The Yoruba are the majority ethnic group living in south west Nigeria and there is a Yoruba minority in east Benin, numbering approximately 20 million in all. The Yoruba language belongs to the Kwa branch of the Niger-Congo family. The Yoruba kingdom was broken up in 1820 by an invasion of the Fulahs who captured the city of Ilorin.
According to Kola Abimbola, the Yorùbá have evolved a robust philosophy, in brief, it holds that human beings possess “Àyànmo” (destiny, fate) and are expected to eventually become one in spirit with Olódumarè (the Supreme Creator) or Olorun. The emissaries of Olodumare are the Yoruba Gods and deities called Orishas. The Orishas rule over the forces of nature and the endeavors of humanity. All the Gods have their own duties; and while perfectly independent in their own domain, they cannot trespass upon the rights of others.
Aganjú, Aganyu (m): Orisha of volcanoes, the wilderness and rivers. Aganjú is a force that is essential for growth, like his symbol the Sun. Like the volcano, Aganju forms the foundation upon which societies are built and is the catalyst for the production of vast amounts of wealth and commerce needed for advanced development, assisting humans in overcoming great physical as well as psychological barriers. Aganjú is noted for his legendary strength and his ability to bring about drastic change. As the third Orìsha to have come to earth, Aganjú is a God of great antiquity. Together with his sister Yemaja, he is the offspring of Heaven and Earth (Obatala and Odudua). As such, the two represent Land and Water. Aganju married Yemaja, and had a son named Orungan, meaning “In the height of the sky” (orun, sky, and gan, from ga, to be high). It seems to answer to the khekheme (Free-air Region) of the Ewe, meaning the atmosphere. The offspring of Land and Water thus represents Air. Aganju was formerly worshipped in Oyo. There is an open space in front of the King’s residence in Oyo, which is still called Oju-Aganju meaning “Front of Aganju”.
Aja (f): Goddess of the forest, the animals within it, and herbal healing. Aja meaning “wild vine”. Like Aroni, she carries off persons who meet her into the depths of the forest, and teaches them the medicinal properties of plants; but she never harms anyone. Aja is of human shape, but very diminutive, as she is only from one to two feet high. The aja vine is used by women to cure enflamed breasts.
Aje (f) and Aje Shaluga (m): Gods of wealth, who confer riches to servants. The name means either “the gainer who makes to recur” or “the sorcerer who makes to recur”. (Aje, sorcerer; aje, earner, or gainer, and shalu, to recur.) Both sprang forth from the body of Yemaja. Aje Shaluga is also the patron of dyes and of colors generally. His emblem is a large cowry. One proverb says, “Aje Shaluga often passes by the first caravan as it comes to the market, and loads the last with benefits;” and another, “He who while walking finds a cowry is favored by Aje Shaluga.” The large cowry, emblematic of Aje Shaluga, has no value as a medium of exchange, only the small white cowries were used for that purpose.
Aroni (m): God of the Forest. He has a knowledge of medicine, but the cure of disease is not his special function. Aroni means “One having a withered limb,” and he is always represented as of human shape but with only one leg, the head of a dog, and a dog’s tail. Aroni seizes and devours those who meet him in the forest and attempt to run away when they see him; but if a man faces him boldly and shows no sign ‘of fear, he leads him to his dwelling in the fastnesses of the forest, and keeps him there for two or three months, during which time he teaches him the secrets of the plants and their medicinal properties. When the pupil has no more to learn Aroni dismisses him, giving him a hair from his tail to prove to the incredulous that he has really been initiated. An eddy of wind, rushing through the forest and swirling up the dead leaves, is considered a manifestation of Aroni.
Ayao (f): Goddess of Air. She can manifest as a gentle breeze or in the eye of a raging tornado. She is a sister of Oya. She works closely with Osain and is a fierce warrior. Ayao has among her implements a crossbow with serpentarrows, a quill and nine stones.
