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Category:Orishas

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A painting depicting the major Orishas of the pantheon.
A painting depicting the major Orishas of the pantheon.

The orishas are the primary gods and goddesses from the Yoruban religion and its diaspora in the Americas. The word "orisha" comes from the Yoruban language meaning "selected heads". They were the heads, or eldest children, of the Creator (known as Olodumare). After Olodumare created the entire world, he passed on his power and reign to his eldest children to look after the affairs of human kind and then retreated away from humanity handle bigger universal issues. (There are several alternate spellings for the word "orishas" including: orisas, orichas, ochas, and orixas.)

The orishas are worshipped in several religion traditions, each of which can be traced back to their origins in the Yoruban kingdoms from Africa (near modern day Nigeria and Benin). When slaves were taken to the Americas from this region they brought their worship of the orishas to the Caribbean, South America and the southern United States. Thus were born the African diaspora of religions including but not limited to La Regla Lukumí (also known as Santeria or La Regla de Ocha), Haitian Voudoun, Candomblé and New Orleans Voodoo.

The descendants of the slaves had to adapt their native practices to their new lands and, in nations where the majority religion was Catholicism, they often had to conceal the worship of African gods behind the façade of Catholic church saints. The identification of deities from one religion with those of another religion is called syncretization. Centuries of syncretization is the reason that adherents to many African diaspora religions refer to the orishas as "saints" and draw parallels between the two. Due to syncretization, Saint Peter became associated with Ogun, Saint Barbara with Shango, Saint Anthony with Eleggua, and so forth. This practice also accounts for the name of "Santeria" -- literally "saintism" -- being applied to the Lukumi religion, especially as practiced in Cuba.

Within the religion of Haitian Voudoun, the orishas are called the Rada Lwa and are one of three pantheons worshipped (the other two pantheons are the Petwo Lwa and the Gede Lwa). There also exist other African diaspora religions whose pantheons closely parallel that of the orishas. These include the Congo-derived Palo Monte, Abakuá and Umbanda.

Petitioning the Orishas

Eleggua's shrine with beaded ritual items
Eleggua's shrine with beaded ritual items
An altar throne dedicated to Shangó, marking the anniversary of a priest's initiation
An altar throne dedicated to Shangó, marking the anniversary of a priest's initiation
An altar featuring Yemaya's pot and ritual implements
An altar featuring Yemaya's pot and ritual implements
An altar throne dedicated to Ogun, featuring his green and black trademark colors
An altar throne dedicated to Ogun, featuring his green and black trademark colors

In traditional orisha worship, the mysteries and energies of each orisha are kept inside a vessel or pot. The contents of the pot are ceremonially consecrated and the energy of the orisha is anchored within it through animal sacrifice. The pot is then given to the new initiate to ritually establish a relationship with that orisha.

Each orisha has its favorite offerings, which may include fruits or flowers, animal sacrifices, candles lit to petition the orisha for favors, colors, and sacred numbers that are taken into account when anything is offered to it. Orishas are frequently petitioned and worshipped with drumming ceremonies held in their honor (often celebrating the anniversary of a priest's or priestess' initiation). At these ceremonies, a highly elaborate altar, called a throne, is constructed using lavish fabrics. Upon the throne are placed the pots for the orishas, and each is dressed with beaded ritual implements. Before the throne are placed fruit offerings, flowers, candles, and all of the orishas' favorite foods.

Worship of the orishas outside of the native African and African diasporic religions is quite common, and devotees, both formally initiated and non-initiated, may propitiate the orishas in natural locations corresponding to the domains each orisha reigns over. For example, a devotee of Oshun may leave offerings at the edge of a river and pray for her assistance and a devotee of Shango may leave his favorite fruits at the foot of a palm tree for strength against an enemy. It is also typical for devotees who syncretize traditional Catholic Christianity with reverence for the African orishas to keep statuary on their home altars of Catholic saints who are said to correspond with various of the orishas. These syncretic practitioners petition the saints for assistance while leaving token offerings of rum, fruits, or candies at the feet of the statues, later taking them outside and leaving them on the earth before they spoil. In recent times, some rootworkers have added petitioning the orishas to their hoodoo altar work and spell casting, dressing conjure candles with condition oils and placing them before images of the saints, along with offerings of fruits or flowers and prayers to the orishas.

The following orishas are some of the most popularly petitioned for aid by conjure doctors and hoodoo practitioners with ties to the African diaspora religions, or who serve a Latin American client base. Each one has a story -- and a magical or spiritual specialty when it comes to helping people.

Click on an orisha's name to read about the orisha, see a picture, and find out what kinds of prayers, petitions, and spell-craft are associated with the orisha as well as which Catholic saints are typically identified with it.

Popular Orishas

Babalu Aye (Omoluaye, Asojano, Shopona)

Babalu Aye is the orisha of infectious disease and healing, and, as one of the most feared and revered orishas in the pantheon, is petitioned by the sick for relief from smallpox and AIDS. (Read More ...)

Eleggua (Elegba, Legba, Elewa)

Eleggua, the owner of the crossroads, is the most important of the orishas and is always propitiated at the start of every ceremony and ritual because he lives behind every door and witnesses everything in this world. (Read More ...)

Obatala (Obanla, Ochanla, Oxala)

Obatala, the eldest of the orishas, is the creator of humanity who encourages us to be calm, logical and to cultivate good ethics. (Read More ...)

Ochosi (Ochossi, Oshosi, Oxosi)

Ochosi is the divine hunter and the force of justice, a warrior who defends against injustice and helps with attaining goals. (Read More ...)

Ogun (Oggun, Ogum, Ogou)

Ogun is a mighty warrior orisha and a powerful blacksmith who is the embodiment of iron, the cutting edge of the knife, and of all tools and weapons. (Read More ...)

Olodumare (Olorun, Olofi)

Olodumare is not an orisha, but is instead the creator deity who formed the earth, the orishas and the entire universe. (Read More ...)

Olokun (Olocun, Olokum)

Olokun is the mysterious, titanic orisha of the oceanic abyss who helps with psychic abilities and mediumship, and collects the spirits of the dead. (Read More ...)

Orunmila (Orula, Orunla, Ifa)

Orunmila, also known as Ifa, is the orisha of divination who, along with Eleggua, witnessed the birth of creation, and is thus the orisha who knows where our fates will lead us. (Read More ...)

Oshun (Ochun, Oxum, Osun)

Oshun is the youngest and one of the most beloved of the orishas, the ruler of sweet waters, love spells, wealth and money-luck, and beauty. (Read More ...)

Osain (Ozain, Osanyin)

Osain is the orisha of wild plants, healing, and powerful spell work. (Read More ..)

Oya (Yansa, Yansan)

Oya is the orisha who owns the cemetery gates and the marketplace, a fierce warrior queen, and one of Shango's four wives, who fights side-by-side with him. (Read More ...)

Shango (Chango, Sango, Xango)

Shango is the orisha of masculine virility, passion, drumming, and leadership, and is the king of the religion. (Read More ...)

Yemaya (Yemoja, Iemanja)

Yemaya is the queen of the earth whose home is the ocean, and the mother of all living things who fiercely defends her children. (Read More ...)

Membership in the Yoruban and Yoruban-Diasporic Religions

Many Yoruban and Yoruban-Diasporic lineages hold public worship services at which the clergy interact both with deities and with the laity. Membership in Yoruban and Yoruban-Diasporic houses of worship requires initiatic rites of passage, including oath-taking, and the reception of consecrated objects as a declaration of faith in a specific creed.

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