African Traditional Religion : Vodun: The Seven African Powers

Omowale Jabali

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THE SEVEN AFRICAN POWERS

SIETE POTENCIAS


The religion of the West African Yoruba people was forced underground by centuries of slavery in the Americas. Several hybrid forms of worship, of which the best known is Santeria, were created by deliberate conflation of Yoruba spiritual entities with Catholic ones.
The Yoruba people of West Africa recognize three levels of spiritual force: one creator god called Olodumare; numerous nature or messenger spirits (similar to Christian angels) called the orishas, and the revered spirits of the dead, called the eggun. Under the yoke of Catholicism, Olodumare was identified with Jehovah, and the orishas were identified with various Catholic saints or angels. In the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean, seven of the many orishas were combined into a commonly seen image called "The Seven African Powers;" however, there are more than seven orishas, and most of them are identified with more than one saint.
Wherever people of African descent were converted to Catholicism, different patron saintswere spontaneously identified with their own African deities and spirits. However, even though there was no central hierarchy to make the ascriptions, as far as the Yoruba orisha were conserned, the hagiography and iconic symbols associated with each deity and each saint produced a variable set of flexible lists of correspondences between nine of the orishas and more than a dozen Catholic saints:
  • Eleggua / Elegua: Messenger, Opener of the Way, Trickster
    Saint Simon Peter
    San Martin (Caballero)
    Saint Anthony (of Padua)
    El Nino de Atocha
    Saint Expedite
    Saint Michael Archangel
  • Obatala / Obatalia: Father-Mother of Humanity, Bringer of Peace and Harmony
    Our Lady of Mercy
    Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
  • Yemaya / Yemalia / Yemalla: Spirit of Motherhood, the Ocean, and the Moon
    Our Lady of Regla
    Mary, Star of the Sea (Stella Maris)
  • Oya: Female Warrior, Spirit of Wind, Storm, Thunder, and Magic
    Our Lady of Candelaria
    Saint Catherine
    Saint Theresa
  • Oshun / Ochum: Lady of Love, Beauty, and Sexuality, Spirit of Fresh Water
    Our Lady of Caridad del Cobre (Our Mother of Charity)
  • Chango / Shango / Xango / Sango: Fourth King of the Yoruba, immortalized as Spirit of Thunder
    Saint Barbara
    Saint Jerome
  • Ogun / Ogum: Lord of Metals, Minerals, Tools, War, Birds, and Wild Beasts
    Saint John the Baptist
    Saint Anthony (of Padua)
    Saint George
    San Pedro (Saint Simon Peter)
  • Orula / Orunmila: Teacher, Prophet
    Saint John the Evangelist taking Jesus down from cross
  • Babaluaye: Spirit of Disease and Sickness, also Provider of Money to the Poor
    Saint Lazarus of Dives
The Seven African Powers image most often seen on hoodoo soaps and anointing oils consists of seven saints (sometimes given orisha names and sometimes saint names) surrounding a central circle in which is shown the crucifixion of Jesus, watched by a rooster on a pedestal. Inside the circle of saints the word "Olofi" sometimes appears. The full image is found on a common Mexican package amulet that combines three coins, an image of the Holy Trinity and a print of The Seven African Powers The inner Crucifixion image, without the outer ring of saints, appears on candlesand other articles marked "Just Judge" or "Faithful Judge" in English or "Justo Juez" in Spanish.
According to Blair Whitmer,
The phrase "The Seven African Powers" is misleading. These seven deities are only seven out of a large pantheon of Orishas. These are worshipped in several different religions brought to the New World including Santeria (in Cuba), Candomble (in Brazil), Arara (in Cuba) as well as many others. The phrase "Seven African Powers" is mostly predominant in African-American hoodoo; in Spanish-speaking nations, they are the Siete Potencias (Seven Powers).
As a priest in Santeria, I'm biased towards the belief that proper worship of Orishas requires the direct input and guidance of a priest in the chosen religion. The same is not necessarily true if they are simply being invoked for magical uses, but that's not really "worship" ... at least not in MY book. Personally, I would advise extreme caution in invoking an Orisha for magical uses without the associated religious practice and guidance from a priest.​
However, regardless of what is "proper," hoodoo practitioners -- especially those who live in close proximity with Latin Americans -- do work with the Seven African Powers in a magical context, perceiving them as deities of luck, protection, and power. I have some opinions on how this practice has developed. This material is not substantiated by citations from scholarly materials, but rather is the result of my having lived through the times described and having witnessed these events. My information is not complete, however, and i welcome any additional comments.
Now, even as this Seven African Powers image was meeting general acceptance in the Cuban Santeria community that resulted in Italian production of it as a holy card, an entirely unrelated event was ocurring, namely, the immigration of a wave of Santeria-practicing Cubans to America during the late 1970s. Bearing the Seven African Powers image with them, these folks ran smack into the ongoing African-American social movement called African Cultural Nationalism.

