Orishas of Yoruba Mythology

Orishas are Yoruba gods and goddesses. Mythology surrounding them, including the Yoruba creation story, is vast. Below are descriptions of some Orishas, and the story about how they got their powers.

  • Olorun/Olodumare: Supreme God and Creator; sometimes depicted androgynous
  • Orunmila: God of Wisdom and Divination; Olorun’s son and representative
  • Obatala: Olorun’s Deputy; creator of land, humankind and first Yoruba city, Ife
  • Eshu: God of Chance and Chaos; master of languages; trickster
  • Ogun: God of Iron and Technology; patron of iron-workers/users
  • Olokun: Goddess of Sea; she ruled over swamps before Obatala created land
  • Shango: God of Thunder
  • Oko: God of Agriculture
  • Oya: Goddess of Winds and Niger River; one of Shango’s wives
  • Yemoja: Divine Mother, Goddess of Ogun River and patroness of feminine mysteries; often depicted a mermaid
  • Oshun: Goddess of Love and Beauty
  • Obaluaye: God of Disease and Healing
  • Ori: God of Destiny; concept of divine self

In the beginning, Orishas didn’t have unique powers. Whenever they needed special knowledge, they asked Orunmila. One day, Oko thought that, if he had special knowledge, people could ask him and not bother Orunmila. He asked Orunmila for special powers, and soon all Orishas wanted powers too. Orunmila viewed the Orishas equally and was unsure how to assign powers. Puzzled, he discussed with Agemo, the chameleon, who suggested leaving the distribution of power to chance. Orunmila informed the Orishas beforehand that he would pour powers down from the sky on a certain day, and whatever power an Orisha collected would be theirs. Thus, none could complain of favoritism or neglect.

Orunmila was all-powerful. Nevertheless, he was unable to solve the problem without Agemo, demonstrating that even Orishas were imperfect and subsequently willing to seek advice. Additionally, he could have ignored the Orishas and hoarded the powers or even assigned powers in a nepotistic manner so as to later exert influence. Yet, he distributed the powers fairly, providing a lesson for leaders.

By Rahim Mawji

(Image: Noire 3000)

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