The Òrìṣà: the Gods of Yoruba Folk Religion

Written by Dyami Millarson

The Yoruba folk religion is centred around the worship of the Òrìṣà or Òòṣà — a concept of the Divine which may be compared to that of Surinamian folk religion: the Winti.

Òrìṣà or Òòṣà may be interpreted as Týr ‘one of the Gods’ and Tívar ‘Gods.’

The Yoruba bring blood sacrifices to the Tívar (see here for example). They believe that the male Tívar eat male animals, and female Tívar female animals — the Germanic ancestors considered it proper to offer male animals to the male Tívar; they may also have considered it proper to offer female animals to the female Tívar. I said in my article on Heimdallr as a Liminal Deity: “The Germanic peoples were fond of sacrificing particular male animals to Gods, and this is understandable from a practical standpoint, as you would want to keep your female animals and get rid of your excessive male animals.” The exception to the Yoruba tradition of matching the sex of sacrificial victims to the sex of the Deity is the Yoruba Othin, whom they give female animals to eat.

Not unlike the Germanic forebears, the Yoruba sprinke blood on the worshippers and the Tívar as reported here: “The blood is sprinkled on the alter and the Olokun-pot and image. The priestess dips her second finger in the blood and, with it, anoints the forehead of the client.” Another source says: “A white fowl is killed. Some of its blood is poured on the shrine; the rest is used to anoint the foreheads of the worshipers.” So this is how, according to the Yoruba folk religious tradition, the Tívar and Their worshippers are blessed with blood, the energising liquid of life.

The worship of Tívar was the traditional religion of the Oyo Empire, which existed from the 14th to the 19th centuries.

A worshipper of the Yoruba Tívar is called an olórìṣà, oníṣẹ̀ṣe, and abọ̀rìṣà.

When referring to their Tívar, the Yoruba may use heiti ‘epithets,’ which they call oríkì.

The Yoruba produce Eddas — alternatively one might say Eddaic lays or skaldic poems — to praise their Gods. Skáldskapr ‘poetry, skaldic language’ is called ewì by the Yoruba.

The Yoruba consider their lore of the Tívar to be historical, which is in agreement with the view of the Germanic pagan ancestors that what is known about the Gods is a part of history; in conclusion, there is traditonally no separation between Divine lore and history.

Othin is called Ọbàtálá by the Yoruba. They consider him the Creator Deity and Sky Deity. A heiti of Othin, whom the Yoruba normally call Ọbàtálá in their folk religion, is Òrìṣà-ńlá.

The Yoruba call Njörth, God of the Sea, Olóòkun (see here for example). The Yoruba consider him the God of Wealth; as I mentioned in my article on Heimdallr as a Liminal Deity, the Sea is a symbol of wealth. There are various accounts of Njörth’s sex: the Yoruba consider Njörth to be male, female, or androgynous/sexless. In my recent article on the Njörth/Nerthus twins, I expressed the view that it may be too far-fetched to consider Njörth a hermaphrodite; after all, the Norse sources clearly consider Njörth a male, the Roman source clearly considers Nerthus a female, and there is a clear tradition of worshipping twin pairs, which, to my mind, makes it evident that Njörth should traditionally be a twin deity like Freyr and Freyja, who are the offspring of this Njörth twin. We learn from page 62 of Santería: correcting the myths and uncovering the realities of a growing religion that the Yoruba Njörth is considered male by some living near the coast, while the Yoruba Njörth is considered female by some living more towards the inland; a geography-based coastal vs. continental divide in Njörth worship traditions as an explanation for the sex discrepancy of the Njörth in the sources relating to Germanic religion has certainly also been in the back of my mind. Original Botanica claims that “[the] sacrificial animals [of the Yoruba Njörth] are roosters, ducks, pigeons, guinea hens, pigs, and geese.” Roosters are clearly male animals, which would suggest — according to the Yoruba tradition of giving male animals to Gods and female animals to Goddesses — that the Deity in question is associated with the male sex. Elsewhere it is said that Orunmila recited an incantation, where it is revealed that pregnant goats are considered appropriate blóts (blood sacrifices) for Njörth; given that she-geats as sacrificial victims are naturally associated with Goddesses who eat female beings, one would be led to assume that the Yoruba Njörth is a female. An elder source informs us about Njörth’s wife who has a similar-sounding name, which seems not unlike the situation with the Germanic Njörth: “Olokun has a wife named Olokun-su, or Elusu, who lives in the harbour bar at Lagos.” The discrepancy in the accounts of the sex of the Yoruba Njörth may also have something to do with the name of the wife, which is a notion worth investigating further. The colour white, which is associated with purity, is a symbol of the Yoruba Njörth (see here). This reminds me of Heimdallr due to his connection with the colour white and his possible connection with the sea through his birth (see my article on Heimdallr as a Liminal Deity).

The Yoruba know Freyr and Freyja, and they call these Deities Ọlọ́sà and Ajé.

Loki is known among the Yoruba as Èṣù. The Yoruba believe He plays the role of mediator between Gods and men; for, according to the Yoruba, He brings sacrifices and prayers from the latter to the former.

The Yoruba Thor is Ṣàngó. The Yoruba believe him to be responsible for thunder, fire, stones, manhood, and brave warriors. The Yoruba believe Thor to have three wives: Ọbà, Ọ̀ṣun, and Ọya.

Tyr, the God of War, is named Ògún.

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