The Seven African Powers/ Voodoo Gods
The Seven African powers are the most well-known and celebrated divinities of the Yoruban Pantheon. They are common to all Yoruban faiths, although they are not always considered to be the same deities. In Macumba traditions (Candomble, Umbanda), they are called Orixa; in Vodoun, they are called Lwas; in Palo, Nkisi; and in Voodoo, they are called Loas- ?laws.? In all of these traditions, the Loas have many aspects which are often quite diverse. Following is a list of the Seven African Powers, their associated saints, and their attributes as I have learned them. Papa Legba (Ellegua, Legba, Exu, Eshu) In Haitian Vodou as well as New Orleans Voodoo, Papa Legba is the intermediary between the spirits and humanity. He is the most important loa because he stands at a spiritual crossroads and grants or denies permission to speak with the spirits of Guinee. In New Orleans, the gates of Guinee are considered to be the portal to the afterworld. Legba is believed to speak all human languages. He is always the first and last spirit invoked in any ceremony, because his permission is needed for any communication between humans and the loa - he opens and closes the gates to the spirit world. In Yoruba, Ellegua is mostly associated with Papa Legba since both deities share the role of being the god of the crossroads. Yet, Legba also shares similarities to Orunmila, the orisha of prophesy who taught mankind how to use the mighty oracle If?. Legba, Ellegua, and Exu are similar, but they are not the same spirits. Papa Legba usually appears as an old man on a crutch or with a cane, wearing a broad brimmed straw hat and smoking a pipe, or sprinkling water. The dog and rooster are sacred to him. Because of his position as 'gatekeeper' between the worlds of the living and the mysteries, he is often identified with Saint Peter who holds a comparable position in the Catholic tradition. He is also depicted in Haiti as St. Lazarus, or St. Anthony. In Yoruban mythology, Ellegua is an Orisha (spirit) associated with "opening the ways", or crossroads, as well. Often depicted as a child or a small man, he is a playful and a trickster god. Worshippers often have a cement head with a metal spike in the top and cowrie shells for eyes and mouth as a representation of Ellegua behind their front door. He is believed to protect the entry way and prevent harm from entering the home. Receiving a consecrated Ellegua head is part of the Santeria initiation known as Los Guerreros (the Warriors). His child aspect is likened to El Ni?o de Atoche. Ellegua is said to like candy, toys, and coconut as offerings, or anything children would enjoy. In return he helps people overcome various problems. Ogun (Ogoun) Ogun is the chief of the warriors, the God of War, blood, and iron, similar to the spirit of Ares in Greek mythology. He is the patron of civilization and technology. Ogun is responsible for tools of progress like farming equipment and surgeon?s knives, and commands the leaders of society, such as policeman, doctors, and the military. As such, he is mighty, powerful, and triumphal; yet, he can also be dangerous and destructive. It is Ogun who is said to have led and given power to the slaves for the Haitian Revolution of 1804. He is called upon now to help people obtain a government more responsive to their needs. In addition, he is often called upon to bring work to the unemployed. Ogun gives strength through prophecy and magic. He is associated with locomotives, and offerings are often made to him at railroad tracks. A favorite offering to Ogun is three railroad ties. In Candomble, he is associated with St. George, the dragon slayer; in Lukumi, Santer?a, and Palo Mayombe, he is syncretized with St. Peter; in Voodoo, St Joseph. Ogun is one of the husbands of Erzulie and is a husband of Oshun and Oy? in Yoruba mythology. According to legend, Ogun is a son of Yemaja (Yemay?) and Orungan. In all his incarnations Ogun is a fiery and martial spirit. He can be very aggressively masculine, but can rule the head of female, or effeminate male initiates to whom he takes a liking. He is also linked with blood, and is for this reason often called upon to heal diseases of the blood. However, because Ogun enjoys blood offerings, it is considered inadvisable to petition Ogun with a bleeding wound or while menstruating. Chang? (Xango, Shango) Chang? is a warrior, the Orisha of lightning, dance, and passion. He is the epitome of all things masculine, and the dispenser of vengeance on behalf of the wronged. He has the power to help win wars, defeat enemies, and gain power