http://www.luckymojo.com/sevenafricanpowers.html
 

Omowale Jabali

The Cosmic Journeyman
MEMBER
Sep 29, 2005
20,817
9,453
Temple of Kali, Yubaland
Occupation
Creative Industrialist
THE SEVEN AFRICAN POWERS

SIETE POTENCIAS


The religion of the West African Yoruba people was forced underground by centuries of slavery in the Americas. Several hybrid forms of worship, of which the best known is Santeria, were created by deliberate conflation of Yoruba spiritual entities with Catholic ones.
The Yoruba people of West Africa recognize three levels of spiritual force: one creator god called Olodumare; numerous nature or messenger spirits (similar to Christian angels) called the orishas, and the revered spirits of the dead, called the eggun. Under the yoke of Catholicism, Olodumare was identified with Jehovah, and the orishas were identified with various Catholic saints or angels. In the United States, Mexico, and the Caribbean, seven of the many orishas were combined into a commonly seen image called "The Seven African Powers;" however, there are more than seven orishas, and most of them are identified with more than one saint.
Wherever people of African descent were converted to Catholicism, different patron saintswere spontaneously identified with their own African deities and spirits. However, even though there was no central hierarchy to make the ascriptions, as far as the Yoruba orisha were conserned, the hagiography and iconic symbols associated with each deity and each saint produced a variable set of flexible lists of correspondences between nine of the orishas and more than a dozen Catholic saints:
  • Eleggua / Elegua: Messenger, Opener of the Way, Trickster
    Saint Simon Peter
    San Martin (Caballero)
    Saint Anthony (of Padua)
    El Nino de Atocha
    Saint Expedite
    Saint Michael Archangel
  • Obatala / Obatalia: Father-Mother of Humanity, Bringer of Peace and Harmony
    Our Lady of Mercy
    Our Lady of Mt. Carmel
  • Yemaya / Yemalia / Yemalla: Spirit of Motherhood, the Ocean, and the Moon
    Our Lady of Regla
    Mary, Star of the Sea (Stella Maris)
  • Oya: Female Warrior, Spirit of Wind, Storm, Thunder, and Magic
    Our Lady of Candelaria
    Saint Catherine
    Saint Theresa
  • Oshun / Ochum: Lady of Love, Beauty, and Sexuality, Spirit of Fresh Water
    Our Lady of Caridad del Cobre (Our Mother of Charity)
  • Chango / Shango / Xango / Sango: Fourth King of the Yoruba, immortalized as Spirit of Thunder
    Saint Barbara
    Saint Jerome
  • Ogun / Ogum: Lord of Metals, Minerals, Tools, War, Birds, and Wild Beasts
    Saint John the Baptist
    Saint Anthony (of Padua)
    Saint George
    San Pedro (Saint Simon Peter)
  • Orula / Orunmila: Teacher, Prophet
    Saint John the Evangelist taking Jesus down from cross
  • Babaluaye: Spirit of Disease and Sickness, also Provider of Money to the Poor
    Saint Lazarus of Dives
The Seven African Powers image most often seen on hoodoo soaps and anointing oils consists of seven saints (sometimes given orisha names and sometimes saint names) surrounding a central circle in which is shown the crucifixion of Jesus, watched by a rooster on a pedestal. Inside the circle of saints the word "Olofi" sometimes appears. The full image is found on a common Mexican package amulet that combines three coins, an image of the Holy Trinity and a print of The Seven African Powers The inner Crucifixion image, without the outer ring of saints, appears on candlesand other articles marked "Just Judge" or "Faithful Judge" in English or "Justo Juez" in Spanish.

