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, Republic of Benin, Togo, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Colombia, Venezuela, Panama, Puerto Rico, Haiti, Guyana, Jamaica, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the United States, Uruguay and Argentina 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.
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 a portion of the soul that determines personal destiny and success. Ashe, which is also spelled "Ase", "Axe," "Axé," "Aché," or "Ache," is the life-force that runs through 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, what others might call inner peace and satisfaction with life. Ashe 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 ashe. Ashe is sometimes associated with Eshu, the messenger God. For practitioners of the Yoruba/Lucumi religion, ashe represents a link to the eternal presence of God, the Orishas, and the ancestors.
The concept is regularly referenced in Brazilian capoeira by people of all faiths. "Ashe" in this context is used as a greeting or farewell, in songs and as a form of praise. Saying that someone 'has ashe' in capoeira is complimenting their energy, fighting spirit and attitude rather than spirituality.
The Yoruba theogony enjoys a Pantheon of Orishas, this includes: Aganju, Babalu Aye, Erinle, Eshu/Elegba, Yemaya, Nana Buluku, Oba, 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
- Olorun (Olorum, Olodumaré, Olofin) - God, the creator.
- Eshu (Eleggua, Exú, Eṣu, Elegba, Ellegua, Legbara, Papa Legba) - Eshu is the messenger between the human and divine worlds, Orisha of duality, crossroads and beginnings, and also a phallic and fertility deity (an Embodiment of Life). Eshu is recognized as a trickster.
- Ogoun (Ogun, Ogúm, Ogou) - warrior deity; divinity of iron, war, labour, sacrifice, politics, and technology (e.g. railroads, tools, man-made objects).
- Ochosi (Oxósse, Ocshosi, Osoosi, Oxossi) - hunter and the scout of the orishas, deity of the accused and those seeking justice or searching for something. His domain are the forests.
- Babalu Aye (Soponna, Shonponno, Sakpata, Shakpana, Xapanã, Omulo, Omulu, Asojano, Shokponna, Obaluaye, Obaluaiê, Obaluaê, Abaluaiê, Babaluaiê, Zodji, Dada Zodji, Obaluaiye) - divinity of disease and illness (particularly smallpox, leprosy, and now AIDS), also orisha of healing and the earth, son of Iemanja.
- Ozain (Osain, Osanyin, Ozain, Osain, Ossanhe) - 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. Kosi Ewe, Kosi Orisha! - Without leaves, there are no Orishas!.
- Ochumare (Oshumare, Oxumare) - rainbow deity, represented by the snakes. Divinity of movement and activity, guardian of children and associated with the umbilical cord.
- Nana Buluku - One of the oldest Orishas. She gave the mud to Oxalá so he could mold mankind with it. Owner of the swamps.
- Oshun (Oshún, Ọṣun, Oxum, Ochun, Osun, Oschun) - divinity of rivers and waterfalls, love, feminine beauty, fertility, and art, also one of Shango's lovers and beloved of Ogoun.
- Oba (Ọbà, Obba) - Shango's jealous wife, and a great warrior, divinity of marriage and domesticity, daughter of Iemanja. Her domain are all river with dangerous currents and mostly the whirlpools formed in it.
- Yewá (Ewá) - Orisha related to the virginity, chastity of a person. Also related to the winter, to the snow, fog and mist and the cold.
- Oya (Oyá, Oiá, Iansã, Yansá, Iansan, Yansan) - warrior deity; divinity of the wind and of the lightning, sudden change, hurricanes, tornadoes and the gates to the underworld. She is a powerful sorceress and primary lover of Shango.
- Logunede (Logun Ede, Lógunède, Laro) - The prince. Orisha that lives six months in the water eating fish with his mother Oshun and six months on land with his father Oxossi in the forest hunting. Orisha of art, prosperity and love.
- Ayra (Ayrà) - Warrior that wears white. One of the Orishas related to the Lightning and the Wind. Often mistaken for Shango, is an Orisha of its own which wears only white, never ever another color and also never wears a crown.
- Iemanja (Yemaja, Imanja, Yemayá, Jemanja, Yemalla, Yemana, Yemanja, Yemaya, Yemayah, Ymoja, Yemojá) - divine mother, divinity of the water and loving mother of mankind, daughter of Obatala and wife of Aganju. Her domain is all body of water but mostly an estuary, where the river meets the sea. One of the most important Orisha on the Yoruba pantheon.
- Shango (Ṣango, Shangó, Xango, Changó, Chango, Nago Shango) - warrior deity ; divinity of thunder, fire, sky father, represents male power and sexuality. In Brazilian Candomblé Xangô is a male Orixá which lived as a King and became saint after his death.
