Category Archive: Religious Tenets

The Lessons of Obara Meji

Pumpkins are a very important ebó when someone receives the odu Obara Meji. They are a gift for Oshún and Changó to bring prosperity.

Pumpkins are a very important ebó when someone receives the odu Obara Meji. They are a gift for Oshún and Changó to bring prosperity.

Obara meji (6-6) is a powerful and complex odu within diloggún and Ifá divination that can teach us much about our power as olorishas. This beautiful odu teaches us about the power of our words, the importance of our legacy that we leave behind and our own purpose in life. Whether you have this odu in your itá, or if you receive this in a reading, or if you are just a student of odu, this sign can show you how to cultivate your power as a priest.

The King Does Not Lie

In the odu Obara Meji we say “The King Does Not Lie”. This is an odu of royalty, and this sign indicates that the person being read with the shells is of a regal nature. But being a king does not mean you get to boss everyone around – as tempting as that may be. Royalty is not just about ancestry, it is about cultivating the proper manner of conduct and recognizing what it takes to lead people.

A simple trek through any history book teaches us about good monarchs and corrupt ones. Kings, being given a divine right to rule, are often unchecked, untrained leaders who run amok. If they are a malevolent, ill-tempered and volatile king who lashes out at anyone who challenges his rule, they are hated by their people and become the focus of bloody revolutions. However, if they are benevolent, even tempered, receptive and responsive to the needs of their people, they will stay firmly seated on their throne of power for their entire lives (as will their descendants).

This sign teaches us that to be a good leader, one must be honest, forthright and have integrity. To live up to the royal inheritance this sign promises we must learn that honesty is the cornerstone of power; and the more one lives an honest life the more power one’s words have in the ears of those around them.

But just as power can cut both ways, so too can honesty be a knife that cuts the wielder and the victim. Honesty must be delivered with tact. Tact is the sheath that keeps honesty from hurting everyone around you. Delivering truth in gentle and non-offensive ways is the mark of a good leader. Hiding truth behind lies or a resentful holding of the truth to avoid confrontation, however, is the mark of weakness. The king does not lie, and so we must learn to deliver the truth as a loving parent would to his children, without anger and without vengeful bitterness.

He Who Knows Doesn’t Die Like He Who Doesn’t Know

Lying is forbidden in the odu Obara Meji. It kills the power of a person's word and those very lies can manifest into reality.

Lying is forbidden in the odu Obara Meji. It kills the power of a person’s word and those very lies can manifest into reality.

This famous saying is well-known by olorishas, aborishas and aleyos in Santeria. Many times it is said as an adage to remind us all that knowledge is power and to be forewarned is to be forearmed. Obara Meji teaches us that in order to survive we must know the ways of the world, the nature of our true self, and the path to destiny.

Divination gives us a glimpse of our path toward destiny. It is Eleggua orienting us and letting us know where we are in our path, what lies immediately ahead, and how to prevent any calamities through ebó. In ebó there is a solution to bring us back into the graces of iré, but most people forget that ebó had two parts to it: sacrifice and behavior modification. While sacrifice does give us a spiritual technology to dramatically alter the flow of ashé in our lives and give us the lift we need to overcome obstacles and osogbo, it is behavioral modification that prevents us from falling back into the patterns that caused that osogbo in the first place.

As a diviner, I’ve found that clients are too focused on things they have to do, versus on the kind of a person they need to be. There is more power and positivity to be found in following the behavioral restrictions, the taboos and the advise that odu gives us than just in the act of offering fruit to the orishas or taking a ritual bath. Yes, the offerings and rituals are important too, but they are in vain if you are unwilling to make the change within yourself after your consultation with diloggún.

He who knows doesn’t die, like he who doesn’t know. Obara Meji teaches us that knowledge is the key to our survival. Not only does divination forewarn us against our pitfalls that lead to osogbo, but so too does knowledge of self. In this sign, understanding one’s own weaknesses and strengths is critical. Weaknesses should be something we actively work on overcoming, healing and cultivating into strengths. Yet it is often our strengths, perverted by neurotic behavior that manifest as our weaknesses. For example, if you are incredibly well spoken (and Obara Meji does signal someone with a fast tongue) that may be a strength, until those fast-flung insults and quips start flying in a moment of anger. Now your strength of being a good speaker has become a weakness of being a rude and insulting jerk. Understanding the nature of your weaknesses is half the battle, and Obara Meji teaches us that it can save our very lives.

With Your Tongue You Can Save Or Destroy The Village

In Obara Meji we say that the client’s tongue (or speech) has lots of power. We say that the tongue can save or destroy a village, and we would be well served to remember this when we are under this odu’s influence. We often forget the power and influence that our words have over others. An innocent, but poorly-timed quip can utterly destroy a person’s self-esteem or ruin an event. Similarly, a well-timed and crafted word of encouragement can lift up a person’s spirit or even save a village. This is the power of Obara Meji.