Babalú Ayé (m): Orisha of the Earth, and strongly associated with infectious disease and healing. Babalú-Ayé meaning “Father, Lord of the Earth”, represents the Supreme God Olorun on Earth. He exercises authority on all things earthly, including the body, wealth, and physical possessions. Both feared and loved, Babalú-Ayé is sometimes referred to as the “Wrath of the Supreme God” because he punishes people for their transgressions. People hold Babalú-Ayé in great respect and avoid calling his actual name, because they do not wish to invoke epidemics. Strongly associated with illness and disease, as Babalú-Ayé cures these ailments. [See Shakpana] His ritual tools include a ritual broom for purification. Through divination, he often speaks to his devotees through the Ifá signs (Odu Ifá). Babalú-Ayé is often considered the son of Yemayá, and the brother of Shango. Because of his knowledge of the forest and the healing power of plants, he is strongly associated with Osain, the orisha of herbs.
Dada, Eda, Ida (m): God of Growth, new-born babies and vegetables. The name appears to mean natural production, anything produced or brought forth by natural process. Dada is represented by a calabash ornamented with cowries, on which is placed a ball of indigo. He sprang from the body of Yemaja.
Édi: A God of Evil who led men astray. Edi meaning trouble, malignant magic. The Perverter. [There seems to (also) be an Edi as messenger for Yemaya.]
Egungun-oya (f): Goddess of divination. Oya is seen as the mother of the Egun. Egungun refers to the collective spirits of the ancestral dead. Odun Egungun festivals are held in communities to commemorate the ancestors. Egungun masquerades are performed during these annual or biennial ceremonies and during specific funeral rites throughout the year. The masquerade includes the making of offerings as well as the honoring of ancestors for past and future aid. The masks reflect a creative response to death as a time of crisis involving mourning and loss.
Elegguá, Elegba, Elegbara (m): God of Death and Owner of the Crossroads. Elegba seems to mean “He who seizes” (Eni-gba), and Bara is perhaps Oba-ra, “Lord of the rubbing” (Ra, to rub one thing against another). Elegba is a phallic divinity who is supposed always to carry a short knobbed club, which, originally intended to be a rude representation of the phallus. Because he bears this club called ogo, he has the title of Agongo ogo (go, to hide in a bending or stooping posture, gongo, tip, extremity). Elegba stands at the crossroads of the human and the divine, as he is a messenger between the two worlds. In this role, he has a very close relationship with the Orisha of divination, Orunmila. Nothing can be done in either world without his permission. Every ceremony or ritual begins with an offering to Elegba. Eleguá is always called first before any other Orisha as he opens the door between the worlds and opens our roads in life. Failure to propitiate him first, guarantees failure in the intent of the ceremony. Elegba, in consequence of the bargain he made with Ifa, receives a share of every sacrifice offered to the other gods. Turkeybuzzards are sacred to Elegba and are considered his messengers, no doubt because they devour the entrails and bodies of the sacrifices. Erotic dreams are attributed to Elegba, who, either as a female or male, consorts sexually with men and women during their sleep, and so fulfills in his own person the functions of the incubi and succubi of Europe. Elegba’s colors red and black or white and black, and codify his contradictory nature. Elegba’s principal residence is said to be on a mountain named Igbeti, supposed to be situated near the Niger. Here he has a vast palace of brass, and a large number of attendants. There is a noted temple Lo Elegba near Wuru. Prayer for Elegua: Echu obá loná tosí gbogbo ona iré o aché.
Erinlẹ̀, Inle (m): Orisha of medicine, healing, and comfort, physician to the gods. Erinle means elephant, in (ni) the-earth’ (ilè) or ‘land-elephant’. Inle is both telepath and adept diviner. Abatan accompanies him, activating and administering compounds and cures to patients under their care. In the Yoruba tradition, Erinle was a great hunter who became an Orisha. He is said to have conducted the first Olobu of Ilobu to the site of the town of Ilobu, and to have protected the people of the town from Fulani invasions.
