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.