I highly recommend this book as an introduction or adjunct to the library of those who seek to understand classical African thought and philosophy.

Every Yoruba person & Diaspora should own this book.

(the above photo is not related to west African/African Diasporic cultures but matches well with this subject.)

Animal Sacrifice is the single most controversial ritual practice performed by practitioners of African based religions such as Lucumi, Haitian Vodou, and Traditional Ifa. Outsiders have long said that animal sacrifice is not necessary because the need to sacrifice animals to our spirits has been subverted by modernity. And while, for some, the cost of animals may not be much of an economic sacrifice there is more to the performance of animal sacrifice beyond the simple economic expense.

Many priests have written about the importance of animal sacrifice and some have even defended animal sacrifice in the U.S. court system (e.g., the Church of Lukumi Babalu Aye, 1993) to protect legally our rights to practice our religion. We, as a community, have spent a great deal of time and effort educating the public by writing for those people who don’t practice an African based religion. These efforts are usually designed to explain the how’s and why’s of animal sacrifice – or to defend these practices as “logical” and spiritually necessary. However, today I am writing this article not for the public – but for practitioners. I found that many practitioners themselves do not fully understand the reasons for sacrifice and some even believe erroneously that a priest can – through sustained spiritual development – reach a point in their own so-called spiritual evolution that would make animal sacrifice unnecessary.

I would like to begin our discussion by talking about why we perform animal sacrifice. Animal sacrifice does not provide us with ase – ase only comes from Olodumare and the Orisa. Nor do we give blood to the Orisa to give them ase as they are already the keepers of Olodumare’s divine energy. We do not give blood to the Orisa to give our tools or “shrines” ase or even to give our lives ase. Believing that ritual sacrifice gives our Orisa ase is due to a misunderstanding not just of ritual sacrifice but also of ase. Even so, there is a relationship between ase and blood sacrifice – which is probably where this misunderstanding began.

But before we can grasp fully the true connection between sacrifice and ase we must understand what an Orisa “pot” is and what it is not. It may be surprising to hear, but Orisa pots are not shrines in the classic Greco-Roman sense. Even so, I am guilty of using the word “shrine” (and I really dislike “fetish” as an alternative) myself. However, I do so because English lacks the vocabulary to describe the ways that Orisa “shrines” are understood in a Yoruba context without using long clunky phrases. Orisa pots are “incarnations of the Orisa from Orun to earth.” Meaning, Orisa pots are not altars, they are not representational, they are not symbolic – they are manifestations of the Orisa – and their ase – themselves. Blood sacrifice does not give your Orisa ase, as the divine keepers of Olodumare’s ase it’s the Orisa who give us ase – not the other way around. What sacrifice does is nourish the Orisa’s ase that is intrinsic to their existence – which then gives the ase inherent in Orisa pots more efficacy, power, and presence.

But there’s more to animal sacrifice than actively recharging an Orisa’s cosmic ase-battery. Animal sacrifice also nourishes us with the meat thereby completing the cycle and affirming our connection to our earthly and heavenly egbe (community). Sacrificing an animal nourishes the spirits (with blood) and the community (with meat) thereby indexing the powerful link between humanity and the Orisa as they are both nourished by a single ritual process. Offerings of fruit, amidu, and even drinks all recharge our Orisa’s ase but they perform this task slowly and with coolness. Blood sacrifice, on the other hand, recharges an Orisa quickly and with heat.

It is – in part – the intensity and “heat” produced from animal sacrifice that makes animal sacrifice mandatory in all Orisa and Ifa initiations. Simply put, if you were initiated without the act of animal sacrifice your Orisa was not fully birthed and by now your Orisa has dissolved back to the earth from which it came. Blood is not just symbolic of “birthing,” the intensity of blood sacrifice also has a practical purpose – it charges – or electrifies – the struggling ase of a newly incarnated Orisa so that it may endure on earth. The act of sacrifice jolts a newly birthed Orisa with the electricity of life and charges the Orisa “ase-battery” quickly and fully. Indeed, this is also why some priests believe that your Orisa should be given blood once a year – it keeps the ase of your Orisa nourished and efficacious. Orisa birthed without blood are left uncharged and unfinished which leaves them to dissipate into back into the earth. Ritual sacrifice during initiation is mandatory. Anyone who performs an initiation ceremony without blood – and calls it Ifa or Orisa worship – is a fraud. Not only does the performance of blood sacrifice connect the new initiate to their community but it also nourishes the ase of their newly birthed orisa giving sustainable power.

While most people understand that animal sacrifice is necessary for initiation I have found that many people do not have a solid grasp on the ceremony of sacrifice. It is Ogun and his sacred metal that make sacrifice possible – therefore at the moment of sacrifice Ogun gets the “first taste” of all animals given to the Orisa. Indeed, I have heard the sacrificial knife called “the tongue of Ogun.” This means that after every sacrifice a small drop of palm oil should be placed on the blade of your knife to honor the ase of Ogun which made the offering possible. Additionally, in West Africa – unlike in the West – the size of the animal sacrificed is rarely fixed. Instead, it correlates with the number of people that the animal needs to feed. The animals do not carry ase – the Orisa do. The animals do not give ase to a newly birthed Orisa – they merely activate or charge the ase already inherent in the Orisa. Therefore, a goat does not carry more ase than a chicken. If you need to feed four or less people, sacrifice a chicken. If you need to feed five or more people, offer a goat. It’s really that simple.

Even so, there are occasions when larger animals such as goats or pigs are necessary, but not for the reasons you many think. For example, in my lineage we require that a person give four goats to their Ifa before they can receive and Igba Odu. This doesn’t mean that your Ifa must have a certain amount of ase prior to receiving the Orisa Odu, even if it’s often worded as such. This means that that Ifa priest must have feed the community – that is, served his community – several times prior to being vested with Odu because Odu by her nature is communal and designed to protect and empower the Ifa priest’s community. Of course, it’s for these reasons that Ifa priests should be made with a goat and many Orisa priests are. But it’s important to understand that the sacrifice of larger animals during initiations are not to give your Orisa more ase (they already have all they need from Olodumare) it’s about the new priest feeding and serving, their community in a symbolic and real way.

I hope this gives us, as a community, things to think about. In this blog post I wanted to show that 1) animal sacrifice charges ase – it does not bestow ase 2) animal sacrifice is necessary for initiations, and any initiation done without animal sacrifice is an unfortunate scam, and 3) the size of the animal given during ceremonies has to do with how many people need to be fed or as a symbolic gesture indexing a new priests service to their community – not because some animals have more ase than others.


- Awó Fáladé Òsúntólá