We often hear about the Greek and Roman Gods however many people are less acquainted with the different African deities. Over the past 7 years I have dedicated my efforts in getting to know more about and change people’s perspectives of what some would label "the dark continent". In this search my interest was piqued by Yoruba mythology.
The Yoruba people are an ethnic group approximately 30 million people strong that originate from the western African countries of Nigeria, Benin, and Togo. Their Gods and Goddesses come from the Vodou religion which began in the ancient kingdom of Dahomey, meaning "God" or "Spirit." There are various spellings for Vodou including Vodun/Vodoun, however this does not include Voodoo, the tainted sensationalised term created by the West which involves pricking dolls with needles and placing hexes on people.
Now that I have put that aside, their deities represent different elements of nature like rivers, storms, and fertility however in order to better understand we have to start with Olódùmarè/Olorun, who is known as the supreme deity. He is omnipotent, omniscient, and perfect in power, wisdom, and justice, because he exists in holiness that is beyond the realm of moral frailty.
He is the Impartial Judge, who controls the destiny of all Gods and humans, however he distances himself from daily earthly duties which are handled by protectors called Orishas (also known as Gods and Goddesses). Orishas are intercessors between the world of humanity and the divine.
Orishas are representatives of different ideas, objects, or natural phenomenons. Orishas are prayed to and fed often by believers and are known to make a grand appearance through trance-like possessions in human bodies during major rituals and celebrations. There are over 40 known Orishas however I will dial into some of my favourites.
1. Oya: the Goddess of changing weather
She is loved and feared for good reason as she is a savage warrior yet a protective mother.
Her power sweeps all injustice, deceit and dishonesty from her path, she is the seeker of truth and bringer of change.
Oya is wildly unpredictable and can change from compassionate war-hearted mother to destructive Warrior within seconds.
Passionate, fearless, sensual and independent, Oya is not a Goddess to be invoked lightly and must be treated with respect and care.
2. Oshun: the Goddess of water
Oshun is known as the river Orisha, she is commonly associated with water, purity, fertility, love, and sultriness. She is the wife of the God of Thunder Shango (he is next on my list) and adored by the supreme deity Olódùmarè for her beauty and sensuality.
However, with that aside she is still considered one of the most powerful of all Orishas, and, like other deities, she possesses human attributes such as vanity, jealousy, and spite.
In most stories Oshun is depicted as the protector, saviour, or nurturer of humanity creating a spiritual balance within humans who she is rumoured to be part of their creation process. Women seeking to be pregnant often still pray to this Goddess.
3. Shango the God of Lightning
Shango’s story is an interesting one as although he was a son of a goddess, he is known to have only acquired his God status after his death.
The ruthless lightning ruler of the Kingdom of Oyo and husband of Oshun, Oba and lastly Oya, who stole his magic which left him in complete rage.
Shango then summoned lightning from the sky to burn some of his children and wives and in regret he left his kingdom and fled to Koso where he later hanged himself.
It is said that after his death his enemies attempted to attack and overthrow the Kingdom of Oyo but were struck by a potent lightning strike killing all of them, from that day he attained the honour of a god.
4. Oduduwa: Chief goddess
Oduduwa was not created like the other Orishas.
She is known to be the primordial sister of the supreme Sky God Olódùmarè. Together they form an Earth-Sky bond. Odudua is known to be the chief Goddess who created earth and its inhabitants.
She is married to Obatala, who in a fury of at the beginning of the earth tore out her eyes because she could not hold her tongue. The two represent heaven and earth; two cut calabashes where once shut, can never be opened.
Oduduwa is also the patroness of love and is known to have had relations with humans.
5. Esu: The Messenger God
And last on my list we have Esu who is known as the messenger of the Oracle (Olódùmarè).
Back in his trickster days he attempted to deceive Olódùmarè who then lived on earth however this backfired.
The Oracle moved to the heavens (that is why He is known as the Sky God).
This left Esu with the role of messenger, taking sacrifices to Olódùmarè and bringing His commands to men, acting under His orders, and punishing the wicked for Him.
Esu is also important in his own right, and he is greatly feared for the evil that he can do. He sometimes impels men to evildoing.
He is said to have over two hundred names and forms, which is indicative of his multi-sided diverse character.
Written by: Tshimangadzo Nemurangoni