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Hypothetical Theological Illogic Scholastica [blog] by Gloria Steele is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-NonCommercial-NoDerivs 3.0 Unported License.

Tuesday, April 20, 2010

Oggun and Osun

(from my journal)

.....Two brothas—{OMITTED} and [OMITTED]; both revolutionaries in heart, both omo ogun and omo orunmila; both seeking to build nations, community, unify the Black Nation; build our own schools and communities and businesses…just one is coming from the muslim [Nation of Islam] perspective, the other from ifa [Traditional Yoruban]….Ogun just spoke through the divinationat the bembe about this very unity in WORK, networking and standing together as a people, getting free with self-sufficiency. Ogun the hunter, the man alone in the bush who learns how to build fires, salt and preserve meat, sew clothes from skins and leaves, cook the meat of his hunt…he IS progress and that is what we need right now…transitioning from the new moon of Ogun which is work and progress to the new moon of Oshun which is the reaping of the REWARD (pleasure) of our work, the GIFTS of our labor. When we think of oshun, we think of pleasure, sensuality, bliss, enjoyment, lavish gifts….how to we enjoy anything? Only by having worked for it and overcome negativity and adversity do we truly enjoy our pleasure. It is only when we’ve labored for days and strained our backs and necks do we appreciate that good deep SENSUAL massage. That, to me, is an example of the transition from Ogun’s work to Oshun’s pleasure….6:40 pm 4/7/10

Doin' the Legba STOMP**

[CREDIT TO: much admired Brother Awo Dino Soto, formerly of Destee.com forums and fellow atendee of Egbe Orisha Aiye]

**phrase originally coined by beloved Brother Baba DarksideMagick, also of the Destee.com forums

I would respectfully disagree ... regarding there being many Esus. Although in the Diaspora, for instance in Lucumi, there are different roads or "caminos" for different Orisa, most people understand that really there is only one Esu. So there is only one Esu “Spirit,” but hundreds of possible manifestations or aspects of this spirit or energy. (perhaps we are only dealing with semantics). Whether you call him Elegua, Elegba, Esu, etc., Orisa have many attributes and many praise names, which can cause confusion. Elegba, (this is what the Fon call him) for instance, refers to him as "the owner of power." When we call him Esu (Yoruba), we are saying "divine messenger." Esu Odara, a praise name, means "divine messenger of transformation," (some awo say Odara means “Spirit that brings division is the source of fertility in the universe”)

Oriki Esu

Esu, Esu Odara, Esu lanlu ogirioko. Okunrin ori ita, a jo langa langa lalu
Divine Messenger, Divine Messenger of Transformation, Divine Messenger speak with power. Man of the crossroads, dance to the drum.
A rin lanja lanja lalu. Ode ibi ija de mole. Ija ni otaru ba d’ele ife.
Tickle the toe of the drum. Move beyond strife. Strife is contrary to the Spirits of the Invisible Realm.
To fi de omo won. Oro Esu, to to to akoni. Ao fi ida re lale.
Unite the unsteady feet of weaning children. The word of the Divine Messenger is always respected. We shall use your sword to touch the earth.
Esu ma se mi o. Esu ma se mi o. Esu ma se mi o.
Divine Messenger, do not confuse me. Divine Messenger, do not confuse me. Divine Messenger, do not confuse me.
Omo elomiran ni ko lo se. Pa ado asubi da. No ado asure si wa.
Let someone else be confused. Turn my suffering around. Give me the blessing of the calabash.
Mo dupe Esu, mo dupe. Babami, ase o.

In the Diaspora, many believe Esu and Elegba are two different Orisa. They are wrong. Some say Elegba comes from elegbara, which is actually Alagbara (the strong one, or owner of strength – a praise name) others say elegbara comes form ela egbe ara, meaning, “the body of those who possess the light.” Either way, it is a praise name or manifestation of Esu that invokes strength and courage.
Esu, as everyone knows, is "the trickster" in that he represents chance. But I would question whether this is really Esu's most important role, or if it’s even appropriate. He is the karmic enforcer who simply provides the effect of your actions, good or bad. He is the principle of chaos, change and transformation. But more importantly, he is also the imparter of Ase; the holder of Ase. Esu is "born" in Odu Ose Otura. All awo, etc, should chant from this Odu daily for the acquisition of ase.