Eshu, Èṣù (m): Trickster God, a psychopomp. Able to act as Elegba, the Orisha of crossroads, duality, and death. Regarded as the “divine messenger”, a prime negotiator between negative and positive forces in the body and an enforcer of the “law of being”. Eshu appears to be from shu, to emit, throw out, evacuate. As a trickster-god, he frequently plays malicious tricks for the purpose of causing trouble. The propensity to make mischief, which is only a minor characteristic of Elegba, is much more prominent in Eshu. He deals a hand of misfortune to those who do not offer tribute or are deemed to be spiritual novices. He is a difficult teacher, but a good one. Éshu is not the Devil, but originally the Undoer of the favours of the Gods. He knows the secrets of the gods. He can mimic them, and so learned to enhance the power derived from herbal medicines. As the divine messenger, he initiates contact with Òlorún on behalf of the petitioner, and transmits the prayer to Ayé, the deliverer of àṣẹ or the spark of life. All communication with Òlorún is energized by invoking àṣẹ. Eshu transmits this prayer, and then the answer. The petitioner may be satisfied with a personal answer. If not, the Ifa oracle of the Orunmila may also be consulted.
Ibeji (m/f): twin Orisha of vitality and youth. lbeji (bi, to beget, eji, two) are the tutelary deity of twins. A small black monkey, generally found amongst mangrove trees, is sacred to Ibeji. Offerings of fruit are made to it, and its flesh may not be eaten by twins or the parents of twins. This monkey is called Edon dudu, or Edun oriokun, and one of twin children is generally named after it Edon, or Edun. When one of twins dies, the mother carries with the surviving child, to keep it from pining for its lost comrade, and also to give the spirit of the deceased child something to enter without disturbing the living child, a small wooden figure, seven or eight inches long, roughly fashioned in human shape, and of the sex of the dead child. Such figures are nude, as an infant would be, with beads round the waist. At Erapo, a village on the Lagoon between Lagos and Badagry, there is a celebrated temple to Ibeji, to which all twins, and the parents of twins, from a long distance round make pilgrimages.
Ìbéta: Spirit of Triplets.
Irunmolè: Entities sent by the Supreme God Olódùmarè, to complete given tasks, often acting as liaisons between Orun (the invisible realm) and Aiye (the physical realm). Irúnmolè(s) can best be described as ranking divinities; whereby such divinities are regarded as the principal Orisha.
Ífa: god of divination, the Messenger of the Gods. This is Orunmila as the ‘God of Palm Nuts’, because sixteen palm-nuts are used in the process of divination. He has the title of Gbangba meaning explanation, demonstration, proof. Ifa’s secondary attribute is to cause fecundity: he presides at births, and women pray to him to be made fruitful. As Ifa causes the woman to become pregnant, Obatala forms the child in the womb, which is supposed to be a different task. Ifa is considered the god of wisdom, and the benefactor of mankind. He also instructs man how to secure the goodwill of the other gods, and conveys to him their wishes. A priest of Ifa is termed a babalawo (baba-ni-awo), “Father who has the secret,” and the profession is very lucrative. Ifa possessed the faculty of divination from the beginning, but there is a myth telling how he acquires the art from the phallic God Elegba. Ifa also figures in the story of the deluge caused by Olokun. [See Orunmila]
Kokou – Highly feared warrior Undergods. The most violent and powerful of the Yoruba spirits, and the rituals surrounding it involves its followers to fall into a deep trance with rapidly beating drums. Once possessed by the spirit, the body in which the Kokou inhabits may remain in a trance all day.
Ọbà (f): Goddess of the River Ibu/Oba. Orisha of domesticity and marriage. First (or third) wife of Shango.
Ọbàtálá (m): Creator God of human bodies. Obatala is the chief God of the Yorubas. Obatala means “Lord of the White Cloth”. He is the Orisha of light, spiritual purity, and moral uprightness. He is the kindly father of all the orishas and all humanity. Obatala created humanity and Olorun gave life to the hollow shells Obatala had made. Another derivation is Oba-ti-ala, “Lord of Visions” and the epithets of Orisha oj’enia meaning “The Orisha who enters man” and Alabalese (Al-ba-ni-ase) meaning “He who predicts the future”, because he inspires the oracles and priests by means of visions. Thus he is also the owner of all heads and the mind. Obatala’s energy is the essence of Clarity. Clarity allows us to make the right decisions, to differentiate right from wrong and perhaps most importantly, to see the other energies as they truly are! All the pataki (tales) of Obatala, are designed to illuminate this reality. Though it was Olorun who created the universe, it is Obatalá who is the creator of the world and humanity. Obatala forms the child in the mother’s womb, and women who desire to become mothers address their prayers to him. Obatala, say the priests, was made by Olorun, who then handed over to him the management of the firmament and the world, and himself retired to rest. Obatala is thus also a sky-god, but is a more anthropomorphic conception than Olorun. Obatalá also has a warrior side through which he enforces justice in the world. As “Protector of the Town Gates”, he is mounted on a horse and armed with a spear. White is most appropriate for Obatalá as it contains all the colors of the rainbow yet is above them. It appears from the dramas of the Itapa festival that Obatala was a god of resurrection. He left his Temple in the town on the seventh day of the festival, stayed in his grove outside the town on the eighth day and returned in a great procession to his Temple on the ninth day. Prayer for Obatala: Obatalá obá layé ela iwo alara aché.