We are well served to remember the power of the tongue when we are under the influence of Obara Meji. We can utilize this power to our advantage if we are crafty, intelligent and strategic. Our powers will manifest into reality, and as such anything we speak WILL BE! We can speak affirmations and positive goals when under the influence of Obara Meji knowing that this odu’s power will manifest them. We should avoid speaking negative comments, insults, curses and lies because our tongue’s ashé under this sign will make them be so. Remember that controlling the tongue is the key to succeeding under this sign. Use the tongue’s power for constructive ends and you will ride Obara Meji’s power to the benefit of all.

This is just a cursory exploration of Obara Meji but it is something every priest needs to keep in mind. Our ashé is seated on our heads, but manifests through our words and actions. Remember it is our actions that become the legacy we leave behind. We should all work to leave behind a legacy of constructive deeds, good character  and positive memories that our descendants would recall us with fond memories and praise our names for generations.

Ewo – Sacred Taboo in Santeria

Dietary taboos keep those foods sacred so that one day they may be used in ebó to save you.

Within the religion of Santería Lucumi/Lukumí, there is a ritualized practice of taboo. Taboos, called ewo in Lucumi, are restrictions placed upon a person’s behavior, diet or lifestyle according to religious doctrines. Taboos play a critical role in the practice of Santería but the reasons for them are often misunderstood. Some mistakenly think of taboos as a difficult penance or sacrifice a person makes in their life because they are afraid of divine punishment from the orishas. This is very far from the truth. Ewo is something dictated through divination for the benefit of the practitioner himself.

Taboos are typically indicated through diloggun divination. They can be temporary taboos prescribed to a client for a restricted time – like a month – while that person is under the influence of the odu (divine sign) that came out in their reading. They can also be permanent taboos that apply for a person’s entire life. These are usually prescribed for an individual when they receive a life reading (itá) after initiation. (Life readings are only received when a person is initiated in Kariocha as a priest, or when they receive their Awofakán/Ikofá of Orunmila, or if they feed an orisha a four-legged sacrifice and receive itá afterward – including with the reception of a new orisha’s mysteries.)

In Santeria the most common form of taboo is a dietary ewo. These indicate that certain kinds of foods are off-limits. Typical examples include taboos against eating eggs, ram meat, red beans, reheated foods or pumpkin. There are countless other examples. Some of these are done for hygienic reasons like the reheating of foods. Other taboos are prescribed to prevent problems with food being laced with items, like a taboo against drinking dark drinks (in which powders or poisons can be hidden). But the most common reason for prescribing a food taboo is for that person’s spiritual salvation through ebó (ritual or sacrifice).

Red beans are an example of a dietary taboo (ewo). They are commonly used in spiritual cleansing to keep off disease.

The practice of ewo (taboo) is born in the odu Ejioko (2) from our divination systems. Ejioko taught humanity how to avoid premature and untimely death. He showed us how to use ewo (taboos) as a way of making something sacred. By abstaining from certain foods or items, we give them ritual importance and power. One day, the power we’ve given those very items will come to our aid and save us through the power of ebó (sacrifice and ritual). For example, by giving up the consumption of ram meat, one day when you need it most, the sacrifice of a ram to a particular orisha will be the very ebó (ritual) that saves you from ikú (death). The same goes for the other foods you have taboos against. This is the true spiritual significance of ewo and why it is so powerful.

There are also behavior taboos. These are usually assigned to keep a person in a state of iré (blessings) and prevent them from falling into osogbo (misfortunes). Each odu in the diloggún indicates a person’s strengths and weaknesses. For example, the odu Ogundá (3) warns about propensity for violence, therefore that person is given a behavioral ewo against keeping weapons in the house, and to avoid being out on the street at night where there can be violence. These ewo exist to keep a person save from harm. Common behavioral taboos include: no alcohol, never raising a hand against someone, no love triangles, never hitting children, never disrespecting elders, and not loitering in groups of three.

A taboo is only powerful because that person adheres to it. In the case of food taboos, if a person refuses to follow taboo, that substance can no longer save them when they need to do ebó. Breaking a taboo only hurts the person who is refusing to follow them. They are rendering one of the most powerful tools they have powerless. In the case of behavioral taboos, not following them only draws osogbo (misfortunes) to a person and invites problems in a person’s life. The orishas aren’t going to get angry at you for breaking your taboos, but you are inviting problems into your life by not adhering to them.

If you receive ewo (taboos) in a diloggún reading the best thing you can do is stick to them and do your best to follow the behavioral advice that your diviner recommends. This is how we can change a person’s destiny, remove osogbo from their life and restore that person’s balanced state of iré (blessings). If you break a taboo, return to proper behavior and continue to respect it going forward but know that continued breaking of ewo (taboo) will only hurt yourself.

Iré and Osogbo – Blessings and Misfortunes

Humans eternally struggle to stay in iré (blessings) while constantly being assaulted by osogbo (misfortunes) – yet both must exist in the world.

In the religion of Santería Lucumi/Lukumí, we have a unique cosmology that is based on a binary understanding of energy and balance. There is hot and there is cold. There is light and dark. There is peace and there is chaos. These binary compliments to one another must exist because we live in a relative universe where things are defined relative to one another. In order to understand Santeria’s core ethical concepts we must first define this binary nature of the universe.

On the one hand we have iré. Iré means “blessings”. Iré is something beautiful, perfectly balanced, in alignment with your fate, cool, calm, organized, rational, white, light and peaceful. Iré is singular in nature – but we can experience iré in many manifestations: iré omó – blessings of children, iré owó – blessings of prosperity, iré alafia – blessings of peace, iré arikú – blessings of longevity. But ultimately there is only one iré and it is fleeting and difficult to maintain.

On the other hand we have osogbo. Osogbo means “misfortune”. Osogbo rules the Earth, and osogbo is everywhere. Osogbo is difficult, challenging, unbalanced, hot, chaotic, irrational, dark, black and often violent. Where iré is singular in nature, osogbo has many types. Each form of osogbo is seen as an entity, an actual being, that brings forth certain kinds of misfortune. Here are some of the osogbos:

  • Ikú – death
  • Arun – sickness
  • Eyó – litigation or accusations
  • Arayé – chaos and arguments
  • Iña – war
  • Ona – closed roads and obstacles
  • Ofo – loss
  • Ogo – witchcraft
  • Akoba – bad
  • Fitibó – unexpected sudden death
  • Egba – Paralysis
  • Oran – crimes
  • Epe – a curse
  • Ashelú – imprisonment

Each of these is depicted as an actual entity, where iré is not. Iré is a state of being. To be in iré means to be in perfect alignment and it is akin to being on the edge of a knife; it is easy to fall off on either side of it. Ultimately we all want to experience iré and its benefits, yet we are constantly assaulted by osogbo in the world.

Why Osogbo Rules the World

There is a patakí (legend) that explains why evil exists in the world, and why Osogbo rules it. This patakí can be found in the odu Okana Meji (1-1). In ancient times Iré and Osogbo were friends and both wanted to accomplish much in the world. Iré was older than Osogbo, and always had a bright and positive attitude. Osogbo was younger and was always brooding and unhappy. They both went to Olofi (God) and asked what they needed to do to be great in life. Olofi told both of them to make ebó (sacrifice) and then return to him the next day. Iré, being happy-go-lucky decided that he was tired and would have plenty of time the next morning to do his ebó so he went to bed with visions of his future greatness dancing in his mind.

Osogbo, however, was very diligent. He went home from Olofi’s house, gathered the items he needed and did ebó right away as Olofi had commanded. The next morning Iré over slept and when he awoke realized it was time for him to leave to be at Olofi’s house. Osogbo got up early, bathed and dressed in his finest clothes to appear before Olofi. Both met up outside Olofi’s house and entered together.

Olofi looked down at them and asked, “Well, did you do as I commanded?” Iré shamefully admitted he didn’t have the time to get it done and hadn’t completed his ebó. Osogbo responded with a confident, “Yes. As you commanded.” Olofi then decreed that since Iré was older, he would always be given one chance to speak, but if he missed his opportunity, Osogbo would rule thereafter. Osogbo was given reign over the earth because he completed his ebó and he multiplied to cover the world with his children.

Therefore, osogbo is plentiful, rules the earth and is found everywhere, while iré is singular in nature and only gets one chance to be present. He is undependable and unpredictable, thus osogbo tends to prevail in most situations.

If There is No Evil, There Can Be No Good

“If there is no evil, there can be no good.” thus speaks the odu Okana Meji (1-1) and it explains to use that without the evil experiences we go through in life, we will never be given an impetus to strive to better ourselves. Without the relative experiences of evil, mankind does not appreciate good. Without tense and trying moments, we will never know how relaxing and blessed those moments of iré really are. Without the trials and tribulations we face, we would never have ebó and we would never be able to petition Elegguá or the other orishas, to open our roads, change our fates and better our lives. This is the essence of Okana Meji (1-1) and of the nature of Iré and Osogbo.

The diloggún divination system works in such a manner that it determines whether the client who is being read is in a state of iré or osogbo. We ask only once to see if the person is in iré (blessings). If they are not, then they are in osogbo (misfortunes) and the type of misfortune is identified. The way diloggún works, the orisha who is speaking through his or her shells advises the client how to avoid or get themselves out of osogbo through behavioral modifications, taboos and ebó.

Ebó is unique in that it allows us to change our fates. It magically seals a pact with the orisha or egun offering to help us, so that they can lift osogbo off of us and return us to a state of iré. The necessary offering or ebó is marked in the divination and once the client completes his obligatory ebó he is brought back into a state of iré.

But always remember, iré is transitory. Iré is unpredictable. Osogbo rules this world. We will always face osogbo and will always need to do ebó to help get osogbo off our backs. We are in a perpetual struggle to attain and maintain iré and the orishas, divination and ebó are our keys to getting there.