“The Orisha Experience”
When one thinks of ancient gods and deities, images of the European Zeus or the Hindi Shiva typically comes to mind. Besides the popular ancient Egyptian deities like Sun Ra, most people almost never think of the thousands of African gods and goddesses that have existed since time immemorial. Well Atlanta-based artist and Noire 3000 Studios CEO, James C. Lewis, is breathing new life and introducing one of Africa’s greatest pantheons, Ifá, to new audiences with his photography interpretation of the Yoruba orishas.
“Throughout my formal education from elementary up through college I never heard tale of African deities. A little over a month ago I began to research online to find information in regards to the gods & goddesses of Africa. To my surprise there were many, however the ones that stood out the most were the deities of Nigeria and Benin, West Africa which they referred to as ORISHAS….
I wanted to portray the regal beauty of each Orisha while also representing their majestic sensuality. Each iconic depiction was rendered to lend strength to our resilience as a great race of people and to show our youth that they are beautiful, bold and brilliant just they way God created them to be. Although I am aware that the Ifa Tradition traveled in the Ori “Head” of those Blacks that were captured as slaves and sent to other parts of the diaspora, I chose to focus on the true origin of the faith. Therefore each Orisha’s name is written in the Yoruba dialect and captures imagery of powerful men, women & children of various complexions who are all of African descent.” ~ James C. Lewis
“OLÒRÚN is the Yorùbá name given to one of the three manifestations of the Supreme God. Olorun is the owner of the heavens and is commonly associated with the Sun. The vital energy of Olorun manifests in humans as Ashé, which is the life force that runs through all living things. The Supreme God has three manifestations: Olodumare-the Creator; Olorun-ruler of the heavens; and Olofi, who is the conduit between Orun (heaven) and Ayé (earth). No gender is typically assigned to Olorun because Olorun transcends human limitations. Olorun rules Orun (the heavens), whereas humans live in Ayé (the earth). Typically, humans do not interact directly with Olorun but they receive the life-giving energy from the sun and recognize the power of Olorun over their lives.”
OBÀTÁLÁ (Obatala, Obatalá, Oxalá, Orixalá, Orisainlá) – arch-divinity, father of humankind, divinity of light, spiritual purity, and moral uprightness
YEMOJA (Iemanja, Yemaja Imanja, Yemayá, Jemanja, Yemalla, Yemana, Yemanja, Yemaya, Yemayah, Ymoja, Nanã, La Sirène, LaSiren, Mami Wata) – divine mother, divinity of the sea and loving mother of mankind, daughter of Obatala and wife of Aganju.
AGANJU – (Aganyu, Agayu) – Father of Shango, he is also said to be Shango’s brother in other stories. Aganju is said to be the orisha of volcanoes, mountains, and the desert. Husband to Yemoja.
BABALÚ-AYÉ (Babalu Aye, Omolu, Soponna, Shonponno, Obaluaye, Sakpata, Shakpana) – divinity of disease and illness, healing and the earth, son of Yemoja.
SHANGÓ (Xango, Changó, Shango , Chango, Nago Shango) – warrior deity ; divinity of thunder, fire, sky father, represents male power and sexuality, son of Aganju
OBA (Obba) – Shango’s jealous wife, divinity of marriage and domesticity, daughter of Yemaja, sister to Babalú-Ayé
OYA (Oyá, Oiá, Iansã, Yansá, Iansan, Yansan) – warrior deity; divinity of the wind, sudden change, hurricanes, and underworld gates, a powerful sorceress and primary lover of Shango
ÒSÙMÀRÈ (Oshumare, Oxumare, Ochumare, Osumare) – rainbow deity, divinity of movement and activity, guardian of children and associated with the umbilical cord
IBEJI – the sacred twins, represent youth and vitality
IBEJI – the orisha of twins (the Yoruba are officially known to have the world’s highest rate of twin births of any group). The world capital of twins is the Yoruba town of Igbo-Ora, with an average of 150 twins per 1,000 births.
ORUNMILA (Orunla, Ifá) – divinity of wisdom, divination, destiny, and foresight. Grand Priest, as he who revealed Oracle divinity to the world.
OSUN (Oshún, Ọṣun, Oxum, Ochun, Oshun, Oschun) – divinity of rivers, love, feminine beauty, fertility, and art, also one of Shango’s lovers and beloved of Ogoun
OLOKUN – guardian of the deep ocean, the abyss, and signifies unfathomable wisdom
OSANYIN (Osain, Ozain ) – Orisha of the forest, he owns the Omiero, a holy liquid consisting of many herbs, the liquid through which all saints and ceremonies have to proceed. He is the keeper and guardian of the herbs, and is a natural healer. He sometimes appears as a beautiful wood sprite when in female form
OSOOSI – (Oxósse, Ocshosi, Oxossi, Ochosi) – hunter and the scout of the orishas, deity of the accused and those seeking justice or searching for something
ERINLE (Inle) – orisha of medicine, healing, and comfort, physician to the gods
ORI – Ruler of the head. He is a metaphysical concept important to Yoruba spirituality and way of life. Ori, literally meaning “head,” refers to one’s spiritual intuition and destiny. It is the reflective spark of human consciousness embedded into the human essence, and therefore is often personified as an orisha in its own right . In Yoruba tradition, it is believed that human beings are able to heal themselves both spiritually and physically by working with the orishas to achieve a balanced character, or iwa-pele. When one has a balanced character, one obtains an alignment with one’s Ori or divine self. Alignment with one’s Ori brings, to the person who obtains it, inner peace and satisfaction with life. To come to know the Ori is, essentially, to come to know oneself. The primacy of individual identity is best captured in a Yoruba proverb: “Ori la ba bo, a ba f’orisa sile”. When translated, this becomes It is the inner self we ought to venerate, and let divinity be.
OKO (Okko) – orisha of agriculture and the harvest
ESU (Eleggua, Exú, Eshu, Elegba, Ellegua, Legbara, Papa Legba) – Eshu is the messenger between the human and divine worlds, Undergod of duality, crossroads and beginnings, and also a phallic and fertility Undergod (an Embodiment of Life) and the deliverer of souls to the underworld (an Embodiment of Death). Eshu is recognized as a trickster and is childlike, while Eleggua is Eshu under the influence of Obatala.
***Though originated in the areas currently known as Nigeria, the Republic of Benin and Togo, elements of Ifá has found its way around the world primarily due to the trans-Atlantic slave trade. There are hundreds of Yoruba orishas, some of which are now expressed in practices as varied as Santería, Candomblé, Trinidad Orisha, Anago and Oyotunji, as well as in some aspects of Umbanda, Winti, Obeah, Vodun. These varieties, or spiritual lineages as they are called, are practiced throughout Cuba, Dominican Republic, Brazil, Guyana, Haiti, Jamaica, Puerto Rico, Suriname, Trinidad and Tobago, the US, Uruguay, Argentina and Venezuela among others. As interest in African indigenous religions (spiritual systems) grows, orisha communities and lineages can be found in parts of Europe and Asia as well. While estimates may vary, some scholars believe that there could be more than 100 million adherents of this spiritual tradition worldwide.***
Images credit James C. Lewis. To purchase the art or contact this artist please visit his site.