The Irunmole – or Orisa – are living sentient energies found in the natural world around us. In the New World, the Orisa are generally worshiped and served in portable shrines we call “Orisa pots.” For some Orisa, these “Orisa pots” can be made a more permanent fixture of your landscape by installing them in the earth as is done in parts of Yorubaland. However, it’s important to remember that we mustn’t become fixated on what one finds in an Orisa pot. Because ingredients, methods, and styles vary all over Yorubaland and in the New World. What’s important are results and the presence of ceremonial skeletons (i.e. the non-negotiables in pot construction) and the positive wisdom and worldview of the priest creating composing the Orisa. Remember, since the Orisa are always around us they don’t come to the pot because of what one finds inside – quite the contrary, the things in the pot come together for the Orisa. With that in mind allow us to provide you with a very incomplete list of some of the most important Orisa found in Yorubaland – all of which can be vested to Orisa worshippers to aid them in their destiny path.
Esu: Esu (also known as Ellegua and Legba) is the orisa of endless opportunity, trickery, and sexuality. Esu, the keeper of ase, is the orisa that opens the pathways of communication to all orisa and must be placated before beginning any ceremony or initiation. Children of Esu tend to be wild, sexual, and entertaining. While they often have problems with excess and authority, children of Esu are known for their strong understanding of “right and wrong.” Red palm oil, hard candies, hot-spicy foods, red roosters, and he-goats are among Esu’s favorite offerings. Esu is represented by the colors red and black, the number 21 and Saturday is his sacred day of the week.
Ibeji: The sacred twins. Ibeji are the orisa of twinship and doubling. Since having children is a great blessing in Ifa – to have two is doubly good! Twins are born with powerful ase that predisposes them to being powerful priests and magicians. Indeed, the ase of a twin birth is so strong that the child born after the twins is thought to be able to profit from the residual ase still in the mother’s womb and is thus also born into the world with increased power potential. The Ibeji have the ability to double your blessings and your misgivings. However, when served properly they bring with them enormous wealth and good fortune. If at any point a twin dies (or is born still-born) a set of Ibeji dolls must be made for those twins. That twin doll is treated as if it were the living twin! It’s fed, put to bed, and even taken out for walks. The care of the twin doll either falls to the living twin, the twin’s mother, or to the family. While individual Ibeji dolls should be made for deceased twins the full Orisa complex known as Ibeji can also be composed for would-be devotees. When served properly the Ibeji bring with them blessings and protections that are hard to match.
Obatala: Obatala is the “White Orisa” and the Orisa responsible for molding the physical form of humanity before Oludumare gives us life with his divine breath. He’s always perfectly clean and expresses himself with the presence of efun (naturally forming white chalk). Liquor and red palm oil are taboo to him and his followers. Obatala is the orisa of logic, thought, and clarity and as such children of Obatala are generally logical and “heady.” In fact, children of Obatala invariably require more “alone time” than most other people as their lives are often ruled by their ability to think quietly and process. Obatala is symbolized by the color white, white doves and the number 8 and Sunday is said to be his sacred day of the week.
Ogun: Ogun is the Orisa of single purposed focus, strong foundations, and of metalwork. Over time his association with all things metal has also made him the Orisa of cars, trains, and airplanes. He governs the work of metalsmiths, mechanics, and doctors. Children of Ogun are known for their tireless work-ethic and their short fiery tempers. Children of Ogun tend to be attractive, forceful, and strong willed. There isn’t an Orisa out there that can work as long and as focused as Ogun. Ogun controls the sacrificial knife and as such after each sacrifice (regardless of Orisa) palm oil is poured onto the blade to thank Ogun for the use of his divine ase. Ogun is symbolized by all things metal (especially hand forged iron) and oil and liquor are among his favorite offerings. He is represented by the number 4, the colors black and green, and Tuesday is said to be his sacred day of the week.
Olokun: Olokun is the orisa of the vast and deep sea. Her rule reaches from the water’s surface to the deepest darkest parts of the ocean. She is nurturing yet mysterious and unknowable at the same time. Olokun is the mother of the orisa Aje and thus it is from Olokun that Aje (the Orisa of great wealth) is born – it is from Olokun that Aje draws her power. Children of Olokun tend to be socially awkward but kind and uncomfortably unknowable. They are quick to anger and even quicker to calm. Their moods tend to ebb and flow like the ocean. Olokun is symbolized by the sea and white she-goats are among her favorite offerings. She is represented by the number 7 and his sacred day of the week is Monday. [Note: While opinions on this vary – both in and out of Yorubaland –Oluwo Faladé learned from his Yoruba elders that Yemonja and Olokun are most certainly separate Orisa. However, they do compliment each other’s energy in necessary and profound ways. For these reasons one may not receive Olokun without having received Yemonja first.]
Orunmila: Orunmila is the Orisa of knowledge and wisdom whose vital essence makes up the sacred palm nuts (ikin) of Ifa. After living on earth Orunmila became frustrated that people were not heeding his word and thus refusing to perform the necessary sacrifices for a sweet life. Frustrated, he left earth for Ikole Orun leaving behind his essence in the 16 palm nuts of Ifa. He then instructed his faithful followers to pick up the ikin and “pound” them when they needed his advice. Indeed, even today it is through the sacred palm nuts that Orunmila communicates with this priests (Babalawo) and priestesses (Iyanifa). Through divination, Orunmila provides us with the roadmap of life, and through sacrifice Orunmila promises his devotees a sweet and fulfilled existence. Orunmila is the keeper of the sacred Ifa corpus – the 256 odu of Ifa as such he is incapable of telling lies as he communicates the greater wisdom and knowledge of the universe to his priests through sacred divination. Sacrifice or ebbo to Orunmila should not be attempted without the guidance of a Babalawo or Iyanifa. Depending on the region of Yorubaland his colors vary. In and around Ile-Ife Orunmila’s colors are green and brown while yellow and green become his predominate colors in Western Yorubaland. Followers of Orunmila are noted – and protected from premature death – by the ide (bracelet) of either alternating green and brown or yellow and green beads worn about their left wrist.
Osanyin: Osanyin is the guardian of the powerful secrets of plants and herbs. Osanyin is the forest. Osanyin – often seen as a bird or as a chameleon – has the power to heal with his leaves. Along with being a powerful leaf doctor Osanyin also tends to understand the mysterious and magical qualities of plants and animals. In addition, he also has the ability to change the properties of leaves. In fact, if a specific plant that is needed for an ebbo or magical working is unattainable for whatever reason priests of Osanyin can use the powers of this orisa to change the properties of available leaves so that the work can be done. Children of Osanyin are also always attracted to herbs, the outdoors (especially forests), and tend to be powerful herbalists and foresters. As such Omo Osanyin carry the ability to talk to plants and learn of their deep medical and magical mysteries.
Osumare: Osumare – the rainbow serpent – is the Orisa of cool breezes, hope, inspiration, and “the path to wealth and riches.” The rainbow serpent leads her devotees to cool wealth. If Oya is the wind, Osumare is the breeze. She is the awe that you experience when you see a rainbow cross the sky. Osumare –like Osun – represents joy and happiness but Osumare is more about the feeling of having already obtained that joy while Osun is more about the curious search for it. Osumare joins the earth and the sky and brings the breeze of peace, harmony, and wealth to her devotees on her serpentine back. She is the feeling of absolute peace, comfort, and awe. Honey, milk, perfume, and white powder are among her favorite offerings.
Osun: Osun is the orisa of joy, curiosity, and sensuality. She governs the sweet waters of the world and is a powerful seductress. The Orisa Osun loves elegance and dislikes disorder and chaos (unless of course it’s she herself who has created it). Children of Osun tend to be calculating, sensuous and focused on the joy of life (often at the expense of logic). Children of Osun tend to be able to find (and spend) money quite easily but their desire for elegance and joy (at all costs) makes them susceptible to over-indulgences of all kinds. Honey and sweet drinks are among her favorite offerings. Osun is symbolized by brass, sweet water, and the number 5 and Friday is said to be her sacred day of the week.
Ori: Ori is a personal orisa given to all of us by Oludumare. Each Ori is different as it is comprised of personal choices we made before incarnating to earth. At birth, our personal Ori consists of the divine essence of our guardian orisa, our birth odu, and a guardian ancestor. Later in life, our Ori is augmented by odu we may receive when becoming an Ifa or orisa priest. In short your Ori contains your destiny and should be cared for. Living in the crown of your head, simple offerings to Ori often consist of cool water or coconut milk pour directly on your head and left to dry overnight while wrapped in white cloth. Ori is so important that many priests begin their morning prayers by honoring Ori with prayer, libation, and deep respect.
Oya: Oya is quite simply the orisa of “sudden positive change.” Oya is the wind and is known for being mysterious, somewhat dark, and absolutely sudden. While traditionally linked with the marketplace she’s also been connected to death and to cemeteries. Markets represent the sudden change of wealth and poverty and cemeteries the sudden change of life and death. Children of Oya – like the Orisa herself – tend to be macabre in nature, mysterious, difficult, and fiercely honest. Dark flags, she-goats, and hens are among her favorite offerings. Oya is represented by the colors black and burgundy, the number 9, and Wednesday is her sacred day of the week.
Sango: Sango is the orisa of strategy, spontaneity, and endless strength. Sango is thought to be an apotheosized former ruler of Oyo. And is the epitome of “the warrior” archetype. Sango is cunning, strategic, and quick to act. Children of Sango tend to be attractive, articulate, persuasive, and quick to anger. Sango, like his children, is a born manipulator and leader. Sango is symbolized by the double-headed axe, the sere (his sacred gourd rattle), ram horns, and thunderstones. Red roosters and strong he-goats are among his favorite offerings. He is represented by the number 6 and his sacred day of the week is Thursday.
