Yoruban Religion: Its cosmology and
© 1995-2002 Untangle IncorporatedThe Yoruban
religion has a number of levels, like the layers of an onion. The most spiritual
and longest existing is at the center.
Updated: Sunday November 2, 2001
The First Place and Creation
The Realm of Olorun, The Adobe of the Mighty Creator,
Oloddumare is at the center of everything there was, is and will be. All
creation, Ashe, came forth from from this center. In pots which Oloddumare
created. In each Ashe, each pot, there is his creative force which he uses to
make and maintain part of the totality of creation. And for every male creative
force there is a female creative force.
Ashe has a Thought
before the beginning of everything there was only Ashe, the creative force
itself. It was in no pot. There was nothing but Ashe. But one day Ashe began to
think. And when thinking began Ashe became Oloddumare. And as Oloddumare thought
he thought matter, and so matter became to be. And the matter is called Olorun,
the Adobe at the center of everything. But matter became a she as Oloddumare is
a he, for thinking causes a reaction in the opposite direction, a male thinking
generates a female thing; a female thinking a male thing. The name of the
thinking creating matter in Olorun is Nana Baruku, the Grandmother of all the
divinities. This female creator has many names: Nana,, Nan Nan, Nana Baruku,
Nana Baluku, Na Na Baraclou, Boucalou are but a few.
Nana Begins to
Once Nana Baruku is thought she gives birth to Mawa and
Lissa who are the Cosmic Egg and the seed which fertilizes it respectively. In
most oral renderings of the story of creation it is this egg that gives rise to
Before there was day,
before there was night,
there was a Universe,
All things lived in harmony in Olorun, The Cosmic
located in the realm of Ikode Orun.
The Giant Egg that sat in
the center of Nothingness.
The Irunmole Come to Be
Giant Egg was Mawa and the seed of the egg was Lissa. These (and often the Great
Grandmother herself) are called the the first or Great Divinities, the Irunmole.
The Ironmole includes:Nana Baruku, Mawu Lissa, Olofin, Kiori, Dakuta, and 1001
other Irunmole all results of the seed and the egg, of Lissa and Mawa.
Irunmole Expand the Universe
Now it was the Irunmole who decided
they wanted to expand the universe. They went to Oloddumare and told him what
they wanted. They debated the matter and decided that if the universe was to
expand then something must bind it. It was thusly that the Oshumare was created,
the Rainbow Serpent (Danh, the material manifestation Aido Hawedo). The Rainbow
Serpent which has coils around the egg, and then when it is created the whole
universe binding it firm. But Oloddumare said,
"Someday, Oshumare will become
hungry and will begin to devour its own tail. When that happens then all that
is, was and will be will return to the center, uncreated as quickly as it was
created. So be it."
Now the Fon of Dahomey believe this serpent sits
around the world and binds it so it does not fall apart, with 3500 coils above
and 3500 coils below. But that is the Fon, and this page is mainly about the
Yoruba. So we continue. See the Aido Hwedo for
an elaboration of the serpent concept in this area of Africa.
The Irunmole Create
So the Irunmole began to create and by creating built
the universe as it is. They created the messengers, the minor gods the
The Orishas, often called the Great Orishas to distinquish them from
the Lesser or Minor Orishas, are Obatala, Ogun, Eshu, Shango, Yemaya, Ochun,
Obalu Aye, Ochosi, Erinle, Aganju, and 1001 other Great Orisha. It was the Great
Orishas who created the planet we live on and all life on it as we know it, and
even the humans which live on it. And for the pattern of the first human they
used Nana, but the first human was called Ayizan. She created all other humans.
Great Orishas Create The Lesser Orishas
And as these first humans
died, Oshupa, Orun, Orisa Oko, Dada, Iroko, Odudua, Obi, Shaluga, Obi, and 1001
others, they became the kindly guiding spirits, the Lesser Orishas.
Orishas Create a Place For Spirits
Now after this time there are
no more Orishas created of any sort. However if people lead good, and spiritual
lives their spirit enters the realm created by the Orishas called Egun
Eggungunand and strengthen that spiritual realm with their strong good spirit.
