An Orisha (also spelled Orisa or Orixa) is a spirit or deity that reflects one of the manifestations of God in the Yoruba spiritual or religious system. This religion has found its way throughout the world and is now expressed in practices as varied as Santería, Candomblé, Trinidad Orisha, Anago and Oyotunji, as well as in some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun and a host of others. These varieties, or spiritual lineages as they are called, are practiced throughout areas of Nigeria, the Republic of Benin, Togo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela among others. As interest in African indigenous religions (spiritual systems) 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 100 million adherents of this spiritual tradition worldwide.
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 (Ifá Priest) or Iyanifa (Ifá's lady), to mediate in their problems. Ifá 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 Ifá a Masterpiece of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity in 2005.
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.
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.
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 Igbo-Ora, with an average of 150 twins per 1,000 births.
Partial list of Orishas
- Olokun - guardian of the deep ocean, the abyss, and signifies unfathomable wisdom,
- Obatala (Obatalá, Oxalá, Orixalá, Orisainlá) - arch-divinity, father of humankind, divinity of light, spiritual purity, and moral uprightness
- Orunmila (Orunla, Ifá) - divinity of wisdom, divination, destiny, and foresight
- Eshu (Eleggua, Exú, Esu, Elegba, Ellegua, Legbara, Papa Legba) - Eshu is the messenger between the human and divine worlds, Undergod of duality, crossroads and beginnings, and also a phallic and fertility Undergod (an Embodiment of Life) and the deliverer of souls to the underworld (an Embodiment of Death). Eshu is recognized as a trickster and is childlike, while Eleggua is Eshu under the influence of Obatala.
- Ochumare (Oshumare, Oxumare) - rainbow deity, divinity of movement and activity, guardian of children and associated with the umbilical cord
- Iemanja (Yemaja, Imanja, Yemayá, Jemanja, Yemalla, Yemana, Yemanja, Yemaya, Yemayah, Yemoja, Ymoja, Nanã, La Sirène, LaSiren, Mami Wata) - divine mother, divinity of the sea and loving mother of mankind, daughter of Obatala and wife of Aganju.
- Aganju (Aganyu, Agayu) - Father of Shango, he is also said to be Shango's brother in other stories. Aganju is said to be the orisha of volcanoes, mountains, and the desert.
- Shango (Shangó, Xango, Changó, Chango, Nago Shango) - warrior deity ; divinity of thunder, fire, sky father, represents male power and sexuality
- Oba (Obba) - Shango's jealous wife, divinity of marriage and domesticity, daughter of Iemanja
- Oya (Oyá, Oiá, Iansã, Yansá, Iansan, Yansan) - warrior deity; divinity of the wind, sudden change, hurricanes, and underworld gates, a powerful sorceress and primary lover of Shango
- Ogoun (Ogun, Ogúm, Ogou) - warrior deity; divinity of iron, war, labour, sacrifice, politics, and technology (e.g. railroads)
- Oshun Oshún, Ọṣun, Oxum, Ochun, Osun, Oschun) - divinity of rivers, love, feminine beauty, fertility, and art, also one of Shango's lovers and beloved of Ogoun
- Ibeji - the sacred twins, represent youth and vitality
- Ochosi (Oxósse, Ocshosi, Osoosi, Oxossi) - hunter and the scout of the orishas, deity of the accused and those seeking justice or searching for something
- Ogun Ogun is the god of iron practiced mainly by the Ondo people in Yoruba land to ward off motor accidents.
- 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. He sometimes appears as a beautiful wood sprite when in female form.
- 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
- Ori - Ruler of the head
- Awo Fa'Lokun Fatunmbi Orisas
- J. Omosade Awolalu, Yoruba Beliefs & Sacrificial Rites. ISBN 0-9638787-3-5
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- James T. Houk, Spirits, Blood, and Drums: The Orisha Religion of Trinidad. 1995. Temple University Press.
- Jo Anna Hunter, "Oro Pataki Aganju: A Cross Cultural Approach Towards the Understanding of the Fundamentos of the Orisa Aganju in Nigeria and Cuba". In Orisa Yoruba God and Spiritual Identity in Africa and the Diaspora, edited by Toyin Falola, Ann Genova. New Jersey: Africa World Press, Inc. 2006.
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- Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit.