The deities or gods worshipped in Lukumí religion are called orishas. All the orishas are direct emanations and representatives of Olodumare whom He created and placed on earth to aid and supervise humankind. The orishas serve as mediators between the cosmos and as the major means of communication with the Supreme Being.

Each divinity is related to some aspect of nature, as well as in charge of some element of human existence. The orishas can represent all the virtuous qualities of the divine and sacrosanct, yet the orishas are also human‑like in their characters and mannerisms. They are celestial, yet they are worldly too. Some orishas are categorized as serene, calm or placid in their character and their relationship with humankind. Others tend to be very human: hot‑headed, whimsical, or erratic at times, while gentle, rational, caring, and generous at others. A very old Olorisha in Cuba once spoke of Yemojá and her priests, in their character, as being “…like the tide: sometimes high, sometimes low.” This may very well apply to all the orishas.

These human‑like attributes of the Lukumí orishas play a very important role in the development and continuity of the religion. These are deities to which human beings can relate. They have virtues and they have flaws. The orishas are not perfection or excellence personified. This places them on a level that the devotee can relate to and employ to understand and accept his or her own virtues and flaws; thereby creating a bond between deity and devotee that is built on a personal relationship and identification with an orisha.

The exact number of orishas worshipped by the Yoruba is difficult to calculate. Estimates place the number at 401, yet this figure lends itself to speculation. In Yorubaland there are a series of orishas that are recognized and worshipped by all followers of Yoruba religion, and some orishas, which are only known and worshipped in particular towns or villages. In the New World, the more widely‑known divinities were able to retain their following, while the regional orishas made their presence felt on a lesser scale, resulting in either their eventual loss, or a loss of the patterns of worship of the deity.

Many orishas were able to survive the trans‑Atlantic voyage and reinstate themselves in Cuba. Yet adaptation was necessary in order to ensure survival. In Cuba, the functions served by an orisha or the roles it carried out had to have a place within the structure of the island and its society. Orishas that were no longer practical or necessary in the new setting were forgotten, diminished in rank or status, or incorporated into the “roads” or avatars of other major deities with whom they shared similarities. The “stronger” orishas absorbed the “weaker” ones. As a result, initiation into the cults of certain orishas is performed through the “stronger” deities, in ceremonies called “oros.” A priest of Aganjú is ordained through Shangó, labeling the initiation as Shangó with “oro” for Aganjú. Erinle is made through Yemojá: Yemojá “oro” for Erinle.

Those regional orishas that survived and retain some following are not worshipped as widely or as frequently, and knowledge about them is not as widespread throughout the island. This, with the passage of time, has resulted in the loss of orishas that survived slavery, yet were not able to survive the effects of time. A good example of this is Oshumaré, the rainbow divinity, lost in Cuba after the death of the last priestess knowledgeable in its worship and rituals, during the mid twentieth century. This partial survival also rationalizes the discrepancies and the wide divergence of sometimes-conflictive information devotees offer about the aspects and worship patterns of these divinities.

There are two principal categories of orisha: those that have existed from time immemorial, which for the purposes of the present shall be labeled “celestial,” and those orishas who were actual people or historical heroes, deified and elevated to the status of orisha after their death, which shall be referred to as “terrestrial” orishas. In some cases, (e.g. Jakutá and Shangó; Oduá and Oduduwá) these deified ancestors actually usurped the worship of older deities and conformed to the established worship system for the elder orisha.

In Cuba, the orishas also went through a transformation process that may have either altered their position in the pantheon, changed their character or personality, eliminated, diminished, or increased their natural dominions, or even attributed elements that were not essentially Yoruba. Oshún, a river divinity in Yorubaland, becomes the sole “owner” of the river in Cuba. Yemojá, worshipped principally in the Ogún River, becomes the “owner” of the seas. Oduduwá, because of his syncretism with Saint Manuel, becomes the “king of the dead.” Erinle is transformed into the “divine doctor,” a role attributed by Catholics to Saint Raphael. Yewá, a lagoon and river orisha, is transplanted to the cemetery.

Also as a result of the syncretic processes, the orishas are often referred to as “santos,” and initiation into the cult of an orisha is termed as “hacer santo—making the saint.” The annual celebrations held for the orishas actually take place on the anniversary of the Catholic saint with which it was identified. In Cuba, it is not uncommon to see “tronos,” the shrines or altars set up for rituals and celebrations, that contain both the Yoruba symbols and recipients for the orisha as well as the sculpture of the Catholic saint. Also not uncommon is the use of certain paraphernalia related with the Catholic saint to ornament the Lukumí orishas. Lukumí Shangó’s frequently have swords placed among their implements, an article that is attributed to Saint Barbara with whom he was paralleled. A road of Obatalá called Oshalufón, paralleled with the Holy Sacrament, usually has a silver chalice placed before him made to resemble the lithograph of the Holy sacrament. Obá Moró, juxtaposed with Jesus of Nazareth, uses a crown made out of thorns and silver replicas of Christ’s Passion. Although the worshippers clearly distinguish the Lukumí orisha from the Catholic saint, it is irrefutable that syncretism has taken its toll.

A series of myths or patakí also arise which help to explain the transformations that took place in Cuba. An excellent example is the myth that recounts a love affair between the caste Yewá and the sensual and promiscuous Shangó:

Yewá was a daughter of Oduduwá. She was the most beautiful woman to ever walk the face of the earth; the fairest flower in Oduduwá’s garden. In her father’s eyes, Yewá symbolized perfection. At one point, Oduduwá made her promise that she would never marry, vowing to remain virgin and pure (in body and thought) for all eternity. As the story spread and word of her beauty got out, Shangó said “Ha! There’s no woman in the world that can resist me. Let’s just see how faithful Yewá truly is to her vows!” Shangó set out to conquer Yewá. One day, while visiting Oduduwá’s palace, Shangó passed under Yewá’s window and, amazed by her beauty, figuratively violates her with his glare. Yewá, who noticed the gallant warrior, feels moved by his hypnotic gaze, and immediately fell madly and passionately in love with Shangó.

This encounter was sufficient for Yewá to feel that she had violated her promise to her father. As a result, she confesses her sin, and condemns herself to withdraw to a place where she could live in complete solitude for the duration of eternity. This is why Yewá lives in the cemetery.

The orishas have likes and dislikes. Each one has its particular preference for the color that is used in its worship and all the attributes, beads (eleké), and related paraphernalia must conform to this code. Each orisha also has preferences in the animals it receives in sacrifice, and some have food and behavioral taboos, which the worshippers make a point of never violating for fear of incurring the offense of a divinity. Also, each orisha has a number related with its worship, which serves to regulate the number of items given to them in offerings by the devotees. Some orishas require particular dress codes before them, moderation in speech, forbid foul language in their presence or place taboos on sexual intercourse or promiscuousness.

The following description of the Lukumí orishas, takes into account the characteristics, roles and attributes of each orishas from both a Yoruba and a Lukumí perspective. It is meant to be a very basic description of the orishas, nothing more. Because I am not fluent in Yoruba, the names of the orishas are written employing the anglified or Westernized Yoruba spelling used by past scholars, and not proper Yoruba.