Ose Otura
(from Chief Fama 2004).

Bi mo duro, bi mo wure
Ire ti emi, ko ni se aigba
Bi mo bere, bi mo wure
Ire ti emi, ko ni se aigba
Bi mo joko, bi mo wure
Ire ti emi, ko ni se aigba.

If I pray while standing
My prayers will manifest
If I stoop or kneel while praying
My prayers will manifest
If I sit while praying
My prayers will manifest
This chant, while incomplete, is still powerful.

Esu Odara is considered the “father” of all Esus and represents fertility as well as transformation. Esu Odara is born in Odu Ose Otura. This Odu is actually 17th in order of seniority. It is the first Odu after the mejis. In Tefa (ifa initiation), Ose Otura is invoked on the head of the iyawo after the mejis. This invocation causes the meji odu to copulate in the head of the iyawo, at which time the initiate becomes awo (hence Esu as the source of fertility). The process unlocks all 256 Odu in the Ori of the iyawo giving awo the ofo ase (power of the word) to invoke and make all the Orisa, unlocking the ability for an awo to become “possessed” by all the Orisa. This is where Esu as “divine messenger of transformation” comes from. So to reduce Esu to the status of mischief-maker or trickster is to be completely ignorant of what Esu is.
Much of the confusion comes from the fact that every Odu and every Orisa have their own Esu. The Esus for the different Orisa are born in Odu Owonrin plus the Odu of the Orisa. For example, the Odu for making the Esu for Sango (esu ananaki) is Owonrin Iwori; for Obatala (esu oke) it’s Owonrin Ogbe. Esu IS confusion. He is contradiction.

Esu-Elegbara, Asoju (the observer)

The short and tall one
Whose head is barely visible when he walks through a peanut farm
Thanks to the fact that he is very tall
But Esu must climb the hearthstone in order to put salt
in the soup pot…
Labolarinde, if you reach the frontier
And do not encounter him at the citygate working in the field
You will find him in the vicinity and he is always accessible
To everyone, including the infirm
A le kuru a le ga
O nlo ninu epa Atari re nhan firifiri
Opelope giga ti o ga
Esu ni o gun ori aro ni o fi bu iyo si obe…
Labolarinde ti o ba de bode ti o ko ba ba ni enu odi ni nro oko
On na ni da oko nibiti arugbo le de

Another important part of understanding Esu is his relationship with Orunmila. Divination cannot take place without Esu's participation. There is a story about how Orunmila and Esu became such good buddies (remember, itan – stories – are used to explain metaphysical principals as well as teach morals and illuminate culture). Orunmila one day wanted to see how his friends would react to the news of his death, so he instructed his wife (Apetebi) to spread the news of his death, and then hid in the attic. Several Orisa came by the house to pay their respects, but all of them told his wife that Orunmila had owed them money, etc., which she paid them (these were lies). But when Esu came by, he was crying profusely, and told her if there was anything she needed to just call him, etc. In addition, he told her that he owed Orunmila some money and promptly paid. Orunmila then came down from the attic and told Esu that he was a true friend. From then on, the brothas were tight.
Esu is the messenger of Ifa, the oracle. He also watches over the divination session, to make sure it’s done right (all divination trays have an Esu carved on the edge). Olodumare made him the most powerful Orisa and he exists on heaven and earth simultaneously. Like Hermes, he has the power to bind and release. He can limit the actions of the negative forces (knowledge he shared with Orunmila) as well as bring the blessings of the white (positive) deities to humans.
The energy of Esu is instinctual, masculine, and autonomous. Like all Orisa, and energy itself, Esu is both positive and negative. Many focus on the negative aspects of Esu. Those of a higher consciousness will focus on the positive. Esu Odara, the divine messenger of transformation, will transform you. He has a special relationship with the Creator. He is the messenger of Olodumare. He has knowledge of good and evil as well as the wisdom and power to cope with these forces.

