Unlike other religions where God is distant and impersonal, in Santeria we have a close, personal relationship with the orishas. We do not cower before our gods, we speak with them, listen to them and follow their guidance. The primary way we receive guidance from the orishas offer is through diloggún divination.
The system uses 16 cowries that have been opened, consecrated and empowered (through blood sacrifice) to speak for the orishas. Each orisha has his or her own set of diloggún, however Elegguá’s diloggun are the ones used set for general consultations because he has the ability to speak for all of the orishas. His set of cowries has 21 shells (only 16 of which are used in a reading). Almost all of the other orishas have 18 cowries in their set.
Diloggun divination is one of the most complicated and extensive divination systems in the world. Using the basic combinations of odu (letters) that are part of the system results in 256 different combinations. If you add in Opira (0) as an odu you can increase that number by an additional 33 odu to a total of 289. By comparison, the Tarot is composed of only 78 possible cards. A talented diviner dedicates his life to the study of odu, learning all of their meanings, their associated legends, taboos, strengths, weaknesses, ceremonies, offerings and parables.
What to Expect in a Diloggún Reading
In a Diloggun reading, Elegguá will speak to you and reveal the energy pattern that is currently taking place in your life. Think of it as him pointing out what crossroad you are at on your path to destiny. The reading will reveal whether you are in a state of iré (balance and blessings) or osogbo (unbalance and misfortunes). The nature and origin of that iré or osogbo will also be revealed. If you are found to be in a state of osogbo the diviner will prescribe ebó (rituals and sacrifice) to alter your destiny and put you back on track to a balanced state of iré. At the end of the reading you’ll be given an opportunity to ask any yes or no questions about any aspect of your life.
It is through diloggún divination and ebó that we are able to change our fate. These tools allow the orishas or the ancestors to intervene on our behalf, to fend off the forces of misfortune, and to put us back in line with our divine purpose. Diloggun is also used to determine whether a person has a role to play in Santeria and whether they should be initiated (as well what type of initiation they should receive). Diloggun can be used to determine a person’s tutelary orisha as well, but this should not determined until an individual is already preparing for kariocha.
Diloggun divination can only be performed by an Olorisha*. If you are interested in receiving a diloggun divination, Rev. Dr. E. offers diloggun (cowrie shell) readings through his website ConjureDoctor.com. If you would like to receive it in person you are welcome to make an appointment to visit our church.
*The Ifá sect of Babalawos do not read with cowrie shells, they read with the okuele (diviner’s chain) or ikin (palm nuts) and the opón ifá (table of ifá). The Santeria Church of the Orishas is an ocha-centric spiritual lineage and we do not work extensively with Babalawos, so we do not offer Ifá divination – only diloggún divination.