Orisha: Eshú-Elegbá (Elegguá)

Catholic Syncretism: Holy Child of Atocha
Celebration: June 3
Garments: Red, black, and white
Beads: Red & black; white & black; Red, white, & black
Ritual implement: A garabato—a type of hook, usually made with the wood of the guava tree
Sacrifices: He-goats, agouties, turtles, chickens or young hens, and roosters
Taboos: Palm kernel oil, it is forbidden to whistle in the home where Elegbá lives
Ritual Numbers: 3, 7, 11, or 21

Elegbá opens and closes every religious act. He is found at crossroads and corners, in the mountain, the seashore, the river, the curb of the sidewalk, or at the door or our homes. Elegbá is everywhere. He is present wherever there exists a human manifestation, observing everything that occurs, both good and evil, in order to report to Olorún. One can say that Elegbá serves as Olorún’s eyes on earth.

Elegbá lives centered between the forces of good and the forces of evil. When one behaves according to Divine law, he manipulates the forces of good, ire, and grants blessings. If, on the contrary, one behaves unduly, he opens the path for the evil forces such as ofo, ikú, arún, eyó (loss, death, disease, tragedy) amongst others and due punishment is rendered.

Some roads of Elegbá are Eshú Bí—in charge of distributing the chores among his comrades; Eshú Ayankí (Añaguí)—lives at the shores of the ocean and is the origin of all Elegbá; Eshú Lagbana who lurks in solitary places; Eshú Laroyé—the Eshú of mischief; Eshú Merinlayé— Eshú of the crossroads; Eshú Ayé—the sorcerer; Eshú Baralainye (Baralaiñe)—companion of Shangó that “keeps” the secret of Shangó’s fire; Eshú Awanilegbé—provides food for Ogún.

Orisha: Ogún

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Peter
Celebration: June 29
Garments: Crimson; lately green, black, and red are gaining popularity as Ogún’s garment’s color
Beads: Green & black; green, black, & red; brown & black
Ritual implement: Machete
Sacrifices: He-goats, dogs, agouties, turtles, roosters, pigeons, guinea hens, and any hunted animals
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 3, 7, and 21.

The god of iron and war. Ogún is the patron of the blacksmith and all those whose job places them in contact with iron or metals. Today, all things made out of iron or its derivatives, belong to Ogún. This is the reason why in our industrialized societies Ogún is related to railways, airplanes, automobiles, trucks, and anything made out of metal. Ogún represents and executes Olorún’s justice on earth. According to most sources, the Yoruba worship and respect for Ogún is such that traditional priests, when testifying in court, instead of swearing with their hand placed on a bible as the Christians do, swear over a piece of iron. This practice is accepted and recognized by Nigerian courts, aware of the Yoruba respect for Ogún and their fear of his anger.

Some of his roads are Arere—the butcher; Alagbedé—the blacksmith; Shibirikí—the architect; Onile—the king who abandoned the throne for the call of the hunt; Tenshowé—Ogún of agriculture, close friend of Orishaokó.

Orisha: Oshosi (Ochosi)

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Norbert
Celebration: June 6
Garments: Dark Blue and gold, ornamented with hides and cowries
Beads: Dark blue, amber, & red, with coral and jet beads
Ritual implement: Bow and arrow
Sacrifices: He-goats, deer, agoutis, roosters, quails, pigeons, guinea hens, and all hunted animals.
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 3, 7, and 21

Oshosi is the orisha of hunting. He protects all those who are persecuted unjustly and punishes the guilty. Close friend of Elegbá and Ogún: they share many of the same domains. Fugitive slaves would plea to Oshosi, seeking his aid to escape from their white masters. They invoked Oshosi so he would impede their being found since Oshosi is known to have the ability of going into the densest of forests and finding his way out without the slightest difficulty. Yet Oshosi does not live in the forest.

Though Oshosi enters the forest, he does so only to hunt. Oshosi is an urban orisha, residing in Obatalá’s compound. He was Obatalá’s favorite hunter and rendered all the fruits of his labor to the creation divinity. Most of his life was spent in the service of Obatalá and living within his palace and not in the forest.

Oshosi was the first Yoruba wizard or magician. The Yoruba word oshó means wizard. The Lukumí often associated him with the Bantú magico-religious practices known in the island as Regla de Congos or Palo Mayombe. As a result, many include a Congo vititi mensu, divinatory instrument prepared and employed by the Bantú priests. Oshosi has no roads.

Orisha: Erinle (Inle)

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Raphael
Celebration: October 24
Garments: Turquoise blue & pink, ornamented with cowries
Beads: Coral, jet beads, and gold; turquoise blue, with coral, yellow, and opal. A metal fish is strung into his eleké (necklace)
Ritual implement: Fishing rod; bow and arrow.
Sacrifices: Ram, sheep, fish, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: The leaves of the Alamo tree (Ficus religiosa, L.)
Ritual Numbers: 7

Better known among devotees as the “divine doctor,” Erinle is the patron orisha of fishermen, although highly venerated for his knowledge of traditional medicine and herb lore, an art that he shares with his brother Osayín. It is primarily for this knowledge that he is considered a “doctor” or “healer.” Like his brother Oshosi, he is also a patron of hunters. It is said that Oshosi hunts on land, and Erinle hunts in the rivers.

Erinle was a powerful and rich king, highly respected for his mastery of the art of divination. Lukumí oral traditions emphasize that he may have possessed telepathic abilities. Erinle may be found in the river or in the sea, but particularly where these two bodies of water meet. In Cuba, Erinle’s devotees are initiated through Yemojá in a ceremony usually referred to as oro—Yemojá oro Erinle, and her cowries serve as the communicating medium for this orisha, for although he possesses his own cowries, Erinle does not “speak” through his dilogún.

Erinle has no roads.

Orisha: Osayín (Osaín)

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Ambrose or Saint Sylvester
Celebration: December 31
Garments: He has no specific colors
Beads: Beads of all colors, sometimes using bones and pieces of wood
Ritual implement: Gourd
Sacrifices: He-goats, rams, turtles, roosters, quails, pigeons, guinea hens, and all hunted animals
Taboos: Women cannot walk under his gourd. He must not live close to Oyá’s attributes
Ritual Numbers: 7, 21

The traditional healer-orisha who dwells in the forest. All of nature is at his disposal. Osayín is an indispensable orisha, for without his help, worship of the other orishas would not be possible. Without the necessary herbs provided by an Olú Osayín, the consecration of an orisha would be impossible. Osayín is the god of traditional medicine. All herbs the world-over are his property and it is he that provides them for the salvation of humankind. He also shares them with the other orishas.

In Lukumí religion, Osayín has no priests. His followers are identified by the oracles or at birth. Children born with additional fingers are considered true Olú Osayín. Though Osayín’s omó have no true need for ordination, when ordination is a necessity, they are initiated to Shangó and Osayín is consecrated for them. It is believed that Osayín is Shangó’s “godfather,” his greatest and closest ally, who taught Shangó the art of magic, for which Osayín is renowned.

Osayín is considered a mysterious orisha. Phenomenal or grotesque in appearance, he is described as small in size, with only one eye, one hand, one foot, a tiny ear which enables him to hear an ant crawling miles away, and the other, larger than his head, through which he hears absolutely nothing. According to legend, he was not born so. His grotesque appearance is due to a conflict he encountered with Orúnmilá whereby the latter used Osayín’s own magic to disfigure him so.

Orisha: Orishaokó (Orichaocó)

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Isidor
Celebration: May 15
Garments: Red, ornamented with gold trimming. A second version is turquoise and pink, laced with gold trimming
Beads: Turquoise, pink, some red and opal, with coral and jet beads
Ritual implement: Ox-drawn cart and plow
Sacrifices: He-goat, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 7

Orishaokó is the orisha of agriculture and of the harvest: the tiller of the land. With his plow, Orishaokó impregnates ilé (the earth) and fills her womb with the seeds of her offspring that nourish humankind. Some of his symbols are often phallic. Among his ritual paraphernalia, we find a clay shingle and two small coconuts, painted red and white. The shingle is believed to symbolize the penis while the coconuts are believed to represent the testicles. His aid is often sought in cases of infertility or impotence. Orishaokó lives in both the farmlands and the forest. The children of Orishaokó are initiated through Yemojá, with oro for Orishaokó. He has no roads.

Orisha: Babaluaiyé (Babalú Ayé)

Catholic Syncretism: The popular Saint Lazarus worshiped by millions in Latin America, though not officially recognized as a saint by the Church
Celebration: December 17
Garments: Crimson and burlap
Beads: Colors depend on the road, yet most use a white bead which has blue stripes, adorned with cowries and jet beads
Ritual implement: The já, a broom-like scepter, made from the spines of the sprouting leaves of the coconut palm
Sacrifices: He-goats, quails, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: Sesame seeds and peanut shells
Ritual numbers: 7, 17

The orisha of smallpox, leprosy and all contagious diseases, and in general, the deification of disease. To many, Babaluaiyé is the Divine wrath of Olodumaré. Once liberated, he is often uncontrollable. In Africa this orisha is respected and feared because he is believed to cause great epidemics. In Cuba, partly influenced by the parallelization with Saint Lazarus, he is sought to assail disease and epidemics.

It seems that in Cuba the Arará were more versed in the rituals of this orisha than the Lukumí, even though it is believed that the Babaluaiyé worshipped in Dahomey migrated there from Yorubaland.

Babaluaiyé is considered the patron of the poor and desolate. He usually wanders alone through the forests. In some Yoruba towns, when he enters the city, water is cast outdoors to appease his wrath. In Cuba, when Babaluaiyé’s chants are sung in a wemilere or bembé, water is poured on the ground and all those present wet the tip of their fingers in the water and then anoint the foreheads with it. In Matanzas, Babaluaiyé’s omó are ordained directly into his worship, however this is not the case in Havana. There the omó is either ordained through Yemojá or ordained to Obatalá after consecrating Babaluaiyé.

There are two female orishas related with Babaluaiyé: Nanúme—his mother, and Naná Burukú—his wife (detailed ahead). The former is associated with the containment of contagious diseases as well, and especially with skin sores or lesions. She is also associated with cancer and is believed to keep the disease from spreading. Nanúme receives sacrifices of she-goat, hens, pigeons and guinea hens. She dresses in black and burlap, and is paralleled with Saint Martha. Nanúme does not identify any direct omó.

Orisha: Dadá & Bayaní (Ibañálé, Abañálé)

Catholic Syncretism: Our Lady of the Rosary and Saint Raymond Nonato
Garments: White with red trimming
Beads: White and red, ornamented with cowries
Ritual implement: Crown made with a calabash, studded with beads and cowries
Sacrifices: Young ram, pigeons and guinea hens (some lineages sacrifice roosters)
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 4, 6, and 12

Dadá is the god of unborn children. He is one of the orishas that is related with the development and care of the human embryo. Children born with a tuft of hair in a crown-like manner are believed to be children of Dadá. The Lukumí believe that Dadá is Shangó’s older sibling who reared him. Dadá and Bayaní are especially linked to Shangó, through whom Dadá’s omó is ordained, though people with Dadá for their tutelary orisha are very few. In pre-revolutionary Cuba, there were a mere handful of ordinations to Dadá. Bayaní is Shangó’s crown, a pacifist advisor who helps him rule with a level head. As in the case of Erinle and Abatán, these two orishas are consecrated together. Dadá’s symbols live in a bowl that is covered with the calabash-crown ornamented with beads and cowries that represents Bayaní. The former is said to nurture the omó of Shangó for whom the orisha is consecrated. The latter is believed to afford reasoning and judiciousness, as well as spiritual and physical stability.

Dadá is an enigmatic orisha. In most Lukumí myths, Dadá is described as Shangó’s older sister and is credited with raising him. In ritual, though, and especially in the order of the chants, Dadá is grouped with the male orishas. Dadá’s attributes, amongst them an edún ará—thunderstone, are primarily masculine. Bayaní is the one with the more feminine attributes, represented by the twelve braids that cling from the gourd-crown that are made with beads and cowries.

Orisha: Aganjú

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Christopher
Celebration: November 16
Garments: Burgundy ornamented with variegated colors and gold trimming
Beads: Reddish brown and opal colored beads, ornamented with various colors
Ritual implement: An axe that is sustained by a central handle with two blades on each extreme of the handle
Sacrifices: Castrated goat, he-goat, young bulls, quails, pigeons, and guinea hens (some lineages sacrifice roosters)
Taboos: None
Ritual Number: 9

Aganjú is the orisha of the desert and the volcano. He is a brute but regenerative force deified as an orisha. Possibly because of the association with Saint Christopher, he is also considered the orisha of travelers. Depending on the version, Aganjú is either Shangó’s father of Shangó’s younger brother who ruled as the 5th Alafín of Oyó.

His main domain is the desert. When the Yorubas migrated to their present home, after migrating for years through the desert, Aganjú’s worship waned. Much of the knowledge related with the orisha was eventually lost. In Cuba, Aganjú acquired more popularity as an orisha in the early twentieth century. As a result of the obscure state of his cult, his omó are ordained through Shangó. Aganjú has no roads.

Orisha: Shangó

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Barbara
Celebration: December 4
Garments: Red with gold trimming
Beads: Red and white
Ritual implement: A double-headed axe
Sacrifices: Rams, young bulls, turtles, quails, roosters and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 6

The god of thunder, fire, and masculine virility. Shangó was the fourth Alafín—king—of the Oyó Empire, a powerful West African polity that exercised considerable control over the area for over four centuries. After his death, Shangó was deified and ascended to the status of an orisha. His worship became so popular that it eclipsed the cult of the earlier thunder gods called Jakutá—hurler of stones; and Oramfé (Oranifé)—an Ilé Ifé deity.

Shangó is probably the most popular orisha in the Lukumí pantheon. This is probably influenced by the innumerable myths that describe his charming and virile nature and recount his multiple romantic adventures with different women.

Shangó despises lies and cheating. His anger is made evident through thunder and lightning. When he has been offended, he is a menacing storm and the lightning bolt executes his sentence. He is also an executioner for Olodumaré—he punishes those who have offended the Creator or broken any Divine dictates.

When Shangó possesses, he is an avid and masterful dancer. He brandishes his oshé— double-headed axe—through the air, symbolically slashing away at evil or the head of an enemy. He has a direct relationship with many orishas. Oba was his legitimate wife, but her lack of physical beauty distanced him. He found an equal in Oyá, his second wife and sidekick. Oyá and Shangó are so alike that they can be described as two faces of the same coin. The sensuous Oshún was his favorite wife. This is the only orisha that could manipulate Shangó into anything. When they meet in a wemilere, Shangó will almost always try to enchant Oshún and she ignores him with a seductive cynicism typical of the flirtatious orisha.

In Havana Shangó does not have roads, but Olorishas in Matanzas do identify roads for Shangó.

Orisha: Obatalá

Catholic Syncretism: Our Lady of Mercy
Celebration: September 24
Garments: White with silver trimming
Beads: White with ivory and mother of pearl
Ritual implement: White horse or cow tail whisk; a cane
Sacrifices: She-goat, he-goat, hens, roosters, pigeons and guinea hens
Taboos: Salt, palm oil and liquor
Ritual Numbers: 8

Obatalá is the orisha of creation, peace, and purity. His name means “king who dresses in white” or “king of the white cloth.” Olodumaré entrusted him with the creation of human beings. But Obatalá loved palm wine, and one night, under the effects of the wine, he accidentally created a number of deformed beings. From his encounter were born the albino, the dwarf, the hunchback, the twisted, the lame and other malformed human beings. Though he was entrusted with molding the body, life was solely Olodumaré’s domain, and that evening when Olodumaré descended to breathe life into Obatalá’s creation, these offspring of Obatalá came to life. Since that day, anyone born with any birth defect is considered an ení orisha— protected by the orisha—and an omó of Obatalá. Any person with any sort of physical defect must be ordained to Obatalá even if their orisha had been previously identified as anything other than Obatalá.

The Lukumí recognize numerous roads or avatars of Obatalá. The vary greatly as does the personality of this orisha. Ajáguna—the war-loving and powerful warrior who many consider the Shangó of the Obatalá; the frail Yekú Yekú—blind and hunchbacked, who represents the wonders of old age and the wisdom that accompanies it; Alagéma—the chameleon who tested the solid earth to ensure that it was firm enough for human settlement; and Oshaogiyán—the mature, level headed road of Obatalá that knows the suffering caused by war and attempts to console humanity with maturity and understanding. Some roads—Oshanlá (Orishanlá), Obanlá, and Erú Ayé—are considered female, clearly an Egbado influence. There are close to fifty roads of Obatalá. In addition, Obatalá has a number of deputies, an entire group of deities typically referred to as orisha fúnfún—white orishas—that will be detailed ahead.

Orisha: Oduduwá (Oduá, Odúduá)

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Manuel
Celebration: January 1
Garments: White with silver trimmings
Beads: Opal, with coral, mother of pearl, and ivory
Ritual implement: Closed calabash
Sacrifices: He and she-goats, roosters, hens, pigeons, and guinea hens, all white
Taboos: Sexual promiscuity
Ritual Numbers: 16

Oduduwá is a somewhat controversial orisha. The original divinity, Oduá, accompanied Obatalá to earth. Although most agree that she was his concubine, others place her as a female aspect or complement of Obatalá. At some point in Yoruba history, a powerful warrior from the north found his way to Yoruba country, conquered it, and eventually instated himself as the first Oní or king of Ilé Ifé. This warrior is Oduduwá, considered the progenitor of the Yoruba race by many, and the ancestor from whom all Ifé kings claim descent, to this very day.

As is the case with Shangó, Oduduwá’s popularity overshadowed that of Oduá, the original deity. After Oduduwá’s death, undoubtedly much more revered than the original divinity because of his accomplishments as a warrior, the worship of Oduá is taken over by the veneration of the warrior. The result is a type of syncretism between Oduá and Oduduwá, where the two deities merge and form one. The strongest absorbed the weakest. This is why the Lukumí consider Oduduwá as a male Orisha. He is believed to have over one hundred twenty four roads.

Possibly because of his syncretism with Saint Manuel, in Cuba, Oduduwá is given the title of “King of the dead.” He is an Orisha that is closely linked with life and death. In Lukumí lore, when a human being’s time to return to orún arrives, Oyá comes and carries the soul away. Babaluaiyé takes the cadaver to the doors of the cemetery where Oba “documents” the arrival. Boromú and Borosiá take the cadaver to the tomb where Yewá lays it to rest, and Oduduwá takes over the process of putrefaction, leaving just the skeletal remains.

Oduduwá is the most respected and powerful Orisha in Lukumí practice. Like Obatalá with whom he is often linked, Oduduwá offerings are taken to the foot of a hill or mountain, and because of his relationship with death, he may also receive offerings at the cemetery or have them buried in the ground. His omó are either ordained directly or through Obatalá. However, initiation into his cult is becoming a rare phenomenon.

Orisha: Oba

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: Saint Kathleen of Sienna
Celebration: April 30
Garments: Burgundy ornamented with pink, and gold trimming
Beads: Brown, with Opal and coral. A small, gold key hangs from her eleké
Ritual implement: Chest and key
Sacrifices: She-goats or castrated goats, hens, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: Oba forbids adultery
Number: 8

The patron Orisha of matrimony. She presides over a river in Nigeria that bears her name. Oba is Shangó’s original and legitimate wife. According to one myth, she was simple in appearance, lacking physical beauty. Shangó paid little attention to her. Even though she was his principal wife, Oba lacked the feminine and flirtatious qualities Shangó found in her great rival, Oshún. Her struggle to conserve her husband’s love and interest led her to commit a brutal act that destroyed her marriage, eventually resulting in her being despised by Shangó and her eventual death. It is said that she cried so much that her tears formed the river that bears her name.

The Lukumí believe Oba is an irascible warrior-divinity that fights alongside her husband. Ogún trained her in the art of warfare and she brandishes a sword or machete as well as any man. Still, when Shangó is depressed or apprehensive, she replaces her bellicose nature with kindness and understanding, and consoles her husband, lending moral support for all his struggles. In recent times, initiation into Oba’s worship has been lost. Her omó are currently ordained through Oshún. Oba has no roads.

Orisha: Yewá (Yeguá)

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: Our Lady of Montserrat
Celebration: April 27
Garments: Crimson or pink and crimson
Beads: Pink and red (or burgundy), with coral and mother of pearl.
Ritual implement: None
Sacrifices: She-goats, ducks, hens, pigeons, and guinea hens, and all must be virgin.
Taboos: Sexual promiscuity and the use of foul language in her presence. She requires full attire in her presence.
Ritual Numbers: 7, 9

Yewá is a very severe and reclusive orisha, intimately linked to death. It is believed that this is the orisha that watches over the cadaver when it is laid to rest. Although closely related with maritime affairs, she is worshipped in the cemetery, the river, and the lagoon. Her favorite offerings are flowers, particularly fragrant ones, and in Lukumí lore is considered to be the most beautiful and coveted flower in Oduduwá’s garden, whom Shangó eventually seduces and “disgraces.”

Many priests claim that in Yorubaland Yewá was worshipped within a cave that could only be reached by swimming across the lagoon she presided over along with Olosá, orisha of the lagoon. She is described as an Amazon-like queen, forbidding sexual contact for her worshippers. Her court was attended by eunuchs under the supervision of Logún Edé. Yewá has no roads.

Orisha: Oyá

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: Saint Theresa in Havana: Our Lady of Candlemas in Matanzas
Celebration: October 15 in Havana: February 2 in Matanzas
Garments: Crimson, and multi-colored prints
Beads: A reddish brown bead with black and white stripes, plus red and brown
Ritual implement: Black horse or cow switch; machete
Sacrifices: She-goats, hens, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: Rams
Ritual Numbers: 9

The goddess of the wind, lightning, and the marketplace. Oyá is a feared, Amazon-like warrior divinity that can be found wherever a battle is stirred. She was the only one of Shangó’s wives that accompanied him to his sad end. Their love is so great and profound that to this day, they manifest themselves together. Whenever there is lightning (Oyá) in the sky, the thunder (Shangó) is not too far behind. Oyá paves Shangó’s path in many of his great battles, facilitating his entry and ensuring conquest.

The Yorubas worship Oyá at the river that bears her name. In Cuba, she loses her fluvial qualities. The Lukumí associate Oyá with the cemetery, although Oyá’s true habitat is in the marketplace. The association with Egúngún (the ancestors) extends Oyá’s dominion to the gates of the cemetery. She is the only Orisha that is able to placate Egúngún’s anger. Oyá accompanies every human being’s soul to the gates of orún. With Oyá’s iruké—horse or cow-tail switch, Olorishas cleanse the cadaver of the deceased priest or priestess, symbolically paving a clean and sure path to orún. Oyá has no roads.

Orisha: Naná Burukú (Naná Burucú)

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
Celebration: July 16
Garments: Pink and black, with gold ornaments
Beads: Pink and black, with coral, jet beads, and cowries. In the town of Jovellanos, in Matanzas Province, Naná’s eleké was strung with a yellow bead with red and green stripes, and turquoise-blue beads
Ritual implement: A curved “já”
Sacrifices: She-goats, pigs, ducks, hens, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: She must not be sacrificed to with a knife. Her jar cannot be placed in close proximity to Ogún
Ritual Numbers: 7, 9

The concubine of Babaluaiyé. Naná is a very sacred and austere orisha. In Dahomey, where devotion to her is taken to be greater, she is believed to be the mother of Mawu-Lisa, the Ewe-Fon equivalent of the Supreme Being. In Brazil she is considered the grandmother of the orishas. In Cuba she is exalted as a “discoverer” since she is renowned for making evident illnesses that may be concealed within the human body which modern medicine cannot find. She is also known as the mother of fresh waters and is worshipped at the head of the river and in the lagoon.

In a celebration held by the orishas to honor Ogún, the god of iron became heavily intoxicated, and as a result, extremely arrogant. Naná Burukú refused to pay the homage that Ogún had requested in payment for having paved the orisha’s way from orún to earth, which Ogún was now demanding. His drunken ill respects offended her. From that day, she rejected him and refuses the use of metal in any of her rituals. Ever since, Naná’s sacrifices are performed with a sharp bamboo or wooden knife. Naná has no roads.

Orisha: Yemojá (Yemayá)

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: Our Lady of Regla
Celebration: September 8
Garments: Blue (all shades), white, with silver trimmings
Beads: Blue (all shades), crystal or opal, with either red or coral
Ritual implement: Black cow or horse switch; machete; anchor
Sacrifices: Rams, sheep, roosters, ducks, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 7

Yemojá shares with Oshún the role of being the two most venerated female orishas amongst the Lukumí. However, because of Yemojá’s more austere nature, her aid is sought with less frequency than Oshún’s. Yemojá can be as serene as a tranquil bay or as austere as a typhoon. Her name means “mother of fishes” (Iyá-omó-ejá). In Yorubaland, Yemojá presides over the Ogún River, yet all the world’s waters are her domains. She is the symbol of motherhood: the mother of the world. Yemojá is credited with giving birth to many of the orishas. She is described as a very black woman with extremely large breasts that enable her to nurture all of humankind.

In Cuba, Yemojá is considered the goddess of the sea. It is quite possible that throughout the voyage from Africa to the New World, the slaves, not knowing their whereabouts, pleaded with Yemojá for her aid. Somehow, the ocean became the receptor of the slave’s pleas to the extent that today it is believed to be Yemojá’s habitat. Yemojá can live in the ocean or the river; in a lake or in a lagoon; in the marshes as well as in a puddle. Yemojá is present in every body of water.

Some of her roads are Ogúnté (Okuté)—land-roaming, wife of Ogún, who swings a machete as well as her husband; Ibú Ashabá—found at the docks and represented by the boat’s anchor; Ibú Asesú—messenger of Olokún, lives in tranquil waters; Mojelewú (Mayelewó)—head of the marketplace; Ibú Aganá—lives in the well or in the aquifers.

Orisha: Oshún (Ochún)

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: Our Lady of Charity
Celebration: September 12
Garments: Yellow or amber, with gold trimmings
Beads: Amber or honey colored beads, with yellow, green, red, with coral
Ritual implement: Brass bell; a fan ornamented with peacock feathers
Sacrifices: Castrated goats, hens, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None generic, though some of her roads do have specific proscriptions
Ritual Numbers: 5

The Yoruba Venus. The goddess of love, sexuality, beauty, and feminine flirtatiousness; patron of a river in Nigeria that bears her name. Nothing is impossible for Oshún. She is very kind, but can become very vindictive and rancorous when she encounters opposition. It is precisely because of this irrational and stubborn character that many consider Oshún the most fragile yet feared orisha. When she cries, she does so out of joy: when she laughs, she does so out of anger. When offended, she will ignore the offender, acting as if nothing occurred. At some future date, when her offender has probably forgotten the occurrence, she remembers an old debt and claims immediate payment. The lady wants it and she wants it now! The offended Oshún is infamous for attacking her desecrator through the blood or the genitals. Impotent men have often become so after incurring her anger.

Although by virtue of her various roles in the Yoruba pantheon Oshún appears to be an amiable and gratifying deity, deeper analysis reveals Oshún to be a suffered and grieving deity. Her loud laugh and cheerful character is but a disguise to hide her pain. Oshún was a great queen who ruled capriciously through her husband Shangó. She always sought to have her way. Oshún enjoyed all the fine things of life; she acquired everything a woman could desire. And then she lost it! Oshún is the representation of femininity, as well as of human desires that can sometimes lead humankind to commit errors that are later regretted. The ants are her messengers; and the bees are her greatest friends that produce honey, the element that allows her to conquer all obstacles and tribulations.

Some of her roads are Ibú Ikolé—the sorceress, related with the vulture; Ibú Apará (Aparó; Akuaró)—wife of Erinle who abandoned the throne to elope with Shangó, losing all her riches; Ibú Oló Lodí—wife of Orúnmilá who is as great a diviner as he; Ibú Iyumú—mother and eldest of all the Oshún, lives at the bottom of the river; Ibú Dokó— patron of the sexual act, wife of Orishaokó.

Orisha: Orúnmilá (Orúnlá)

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: Saint Francis of Assisi
Celebration: October 4
Garments: Green and yellow, with gold trimming
Beads: Green and yellow
Ritual implement: The opón Ifá—divining tray
Sacrifices: She-goats and hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Number: 16

The orisha of divination, responsible for the Ifá oracle, system that is often confused with the Orisha himself. Ifá, as a prophetic system, is possibly the most complete and accurate system of divination employed in West Africa. The system’s origin, according to some priests, is not entirely Yoruba. Past scholars and Olorishas have argued that it originated in Egypt or the desert areas. It is interesting to note that Orúnmilá is the only Yoruba deity who is not represented with stones. This factor places further emphasis on Ifá’s possible origins in the desert areas.

Orúnmilá’s priests are known as Babalawos—fathers of the secrets (or of the mysteries). On their left wrists, priests and devotees of this Orisha wear a bracelet made with green and yellow beads called “ide’fá.” The ide’fá is empowered with the ability to protect the bearer against evil and untimely death. Many followers of the religion wear this bracelet so that death does not take the person from earth until heaven or destiny decides it is time.

In Yorubaland as well as in Cuba, priests and devotees never make important decisions without prior consultation with the oracles. Though not the only oracle, Ifá is a medium that guides daily living and behavior for many, and provides the necessary faith and hope for forbearance and resignation before life’s many tests of endurance.

Orúnmilá is embodied and represented by the ikín—the palm nut—and it is one of the principal elements used for Ifá divination. The apón Ifá or até, the divination tray, is also a widely recognized implement used by Orúnmilá. Orúnmilá never possesses his devotees, nor does he have roads.

Orisha: Olokún (Olocún)

Origin: Celestial
Catholic Syncretism: None
Celebration: None
Garments: Dark blue, with silver or gold trimmings
Beads: Dark blue, green, red, with coral
Ritual implement: None
Sacrifices: Rams, sheep, pigs, ducks, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: Requires full attire in his presence
Ritual Numbers: 7, 9, and 21

Olokún is the Yoruba Neptune, owner of the profundities of the ocean. In Cuba, Olokún is considered female by most Olorishas, though in much of the anthropological literature, Olokún is described as a male god. It seems that is some parts of Yorubaland, Olokún is worshiped as a “mother” divinity. However, all evidence points to the fact that originally Olokún was conceived of as a masculine divinity.

Olokún lives in a removed, underwater palace that is made entirely out of coral. The Odu Owaní’shé narrates a myth that describes how Olokún once considered himself more powerful than Olodumaré. After a great contest of wits, which Olokún of course lost, Olodumaré decreed that Olokún should be chained to the ocean floor from where he would rule. He assigned two messengers to accompany him and bring to earth his wishes: the Yemojá Ibú Asesú and Ibú Ashabá. This is probably why in Lukumí religion Olokún is often called Yemojá-Olokún.

Olokún is a very enigmatic orisha, highly respected, sometimes even feared, for his wrath is great and uncontrollable. In extreme cases or major holocausts, he may request offerings at high sea. Most Olorishas fear this ritual for it is believed that after the ceremony finishes, one of the participants is sure to die. Olokún has no roads.

Minor Orishas and Orishas Whose Worship is Either Linked With or Dependent on a Major Orisha

Orisha: Abatán

Catholic Syncretism: None
Beads: None
Ritual implement: Bow and arrow
Sacrifices: Same as Erinle
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 7 or 2

Abatán is the orisha of the marshlands, companion of Erinle, believed to reside in the marshes that precede the river in Yorubaland where Erinle is worshipped. In Cuba, Abatán is received and propitiated together with Erinle and has no direct cult of her own. Many priests consider Erinle to be the doctor and Abatán a species of “nurse” or aid.

Orisha: Aroní

Catholic Syncretism: None
Celebration: December 31
Garments: He has no specific colors
Beads: None
Ritual implement: None
Sacrifices: He-goats, turtles, and roosters.
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 7

Aroní is an orisha that works closely with Osayín and Ayá. He is described as a phenomenal creature that has the head and tail of a dog and the body of a human being, standing erect on his only leg. It is believed that Aroní instructs his disciples in all the mysteries of the forest. When Aroní chooses a student, the individual inexplicably disappears in the forest for an indefinite period of time. After the individual has acquired the necessary knowledge, Aroní returns him to the world, providing a hair from his tail as evidence of his training.

Orisha: Oké (Oqué)

Catholic Syncretism: San Roque
Celebration: None. His day is observed with Obatalá’s
Beads: None
Ritual implement: None
Sacrifices: She-goat, he-goat, hens, roosters, white pigeons and guinea hens
Taboos: Palm oil
Ritual Numbers: 16

Oké is the orisha of the mountain and the hills. He represents long life or immortality. Oké is an orisha fúnfún and an inseparable companion of Obatalá.[1] Offerings to this orisha are usually taken to the base of a hill or mountain. In extreme cases, sacrifices may be offered to Oké on a mountaintop as well. Oké is worshipped in conjunction with Obatalá and has neither omó nor roads.

Orisha: Korinkoto

Beads: Royal blue, amber and black
Ritual implement: an irawó—an approximately 5 to 6 inch metal plate in the shape of a star with a long strip protruding from one side that is engraved to simulate the streaks left behind by a falling star
Sacrifices: he-goats, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 3 and 7

Korinkoto is Orishaokó’s brother, also connected with agriculture and harvests. It is believed that Orishaokó tends the fields during the day and Korinkoto takes care of them at night. Together with an entity called shigidí, a type of Eshú, Korinkoto represents the unknown mysteries embedded in the depths of the earth. He has no direct initiations and no roads.

Orisha: Ogé

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Philomene
Beads: None
Ritual implement: Two bull or buffalo horns
Sacrifices: Pigeons, though some lineages sacrifice to Ogé together with Shangó
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 2, 6

Ogé is the orisha of direction who guides people down the paths of life. Represented by a pair of ox or buffalo horns, Ogé is found in the forests and in the savannahs. This orisha is believed to have been Oyá’s pawn. Once, after disobeying Shangó and incurring his wrath, she offers numerous gifts to him as a peace tokens that include Ogé.

Orisha: Ibejí

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Cosme and Saint Damian
Celebration: September 27
Garments: The Lukumí dress the eré Ibejí—Ibejí dolls or carvings— in red and blue
Sacrifices: Chickens and pigeons
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 2, 4, and 8

In Yorubaland, the worship of Ibejí was dedicated to propitiate the birth and incarnated spirits of twins. Ibejí is the patron Orisha of twins. Still, Ibejí is also a cult to twin births, where tribute is paid to the mother and the children, and especially in the case where one or both twins died on or after birth. For inexplicable reasons, the Yoruba people have the highest incidence of twin births in the world.

The first twin born is named Taiwó—go out and taste the world. The second twin is called Kehindé—I shall follow. If the former indicates to the latter that life is a pleasant affair, Kehindé follows suit and is born. Taiwó is considered the youngest Ibejí and Kehindé is the older of the two.

Tradition argues that the first-born pair of Ibejí were children of Shangó and Oshún, and were raised by Yemojá. Ibejí are considered very powerful beings. One myth narrates a Creole myth that details how once the Ibejí outsmarted the devil. In fact, they are “living orishas.” Typically they do not have to be ordained as they are gifted from birth. However, when they are ordained, Taiwó is ordained to Shangó and Kehindé is ordained to Yemojá.

Whenever Ibejí are present at wemileres or bembés, the drummers will salute the Ibejí singing their chants and playing their rhythms, and offer them gifts of money. It is believed that Ibejí will multiply this gift in many ways.

Orisha: Ainá

Catholic Syncretism: None
Celebration: None
Garments: Ainá’s eré is dressed entirely in red
Beads: 1. Made with a type of bead called “white hearts” because they are red on the outside and white on the inside
Sacrifices: Roosters, pigeons and guinea hens
Ritual Numbers: 6 and 12

Ainá is the patron orisha of children born with the umbilical chord wrapped around their neck. In Cuba she is also considered the “mother” of the Ibejí, as she is the principal orisha in a pantheon that pays homage to birth-related phenomena. The Lukumí talk about seven Ibejí: Ainá, Taiwó, Kehindé, Idowú, Olorí, Oroniá, and Alaba. Ainá is the deity in charge of this legion.

Ainá is also associated with fire. She allows Shangó to spurt forth fire from his mouth when he speaks. Ainá’s devotees, those children born wrapped in the umbilical chord, are ordained to Shangó.

Orisha: Oranyán (Oroiña)

Catholic Syncretism: None
Celebration: None
Beads: Pink and opal colored beads, ornamented with coral
Ritual implement: None
Sacrifices: Castrated goat, he-goat, young bulls, roosters, quails, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Number: 7 and 16

Oranyán is a son of Oduduwá, believed to be the father of Dadá, Shangó, and Aganjú. According to mythology, he was the child of a woman that Ogún had brought back from a distant land where he had fought. When Oduduwá saw the woman, he was immediately attracted to her and demanded to have her. Some time later, Oranyán was born. He was half black like Ogún, and half white like Oduduwá. In Yorubaland, during Oranyán’s festival, priests of the orisha paint their bodies in this fashion.[2] Oranyán became a great warrior. After his father’s death, he ascended to the throne. As time passed, he became so tired of fighting that he decided to retire to the depths of the earth from where he continues to reign.

Oranyán is considered to be the earth’s core and the force that keeps the earth gyrating through space. His sacrifices are always performed in conjunction with those of Ilé—the earth. The Lukumí associate Oranyán with Aganjú. In fact, many Olorishas call Aganjú by his father’s name. Many Olorisha do not recognize him as an individual orisha and insist that he and Aganjú are one and the same. Oranyán has neither omó nor roads.

Orisha: Boromú

Catholic Syncretism: Boromú is syncretized with Saint Elijah.
Celebration: July 20
Beads: White and green, with mother of pearl, coral, and ivory
Sacrifices: He-goats, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens, all white.
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 4, 7, and 8

Orisha: Borosiá

Catholic syncretism: None
Beads: 1. White and pink, with mother of pearl, coral, and ivory, 2. Yellow and green, in groups of four
Sacrifices: He-goats, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens, all white.
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 4, 7, and 8

Boromú and Borosiá are two Egbado orishas and for part of the orisha fúnfún or white deities associated with Obatalá. They are believed to be twin offspring of Yewá. The father of these orishas may be Orúnmilá, yet in Cuba, Olorishas maintain that it is Shangó. They are closely tied into the worship of Oduduwá, Olokún, Erinle, and Yewá. It is believed that when Yewá first learned of her pregnancy, the embarrassment led her to attempt to provoke a miscarriage.

Orisha: Yemowó (Yembó, Yemó, Yemú)

Beads: White and turquoise blue, with mother of pearl, white coral, and ivory
Sacrifices: Sheep, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens, all white
Taboos: She cannot be sacrificed to with a knife; sexual promiscuity
Ritual Numbers: 16

Yemowó is the wife of Babá Furúrú (also known as Alamoreré), the sculptor Obatalá who is credited with the creation of humankind. Olorishas consider her a road of Yemojá that is related with Obatalá, and worship her separately from Yemojá. It is believed that she is the mother of Ogún, and one myth says that because of the incestuous rape of his mother, Ogún condemned himself to live in the forest and work incessantly to benefit and repay humankind. After the occurrence, Obatalá refused to have any more children. Soon after, when Orúnmilá was born, he was immediately taken into the forest and interred up to his waist, and left there to die. But then Shangó was born and Yemowó refused to castigate him in the same way that Orúnmilá had been. She gave him to Dadá to raise and hid his birth from Obatalá, telling him that the child had died at birth.

This myth explains why Yemowó refuses any association with Ogún. As is the case with Naná Burukú, her sacrifices cannot be performed with a metal knife. A sharp piece of wood or glass substitute the knife.

Orisha: Ogán

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Jacques
Celebration: August 16
Beads: White speckled with red beads
Ritual Implement: A scimitar
Sacrifice: He-goats, roosters, pigeons and guinea hens
Taboos: As an orisha fúnfún, he observes the same taboos as Obatalá, though palm oil may be offered at times
Ritual Numbers: 1, 8, and 16

Ogán is an orisha fúnfún, considered Ajáguna’s war chief. Many Olorishas consider him a sort of Elegbá for Ajáguna. Two other minor deities, Obón and Oboní, accompany him. Ogán has no initiation.

Orisha: Agidaí

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Bartholomew
Beads: White
Ritual Implement: a “T” shaped staff surmounted by a rooster with two arms and two legs clinging from each extreme of the horizontal bar
Sacrifice: He-goat, roosters, pigeons and guinea hens
Taboos: As an orisha fúnfún, he observes the same taboos as Obatalá, though palm oil may be offered at times
Ritual Numbers: 1, 4, 8, and 16

Agidaí is another obscure orisha of which very little is known. In all probability, I may have been the first Olorisha to bring this deity to the United States. I received it with Miguel Villa, Oké Bí, an Oní Shangó who died in the early 1990s. Oké Bí told me that this orisha was the patron of the Obá Oriaté and that it promoted the development of afudashé—spoken ashé—an indispensable prophetic ability for the diviner so that the predictions made in itá would come to fruition. In addition, Oké Bí taught me that Agidaí was an important orisha for combating epidemics and even taught me ebó to perform for Agidaí for these types of situations.

Though it is not clear where Oké Bí received this orisha, it may possibly have Arará origins as there is a vodún worshiped by the Arará that belongs to the family of Makeno, Obatalá’s equivalent, that is named Agidaí.

Orisha: Irokó (Irocó)

Catholic Syncretism: The Immaculate Conception
Celebration: December 8
Beads: Green and turquoise, with red, pink and coral ornaments
Garments: White with green and gold trimming
Ritual Implement: A walking cane either painted or beaded in his ritual colors
Sacrifice: Ram, he-goats, bullocks, turtles, quails, roosters, turkeys, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 7 and 8

Irokó is the orisha of abundance and prosperity. He is believed to reside in the irokó tree—West African teak—but because of this tree’s absence in Cuba, he is associated with the Ceiba—silk cotton tree (Ceiba pentandra, L.). Many Olorishas plant these in their homes as it is considered one of the most respected trees with great esoteric powers. All the orisha are supposed to gather at her roots, though it is especially associated with Shangó, Aganjú, Oduduwá, Obatalá, and Egúngún. When Irokó is worshiped at the base of a Ceiba, the tree is ornamented with panels of different colors, mariwó—palm fronds, and other articles. Many cooked foods are also offered to the deity at the base of the tree.

There is only one known case of an ordination to Irokó in Cuba. Modesta Morera, Alaraba. She was ordained to Irokó through Yemojá (Yemojá oro Irokó) by the late Cheo Shangó, Shangó Larí, in Matanzas, some time in the 1950s. There has not been another ordination since.

Orisha: Olosá

Beads: Dark blue, green, with opal and coral
Sacrifices: Rams, sheep, ducks, roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 7, 9

Olosá is the wife of Olokún. She is the goddess of the lagoon and her messengers are the crocodiles. In Yorubaland, she is worshipped at the lagoons in Lagos that precede the Atlantic coast. There her offerings are taken. If the crocodiles consume them, the orisha accepted it. Olosá has no roads.

Orisha: Ayarokotó

Beads: Blue and white
Sacrifices: Roosters, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 7

This orisha is a daughter of Yemojá and another messenger of Olokún and is found in the horizon, where the sea meets the sky. It is believed that she is Olokún’s herald and warns humankind of Olokún’s wrath before a tidal wave occurs. She is the roaring sound that precedes the tidal wave. Parts of Ayarokotó’s attributes are kept in the Olorisha’s house and the other part is buried at the ocean’s shore.

Orisha: Otín (Oti)

Beads: Dark and turquoise blue, with plenty of coral
Sacrifices: White roosters
Taboos: Mocking her breasts
Ritual Number: 7

Otín is an orisha that is related with both Erinle and Yemojá. One myth recounts that she has four breasts, and it stresses that it is a great taboo to mention this in front of her for it offends her. She was believed to have been a very powerful, yet sensitive queen, who disenchanted with the ill respects afforded by her subjects, committed suicide in Erinle’s river. Amongst the Lukumí, a carving of a woman carrying a clay jar on the head is used to represent Otín.