Osa Meji
(Abimbola 1970)

…exchange, exchange,
the Ifa priest of the house of Elepe
He was told to exchange an animal
For his life on account of Iku (death)

As a partner with Orunmila in divination, Esu is the enforcer and the “effector” of an action. Offerings, dictated by Orunmila as the communicator of the oracle (Ifa), are usually offered to Esu’s shrine. All ritual begin and end with Esu. He has the power to translate human language to the language of Spirit, and vice versa. Esu brings order from chaos. He might decide to no longer restrain the ajoogun (evil spirits) from affecting the arrogant person in order to teach them a lesson. He informs (as messenger again) Olodumare or Orisa or Aje when an offering has been made. He sees to the proper use of ritual sacrifice.

“Though the offering is difficult, it is not worse than death.”

Ire is life – health, money, children and long life. The conversion of death into life, or ibi into ire, is Esu’s special power. When we finish ritual or prayer, we say,
“Ose Otura (a-wu-ire-la) agbe wa, ala wa, ase.”
“Ose Otura (the Odu that makes prayers manifest) will support and bless us, ase.”
(But let us not forget, that no Orisa, not even Esu, can bless one without the consent of one’s Ori. What does this mean? Your head and your heart must be in alignment for blessings to flow from above)

So Orunmila provides the knowledge needed by the person who came for the reading, which includes time tested solutions to problems as well as the ritual offering or sacrifice to bring things back in order, or to bring the blessings to the client ( to turn ibi into ire). Order is brought by ritual sacrifice, which is overseen by Esu. The role of the diviner is to turn ibi (negative energy, or chaos, or resistance) into ire (positive energy, or order, or openness to change).

Ose Meji
(from Abimbola 1970)

The world is broken into pieces
The world is split wide open
The world is broken without anyone to mend it
The world is split open without anybody to sew it
Cast Ifa for the six elders
Who were coming down from Ile Ife
They were asked to take care of Mole
They were told that they would do well
If they made sacrifice
If the sacrifice to Esu is not made, it will not be acceptable in Orun

Esu is different than the other Orisa. For one, he is never referred to as the patron of a lineage. He is closely associated with the marketplace, where fortunes can change in an instant. He also punishes those who don't do ebo when recommended (again, karmic justice). There is a story (itan) about Esu (all itan come from the oral history of the Yoruba, called Odu) that illustrates not only his connection to the market, but also how he will make you pay for your transgressions. There was a woman at the market, who didn't do her prescribed ebo. While at the market, Esu started a fire at her house. She arrives too late; her house is burned down. While she ran home to put out the fire, a thief (Esu) stole all her goods.

“Esu favors only those who have made the prescribed ebo.”

And will punish those who don’t.
Esu occupies these marginal worlds like the marketplace, crossroads and compound entrances. Esu provokes us to do stupid things. This is why Christians translate him to "devil." This is an indefensible corruption. Esu can and will bless you. Most people propitiate Esu a lot, and part of one of his most popular oriki ask, "Esu do not confuse me." However, the elevated soul, the wise person, has no need to propitiate Esu, because they aren't going to do anything stupid. The awo who has achieved iwa pele (good character), who always maintains ori tutu (a cool head) does not need to worry about Esu teaching him or her a lesson. Elders, who have lived the life of iwa pele, ori tutu, and ritual obligation, and so have prospered, are revered in Yorubaland. They do not know Esu as the trickster, but as “the gift giver.” They no longer have to make offerings to Esu.