Oduduwa, Odudua (f): Goddess of Love and fertility, Orisha of Humans. Odudua has the title of Iya agbe meaning “The mother who receives” or “Black One” (dit, to be black; dudit, black). She is the chief Goddess. She is always represented as a woman sitting down, and nursing a child. She is the daughter of Olorun and Olokun. Odudua is the wife of Obatala, but she was coeval with Olorun, and not made by him, as was her husband. Odudua represents the earth, married to sky-god Obatala, thus Heaven and Earth. Her chief temple is in Ado. The word Ado means a lewd person, accounted for by the affair with a handsome hunter, and the protection of the place of their ‘encounter’. Before her amour with the hunter, Odudua bore to her husband, Obatala, a boy and a girl, named Aganju and Yemaja. The offspring of the union of Heaven and Earth, that is, of Obatala and Odudua, may thus be said to represent Land and Water. (In oral history, Oduduwa arrived ancient Ife, and conquered the component communities and to have evolved the palace structure with its effective centralized power and dynasty. Established as the first Ooni of Ife and progenitor of the Yoruba people.)
Ògún (m): God of War, iron and technology. Like Shango, he is also a patron of hunters. The name Ogun seems to mean “One who pierces” (gun, to pierce, or thrust with something pointed). Iron is sacred to him. He is specially worshipped by blacksmiths, and by those who make use of iron weapons or tools. Any piece of iron can be used as a symbol of Ogun, and the ground is sacred to him because iron ore is found in it. Ogun owns all technology. Because this technology shares in his nature, it is almost always used first for war. As Elegguá opens the roads, it is Ogún who clears the roads with his machete. He is recognised in the numbers 7 and the colors green and black. In Yoruba religion, Ogun is a primordial Orisha whose first appearance was as a hunter named Tobe Ode. He is said to be the first of the Orisha to descend to the realm of Ile Aiye or the earth to find suitable habitation for future human life. Thus, one of his praise names is Osin Imole or the “first of the primordial Orisha to come to Earth”. He is believed to have wo ile sun, which means to have disappeared into the earth surface instead of dying, in a place named Ire-Ekiti. Through out his earthly life, he is thought to have fought for the people of Ire thus known also as Onire. Prayer for Ogun: Ogún oko dara obaniché aguanile ichegún iré.
Oke (m): God of Mountains, and is worshipped by those who live in mountainous or rocky country. He is apt to roll down huge masses of rock upon the habitations of those who have been forgetful of his wants, or to sweep them away by a landslip. The falling of boulders or detached pieces of rock is always considered the handiwork of Oke and a sign that something is required. The emblem of Oke is a stone or fragment of rock. At Abeokuta there is a rocky cavern in which Oke is worshipped. It is popularly believed by the other tribes that the Egbas, when defeated in war, can retire into this cavern, which then hermetically seats itself till the danger is past.
Oko (m): God of Agriculture. Although his first care is to promote the fertility of the earth, he is also the god of natural fertility in general, for he is a phallic divinity, and his image is always provided with an enormous phallus. He thus resembles Priapus, who, although a phallic deity, was, apparently, primarily a garden-god, who fostered and protected crops. An emblem of Orisha Oko is an iron rod, and honey bees are his messengers. It is probably with reference to his phallic attributes that he has the title of Eni-duru– “the erect personage.” One of his functions is to cure malarial fevers, to which those who disturb the soil in the process of cultivation are particularly liable. There is an annual festival when the yam crop is ripe, and all then partake of new yams. All kinds of vegetable productions are cooked and placed in vessels in the streets, for general use.
