Osun ~ Owner of Brass and Coral

Ore Yèyé Òşun
Ore Yèyé Mọlè
Oníkìí Amawo-má-rò
Onítèé tutu
Ọba lódò
Òşun Àyílà gbà mí o
N ò lénìkan
Ẹni a ní níí gbani
Òşun, Precious Mother
Precious and Mysterious Mother
Gracious Mother Oníkìí,
an initiate who keeps secrets
The one who possesses a watery throne
King of the river
Òşun Àyílà, save me
I have no one
Give me refuge

Osun is one of the 17 main irunmole who were given divine Ase (power/authority/command/wisdom backed by God), by Olodumare (God), to come down to earth to prepare, govern and make life sweet for the human race. She is worshiped worldwide, being the image of maternal care, giver of children, exemplifying happiness and harmony in the home. Known for her great beauty and skill at throwing cowries, Odu Ifa are full of verses about Osun’s powers, both as a mother, and as a fierce and powerful force of feminine energy, or, ASE. One could even say she was the first feminist, demanding recognition and respect equal to the male irunmole as we can see from the account given by verses of the Odu Ifa Osetura.

Olodumare gave to the principal irunmole divine ase to come and govern the world below heaven. Of the 17 irunmole, only one woman was among them – Osun. As these irunmole had been handed the very important task to govern earth, they believed themselves to be like Gods, and each one strove to show themselves off to the other. They descended to earth and the task at hand to put order into the world so that humans could thrive. They held important meetings, made plans, but they would never inform Osun or invite her to their meetings. They turned their back on her thinking she was of no significance, as she was only a woman, so what could she possibly contribute? Osun became angry and decided to teach them a lesson. They tried their best, but things began to fail. All the beautiful crops to feed man began to wither and die, the streams began to dry up to a mere trickle and then stopped altogether. Women were no longer bearing children and those who were born died soon after taking their first breath. Animals were dying, crops were dying, people were dying, clearly, the male irunmole had missed something. They had to report back to Olodumare in heaven and they went before Him to admit their complete and utter failure at nurturing earth. Olodumare then said, did I not send 17 of you to the earth? Where is Osun? Did I not send her with you to earth?” The irunmole then had to tell Olodumare that they had ignored her and had not allowed her to take part in governing the earth. This is when Olodumare told them they had made a mistake in not including Osun in their plans for the earth. Olodumare made them aware that Osun, the feminine, was not only worthy of respect, but also as powerful or even more powerful than they as she has the power of LIFE. When Osun was begged to right the mess they had made of earth, she blessed it with rain and the crops began to grow again, the red soil began to sprout with vegetation and greenery, new animals were being born and soon women were becoming round with pregnancy and their children were living beyond birth. The irunmole now understood that without the feminine force, and without respect and honor of the Feminine, all life will fail.
Wón bèrè síí pe Òşun They began to include Òşun
Ní wón bá ń ki Òşun báyìí They began to pay homage to Òşun :
A-rí-pẹ pẹ-kódẹ-sí The one who has a shelf to store brass.
A-fidẹ-wéwé-r ẹmọ The one who lulls her children with brass.
Yèyé, Afiyùn-gbàsè The mother who receives corals beads in her rituals.
Ọta o! Omi! Ẹdan o!
Stone! Water! Ẹdan!
Ládékojú, OoreYèyé Òşun – Ládékojú, precious mother Òşun.

Other verses of Odu Ifa Osetura state:

The priest of Èwí of Adó,
The priest of Ìjèşà Township,
Crab was inside the water
Marching on very cold ground.
Divination was made for the seventeen Odù
On the day of their plight from heaven into the world.
They got into the world.
They cleared Orò grove,
They cleared Ọpa grove,
They planned,
They ignored Òşun,
They tried to govern the world.
There was no peace and order in the world.
They rose up instantly,
And went to Olódùmarè.
Olódùmarè welcomed them,
And asked for the seventeenth of them.
Olódùmarè said, “Why did you ignore her?
They said, “It was because she is a woman among us,”
Olódùmarè said:
Boríborí, the diviner of Ìrágberí,
Is an apprentice of Òşun.
Ègbà, the diviner of Ìlukàn,
Is an apprentice of Òşun.
Àtòmù, the diviner in Ìkirè Ilé,
Is an apprentice of Òşun.
These divinities (deities) are those,
Who allow a person to trade,
Who allow a person to make gain,
But, they don’t allow the person to go home with the gains.
Olódùmarè said:
What you were ignorant of before,
Is what you have now known!
Go back into the world and involve Òşun,
In whatever you want to do.
Whatever you lay your hands upon
Will continue to prosper.
When they got into the world,
They began to involve Òşun in their plans,
And they begin to praise Òşun as: The one who has a large shelf to store brass.
The one who lulls her children with brass.
My mother, the one who receives coral beads in her rituals.
Stone! Water! Ẹdan!
Àwúrà Olú Agbaja,
The Precious/Gracious Mother,Òşun.
Ládékojú is the ever-present-one-in-decision-making,
Òşun, the Precious/Gracious Mother.

