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African Mythologies: Orsiha

Updated: Jan 5

Orisha (also given as Orisa and Orishas) are supernatural entities usually referred to as deities in the Yoruba religion of West Africa, though they are actually emanations or avatars of the supreme being Olodumare. Their number is usually given as 400 + 1 as a kind of shorthand for "without number" or innumerable.

The Yoruba creation story, like many others, has different versions. In one, far back at the beginning of time, Olodumare created the Orishas and spread powers between them randomly. The Orishas then huddled by the great baobab tree that provided them with everything they needed and refused to use their powers for creation, preferring to satisfy their own needs. Olodumare then took care of the act of creation through the Orisha (or god) Oduduwa, who made the Yoruba people and established life at the city of Ife (also Ile-Ife) as well as the concept of cultural identity and kingship. Whether the Orishas then decided to participate in creation is not addressed.

Their participation in creation is given in another version, however, where the Orisha Obatala separates the land from the waters and Olodumare then sends down 17 Orishas to complete the work. 16 Orishas a

re male and the 17th, Oshun, is not only female but the youngest among them. The males ignore her efforts and suggestions and wind up failing in their task. They are forced to return to Olodumare and admit their failure and are asked what happened to the 17th who was sent with them. The male Orishas confess they ignored her because she was a woman and much younger and are told only she can complete the work. The Orishas return to earth and apologize to Oshun who finishes creation with the gifts of beauty, fertility, love, and sweetness, instilling the need for these things in all people everywhere who had been given life through the breath of Olodumare.

The Seven Orishas

The Orishas are not always causing trouble for Olodumare, however, and most of the time are attentive to their responsibilities. It is understandable how one would conclude that Olodumare is too far away from human affairs for mortals to make contact, but at the same time, it should be recognized that each Orisha is an emanation of Olodumare and so the supreme being is aware of every prayer of thanks or supplication made to any Orisha.

1. Eshu; God of crossroads, all roads, paths, thresholds and doors, psychopomp, messenger, traveling, fertility, comedy, mischief, healing

2.Ogun; God of iron and metalworking, alchemy, healing, weapons, oath-taking, orphans and the homeless, cutting through obstacles, technology, vehicles/transportation, railroad tracks, shapeshifting (werewolves etc.)

3. Obatala; God of justice and legal matters, peace and serenity, protection of the blind, mute, and those with various birth defects, easing tempers and rage, sobriety, creativity, healing.

4. Yemaya; God of female fertility issues, motherhood and children, abused women, over-seas travelers, beauty, the ocean, all ocean creatures, love, healing, abundance, people born under Water zodiac signs, anyone who’s ancestors survived the passage from West Africa to the New World are her people!, erotic dance

5. Oshun; God of motherhood and babies, fertility, healing, cleansing, love and romance, self love, rivers and fresh water, divination, witchcraft, wealth

6. Shango; God of thunder and lightning, justice, protection, male fertility and virility, the sky, music and musical instruments, love, dancing, fighting

7. Oya; God of Niger River, female fertility, magic, divination, women’s secrets, female warriors, cemeteries, spirits of the dead, horse farms, libraries, healing of ancestral lines, winds (hurricanes too!), marketplaces

It should go without saying that if you plan to invoke and work with the Seven African Powers for healing, abundance, fertility, etc. that you should approach them with respect and reverence. Understand the culture and people from whence the Seven African Powers came. These spirits, the Orishas, were brought to the Americas on the backs of the enslaved Africans. They’ve survived because of the culture. Have a respect and understanding of what the Orishas’ people endured and henceforth survived. If you don’t have respect for the African diaspora and culture, the Seven African Powers will not have respect for you!

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