These spirits are called the Ori (Eleda). But they are the spirit guides. There
are other spirits in that realm. Spirits of evil people, ancestors neither very
good, nor very bad, and spirits of nature.
The World, the Final Creation of the
Finally the Orishas created the world as we know it, with
the most important humans, the ones who can talk with them, and with the
denziens of the spirit world in general, called Elders who are the Spiritual
Leaders. The come the Lawkeepers and Teachers, then the followers of Ifa, and
then those who do not believe, and finally, most evil of all the Bad Lot called
Paraphrase of the "Cult of the Serpent" from M.J. Herskovit's Vol
II 'Dahomey' books.
The Dahomey god of snake-like things is a very old
creation. It belongs to no other family but to Lissa-Mawu itself. It is a very
important servant. In the days the earth was being created it carried Lissa-Mawu
about in its mouth. When they rested it left its excrement which we call
'mountains'. It is important because it was creation so very early in the
sequence of creation outlined above, and it is the link between all aspects of
the universe as we know it. It binds all the levels together. If for no other
reason it is wise to respect it because it is the trusted servant of a most
powerful creation god. To quote a follower of the religion:
"Da(nh) is powerful. We have no love for him. He gives and he
takes away. He is a theif. One is never done with being anxious about
placating him, for he does not forgive readily, as Legba does."
Danh is a vodun who gives life its visible
properties: movement, flexibility, sinousness, fortune (good than bad; bad then
good). It manifests itself as a serpent, as the rainbow, as an umbiicus, as
plant roots, as the nerves of animals, as gas coming out of mountains. It is the
cord that leads from the Olurun through all the parts of the universe as
created. It was why mammals are animated at birth with the cord. It is why if
plants have their roots severed they die, as they lose connection with the
spirit world. In a mature organism, humankind in particular, it is a volatile
Fortune, either a confident, assertive conqueror or an bitter lackey. At death
it is the thin stream of material which comes out of the top of the head,
floating upward, taking a sinuous shape, holding vast sinister power capable of
destroying mountains, or killing people.(paraphrase of statements made on page
As always with Yorubian spiritual deities there are two, one male
and one female. One who lives in the sky and one who lives in the sea (to keep
cool). The one in the sky is Danh, the one in the sea Aido Hwedo. When Aido
Hwedo moves there are earthquakes. Aido Hwedo is need to support the great
weight of the Earth, or it will collapse. Monkeys bring up iron from the sea and
beneath the sea for Aido Hwedo to eat. When the supply of iron runs out, then
Aido Hwedo will begin to eat his own tail as Olledumare decreed, and the world
will collapse. When Danh transports lightning to the earth from the spirit world
there is thunder, the sound of his tail coming down and going back up (the
double rumble sound).
At birth the umbilicus and afterbirth is buried
under a tree (palm preferrably), but no one is told which tree so that no wizard
can try to control the person by seizing spiritual control of the buried cord.
The child and tree are not connected. As the child grows up, this animating
spirit is only activated if the adult is responsibility for others and for
property (a male in other words). As soon as people are dependent on him his
spirit is activating and now he can succeed or fail depending on how much he
attends to placating his connection to Danh. In fact anxiety now becomes a very
ubiquitous in the young man's life. "When a man starts to succeed it is fitting
he does not forget the one who brought him into the world".
He must pay
attention to the manifestations of anxiety, restlessness, emotionally laden
dreams, encountering a white shrouded man who disappears if spoken to, diviners
tell him there are spirit messages for him. If the man ignores the signs then
his animating spirit will wreck havoc in his life, even killing his children,
his wife, and/or destorying his possessions. By serving his spirit he can avoid,
or at least ameliorate the harm. By ignoring the messages that his spirit wishes
placation and attention then the man comes to be dominated by others people who
have attended to their spirits. In fact if a person attends to his spirit well,
more power, possessions and prestige comes his way. At some point his spirit may
be so powerful that the man and the spirit are responsible for protecting a
whole community or even a set of communities. (paraphrase of material on pages
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