Orisha: Ibú Ayé (Ayé Ochún)

Beads: All coral
Attribute: A lyre
Sacrifices: Hens, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 3, 5

Ibú Ayé is a very young Oshún. Considered an independent orisha, she is believed to guard Oshún’s riches and distributes them only when instructed by Oshún. She is represented by five tiger cowries and is worshipped alongside Oshún.

In the Odu Ogundá mejí, Ogún gave the five tiger cowries— ayé—as a gift to Ibú Apará in order to conquer Oshún’s heart. He promised that these ayé would bring great wealth to Oshún and fulfill all of her whims and desires. Oshún accepted the gift, lived for a period with Ogún, but eventually abandoned him for Shangó.

Orisha: Idowú (Ideú)

Catholic Syncretism: The child that Our Lady of Charity holds in her arms
Beads: Amber, yellow, and coral
Sacrifices: Young chickens and pigeons
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 2, 4, and 5

Idowú is the child born immediately following the birth of twins. He is believed to be a favorite of Oshún. All children born immediately following the birth of twins are sacred to Idowú and must be initiated into the worship of Oshún. A patakí of Ejiogbé mejí describes how he saved Oshún from total devastation. Along with Ibú Ayé and Logún Edé, Idowú guards Oshún’s riches.

This orisha is also related with emotional imbalances. When Olorishas attend to an individual who may have sentimental problems, he or she may be instructed to make an offering to Idowú. His eleké is strung short so that when the devotee wears it, it clings approximately below the heart. Idowú in many respects can be called the Lukumí cupid. He has no roads.

Orisha: Ajeshaluga (Kowo, Cobo)

Ritual implement: Cowries
Sacrifices: White pigeons
Taboos: None
Ritual Numbers: 8

Ajeshaluga is better known as Kowo because of the type of conch used in her worship that is Cuba is called “cobo.” She is the goddess of wealth and is worshipped in the marketplace. She is the patron of all commercial transactions. In some myths she is described as the daughter of Olokún and in others, as one of his wives.

This is a very important deity as emphasized by the Lukumí proverb kó ajé, kó orisha—without money there can be no orisha. She has no roads.

Orisha: Oshumaré

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Bartholomew
Garments: He uses all colors for his garments, though golden yellow and green are the most important
Beads: Yellow with black stripes, green and ornamented with red and teal blue
Ritual implement: he uses an elongated snake as a type of scepter that he brandishes in dance
Sacrifices: He-goats, rams, turtles, roosters, pigeons and guinea hens
Taboos: None
Ritual numbers: 7 and 12

Oshumaré is the orisha of the rainbow. He is especially associated with Shangó, and helps him keep an environmental harmony by returning to the skies the rain that Shangó, Oyá, and Yemojá send down during storms to satiate the earth’s thirst. As such, Oshumaré represents the continuity of life on earth—the guardian of human life—as is evident in the representation of the orisha as a coiled snake eating its own tail. In possession, Oshumaré directs his snake-scepter to the sky as if provoking Shangó to send rain.

One myth from the odu Ejiogbé Oyekún relates that once, when Olorún had fallen ill, Oshumaré was the only diviner who was able to cure Olorún’s ails. As such, Olorún retains him by his side, allowing him to return to visit the earth every so often but only under the condition that he returns the same day. When the rainbow visits earth, we are blessed if we see it and must interact with it quickly for Olorún will soon call him back home.

This orisha was lost in Cuba in the first half of the twentieth century. His attributes are no longer consecrated, and there is no knowledge about the orisha, even in the areas of the island in which he was known in the 1940s and 50s. Inexplicably, Oshumaré—like the rainbow—has reappeared in Cuba in the 1990s through the ¡magnificent! institution that I have labeled “diplo-santería,” and is being consecrated for any extranjero­—foreigner—who pays for it with hard currency!

Orisha: Logún Edé (Laro)

Catholic Syncretism: Saint Expeditus
Garments: Turquoise blue and yellow, with gold trimmings
Beads: Turquoise blue, amber, with coral
Ritual implement: Fishing rod; brass bow and arrow; a brass fan
Sacrifices: He or she-goat, or castrated goats, roosters, hens, pigeons, and guinea hens
Taboos: Palm oil
Ritual Numbers: 5, 7

Logún Edé is better known in Cuba as Laro. An androgynous deity, Logún Edé is the child of a road of Oshún called Ibú Ipondá, and Erinle. The first six months of the year, Logún Edé is believed to be male and live in the woods, hunting alongside his father. During the latter six months of the year, Logún Edé lives with Oshún in the river, on a diet of sweet water fish and shrimp. Logún Edé means “He who hunts shrimp.”

Logún Edé is the guardian of Oshún’s riches and of Erinle’s abundances. Yemojá is his/her protector. Logún Edé is the protector of sailors and is represented by all marine fish. He/she is believed to live where the river and ocean meet. The rituals of initiation and worship of this orisha are have been lost in Cuba. There are no initiations into this cult.

A patakí of the Odu Odí Otura narrates the myth of Logún Edé’s mysterious origins, and erroneously describes him as a homosexual. The myth says he was initiated into Ifá during his masculine semester, and lived as Orúnmilá’s wife during his feminine months. Because of this, Babalawos maintain that homosexuals should not be initiated into Ifá. He has no roads. This is another orisha whose worship has been lost in Cuba and may have reappeared recently in the “diplo-santería” markets.

Orisha: Ayáo (Oyaó)

Garments: Crimson
Beads: Some Olorishas use a reddish brown bead that has yellow and red stripes
Ritual implement: Quill
Sacrifices: Pigeons and guinea hens
Taboos: Rams
Ritual numbers: 9

Oyáo is Oyá’s younger sister who serves as her messenger and assistant. It is through Ayáo that Oyá obtained dominion over afefé, the wind. Ayáo holds the secret of the winds and the whirlwinds that are her principal manifestation. She is consecrated exclusively for Oyá’s omó and lives alongside Oyá. It seems that the knowledge of this orisha is limited to the town of Jovellanos, in the province of Matanzas where she was associated with Oyá and Olokún. In that town, Ayaó was known to possess an Olorisha named Benita Cartalla. Elsewhere, Ayaó is not known. Recently it has become one of the orishas sold in the “diplo-santería” market.

[1] All orisha fúnfún—white deities—are related with Obatalá. Like Obatalá, they all dress in immaculate white cloth, and their paraphernalia, offerings, sacrificial animals, and beads must also be white. With few exceptions, they all observe a palm oil, liquor and salt taboo as well.

Organs and areas of the human body under the control of an orisha

BrainObataláEarsOba, Obatalá
EyesNaná BurukúNoseOlodumaré, Obatalá
TongueShangó & OyáThroatAganjú & Naná Burukú
Vocal cordsObatalá & OyáHeartObatalá & Oshún
LungsOyáBreastYemojá & Oshún
VeinsOshún & Babaluaiyé StomachOshún, Obatalá, & Naná Burukú
BloodOshún & BabaluaiyéWombOshún & Yemojá
OvariesOshúnPenisElegbá, Ogún, Shangó & Orishaokó
ButtocksYemojá & ElegbáTesticlesOrishaokó & Aganjú
FeetElegbáKneesElegbá & Ogún
HandsObataláSkinObatalá & Babaluaiyé
ArmsAganjú & OgúnLegsElegbá & Aganjú
MusclesAganjú & OgúnVaginaYemojá, Oshún, & Obatalá


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