Sopona: Sopona (also known as Sakpata and Baba Lúayé) is the orisa of the earth and of smallpox. Since smallpox has been eradicated, in modern times Sopana has become the orisa of incurable diseases such as HIV/AIDS. Priests of Sopona have two brooms –one that said to bring the affliction of smallpox and one that’s said to take it away. Devotees to Sopona in Yorubaland often scar their bodies imitating the scars left behind by skin diseases such as smallpox, measles, and chicken pox. Should smallpox return it is believed that when Sopona sees the scars that cover the bodies of his devotees he will think they had been struck by smallpox once before – and survived – thereby passing them by and not infecting them “again.” Children of Sopona tend to be amazing healers and unbelievable achievers. Indeed, children of Sopona are thought to be able to achieve (i.e. cure) the impossible. Water is absolutely taboo to Sopona while Guinea Fowl, grains, and oil are among this orisa’s favorite offerings.
Yemonja: Yemonja is the orisa of the waters – all waters. She’s the perpetual mother and nurturer. Children of Yemonja tend to be intuitive, slow to anger, and calm in nature. Because of her connection to motherhood she is also a fierce protector of children – even those who are not her own. Children of Yemonja would rather see themselves suffer than watch a child in pain. Yemonja is symbolized by rivers, the ocean, mermaids, and fishes. She is represented by the colors blue and white, number 7, and her sacred day of the week is Monday. [Note: in some areas of Yorubaland Yemonja rules the “explore-able ocean” while in other parts of Yorubaland she is clearly associated with rivers leaving the rulership of the ocean to Olokun. In our house we see Yemonja as the Orisa of all waters –which includes rivers and oceans. Leaving the direct rule of sweet waters to Osun and the ocean more explicitly to Olokun. Additionally, because Yemonja rules all waters – including the ocean – to receive Olokun one must have first received Yemonja].
In order to receive the shrines for the following Orisa you must first be initiated into their service. Initiation into Oro and Abiku are restricted to only men. However, women may – with the permission of Orunmila – be initiated into Egungun. If initiation into the Egungun, Oro and Abiku secret societies is not what you’re looking for we can also construct for you a generic ancestor pot that will become the focal point of your personal ancestor service.
Abiku: The Yoruba believe that after death we are continuously reborn back into our families. However, Abiku (meaning “born to die” or “destined to die”) are spirits who disrupt the natural cycle of consanguineal reincarnation. Abiku are spirits who invade the bodies of unborn children in order to be born into the world only to desert the body soon after birth leaving the body to die. Often times the same Abiku visits a woman over and over again causing her to miscarry or lose her children in their infancy. If at a child’s birth it is determined that an Abiku has been born into the body of the infant, a trained priest, with the help of scarification and sacrifice, can placate the Abiku and force the spirit to stay in the body. While the Abiku can be persuaded to remain in the body – thus allowing the child to live –most people would say that the child will grow up to be loud, rambunctious, and difficult. Additionally, women can be visited over and over by the same Abiku resulting in the death of child after child – a cycle that can only be stopped by a trained Abiku priest or Baba Egbe.
Egungun: Egungun are the ancestors who rule the day and provide their children with blessings of all kinds. Also fierce protectors of their devotees the masked Egungun ceremoniously manifest to the community during the day as they walk the streets moving from person to person – including foreigners –as they bless the community and provide them with messages from beyond. Individual masked Egungun are the manifestation of individual ancestors who have died. Thus the presence of Egungun also gives individuals the opportunity to maintain living and efficacious relationships with dead.
Oro: If Egungun rules the day, Oro certainly owns the night. Oro, unlike Egungun who walk the streets, only speak to their dead. Aside from initiated members of the Oro society no one ever sees the face of Oro. In a high-pitched almost robotic voice Oro greets the living through closed and latched doors and windows of their homes while offering them messages, blessings, and warnings from beyond. Along with maintaining communication with the living, Oro also serves to rid towns and villages of evil spirits and energies. Additionally, Oro works to protect his devotees against magical attacks such as sorcery and witchcraft. On quiet nights the shrill cries of Oro can be heard in the distance which serve as a warning to all those who are uninitiated that Oro has left the safety of his sacred forest (Igbooro) and is walking the town. To avoid the misfortune of seeing Oro the uninitiated act quickly to close their doors and windows and hide themselves inside while Oro and his followers speak to the living and work to rid the town of evil.
Note: To refine your ancestor service divination should be performed to determine if your ancestors (both your maternal and paternal families should be read separately) wish to be served along side Egungun or Oro.