From Association of Independent Readers and Rootworkers
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
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.
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)
Ochosi (Ochossi, Oshosi, Oxosi)
Ogun (Oggun, Ogum, Ogou)
Olodumare (Olorun, Olofi)
Olokun (Olocun, Olokum)
Orunmila (Orula, Orunla, Ifa)
Oshun (Ochun, Oxum, Osun)
Osain (Ozain, Osanyin)
Oya (Yansa, Yansan)
Shango (Chango, Sango, Xango)
Yemaya (Yemoja, Iemanja)
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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