African Traditional Religion : Women and Odu

Discussion in 'African Traditional Religion Study Group' started by Ajna Wisdom, Feb 8, 2010.

  1. Ajna Wisdom

    Ajna Wisdom Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Greetings Fam! Could someone explain to me why women cannot "see" Odu? What exactly does this mean? I am a little confused about this. Thanks!
     
  2. Sekhemu

    Sekhemu Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Great question.

    In Yoruba Odu means container. Unfortunately I don't have the time to give a more thorough detail. Hopefully Awo Dino can chime in.
     
  3. Ajna Wisdom

    Ajna Wisdom Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Thanks Sekhemu. I am beginning to understand now. Peace
     
  4. awo dino

    awo dino Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    In Yoruba cosmology there is the idea of unity in opposites, or dichotomies such as female/male energy. The tension between the two seeks a natural equilibrium. In the visible worlds this tension is played out in political, spiritual etc, life. Power has shifted over time from women to men and vice-versa. For example, at one time Yoruba society was matrilineal. Odu is a female diety who came into the visible realm with Obatala (Orisanla, Obarisa) and Ogun. Olorun (God) sent them to establish the earth. Obatala had the power of creation or manifestation and Ogun the power of war technology and evolution. Odu had nothing, so she went back to Olorun before they had left the invisible realm and asks Olorun what will be her power. Olorun (Olodumare) tells her, “ You will be Iya Won, their mother for all eternity; you will support the world. You are the mother of all men. They must alert you, Odu, of all things they intend to do.” Man alone may do nothing in the absence of women. He gives her the power of Eiye -the bird. He gives her the calabash of Eleiye -the bird keeper – (this is the Odu pot). Olodumare asks her how she will use the power; she says she will kill anyone who doesn’t listen to her. She will reward money and children to those who ask, but if people then become imperitent with her, she’ll take those thing back.He warns her not to misuse this power. She says as long as people don’t mess up, she will give them blessings, but if they mess up, she’ll kill them. She gets a bit too arrogant and misuses her power. So the power is transferred to men, or actually the command over the power, but the power remains with women.
    What does this have to do with women looking into the Odu pot?
    She ends up married to Obatala (in some versions it is Orunmila) and he must promise her that none of his wives can look at her. Thus women are not allowed to look at the Odu pot. The Odu pot is the most powerful object in the Yoruba religion. Women can receive Ifa and become diviners or belong to Ifa cult with the same status as men, but they can’t look in the Odu pot, giving men the power over it. But it is still female power, which is qualitatively “better” than male power. In practical terms, this puts control of the Orunmila cult in the hands of men.