Olodumare: the Supreme Creator God. Three manifestations: Olodumare, the Supreme Creator, Ọlọ́run, the ruler of the Heavens, and Olofi, the conduit between Orún (Heaven) and Ayé (Earth). However, Olorun is seen as his son, and as such the conduit between Olodumare and Obatala or the Orisha. Olódùmarè is the most important “state of existence”. Regarded as being all-encompassing, no gender can therefore be assigned. ‘He’ is the owner of all heads, for during human creation, Olódùmarè gave “êmí” (the breath of life) to humankind.Olódùmarè has àṣẹ over all that is. It is for this reason that He is considered supreme. Olódùmarè is the principal agent of creation. Central to this is the theme of righteousness, both individual and collective. The quest to better one’s “Iwa” (character, behavior). In this way the teaching transcends religious doctrine, as a person must also better his civic, social and intellectual spheres of being; every stanza of the sacred Ifa oracular poetry has a portion covering the importance of “Iwa”.
Olókun (f/m): God and/or Goddess of the Sea. Olokun means Owner (Olo) of Oceans (Okun). Olokun is experienced in male and female personifications, depending on what region of West Africa. Olukun possesses an unfathomable wisdom, and governs over esoteric world of dreams, psychism, meditation and healing; characteristics similar to the depths of the Ocean. Olukun guides followers between the world of the dead and the living, preserving the memories of their ancestors. Olukun is patron Orisha of the descendants of Africans who were enslaved and taken to America and elsewhere. Olokun works closely with Oya (Deity of the Winds) and Egungun (Collective Ancestral Spirits) to herald the way for those that pass to ancestry, as it plays a critical role in Iku, Aye and the transition of human beings and spirits between these two existences. Olokun is one of many Orisa known to help women that desire children. A myth says that Olokun, becoming enraged with mankind on account of their neglect of him, endeavored to destroy them by overflowing the land; and had drowned large numbers when Obatala interfered to save the remainder, and forced Olokun back to his palace in the Sea, where he bound him with seven iron chains till he promised to abandon his design.
Olokunsu, Elusu (f): Wife of Olokun (m), who lives in the harbor bar at Lagos. She looks like a mermaid. The fish in the waters of the bar are sacred to her, and should anyone catch them, she takes vengeance by upsetting canoes and drowning the occupants. Olokunsu is an example of a local sea-goddess, considered quite independent, being attached to the God of the sea, and accounted for as belonging to him.
Olorun (m): God of the Sky and Destiny. Olurun is the deified firmament, or personal sky, just as Nyankupon is to the Tshi, Nyonmo to the Ga, and Mawu to the Ewe. The sky is believed to be a solid body, curving over the earth so as to cover it with a vaulted roof. Olorun means “Owner of the Sky”. Olorun is considered too distant, or too indifferent, to interfere in the affairs of the world. Hence Olorun has no priests, symbols, images, or temples. Only as a last resource, one might invoke Olorun. At one time greater regard was paid to him. For instance, the proper reply to the morning salutation, “Have you risen well?” is O yin Olorun, “Thanks to Olorun”; and the phrase “May Olorun protect you” is sometimes heard as an evening salutation. Olorun has the following epithets: Oga-ogo (Oga, distinguished or brave person; ogo, wonder, praise), Olowo (ni-owo) “Venerable one”, Eleda (da, to cease from raining), “He who controls the rain”, and Elemi, “a living man”, literally “he who possesses breath” of man. But Olorun is not in any sense an omnipotent being. This is well exemplified by the proverb which says, “A man cannot cause rain to fall, and Olorun cannot give you a child,” which means that, just as a man cannot perform the functions of Olorun and cause rain to fall, so Olorun cannot form a child in the womb, that being the function of the god Obatala. Father of Odudua and Obatala, by his wife, Olokun. [See Olodumare.]