According to Blair Whitmer,
The phrase "The Seven African Powers" is misleading. These seven deities are only seven out of a large pantheon of Orishas. These are worshipped in several different religions brought to the New World including Santeria (in Cuba), Candomble (in Brazil), Arara (in Cuba) as well as many others. The phrase "Seven African Powers" is mostly predominant in African-American hoodoo; in Spanish-speaking nations, they are the Siete Potencias (Seven Powers).​
As a priest in Santeria, I'm biased towards the belief that proper worship of Orishas requires the direct input and guidance of a priest in the chosen religion. The same is not necessarily true if they are simply being invoked for magical uses, but that's not really "worship" ... at least not in MY book. Personally, I would advise extreme caution in invoking an Orisha for magical uses without the associated religious practice and guidance from a priest.​
However, regardless of what is "proper," hoodoo practitioners -- especially those who live in close proximity with Latin Americans -- do work with the Seven African Powers in a magical context, perceiving them as deities of luck, protection, and power. I have some opinions on how this practice has developed. This material is not substantiated by citations from scholarly materials, but rather is the result of my having lived through the times described and having witnessed these events. My information is not complete, however, and i welcome any additional comments.
Now, even as this Seven African Powers image was meeting general acceptance in the Cuban Santeria community that resulted in Italian production of it as a holy card, an entirely unrelated event was ocurring, namely, the immigration of a wave of Santeria-practicing Cubans to America during the late 1970s. Bearing the Seven African Powers image with them, these folks ran smack into the ongoing African-American social movement called African Cultural Nationalism.

http://www.luckymojo.com/sevenafricanpowers.html
The above link deals mainly with the Yoruba, and their corresponding Orisha, however, there are similarities with the deities of Vodun. My intent was to initate some discussion to give some balance and reconition to the cultural heritage of Vodu. I think it is important to inner-stand the linkages between our numerous ROOT CULTURES and their traditions.

Here is a link to one of the most comprhensive sites of which I am sure many here are already familiar.

http://www.mamiwata.com/culture.html
 

Omowale Jabali

The Cosmic Journeyman
MEMBER
Sep 29, 2005
20,817
9,453
Temple of Kali, Yubaland
Occupation
Creative Industrialist
The above link deals mainly with the Yoruba, and their corresponding Orisha, however, there are similarities with the deities of Vodun. My intent was to initate some discussion to give some balance and reconition to the cultural heritage of Vodu. I think it is important to inner-stand the linkages between our numerous ROOT CULTURES and their traditions.

Here is a link to one of the most comprhensive sites of which I am sure many here are already familiar.

http://www.mamiwata.com/culture.html
Vodun or Vudun (spirit in the Fon and Ewe languages, pronounced [vodṹ] with a nasalhigh-tone u; also spelled Vodon, Vodoun, Voudou, Voodoo etc.) is an indigenousorganised religion of coastal West Africa from Nigeria to Ghana. Vodun is practised by the Ewe, Kabye, Mina and Fon peoples of southeastern Ghana, southern and central Togo, southern and central Benin and (under a different name) the Yoruba of southwestern Nigeria.[1]
It is distinct from the various traditional animistic religions in the interiors of these same countries and is the main origin for religions of similar name found among the African Diaspora in the New World such as Haitian Vodou, the Vudu of Puerto Rico and the Dominican Republic, Candomblé Jejé in Brazil (which uses the term Vodum), Louisiana Voodoo and Santería in Cuba. All these are syncretized with Christianity and the traditional religions of the Kongo people of Congo and Angola.[2]

Theology and practice

Vodun cosmology centers around the vodun spirits and other elements of divine essence that govern the Earth, a hierarchy that range in power from major deities governing the forces of nature and human society to the spirits of individual streams, trees, and rocks, as well as dozens of ethnic vodun, defenders of a certain clan, tribe, or nation. The vodun are the centre of religious life, similarly in many ways to doctrines such as the intercession of saints and angels that made Vodun appear compatible with Christianity, especially Catholicism, and produced syncretic religions such as Haitian Vodou. Adherents also emphasise ancestor worship and hold that the spirits of the dead live side by side with the world of the living, each family of spirits having its own female priesthood, sometimes hereditary when is from mother to blood daughter.