    The story of Odu is found in Irete Ogbe

    Odu...The Orisa


    You trample upon the brush. I trample upon the brush.
    We trample the brush down together.
    Ifa was consulted for Odu by these Awos.
    They said, Odu is going from heaven to earth.
    Whenever she arrive on earth.
    They said, thee Odu, this is your beginning.
    Olodumare gave her a bird.
    She took this bird with her to earth.
    Aragamago is the named that Olodumare gave this bird.
    Aragamago is the name that Odu's bird carried.
    He said, "You Odu, any undertaking upon which you send this bird, it will do.
    He said, "Any place that it pleases you to send this bird, it will go.
    He said, "If it is to do bad or good."
    He said, Anything that it pleases you to tell it to do, it will do.
    Odu brought this bird to earth.
    Odu has said that no other person will be able to look upon it.
    She said that it must not be looked upon.
    If any enemy of Odu looks upon it,
    She will shatter his eyes,
    With the power of this bird, she will blind the eyes.
    If another of her enemies peers into the calabash of this bird.
    This bird Aragamago, will shatter their eyes.
    She used this bird thusly.
    She used it even to get to the house of Orunmila.
    Orunmila went to consult his Awos.
    The Oracle said, "If we teach intelligence to someone, his intelligence will be intelligent.
    If we teach stupidity to someone, his stupidity will be stupid."
    The Babalawos of the house of Orunmila consulted Ifa in order to know the day that he would take Odu as his wife.
    In this manner Orunmila would take Odu for his wife.
    The Awos of Orunmila said "Hee."
    They said, Odu that you wish to take for your wife.
    A power is in her hands.
    They said, because of this power Orunmila must make an offering to the earth.
    In the interest of all of his people.
    They said, so that with this power, she will not kill and eat him.
    Orunmila made the offering.
    When Orunmila had made the offering, they consulted Ifa for him.
    Orunmila carried the offering outside.
    At the arrival of Odu, she found the offering in the street.
    Hee! Who has made this offering to the earth?
    Ha! Esu said, "Orunmila has made this offering to the earth."
    Because he wishes to marry you Odu.
    Odu said, not bad.
    All the things that Odu carried behind her, these are the bad things.
    She told them to eat.
    Odu opened the calabash of Aragamago, her bird, to the ground.
    She told it to eat.
    Odu entered the house.
    When she had entered the house, Odu called Orunmila.
    She said, "Orunmila, she had arrived."
    She said, her powers are numerous.
    She said, but she did not wish that they should fight with him.
    She said, she did not want to fight with Orunmila.
    She said, even if someone asked her help, asked her help to fight him, she would not fight him.
    Because if Odu did not wish that Orunmila suffers.
    Otherwise, if they wished to make Orunmila suffer. Odu, with the power and with the power of the bird, would fight the people.
    When Odu finished speaking thusly.
    Orunmila said, not bad.
    The time came, Odu said, Thou Orunmila, You are going to learn my taboo.
    She said, she wish to tell him her taboo.
    She said, she did not want his other wives to see her face.
    She said, that he should tell all of his other wives that they should not look at her face.
    Whoever looked into her face, she would fight.
    She said, she did not want anyone to look at her appearance.
    Orunmila said, "Fine!"
    He then called all of his wives.
    He prevailed upon them.
    The wives of Orunmila would not look at Odu's face.
    Odu told Orunmila that.
    She said, with him she would make his burdens good.
    She said, she would heal all things.
    She said, anything that he causes to go wrong, she would repair it.
    She said, if he observed his taboo.
    She said, all things that she completed would be good.
    Anyone who would disturb them, she would in turn disturb them.
    If Oso (sorcerer) wished to destroy.
    She said, she would leave him nothing.
    Then he himself would be destroyed.
    All his children, who are Awo.
    He will implore them that they should never dare to trifle with Odu.
    Because Odu is the power of Awo.
    He said, if the Awo possesses Ifa, he will also have Odu.
    The power that Odu gives him says that.
    No woman must look upon her form.
    From this day no Babalawo is complete without possessing this Odu.
    One who does not have Odu will not be able to consult Ifa.
    The day that one comes into possession of Odu,
    On that day will he become a person that Odu will not allow to suffer.
    ASE



    Another related story is found in Odu Osa Meji, which is the Odu that “births” Oya. Oya is the link to the ancestors (egun). So women also control that extremely important function. In the following story is found how Orunmila (men) tricked women out of the power of Egun. At the time women controlled the Egun cult. Again, even though men took control of the Egun Masquerade, the power remains with women.


    OSA MEJI
    (Iyáàmi and the Creation of the Egun Cloth)


