It may be surprising to many, that the Yoruba people are not just found in the western region of Nigeria, but also in some parts of Benin, Togo and by extension of out of africa; Brazil, and in a number of countries in the Caribbean, including Cuba, Jamaica, Haiti, and Trinidad and Tobago.
The Yoruba religion system comprises of traditional practices and spiritual concepts which has evolved into a robust religious system. The Yoruba traditional religion believes that all human beings pass through what is known as Ayanmo which translate to destiny or fate.
Followers of the Yoruba religion believe that a single omnipotent deity named Olodumare (or Olorun) rules over the universe. Olodumare is also referred to by other names, including Oluwa (Lord) and Orise (the source of all things), but has no gender. However, it is Obatala (or Orisa-nla) who is credited with creating Earth. Obatala is also believed to have begun his acts of creation at Ife, what is now a holy city in Nigeria and the center of all religious and spiritual power. Followers also believe in lower gods called Orisha (or Orisa). Orisha are aspects of Olodumare and intermediaries between Olodumare and humans.
There are between 201 and 1,700 Orisha, each ruling over a specific domain. Some Historials and Religion Experts believer there are 401 Orishas. For example, Osanyin is the god of magic and medicine, and Ogun is the god of war, the hunt, and metalworking. Esu (or Eshu) is the god of divination, a “trickster” god that isn’t all bad. Esu generates confusion but is also a protector. While an Orisha may have dozens of shrines set up in its name, Olodumare has none.
There are several female Orisha, here are some of their names and their roles and responsibilities:
- Aja - Orisha of the forest, the animals, and herbal healing.
- Aje - Orisha of wealth.
- Ayao - Orisha of the air
- Egungun-oya - Orisha of divination
- Mawu - Orisha of the sun and moon
- Ọbà - Orisha of domesticity and marriage (Shango's first wife)
- Olókun - Patron Orisha of the descendants of Africans carried away during the Atlantic Slave Trade.
- Ọ̀ṣun/Oshun Goddess of love, intimacy, fertility, beauty, wealth, and diplomacy (Shango's second wife).
- Ọya Goddess of the Niger River; the guardian of the dead (represents wind, lightning, fire, and magic) (Shango's third wife).
- Yemọja/Yemaya A mother goddess (the patron deity of women and the Ogun river).
- Ọbà - Orisha of the River Oba, near Igbon.
Here are some of the male Orishas and their roles and responsibilities:
- Aganjú - Orisha of volcanoes, the wilderness, and rivers.
- Babalú Ayé - Orisha of the Earth (strongly associated with infectious diseases and healing).
- Erinlẹ̀ - Orisha of medicine, healing, and comfort, physician to the gods.
- Èṣù - Orisha of crossroads, duality, beginnings, travellers, fertility, and death (a trickster and a psychopomp).
- Ibeji - A twin Orisha of vitality and youth.
- Kokou - Orisha of war (a violent warrior).
- Ọbàtálá - Creator of human bodies (represents light, spiritual purity, and moral uprightness)
- Oduduwa - Orisha of humans
- Ògún - Orisha of iron, fire, hunting, politics, and war.
- Oko - Orisha of agriculture.
- Osanyin - Orisha of the forest.
- Oṣùmàrè - Orisha of rainbow serpent associated with creation and procreation.
- Ọ̀ṣọ́ọ̀sì - Orisha of the hunt and forest.
- Ṣàngó/Shango - Orisha of thunder, lightning, fire, virility, war, and foundations.
In Yoruba beliefs, the Ajogun exist on the same level as the Orisha. While difficult to define, the Ajogun are often thought of as similar to the Western concept of demons. They are seen as supernatural beings that cause trouble, create misunderstandings, bring illness, and induce accidents. However, it's important to note that in Yoruba beliefs, everything in creation, both natural and supernatural, contains elements of both positivity (ire) and negativity (ibi), and therefore nothing can be considered purely good or wholly evil. The relationship between the Ajogun and the Orisha is unclear, but it's possible that the Ajogun are tricksters among the Orisha. Regardless of their exact nature, the Ajogun cannot be defined as "evil" or "demonic" in a Christian sense.
The Yoruba believe that daily life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one's ori. Ori is the part of one’s soul that influences personal destiny and success. Another important Yoruba concept is called ashé, the divine energy that runs through all living and nonliving things. The Yoruba strive to obtain aché through good character. This, in turn, helps them experience alignment with the ori—the same sort of inner peace and satisfaction idealized in other world religions, including Buddhism.
Many Yoruba believers do not make major life decisions without consulting Ifá, an encyclopedia of wisdom, for guidance. Divination is the attempt to gain insight into a question or problem by way of a ritual. Priests and priestesses who lead a divination ritual interpret how a questioner should proceed by reading signs, events, or omens. Through contact with Orunmila, Orisha of wisdom and prophecy, they are able to determine which offerings, spiritual disciplines, and behavioral changes may be needed to bring success to the person seeking counsel. The role of priests and priestesses in Yoruba is to mediate between people and the Orisha and ancestors.
The Yoruba strongly believe in Olodumare, the Supreme Being and the ‘Prime Mover’ who is the Creator of all things, from whom everything on earth and heaven emanated.
Some scholars argues that Olorun ( Owner of the sky or the Lord of heaven ) is the Controller of destinies who goes nowhere and stands tall in Yoruba religion. Olodumare is believed to be the ever-present and at the same time can be seen everywhere. Although the belief in Olodumare stands out in Yoruba spiritual heritage, they also believe in other spiritual beings.
According to the Yoruba and other African groups, the existence of other spiritual beings is meaningless apart from the existence of Olodumare who creates and sustains all things.
The Yoruba’s belief consists not only of the Supreme Being and numerous divinities called Orisa, but also of a conglomeration of spirits, ancestral forces and psychic agencies. we can argue that to doubt the existence of Olodumare among the Yoruba peoples would be like doubting the existence of Kings. The Yorubas sees the multiplicity of orisa merely aspect of the same divine force, they strongly believe in the Olodumare, and their thoughts are daily directed to Him through the orisa.