Voodoo fetish market in Lomé, Togo.
Patterns of worship follow various dialects, gods, practices, songs and rituals. Vodun recognises one God with many helpers called Orishas. A single divine Creator, called variously Mawu or Nana Buluku is an androgynous being who in one tradition bore seven children and gave each rule over a realm of nature - animals, earth, and sea - or else these children are inter-ethnic and related to natural phenomena or to historical or mythical individuals. The creator embodies a dual cosmogonic principle of which Mawu the moon and Lisa the sun are respectively the female and male aspects, often portrayed as the twin children of the Creator. [1]
Mawu's youngest child, Legba, was to remain with her and act as a go-between with her other children: in some clans he is young and virile while in Haiti he takes the form of an old man. Other deities might include Mami Wata, god/desses of the waters, Gu, ruling iron and smithcraft, Sakpata, who rules diseases and many others. Eshu, a messenger deity who relays messages between the human world and the world of the Orishas, is depicted as a dark, short man with a large staff and often a pipe, candy or his fingers in his mouth. As the mediator between the gods and the living he maintains balance, order, peace and communication.
All creation is considered divine and therefore contains the power of the divine. This is how medicines such as herbal remedies are understood, and explains the ubiquitous use of mundane objects in religious ritual. Voodoo talismans, called "fetishes", are objects such as statues or dried animal parts that are sold for their healing and spiritually rejuvenating properties. Sorcerers and sorceresses called Botono (or Aze/Azetos) are believed to cast spells on enemies on behalf of supplicants, calling upon spirits to bring misfortune or harm to a person or group. Animal sacrifice is a common way to show respect and thankfulness to the gods.
Mama, or Queen Mothers, are usually elder women who are elected by the kingmakers upon the death of the previous Queen Mother and are given the name of one of their highly respected female ancestors. The woman who is chosen is usually the oldest women in her clan, but this tradition may be overruled due to factors such as health, education, and national influence. The responsibilities of a Queen Mother are mostly geared towards activities among women. They take part in the organisation and the running of markets and are also responsible for their upkeep, which is vitally important because marketplaces are the focal points for gatherings and social centres in their communities. In the past when the men of the villages would go to war, the Queen Mothers would lead prayer ceremonies in which all the women attended every morning to ensure the safe return of their menfolk.
http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/West_African_Vodun
 

Omowale Jabali

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Louisiana Voodoo is often confused with (but is not completely separable from) Haitian Vodou and southern Hoodoo. It differs from Vodou in its emphasis upon Gris-gris, voodoo queens, use of Hoodoo occult paraphernalia, and Li Grand Zombi (snake deity). It was through Louisiana Voodoo that such terms as gris-gris (a Wolof term) and voodoo dolls were introduced into the American culture. Voodoo was brought to the French colony Louisiana through the slave trade.
Beliefs
The core beliefs of Louisiana Voodoo include the recognition of one God who does not interfere in people's daily lives and spirits that preside over daily life. Spiritual forces, which can be kind or mischievous, shape daily life through and intercede in the lives of their followers. Connection with these spirits can be achieved through dance, music, singing, and the use of snakes, which represent Legba, Voodoo's "main spirit conduit to all others." Unlike the Judeo-Christian image, the Voodoo serpent represents "healing knowledge and the connection between Heaven and Earth." Deceased ancestors can also intercede in the lives of Voodoo followers.
The main focus of Louisiana Voodoo today is to serve others and influence the outcome of life events through the connection with nature, spirits, and ancestors. True rituals are held "behind closed doors" as a showy ritual would be considered disrespectful to the spirits. Voodoo methods include readings, spiritual baths, specially devised diets, prayer, and personal ceremony. Voodoo is often used to cure anxiety, addictions, depression, loneliness, and other ailments. It seeks to help the hungry, the poor, and the sick as Marie Laveau once did.
 

Omowale Jabali

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"Unlike the Judeo-Christian image, the Voodoo serpent represents "healing knowledge and the connection between Heaven and Earth."


Symbology Behind the Ouroboros
The ouroboros has several meanings interwoven into it. Foremost is the symbolism of the serpent biting, devouring, eating its own tail. This symbolizes the cyclic Nature of the Universe: creation out of destruction, Life out of Death. The ouroboros eats its own tail to sustain its life, in an eternal cycle of renewal. In the above drawing, from a book by an early Alchemist, Cleopatra, the black half symbolizes the Night, Earth, and the destructive force of nature, yin. the light half represents Day, Heaven, the generative, creative force, yang.
The Ouroboros connects the Above and Below
 
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