Olosa: Goddess of the Lagos Lagoon, and the principal wife of her brother Olokim [?Olokun], the Sea God. Olosa supplies her votaries with fish, and there are several temples dedicated to her along the shores of the lagoon, where offerings of fowls and sheep are made to her to render her propitious. When the lagoon is swollen by rain and overflows its banks she is angry, and needs to be induced to return within her proper limits. Crocodiles are Olosa’s messengers, and may not be molested. They are supposed to bear to the goddess the offerings which the faithful deposit on the shores of the lagoon or throw into the sedge. Crocodiles selected by the priests, are treated with great veneration, and have rude sheds, thatched with palm leaves, erected for their accommodation near the water’s edge. Food is regagularly supplied to these reptiles every fifth day, or festival, and many of them become sufficiently tame to come for the offering as soon as they see or hear the worshippers gathering on the bank.
Orányan (m): The warrior son of Sango. [Some claim the warrior son of Ógun.] Oranyan Ise was the third Ooni of the Yoruba.
Ori – personification of one’s spiritual intuition and destiny.
Òrungan (m): Son of Aganju and Yemaja.
Orunmila (m) – Orisha of wisdom, knowledge, divination, and foresight. 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”. He is the Grand Priest and custodian of the Ifa Oracle, source of knowledge, and is believed to oversee the knowledge of the Human Form, Purity, the Cures of illnesses and deformities. His priests or followers are the babalawo (Awos) 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 Osanyín (the secrets of the plant world) and with Oshún, who is his apetebí with whom he has an extremely close relationship. Prayer for Orunmila: Orunmila Ibikeyi Oludumare ela isode aché.
Osanyin, Osayin, Osanhin (m): God of Medicine, Orisha of the forest. He is always applied to in cases of sickness, his worship is very general. His emblem is the figure of a bird perched upon an iron bar.
Oshosi, Ochosi, Ọ̀ṣọ́ọ̀sì (m): Orisha of the forest. Oshosi is the third member of the “Ebora” or Warriors (Guerreros). He is received along with Elegguá, Ogún and Osun in order to protect the Warriors initiate and to open and clear their roads. As a master of all air attacks, he is prayed to when devotees are looking for swift justice from above. Oshosi is the hunter and the scout of the Orisha and assumes the role of enforcer of justice for Obatalá with whom he has a very close relationship. His colors are blue and yellow. He is represented as a man armed with a bow, or frequently by a bow alone. Prayer for Ochossi: Ochosi Ode mata obá akofá ayé o unsó iré o wa mi Ochosi omode aché.
Oshumare, Oṣùmàrè (m): divine rainbow Serpent, associated with creation and procreation, regeneration and rebirth. The Great Snake of the Underneath, who comes up at times above the edge of the earth to drink water from the sky. The name is compounded of shu, to gather in dark clouds, to become gloomy, and the word mare, or maye. A variety of the python, called by the Yorubas ere, is the messenger of the rainbow-god, and is sacred to him.
Oshun, Osun (f): Goddess of Sweet Water, and Goddess of love, fertility, beauty, wealth and grace. Oshun is the youngest of the female Orisha but retains the title of Iyalode or great queen. She heals with her sweet waters and with honey which she also owns. She is associated with induction of fertility and the control of the feminine essence. Women appeal to her for child-bearing and for the alleviation of female disorders. She is the femme fatale of the Orisha and once saved the world by luring Ogún out of the forests using Her feminine wiles. And, in her 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. Oshun is beneficient and generous, and very kind. She does, however, have a horrific temper, one which she seldom ever loses but which causes untold destruction whenever she does. Oshun is said to have gone to a drum festival one day and to have fallen in love with the king-dancer Shango, God of lightning & thunder. Since that day, Shango has been married to Oba, Oya, and Oshun, though Oshun is said to be considered his principal wife. As the wife of she turned into a river in Osogbo. The Oshun river and the Oba river meet in a turbulent place with difficult rapids; the rivalry of the wives symbolized in this intersection. Her colors are yellow and gold and her number is five. Peacocks and vultures are Her symbols. She is not to be confused with the Osun who is the protector of the Ori, our heads and inner souls.