Esu pele, Opin, Ajibike, Okaramaho, Oyinsese, Olofin- Apeka’lu, Amonisegun-mapo
(Divine Messenger, I call you by your names of praise)
Esu, I honor you because of your power
Esu, you are the road maker
Come with kindness to me and to my family,
Who serve you with gifts
Esu, you are the present giver
Make me rich and the “mother” of good children
Never allow your children misfortune
Come with your gorgeous appearance,
You, son of cowries

The Signifying Monkey

[This was an assignment submitted for this semester's internet technology class; I myself consider it a work in progress, as due to page limits I did not explore the issue as much as I would have liked. I plan to expand greatly on this in the future]

As a Black artist who must transverse a euro-centric world, defined inaccurately by a people whose tastes and ideals completely oppose his own heritage, Jean-Michel Basquiat faces the difficult task of being accepted for his art's portrayal of life as the unaccepted. Thus, his Body/Image and art becomes a paradox. Thus, he becomes the fence-straddler, the man at the crossroads, the man between worlds-- Papa Legba, or the Yoruban trickster diety Eshu-Elegbara.

In 1975 blaxploitation film Dolemite, Rudy Ray Moore famously delivered the signifying monkey monologue, the humorous tale of a clever monkey who avoids attack of his enemy the lion by accusing the elephant of secret slander. Henry Luis Gates 1983 wrote exploring the paradox of Black writers' acceptance or non-acceptance in the white literary world; the issues of the fate of Black writers' critical reception is one faced also by Black visual artists, including Jean-Michel Basquiat.

As Gates reveals: “the monkey is able to signify upon the lion only because the lion does not understand the monkey's discourse.... the monkey speaks figuratively, in a symbolic code; the lion interprets or reads literally and suffers the consequence of his folly, which is a reversal of his status as king of the jungle" (Gates, 1983, 691). Thus, because the white critic interprets Basquiat through the white man's lens, the white world does not understand the obsessive paintings of heads (the Yoruban concept of consciousness as ori) and crowns (in Yoruban spirituality, one’s spirit guides or orisha are “crowned”, or embedded into the consciousness) are not a case of Basquiat's lamenting the inability to attain the crown of acclaim in the white world or of Basquiat's "loss of identity" (head/ori). Instead, it is the affirmation that his head/ori brought him the blessing of his art, and, though his art may often express the Negro's plight and suffering in the oppositional white world. His art, as it reflects his inner soul and understanding of ancestral royalty, makes him king which he already was and always is....indeed, most young kings do get their heads cut off [a reference—signifying—to Basquiat’s painting], but Basquiat never does.

Bell Hooks wrote of Basquiat: “...Fame, symbolized by the crown, is offered as the only possible path to subjectivity for the black male artist. To be un-famous is to be rendered invisible. Therefore, one is without choice. You either enter the phallocentric battlefield of representation and play the game or you are doomed to exist outside history. Basquiat wanted a place in history, and he played the game. In trying to make a place for himself--for blackness--in the established art world, he assumed the role of explorer/colonizer. Wanting to make an intervention with his life and work, he inverted the image of the white colonizer….Basquiat journeyed into the heart of whiteness. White territory he named as a savage and brutal place. The journey is embarked upon with no certainty of return. Nor is there any way to know what you will find or who you will be at journey's end. … Recognizing art-world fame to be a male game, one that he could play, working the stereotypical darky image, playing the trickster, Basquiat understood that he was risking his life--that this journey was all about sacrifice.” (Hooks, 1993, p.5)


Awo Fa'lokun Fatunmbi, “Esu-Elegba: Ifa and the Spirit of the Divine Messenger”, retrieved from http://www.awostudycenter.com/Articles/art_esu.htm

Henry Louis Gates, Jr. , The "Blackness of Blackness": A Critique of the Sign and the Signifying Monkey, Critical Inquiry, Vol. 9, No. 4 (Jun, 1983), pp. 685-723

Phoebe Haban, Basquiat: A Quick Killing In Art, 1998, Penguin Books, Penguin Putnam Inc., New York, New York

Bell Hooks, “Alters of sacrifice: re-membering Basquiat”, Art in America, June, 1993