    Osa Meji is rich, powerful cosmic scream. Ringing bells arrive from the vaults of Heaven. ifa was consulted for Odu on the day Odu was making the journey from Heaven to Earth in the company of Ogun and Obarisa. Odu was the only woman among them. She asked Olodumare what would happen when they arrived in the world? Olodumare said the world would be good. He said everything they will want to accomplish would be done because he will give them the power. It will be good. (This is a reference to the Ifa belief that life is designed to work and the people on earth are born with the potential for a good life)
    Ogun walked in front. When Ogun walked in front Obarisa followed and behind Obarisa came Odu. She asked Olodumare about the world. She said Ogun has the power to fight. He has his cutlass, he has the weapons necessary for victory. She said Obarisa has power, the power of Obarisa makes anything he wants manifest. She said she is the only woman among them and wanted to know her power.
    Olodumare said for all of time you will be called Mother. He said you were the only one who traveled to Earth and returned to Heaven. Only the woman among them returned. He said you will uphold the world; Olodumare will give you that power. He said, "I will give you the power in the form of a bird." Olodumare said it is good. (Women have the ability to communicate directly with the Immortals through their ability to use the bird to transcend the boundaries of time and space)
    Olodumare asked Odu if she knew how to use the bird in the calabash. He said you will know how to use it. Odu received the bird from Olodumare and received the power to use it.
    Odu departed. As she was leaving Olodumare asked her to return. He said, "come back." He said, "You, Odu, when you arrive on earth how are you going to use the power of the bird, the power I have given you?"
    Odu said she would fight with the people who would not listen. She said those who do not listen to the will of Olodumare she will fight with them. She said those who would ask for wealth she would give it to them. She said those who wanted children she would give them children. She said if someone receives wealth and becomes impertinent she will take it away. She said if someone gives birth to a child and they become impertinent she will take it away. She said anything she did for a person if they became impertinent she would take it away.
    Olodumare said this is good but you must use this power with calm and for the good.
    If you use it for bad things and cause violence, I will reclaim this power. All the men who follow you, I have made you their mother, anything they wish to do they must speak to you first.
    It is from this very ancient time that Olodumare has given the power to women because it was she who received the power of Odu. He gave women the power of the word. (The power of the word given to women is based on the relationship between children and their mothers who prior to puberty are dependant on their mothers for survival. Odu means womb and Odu refers to any opening between Heaven and Earth or the visible and the invisible realms of existence. The womb is such an opening because it allows for the movement of the human soul between the land of the ancestors and the land of the living through the process of reincarnation.)
    Man alone is unable to do anything. Odu arrived in the world. When they all gathered in the world they saw the forest of the dead and it was woman who entered the forest. It was the forest of Oro that woman entered. During this time there was no prohibition against woman entering the forest of Oro. At this time women worshiped all the Orisa. They had full knowledge of all the inner mysteries.
    Woman acted in disgrace and Odu consulted Ifa. The elders said, "Odu you must act in calm you must have patience, you must not be imprudent." Odu said why? They said because of the power that Olodumare has given you, in that the people will not know the reason it has been given to you. Odu said she does not know the reason it was given to her. She said she alone was called before Olodumare. She received the power from Olodumare after the others arrived on earth. They said Odu must make sacrifice. She said she would not make ebo because the ebo was already made. The offering for women to receive power was made in the presence of Olodumare. They said she must not become overconfident in joy because she is capable of using these powers for a very long time. The world will not be able to destroy that which she has in her hands. The world will not know the root of her power. Odu refused to make the sacrifice. (At some point in the history of Yoruba culture the power of women was abused through arrogance.)
    Odu departed without making ebo. She brought the cloth of Egun outside. She brought Oro outside. Obarisa came and said it is the one to whom Olodumare confided, the energetic woman has come to take the world, to take the inner sanctum of Egun and the inner sanctum of Oro and the shrines of all the Orisa. Obarisa would not dare to enter any of these places.
    Obarisa consulted Ifa. It was Orunmila who cast Ifa for Obarisa. Orunmila said the message from Olodumare is this you will take the world in your hands. The world will not be spoiled. No one person will take the world in their hands. (This speaks of a gender conflict in the history of Yoruba culture over the question of who would be the keepers of certain mysteries, men or women. This issue has shifted throughout history and continues to shift into modern times)
    How then will Obarisa be victorious. He consulted Ifa and was told to make ebo. Ifa said he must be patient. He must sacrifice snails, a whip-like stick, and cowries. Obarisa made the ebo. When Obarisa made the ebo Orunmila consulted Ifa. Orunmila said that the world would belong to Obarisa, but you must have patience. He said worship will become yours. He said that which carries the power of woman will be exaggerated. When it is over done she will become your servant. Obarisa understood and said he would have patience. (Ifa is based on the notion of a balance of power between male and female principles. At times this balance is disrupted by an over emphasis on one side or the other as social situations cause tension and an ebb and flow in the balance of power)
    All of the customs, those that are good and those that are bad, brought to earth by Odu with the power given to her by Olodumare include the taboo against looking at her material form. If the taboo is violated she will make the person blind. If she says the gaze of someone is evil, if she says a person is going to have a headache, they will have a headache, if she says they will have stomach pain, they will have stomach pain. All things said by Odu will come to pass.