over others. He will ensure victory over all difficulties. Chang? was a royal ancestor of the Yoruba as he was the third king of the Oyo Kingdom and deified after his death. His colors are red and white, and his best known symbol is the oshe, a double bladed axe. He is represented under the colonial guise as St. Barbara, and is sometimes associated with Vodou?s Petro Loa, Erzulie Dantor. According to Yoruba and Vodou belief systems, Chang? hurls bolts of lightning at the people chosen to be his followers, leaving behind imprints of stone axe blade on the Earth's crust. Worship of Chang? provides a great deal of power and self-control. Chang? altars often contain a carved figure of a woman holding a gift to the god with a double-bladed axe sticking up from her head. The axe symbolizes that this devotee is possessed by Shango. The woman's expression is calm and cool, for she is expressing the qualities she has gained through her faith. Chang? has three wives. Because of her excellent cooking, Oshun is his favorite. His other wife, Oba, another river goddess, offered Chang? her ear to eat. He scorned her and she became the Oba River, which merges with the Oshun River to form dangerous rapids. Lastly, Oy? was Chang?'s third wife, known for stealing the secrets of his powerful magic. As the legend is told, Chang? had his own house and each wife had her own house next to his. He would visit his wives in their houses to eat and to sleep with them. Oba noticed that when Chang? went to Oshun?s home he would eat all of the food that she prepared for him; yet, when he came home to her he would just pick. Desiring a closer relationship with her husband, Oba asked Oshun how she kept Chang? so happy. Oshun was offended by the inquiry and became filled with resentment. For one, Oba's children would inherit Chang?'s kingdom because they were his first children. Oshun?s children would not have nearly the same status, being born from his concubine. So, Oshun decided to play a trick on Oba, out of jealousy. She told Oba that many years ago she had cut a small piece of her ear off and dried it. From this she made a powder that she would sprinkle on Chang?'s food. Oshun told Oba that the more he ate, the more he desired her. Excited by this information, Oba ran home to prepare Chang?'s favorite meal. Once it was done, she decided that if a little piece of Oshun's ear produced such a great effect, her whole ear should drive Chang? crazy with desire for her and he would forget Oshun forever. So, Oba sliced off her ear and stirred it into Chang?'s food. When Chang? came home, he sat down and began to eat without looking at his dish. When he finally glanced down, he saw an ear floating in the stew. Thinking Oba was trying to poison him; Chang? drove her from his house. Oba ran away crying, and fell to earth to become a river, where she is still worshipped today. As an Orisha, Oba is the goddess of marriage and is said to destroy marriages in which abuse occurs. Obatal? Obatal? is the creator God, the Androgynous Sky King of the White Cloth. He is the supreme deity of the Yoruba pantheon, the great African tradition from which much of New Orleans Voodoo originates. Obatal? is the eldest of all orisha. His color is white, containing all the colors of the rainbow. He rules the mind and intellect, cosmic equilibrium, male and female. Obatal? is considered to be beyond the sphere of direct communication. According to mythical stories, Obatal? created the human body through the power of the Supreme Deity Olor?n, while Olor?n (God) breathed life into them. Obatal? descended from the sky to Il? If?, Nigeria. He brought with him a cockerel, a pigeon, and a calabash full of dirt. After throwing the soil upon the waters, he set the cockerel and pigeon upon the pile of dirt who scratched and scattered it around to create the rest of dry land that became the Earth's surface. Somewhere along the line of creation, Obatal? got drunk on palm wine and screwed up by creating defective people. Subsequently, he is the patron deity of handicapped individuals. Hence, Obatal? must never be worshipped with palm wine, palm oil or salt. His worshippers may eat palm oil and salt, but never drink palm wine. Oy? (Yansa) Oy? is the Goddess of the Marketplace, and the Goddess of winds and hurricanes, lightning, fertility, fire and magic. She is also the guardian of cemeteries and the underworld. In Yoruba mythology, Oy? is the Goddess of the Niger River. Her purpose is for ancestral connection and success in the marketplace, and is called upon when a great change is needed. Oy? is a powerful warrior, and the wife of Chang?. She epitomizes female power and righteous anger. Her full name is Oy?