- Obatala (Obatalá, Oxalá, Orixalá, Orisainlá, Oshala, Orishala) - Orisha of peace. An arch-divinity, father of humankind, divinity of light, spiritual purity, and moral uprightness. Orixá funfun - Owner of the white.
- Orunmila (Orunla) - divinity of wisdom, divination, destiny, and foresight. Orunmila is the Orixá and Ifá is the divinatory system from which he talks through. They are both close conected.
- Iroko (Iroco, Tempo, Kitembo, Roco, Loko) - The Orisha of the sacred tree called Iroco. Responsible for the seasons of the year.
- Otin (Oti) - Protector of the animals. A huntress, wife of Oxossi. Daughter of Erinlé, was born with three breasts (some itons say she had four breasts).
- Ibeji (Ìbejì, Ìgbejì) - The sacred twins, represent youth, happiness and vitality.
- Erinle (Inle, Ibualamo) - orisha of medicine, healing, and comfort, physician to the gods. The fisher.
- Olokun (Olóòkun, Olocum, Lokun) - Owner and Ruler of the oceans, the abyss, and signifies unfathomable wisdom. Father of Iemanja, lives in the deep ocean.
- 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.
- Oko (Orisha Oko, Okko) - orisha of agriculture and the harvest.
- Ori - Ruler of the head.
- Okê - Orisha owner of the mountains.
- Oduduwa (Odudua, Oòdua) - The first human.
- Ajaka (Bayani, Babayanmi, Dada Ajaca, Dada Baldone) - The protector of the children not yet born. Orisha of the fruits and vegetables.
- Olóssa (Oloxá, Olossa) - Orisha of the lakes and lagoons. Mostly the lagoons next to the ocean. Wife of Olokun. Represented by the crocodiles.
- Ajé Saluga (Ajé Ṣaluga, Ajé Saluga, Ajé Chaluga, Ajé-Kalagá, Ajé Xalugã, Kowo, Cobo) - Orisha of good luck and prosperity. The foam of the waves, the shells on the beach.
- Oranyan (Oranian, Òrànmíyàn) - The son of Oduduwa. A warrior of two colors skin, one side white and the other black.
- Boromu - Orisha related to the desert. Guardian of the cemetery and the bones of those who left us. Husband of Yewá.
- Axabó - An Orisha of culture. She is part of Shango's family. Not much is known about her. Worshiped in the Candomblé temples of Salvador - BA - Brazil. Plays as lyre.
- Iyami Oxorongá (Iyami-Ajé, Ìyá Nlá) - The sorceress. Only worshiped by women.
- Egungun - The spirits of our ancestors.
- Onilé (Oluaye, Aiyê, Ilê) - The Orisha owner of the earth. She is one of the first Orishas to be greeted in a ceremony.
- Iku - Death himself. The Orisha of death.
- Kevin Baxter (on De La Torre), Ozzie Guillen secure in his faith, Los Angeles Times, 2007
- E. Bolaji Idowu Olódùmarè: God in Yoruba Belief (ed Hardcover) Wazobia, 1994 ISBN 1-886832-00-5
- Article: Oduduwa, The Ancestor Of The Crowned Yoruba Kings
- Robert D. Pelton (1989). The Trickster in West Africa: A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight. University of California Press. ISBN 978-0-520-06791-2.
- Cynthia Duncan, Ph.D., About santeria
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- Fakayode Fayemi Fatunde (2004) Osun, The Manly Woman. New York: Athelia Henrietta Press.
- 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.
- Baba Ifa Karade, The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts, Weiser Books, York Beach, New York, 1994. ISBN 0-87728-789-9
- Gary Edwards (Author), John Mason (Author), Black Gods - Orisa Studies in the New World, 1998. ISBN 1-881244-08-3
- John Mason, Olokun: Owner of Rivers and Seas. ISBN 1-881244-05-9
- John Mason, Orin Orisa: Songs for selected Heads. ISBN 1-881244-06-7
- David M. O'Brien, Animal Sacrifice and Religious Freedom: Church of the Lukumi Babalu Aye v. City of Hialeah.
- S. Solagbade Popoola, Ikunle Abiyamo: It is on Bent Knees that I gave Birth. 2007. Asefin Media Publication
- Robert Farris Thompson, Flash of the Spirit.
- Robert D Pelton, The Trickster in West Africa chapters on Eshu and Legba. 1989. University of California Press
- J Lorand Matory, Black Atlantic Religion. 2009. Princeton University Press
- Discover more about Orisha in Bahia - Brazil
- Oyeku Ofun Temple - A peaceful place for Divine worship