Yoruban Religion: Its cosmology and mythology

� 1995-2002 Untangle Incorporated
Last Updated: Sunday November 2, 2001

The Yoruban religion has a number of levels, like the layers of an onion. The most spiritual and longest existing is at the center.

The First Place and Creation Force

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

Now realize 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 Think

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 everything else:
Before there was day,
before there was night,
and before there was a Universe,
All things lived in harmony in Olorun, The Cosmic Heavens,
located in the realm of Ikode Orun.
The Giant Egg that sat in the center of Nothingness.

The Irunmole Come to Be

The 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.

The 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 the Orishas

So the Irunmole began to create and by creating built the universe as it is. They created the messengers, the minor gods the Orishas.
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.

The 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.

The 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 Orishas

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 Ori Buruku,

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."
page 255

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 252).

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 250-252).

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