    When the time came Odu said Obarisa we have come to earth together. She said come they had come to the same place. She said if we are in the same place she would allow Obarisa see anything she wanted to do. (This is a reference to a historical time when men learned awo from women)
    She said because Obarisa and Ogun fell from the sky together they chose Ogun to be a warrior. Those who wanted to make war would not be victorious against Ogun.
    She and Obarisa needed to live together in one place. At the place where they came together they must stay. The snail offered by Obarisa was used to praise his head at the place where he lived. The liquid from the snail was used to drink. Obarisa did not want to drink the water from the snail. Odu drank the water from the snail and her stomach became calm. She told Obarisa that because of him she had discovered something delicious to eat. She said the snail water is sweet and the snail itself is sweet. When she finished eating she said it was good. She said no one has ever given me anything as good to eat as a snail. She said a snail is what one must give me to eat. (Snail is a traditional offering to the Odu pot) She said the same snail that is given to you must be given to me. (This verse suggests that men and women learned from each other)
    Obarisa said he would give her snails. He said the power you do not give me bothers me. He asked her to show him the things she possessed. She said when he comes to live with her in one place he must not hide anything from her. She said she would not hide anything from him. She said he will see all of her works and procedures. She said we will live in one place. Obarisa said this was not bad.
    Odu brought the things needed to worship Egun into the inner sanctum of Egun. She said Obarisa should follow. He said he was afraid. She said follow her and he followed her. When Obarisa followed her he entered the forest of Egun. They worshipped Egun together. But she did not show him how to make the sound of Egun. (Meaning how to go into possession) She did not know how to make the voice of Egun. She did know how to speak with the Immortals in Heaven. When they worshipped Egun Odu took the cloth she covered herself and gave thanks for her nourishment. When she finished her propitiations she left. The time had come for her and Obarisa to go to their dwelling place.
    Obarisa went to the place of the cloth. The cloth of Egun did not have cloth streamers. He added the streamers. The streamers allowed Egun to see. When women made Egun the cloth was simple and the made the face in a way that did not allow Egun to see. When Obarisa arrived he added the streamers. Before they reached their home Obarisa went to the rear court of Egun. He took the cloth of Egun and cut the face opening and placed streamers in the opening. When this was done he covered himself with the cloth. He took a whip into his hands but he did not say goodbye to Odu. He said he was going to the rear court of Egun, the place where Egun came out.
    Obarisa spoke with the voice of Egun and they did not recognize his voice. He said his prayers and Egun said Hen. He said Ha. One who wished to praise Egun says Hen and he said Ha. He said the Egun he praises is infallible. He said when he came from Heaven to Earth one of the people from Heaven came to earth with him. He took the whip and dragged it on the ground. At his home he spoke with the voice of Egun and Odu became frightened. When she brought the cloth she did not know this way of speaking She asked who has entered this cloth, who speaks to quickly and with such a voice? With insight men take power. (Egun mediums were originally women and at some point men took over the Egun dance)
    Olodumare first gave the wisdom to women and he gave the power of the birds to women. When Odu saw that Egun had a whip in hand she ran away. Obarisa carried the Egun and entered the town. Odu saw the cloth was her own. She asked is that Obarisa? She remained in her house and sent her bird on a mission. She said the wing must rest on the shoulder of Egun. They must go together. Everything that egun says will be activated by the power of the bird perched on his shoulder. When everything he says has become manifest he will return to the rear court of Egun. (The power of the male Egun society is supported by the power of the women's society)
    Obarisa undressed on the ground. He placed his whip on the ground. He dressed himself. He left. The bird went to its owner. When Obarisa came home he was greeted by Odu. She said welcome. She said where did you come from? Obarisa said he came from outside. Odu said that is good you are welcome. (It is taboo to know the identity of Egun mediums) Obarisa dumped all of his things on the ground and Odu said this was good. She said it is the Egun cloth that you have taken outside. Obarisa said yes. Odu said it is good. She said you have shown me what I must do. She said people behold Egun. She dragged the whip over the ground and said the honor is for you. She said today I will leave. She said I concede Egun to man. She said because of me no woman will every dare to enter into the Egun cloth she said she has given the Egun to men. She said he must go outside with Egun because she has the power that Egun utilizes. She said Egun is compatible with the birds. At the place where Egun manifests, there also the birds appear. All the power used by Egun comes from the birds. Odu said no woman will ever enter the Egun cloth, but she will be able to dance, to meet Egun and dance in front of Egun if Egun is outside. She said Egun departs today and it is man who will guide Egun. (To the uninitiated it would appear that Egun worship is male dominated. This verse is saying that Egun is supported by the power of women.) She said all things the people wish to do are aided by women. That is why men are unable to do anything on Earth, if the do not obtain the hand of woman.
    They chanted, on the fifth day they celebrated the week. They said all the incantations they would chant would come from the holy Odu of Ifa called Osa Meji. (The power of women in Osa Meji is the gateway to the land of the ancestors) They said they will praise the women, they said if they praise the women the Earth will be tranquil. They chanted:
    Prostrate, prostrate for the women.
    Woman has placed you in the World, thus you are humanity.
    Woman is the intelligence of the Earth,
    prostrate for woman.
    Woman has placed you in the World, thus you are humanity.
    ase

