Friday, July 30, 2004

Introduction to Orishas/Orixas

Be aware that the concepts involving the Orishas vary from each branch of the African religion. Umbanda has its own ideas and rituals, which may or may not be totally different from closer religions.

The names of the Orishas will be kept in their Portuguese version: Oxala for Obatala, Oxum for Oshun, Ogum for Ogun, Iansa for Oya, Xango for Chango, Iemanja for Yemonja and Oxossi for Ochosi.

As many people may think, the Orishas are not gods. They are deities created by one God, Olodunmare. The name Orisha (Orixa in Portuguese) comes from the Yoruba OR or ORI, which means light or head and XA, which means mister, chief, owner. So, Orixa means the Owner of the Head.

There are 7 lines in Umbanda, each one governed by one Orisha. The description of each line will be given in the specific chapter of the Orisha.
In Umbanda the Orishas are deities from a superior astral plane called “Aruanda”, which in Earth represents the forces of Nature. Most of the time the Orishas are believed to be the forces of Nature itself – they are only a representation of those forces. For instance, Chango represents the power of the thunder and the fire caused by the flash lightning.

Each Orisha has its own characteristics, personality and behavior. These characteristics usually reflect in their sons and daughters (the medium protected by the Orisha).

Generally speaking the Orisha does not incorporate the medium in Umbanda. The medium are the people who are initiated in the religion and that are able to act as a link between the spiritual world and the physical one.

What we see controlling the medium during the rituals are the phalanges of the Orishas. These are elevated spirits that are authorized to do charity under the supervision of one Orisha.

The spirits of the phalanges represent the Orishas and sometimes they are even believed to be the Orisha itself, as its strength is the pure emanation of the Orisha. The spirits of the phalanges do not smoke, do not drink, do not speak.

The spirits that work in the temples and use smoking, drinking (amongst other procedures) to heal are usually called “entities”. They are the vibration or emanation of one of the seven Orishas.

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