Super inspired by this article by James Davis focusing on the Orisha Osain. In light of our upcoming Extra Ancestral Workshop Ewe Ode, I wanted to share some in-depth research on the Yoruba Orisha Osain. This article is impressive , and is a fascinating read. I want to acknowledge Baba Awo Fasegun and Ile Orunmila Afedefeyo, and to the many elders I have studied with. I often feel reminded how important it is to respect the work of our elders. That said this article by Davis is extensive, for the full article refer to the weblink below. I truly appreciate the wealth of knowledge, and how he connected the African Diaspora. Truly inspired, and I am honored to share with you this beautiful entry. This will be the first of many future blogs. Enjoy . Asé O
A treatise on the role of plants in the Yoruba Religion by James Davis
This work is dedicated to the memory of Baba Alafia Oluo Shango Dei Otura Meji Renard Simmons, my Baba Tobi in Ocha, the first African- American Oriate; Ibaiye, Baiye Tonu.
The Power of Osain
Since Osanyin is the owner of all vegetation and green plants (it is estimated that there are about 400,000 species of plants in the world), of all the gifts, secrets and powers that Olofi, Olodumare, God has given to man, the gift of Osain is the most profound. Why is this so? What are the uses of Osain? As you shall see Osain has several important uses.
1) Osain as the captor of energy from the sun. The major source of energy to the planet earth comes from the sun. A small amount comes from the interior engine of the earth which results in volcanic eruptions and earthquakes; the majority of the energy manifesting itself on earth comes from the star called our sun. This energy reaches the earth and some is absorbed by the atmosphere warming it and creating the winds (Oya) and thunder and lightning (Shango). Some of it is absorbed by the land and the oceans warming the planet and creating our climate and ocean currents. The plants through the process known as photosynthesis capture the remainder. It is this process that is responsible for life and the progress of civilization itself. The energy which is necessary for almost all life processes (there are certain living organisms which live deep in the dark regions of the oceans which get their energy from a process other than photosynthesis called chemosynthesis), comes from plant photosynthesis.
All human and animal food comes from plant photosynthesis. The green leaves (chlorophyll) capture the sun‟s energy (light). This energy is then stored in the plant first as glucose, a sugar, and then the glucose can be transformed into other organic molecules (fats, starches, other sugars) which then can be consumed by living creatures. Thus plants are basis of all food. The energy which animals ultimately use in performing their daily tasks comes to them via plants from the sun.
The photosynthesis equation (the Osain equation):
6CO2 (carbon dioxide) + 6H2O (water) + photon (light) C6H12O6 (glucose, sugar) + 6O2(oxygen)
All fuels which man uses to heat his homes or drive and run his machines come from photosynthesis. The glucose created above, contains the stored energy that can be changed to a multiplex of hydrocarbons (compounds containing HxCy) and carbohydrates (compounds containing carbon, hydrogen, and oxygen) yielding wood, coal, oil, and gasoline. Fossil fuels: oil, coal, natural gas are nothing but decayed plants, heated and pressurized for millions of years. The energy which is contained in them is the energy trapped from the sun by green plants in photosynthesis. So that all the energy burning in our cars from gasoline is energy which was created by the sun and captured from sunlight by green plants. So all of these physical, chemical processes take place under the aegis of Osanyin.
2) Osain as the giver of oxygen (life). The photosynthesis equation represents not only the trapper of the energy from the sun, but also the maintainer of oxygen in the world. The union of carbon dioxide and water yields glucose, the storer of the energy, and oxygen. The oxygen which is needed by all life forms is continually being created by the green trees and vegetation in the world. Twenty percent of the oxygen produced by the world is produced by the Amazon rainforest. When one enters the Igbodu, the Yoruba place for ceremonies, a place filled with fresh green ewe, plants that will be used in these ceremonies, one feels invigorated, refreshed, inspired, strong, a feeling that all wrongs will be righted, that bad will go away and good will come. This is partly because the plants are creating fresh oxygen, and dispelling it into the air giving life and strength to the environment.