    (The Egun masquerade is still led by a woman, although the masqueraders are men)
     
  5. awo dino

    awo dino Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    A female initiated into Ifa is called Iyanifa from, "iya ni ifa" which means, "Mother is Ifa." They are called mother of ifa because women are born with the power of the word (ofo ase). It is beleived that men can only develop ofo ase through initiation. So men are presented to Odu, they must recieve Odu in order to be awo. Women are born with Odu, so they don't need to receive it. Odu means womb in Yoruba. Women got that. It is believed that in order for ofo ase to manifest, in order for a person to form ase, they must be able to go into posession, they must be an effective medium. Effective ebo is a result of effective ofo ase. Women are born with the ability to go into posession. Men must be helped to attain it. This is the basis for all fear of women, for the perceived need to control them, and for the constant tension between male and female energy.

    ire
     
  6. Bootzey

    Bootzey Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Just to play devil's advocate.....

    If a woman has an hysterectomy, can she be initated then?
     
  7. awo dino

    awo dino Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Good one, Bootzey!
    I've never seen an Odu that said otherwise.
     
  8. Ajna Wisdom

    Ajna Wisdom Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Thanks Awo Dino. I was going to ask about the Iyanifa. Is an Iyanifa equivalent to a Babalawo? Also, I wanted to know if Iyanifa is a new term. I was reading somewhere that it was. Is Iyanifa the same as iyalorisha?
     
  9. Ajna Wisdom

    Ajna Wisdom Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Oh yeah, could someone give me some insight on Ogbe Osa? Thanks in advance.
     
  10. awo dino

    awo dino Well-Known Member MEMBER

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    Iyanifa is equivalent, but this is a point of contention, so don't take my word for it. Iyanifa refers to Orunmila, Iyalorisha would be prietess of Orisha.

    Ogbe Osa, depending on if it came in ire or ibi, means at its most basic, "open road leads to abundance." It speaks of traveling to find ire (good fortune, abundance). If you check out the Odu discussion thread you can get an idea of Ogbe and Osa separately. Each is a leg of Odu. The right leg, Ogbe, refers to what is manifest right now in the physical realm. the left leg is Osa, is what is possibly in process of manifestation in invisible realm, which hopefully will then manifest in the physical realm, etc., as you continue to expand your consciousness on your chosen path to destiny. Together, they are a distinct odu with it's own energy, verses, etc.

    Ogbe basically is movement without opposition (hence open road), so that is awesome. Osa is basically is the manifestation of sudden change. Oya is born in Osa. So, in ire, a drastic change that leads to abundance. This is a really good Odu obviously. Change is always good, if it comes in ire.

    But it can mean deceitful friends. Or the need to finish what you start. I'm sure iya fama provided the info on how it pertains to you. You might be going thru sa rough patch, but persistence will bring triumph.

    ase
     
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