-Yansan, which means "mother of nine." Oy? has been syncretized in Santeria with the Catholic images of Our Lady of Candelaria (Our Lady of the Presentation) and St. Theresa. In Brazilian Umbanda she is represented by Saint Barbara. Her feast day is February 2. Yemay? (Yemoja, Iemanja) Yemay? is the Mother of the Seven Seas, the Creation Goddess, and Santeria Orisha of fertility and motherhood. She offers protection to women. She is likened to the patron saints Lady of Regla, and Mary, Star of the Sea. Often depicted as a mermaid, she is associated with the moon, ocean, and female mysteries. She rules the subconscious and creative endeavors. As such, she is the governess of the household and of matters pertaining to women including childbirth, conception, childhood safety, love, and healing. Extremely compassionate and merciful, Yemay? rules the dreamtime, oversees the Moon, deep secrets, ancient wisdom, salt water, sea shells, and the collective unconscious. According to legend, Yemay? originated in Egypt as the Goddess Isis. It is thought by some that the Nubian slaves who returned to different parts of Africa may have brought Isis with them under the new name of Yemay?. Myth has it that Yemay? gave birth to the 14 Yoruban Goddesses and Gods. When her uterine waters broke, it caused a great flood creating the oceans. The first human man and woman were borne from her womb. Yemay? goes by a number of different names including Queen of Witches, Mother of Fishes, The Constantly Changing Woman, The Ocean Mother, Mother of Dreams and Secrets, Mother of Pearl, and Yemay?Olokun (powerful dream aspect). Yemay??s counterpart in Vodoun is called Lasiren, the mermaid. She is related to Mamiwata (Mamma Water), the African water-spirit. Lasiren?s symbols are a mirror and comb. There is a common legend about Yemay? choosing her own students; occasionally someone will disappear, sometimes for seven years, and return with tales of having learned the ways of magick and healing in her undersea dwelling. Her offerings are often doves, but never fish, as these are considered her children. Oshun (Oxum) In Yoruban mythology, Oshun is an Orisha (spirit goddess) of love, intimacy, beauty, wealth and diplomacy. According to the Yoruba elders, Oshun is the "unseen mother present at every gathering", because she represents the cosmological forces of water, moisture, and attraction. Therefore, she is omnipresent and omnipotent.Oshun is the force of harmony - harmony seen as beauty, felt as love, and experienced as ecstasy. According to the ancients, she was the only female Irunmole amongst the 401 sent from the spirit realm to create the world. As such, she is revered as "YeYe" - the sweet mother of us all. When the male Irunmole attempted to subjugate Oshun due to her femaleness, she removed her divine energy (ach?) from the project of creation and all subsequent efforts were in vain. Only after the male Irunmole begged Oshun for forgiveness could the creation of the world continue. However, creation would not commence until Oshun had given birth to a son. This son became Elegba, the great conduit of ach? in the Universe and also the eternal and infernal trickster. Oshun is known as Yalode- the mother of things outside the home, due to her business expertise. She is also known as Laketi, ?She Who has Ears?, because of how quickly and effectively she answers prayers. When she possesses her followers she dances, flirts and then weeps- because no one can love her enough and the world is not as beautiful as she knows it could be. Oshun is beneficent and generous, and very kind. However, she does have a terrible temper, though it is difficult to anger her. She is married to Chang?, god of fire, thunder, and power, and is his favorite wife because of her excellent cooking skills. Oshun rules the ?sweet? waters- rivers, brooks, and streams. Her preferred offerings are honey, copper jewelry, or coins in multiples of five. She is most often associated with St. Cecilia, and in Lukumi, she is Our Lady of La Caridad del Cobre, the protectress of Cuba. Her colors are yellow and gold. In Vodoun, Oshun is known as Erzulie. Erzulie?s colors are shades of pink. While Erzulie and Oshun are very much alike, Erzulie has a vengeful, ruthless nature when angered. Her aspect Erzulie Dantor is a fierce protector of women and children, an avenger of domestic violence, and a patron loa of lesbians. Work Cited: The Voodoo Hoodoo Spellbook by Denise Alvarado
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