Looking at the Osain photosynthesis equation. On the right side there is O2 and C6H12O6. O2 is oxygen, air which is an attribute of Oya. Oya is the goddess of the winds and air and since she is the goddess of air, she is the goddess of life, for all living things depend upon air to breath to have life. As she is the goddess of life she is likewise the goddess of death, because when one stops breathing, one dies. She is the owner of the cemetery, the gates to and the entrance to the cemetery. She presides over funerals and is the only Orisha that can dwell with the eggun, the spirits of the dead. Oya is also called Yansa, Iya mesan which means the mother of nine because Oya gave birth to nine children (Odu OsaMeji). The last of these children was Eggungun, who represents the spirits of the dead. So Oya has a close connection with death. When people are dying too much and too often, Oya is invoked, prayed to and played to, in order to stop the dying. Oya controls death. Oya is represented by O2. As air comes from the plants, so Oya is connected to Osain. Oya in a negative light is the hurricane and the tornado, air gone wild. Oya in Yoruba means it tears, it rips. Osa, (Yoruba) means he/she/it runs. C6H12O6 is glucose and in it is stored, as chemical potential energy, the energy that was captured from light. In glucose is the energy that can be put to use for cellular functions or to burn gasoline. Shango is the representation of physical energy. He is associated with fire, his color is red, he is one
of the gods of war, and he represents male sexuality. He is the bravest warrior of the pantheon. Wherever he goes there is war, arguments, and discussions. Energy! Energy! The energy contained in C6H12O6 is a representation of Shango. It should be noted that in the second apataki for the disfigurement of Osain (Cuba) which talked of origin of Osain, there was Oya, Shango and Osain.
3) Osain as the cleaner of our air and atmosphere. The photosynthesis equation generates not only oxygen, but also depletes the air of carbon dioxide. Carbon dioxide, a dangerous gas which if inhaled too much results in suffocation, is one of the major byproducts of burning and respiration. It is also the major greenhouse gas associate with global warming and climate change. Plants are called the „Lungs of our Planet” because they take in carbon dioxide and exude oxygen. Since the beginning of the Industrial Revolution (~early 1800‟s)
the concentration of carbon dioxide in our atmosphere has increased 30% and the average surface temperature of the earth has increased by one degree. Carbon dioxide is a greenhouse gas which traps the heat radiated by the earth and reradiates it back to the planet causing the temperature to rise. Plants take about 12% of the CO2 and convert it O2 as such they are cleaning the atmosphere of unwanted pollution. Prior to the industrial revolution, the rainforests and plants were enough to offset the carbon dioxide produced by natural processes of animal and plant respiration. However with the recent onset of anthropogenic addition of CO2, and the destruction of the forests and rainforest regions throughout the world, the situation is looking bleak, with the concentrations of CO2 steadily increasing. Green plants remove the pollutant carbon dioxide from the air, and give oxygen.
4) Plants are the natural food for mankind. In today‟s modern era, humans are hooked on fast foods, meats, and all other garbage. Eating plants, vegetables, fruits are the best source of nutrition. Eating plants, vegetables, cooked and uncooked is the best choice; Salads, fruits, and nuts. Digestion is easier (meats, especially beef is very hard to digest), and diseases such cancer and diabetes are diminished, disappear and longevity and strength are achieved.
5) The medicinal value of plants. It estimated that the number of plant species on earth is 400,000. Currently, 121 prescription drugs sold worldwide come from plant-derived sources. While 25% of Western pharmaceuticals are derived from rainforest ingredients, less that 1% of these tropical trees and plants have been investigated by scientists. Aspirin, acetylsalicylic acid, is derived from the bark of the willow tree, opium from opium poppies led to the creation of morphines and codeine, and quinine from the bark of the South American cinchona tree. 3000 plants have been identified as cancer fight drugs. Twenty five percent of the active ingredients found in cancer fight drugs come from plants. More than 100 pharmaceutical companies are engaged in plant research to find new cures for
infections and diseases. Most of this research is carried out by examining the
practices of traditional shamans in the forest areas.
The Spiritual Aspects of Osain
The Ceremony of the birth of a new Orisha: In Ocha and Ifa the birth of a new Orisha depends on the following factors:
2) Korin, (Yr. song), Oriki, prayer (Yr.)
