Nigerian Mythology: The Orisha

 
 

 Once we spotted this beautiful gallery of Yoruba Orishas we knew we had to share them and add a little background information on this religious system. (See if you can spot model Azy Banks, Senegalese model and Africlectic friend!) 

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 of Nigeria. (Olodumare is also known by various other names including 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.

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The Yoruba belief in Orisha is meant to consolidate not contradict the terms of Olódùmarè. Adherents of the religion appeal to specific manifestations of Olódùmarè in the form of those whose fame will last for all time. Ancestors and culture-heroes held in reverence can also be enlisted for help with day-to-day problems. Some believers will also consult a geomantic divination specialist, known as a babalawo (Ifa Priest) or Iyanifa (Ifa’s lady), to mediate in their problems. Ifa divination, an important part of Yoruba life, is the process through which an adept (or even a lay person skilled in oracular affairs) attempts to determine the wishes of God and His Servants. The cultural and scientific education arm of the United Nations, declared Ifa a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.

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Oduduwa
Oduduwa is considered as the first of the contemporary dynasty of kings of Ife. Cosmicists believe Oduduwa descended from the heavens and brought with him much of what is now their belief system. Migrationists believe Oduduwa was a local emissary from an all too earthly place, said to recount the coming of Oduduwa from the east, sometimes understood by some sources as the “vicinity” of Mecca, but more likely signifying the region of Ekiti and Okun sub-communities in northeastern Yorubaland/central Nigeria.

Ache
Whatever the case may be, all of the Yoruba traditionally believe that daily life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one’s Ori. Ori literally means the head, but in spiritual matters it is taken to mean an inner portion of the soul that determines personal destiny and success. Ase, which is also spelled “Axe,” “Axé,” “Ashe,” or “Ache,” is the life-force that 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. Orisha devotees strive to obtain Ashe through Iwa-Pele or gentle and good character, and in turn they experience alignment with the Ori, or what others might call inner peace or satisfaction with life. Ache is divine energy that comes from Olodumare, the Creator and is manifested through Olorun, who rules the heavens and is associated with the sun. Without the sun, no life could exist, just as life cannot exist without some degree of aché. For practitioners of the Yoruba/Lucumi religion, aché represents a link to the eternal presence of God, the Orishas, and the ancestors.

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Pantheon

The Yoruba theogony enjoys a Pantheon of Orishas, this includes: Aganju, Babalu Aye, Erinle, Eshu/Elegba, Yemaya, Nana Buluku, Obà, Obatala, Oxossi/Ochosi/Osoosi, Oshumare, Ogun/Ogoun/Ogunda, Oko, Olofi, Olokun, Olorun, Orunmila, Oshun, Osun, Oya, Ozain, and Shango, among countless others. In the Lucumi tradition, Osun and Oshun are different Orishas. Oshun is the beautiful and benevolent Orisha of love, life, marriage, sex and money while Osun is the protector of the Ori, or our heads and inner Orisha. The Yoruba also venerate their ancestral spirits through Egungun masquerades, Orò, Irumole, Gelede and Ibeji, the orisha of Twins (which is no wonder since the Yoruba are officially known to have the world’s highest rate of twin births of any group). In fact, the world capital of twins is the Yoruba town of Igboora, with an average of 150 twins per 1 000 birth.

(Please note many Orisha have male/female personifications)

Images by nok_ind

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