Ọya, Oya Yansa (f): Orisha of Wind and Storm. Goddess of the Niger River, also called Odo Oya, the river of Oya. She is associated with wind, lightning, fertility, fire, and magic (which she stole from her husband, Shango). Oyá is the ruler of the winds, the whirlwind. She can summon lightning and tornadoes be whirling her skirt in a dance. With her destructive qualities she brings change to the cosmos, an important element to the balance of life. She guards the underworld as ruler of the gates of the cemetery, helping people transition from the world of flesh to realm of spirit. Her number is nine which recalls her title of Yansá or “Mother of Nine” in which she rules over the egun or dead. She is a fierce warrior who rides to war with Shangó (sharing lightning and fire with him) as the chief wife. She was once the wife of Ogún. Her messenger is Afefe, the Wind. At Lokoro, near Porto Novo, there is said to be a temple of Oya containing an image of the goddess with eight heads surrounding a central head. This is supposed to be symbolical of the numerous outfalls of the Niger through its delta. Oya, and the two following sprang from Yemaja.
Oye: God of the Harmattan wind, is a giant who, according to some, lives in a cavern to the north of Ilorin, while others say that ‘he resides on the mountain named Igbeti, where Elegba is supposed to have his palace.
Ṣàngó, Shango (m): Orisha of thunder and lightning. Associated with Virility, Masculinity, Fire, Lightning, Stones, Warriors and Magnetism. He is said to have the abilities to transform base substances into those that are pure and valuable. Shangó is a powerful God who also rules over fire, the drums and dance. His name appears to be derived from shan, “to strike violently,” and go, “to bewilder;” and to have reference to peals of thunder which are produced by violent blows. The Yoruba word for lightning is mana-mana (ma-ina, a making of fire), and has no connection either with iron (irin) or a chain (ewon); while the epithet of Jakuta shows that Shango is believed to hurl stones and not iron (Ja, to hurl from aloft, or ja, to fight, and okuta, stone [or bullets]). He is a warrior Orisha with quick wits, quick temper and is the epitomy of virility. When sees the quickness with which lightning makes short work of a tree or a fire rage through an area, one has witnessed the temper of Shangó in action. He is an extremely hot blooded and strong-willed, and loves all the pleasures of the world: dance, bata drumming, women, song and eating. Oshumare, the Rainbow, is the servant of Shango, his office being to take up water frorn the earth to the palace in the clouds. He has a messenger named Ara, “Thunder-clap”, whom he sends out with a loud noise. A small bird called papagori is sacred to Shango, and his worshippers profess to be able to understand its cry. He is ocanani with Elegguá, meaning they are of one heart. Shango married three of his sisters: Oya, Oshun, and Oba. They accompany their husband when he goes out, Oya taking with her her messenger Afefe (the Wind, or Gale of Wind), and Oshun and Oba carrying his bow and sword. Shango’s servant Biri (Darkness) goes in attendance. Shango is also the god of the chase and of pillage. His priests and followers wear a wallet, emblematic of the plundering propensities of their lord, and the chief priest is called Magba, “The Receiver.” Though he traded the Table of Ifá to Orunmila in exchange for the gift of dance, his children have an innate ability for divination. He is consulted with sixteen cowries. His colors are red and white, and his numbers four and six. He usually goes armed with a club called oshe, made of the wood of the ayan tree, which is so hard that a proverb says, “The ayan tree resists the axe.” He is most often represented by a double headed axe. Shangó Ise was the fourth Alafin (supreme King) of Oyó. He derived his nickname Oba Koso from the reversed tales of his mortality. Prayer for Shango: Shangó obá adé oko, obá ina, Alafin Oyó aché o.
Shapana, Shankpana, Shakpanna, Sopona (m): Orisha of smallpox and other infectious diseases. Shapana is also known as Babalu Aye (but he may also be seen as an aspect or a separate Orisha). Shapana is derived from han (to daub, smear, or plaster) and akpania (pa, to kill, and enia, a person) – a man-killer, homicide. He can inflict insanity and disease on humans. He is accompanied by an assistant named Buku (bu, to rot, emit a.stench, and iku, death) who kills those attacked by small-pox by wringing their necks. Shanpanna is old and lame, and was made an outcast to live in desolate tracts of country (that is, he went to live with the Fon, as Sagbata). He is much dreaded, and when there is an epidemic of small-pox the priests who serve him are able to impose almost any terms they please upon the terrified people, as the price of their mediation. As is the case with Sapatan, the small-pox god of the Ewe tribes, who have perhaps adopted the notion from the Yorubas, flies and mosquitos are the messengers of Shankpana. His emblem is a stick covered with red and white blotches, symbolic of the marks he makes on his victims.