1) Ewe, plants: The Orisha live in plants. The domain of the mountain (el Monte), the forest (Igbo), the woods, the bushes, is the domain of the spirits, the Orishas. The‟igbo‟ can be the rainforest of Central America, Central Africa, a park, or a garden. The igbo can be a strip of grass, or a single tree. Anywhere there is green there is Orisha and spirits.
Each plant, tree, shrub, or leaf has attributes that refer to specific spirits. Some plants belong to the Orisha; some belong to the spiritual or eggun realm. Of the thousands of plants in the ”igbo”, it is the job of the osainista, to recognize the plants and to know which plant refer to which spirit. The osainista, on the pharmaceutical level, must know which plant will cure which sickness or disease and how to administer it. In terms of food, which plant is poisonous and which is safe to eat. The osainista should know all of these facts for the hundreds of herbs
in his region.
In the ceremony for the creation of an Orisha, everything stops, nothing happens until then proper herbs arrive. ”Si no hay yerba, no hay Santo”. If there is no yerbs, there is no Orisha.
The Osain is the part of the ceremony where the herbs are prepared, special chants are sung in order to prepare the “omiero”, which is the sacred juice which washes all evil away, and gives birth to Orisha. The herbs are prayed on, water is poured on herbs, and then special songs are sung. After the omiero is prepared all is ready for the Santo.
2) Song, Oriki, prayer
The second element necessary to generate Orisha is song, Oriki, prayer; all of these three being synonymous. God lives in each of us. Every human being contains within himself the center of the universe. It is through the voice, through singing, oriki, and prayer that the spirit of God comes from the heavens and passes through the human body and expresses itself to the world.
I heard this about the voice from a young rapper. He said:
Rap is based on the voice. The voice is the most powerful force in the universe. With voice you can curse and cause fights and wars. You can lie and create deceit. With the voice you can also make peace and you can make love.
Max Roach , the most famous Jazz percussionist in the world said, the first instrument is the voice, the second instrument is the drum.
With a bad tongue (mouth) one
could disgrace a person and cause wars between nations. With a good tongue one could save humanity.”
In Hausa combat games: wasan Dambe (boxing), wasan Kokawa (wrestling), wasan Shanci (Magazuwa wristlet fighting), and wasan Shadi (Fulani ritual flogging) the voice is used in summing up strength and courage. The games begin with take-take which is a vocal invocation accompanied by drums whose purpose is to announce to the village that something special and wonderful is about to happen and that one should take care, come and watch. The contestants assemble into their perspective groups and the invocation of take makes reference to the different groups present. “A taho a mutu” (Come and die!), “A taho a daku” (Come and be struck down!). These are serious games because someone is going to get hurt before it is over. In Shanci , young boys ages 12-21, fight with sharp metal bracelets around their wrist and the fight is not over until someone is cut and blood flows. Deep gashes and large scares over the face, neck, and body are commonplace. Bravery is on sale here. Outsiders frown upon the scars on the young men as brutal, savage and primitive, but the local village young women look upon them with admiration and affection, as a sign of strength and bravery.
When one recognizes his take and takes up the call to fight, the person then recites a kirari, which is a spontaneous invocation whereby the fighter recites his history and his past deeds. In the kirari the person summons all his ancestors and all his spiritual protectors to help him fight. A Shanci warrior from Datsa, Nigeria, says one does not know what to say until the drums are playing. Another from Marmora says one does not learn kirari, but when the moment comes one will know what to say. The warrior trembles and is in a hypnotic, semi-possessed state. All those present, while listening to the kirari, feel the severity of the moment. Someone may die, or become seriously hurt. One feels the spirit of his ancestors and his protectors emerging from the ground, the air, and the heavens. In Yoruba parlance his Egguns comes. One senses the arrival of bravery and courage. It is the voice that is pulling the spirit. In karate it is called Chi.
And so in Osain, there is a special group of chants which is reserved only for the herbs and which are sung to consecrate the plants, to pull the spirit of Osain from the ether in the air and to implant it into the omiero so that God can be born.
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