Sigidi, Shigidi, Shugudu: God of nightmares. The name appears to mean “something short and bulky”. This evil god, or demon, is represented by a broad and short head, made of clay, or, more commonly, by a thick, blunted cone of clay, which is ornamented with cowries, and is no doubt emblematic of the head. Sigidi enables man to gratify his hate in secret and without risk to himself. His mode of procedure is to squat upon the breast of his victim and “press out his breath”, but it often happens that the tutelary deity of the sufferer comes to the rescue and wakes him, upon which Sigidi leaps off and disappears, for he only has power over man during sleep. Sigidi either travels on the wind, or raises a wind to waft him along. The first symptom of being attacked by Sigidi, is a feeling of heat and oppression at the pit of the stomach. He is to get up at once and seek the protection of the god he usually serves. [=Succubi]
Yemọja, Yemaya (f): Mother Goddess of the Sea and lakes, patron deity of women, and the Ogun river. Yemaja meaning “Mother of fish” (yeye, mother; eja, fish), is a shortened version of Yeyé Omo Eja meaning “Mother Whose Children are the Fish” to reflect the fact that her children are uncountable. All life started in the sea, the amneotic 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 is considered the protective energy of the feminine force. She partakes of Olokun’s abundance as the source of all riches which she freely gives to 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. Her parents are Odudua and Obatala. Yemaja married her brother Aganju, and bore a son named Orungan, who was said to have attacked her. As she fled and fell backwards to the ground, her body immediately began to swell in a fearful manner, two streams of water gushed from her breasts, to join and form a lagoon, and her abdomen burst open and fifteen Orisha came forth from her:
(1) Dada (god of growth), (2) Shango (god of lightning), (3) Ogun (god of iron and war), (4) Olokun (god of the Sea), (5) Olosa (goddess of the lagoon), (6) Oya (goddess of the Wind), (7) Oshun (goddess of beauty), (8) Oba (goddess of domesticity), (9) Oko (god of agriculture), (10) Oshosi (god of hunters), (11) Oke (god of mountains), (12) Aje Shaluga (god of wealth), (13) Shankpana (god of infectious disease), (14) Orun (the sun), and (15) Oshu (the moon).
To commemorate this event, a town which was given the name of Ife (distention, enlargement, or swelling up), was built on the spot where Yemaja’s body burst open, and became the holy city of the Yoruba. The city was destroyed in 1882, in the war between the Ifes and the Ibadans and Modakekes. Prayer for Yemaya: Iyá eyá ayaba okun omá iré gbogbo awani Iyá.
The Sun and the Moon
According to the myth, Orun the Sun, Oshu the Moon, and the stars came from the body of Yemaja. Orun and Oshu are Orisha, but the stars do not seem to have been deified. The worship of the Sun and Moon is, moreover, now very nearly obsolete, though the appearance of the new moon is commonly celebrated by a festival. To see the new moon is lucky, and people wish when they first see it. An eclipse of the Moon is supposed to indicate that the Sun is beating her, and steps are taken to drive him away.
The stars are the daughters of the Sun and Moon. The boys, or young Suns, on growing up tried to follow their father in his course across the sky to where the sea and the sky meet, and which is the place where the white men go and find all the things with which they fill their ships; but he, jealous of his power, turned upon them and tried to kill them. Some of them sought refuge with Olosa, some with Olokun, and the remainder with their (grand)mother, Yemaja, who turned them into fish. Thus all the sons were driven out of the sky, but the daughters remained with their mother and still accompany her by night.
The Yorubas pay some attention to the heavenly bodies. The planet Venus, when near the Moon, is called Aja-Oshu, the Moon’s Dog, because she travels with it. When a morning star she is called Ofere, or Ofe, which seems to mean a pale blue colour. When an evening star she is called Irawo-ale, Star of the Evening. Sirius is called Irawo-oko, Canoe Star, because it is believed to be a guide to canoemen. A proverbial saying likens the stars to chickens following a hen, the Moon; and the Milky Way is called the group of chickens.”
Sources: Nairaland.com, Orishanet.org, Wikipedia, Sacred-texts.org (Ellis)