Seeing that Osun has as apprentices “Overcomer”, “Paralysis”, “Harm” and “Able Captor”, it served the irunmole well to take heed as she not only has control over those “diviners”, but is their teacher.
This is a very important lesson that continues to be played out to this day, as man has not learned how to govern the earth, nor how to respect, honor and cooperate constructively with the women who make up over half the population of earth. Osun is a defender of women, she demands fair play, and she is not above fighting to make her point.

Geographically speaking, the heart of Osun worship is in the Osobgo grove set outside of the town of Osun-Osogbo, in Osun State. This grove is historically linked to Osun, the river of her namesake flows through the land and grove and is the site of her worship for centuries. Every year there is a festival in her honor, as well as other important deities. In the olden days there were groves and shrines set up for all of the irunmole and spirits, but over time they became abandoned and most do not exist in present day times. Osun Osogbo’s grove (spelled “groove” in Nigeria), was preserved and revived due to the divine efforts of Adunni Olorisa, also known formerly as Suzanne Wenger, an Austrian whose destiny with Osun and the grove began when she came to live in Yorubaland in the 1950’s. She led an incredible life, was taken in by Osun and became a priestess of very high standing and esteem, attending to the local and international population, greatly loved by all in Nigeria. It was through her efforts that the grove was restored and a new vitality and pride in Yoruba tradition began. I have heard some people in the diaspora disparagingly refer to her with contempt and disdain as a “cracker”, a horrible and gross racist disrespect for an elder who embodied Osun on earth until her recent death. She did more for the preservation and promotion of the Yoruba Ifa and orisa traditions and literally laid her life down on the ground when bulldozers were prepared to raze parts of the Osogbo grove. It has since come under the protection of UNESCO as a sacred site and is the gem of Yorubaland in Nigeria. Whoever tries to simply write her off in a footnote as a mere “artist” linked to the grove does a grave injustice to history and also to Osun herself.

There are many stories attributed to how Osun worship started in Osogbo and they are very long stories (as most Yoruba stories are). One says that about 400 years ago settlers came looking for a place with good water to create a new town. Everywhere they stopped with water, the source soon dried up. A river spirit urged them to go further along where they would encounter a source of water. They came to where the Osun river meanders through a lush area and decided to make it their home. They had some trouble however, there were spirits that nagged them, and strange things were occurring, but they decided to stay. One day a woodsman felled a tree and it splashed into the water of the Osun river. A spirit voice cried out: “You have broken all my indigo pots!”. The woodsman immediately went to the community and the diviners were called to consult Ifa. Ifa said that it was the spirit of Osun, and that she was vexed and annoyed that people were disturbing her indigo dye pots in the invisible realm and disrupting her business. It was also told that they needed to make offering to her, and also that if they just moved their town a little further off, they would prosper. The King of the people was summoned and as the sacrifice of ram, corn porridge and yanrin vegetable was being offered to the waters, a giant fish called Iko, the Messenger of Osun, came up out of the river and ordered King Ọláròóyè to stretch out his hands and take the fish as an offering of peace from Osun. This divine exchange meant that the sacrifice had been accepted. From that day forth all the ruling Kings of Osogbo have been known as “Ataoja”: ẹni tó téwó gba ẹja – The person who stretched his hand to receive fish. In the photo on the left above, the Royal emblem can be seen in the form of Oki, divine messenger fish of Osun. Later on she offered them her protection and ability to heal their sick, especially children and the infertile, if they would honor her once a year. That tradition is being held up until today, every year between August and September. I can testify that the grove of Osun is truly a wonderful place, full of Osun’s love and ase. She will embrace you, change you, and when you leave, you will never forget that embrace. Osun is truly the Great Mother Ore Yeye Osun!

Recent history attributes Osun as the deity that protected and saved the town of Osogbo from the Muslim Fulani invaders who had waged Jihad on the Yoruba people. They pushed down from the North in 1804 but could not get past nor defeat Osogbo. It is said that Osun transformed herself into a common market seller of food and went to the encampment of the Fulani to sell them poisoned amala. Those who ate it died of a violent diarrhea and the numbers who did not die were so few they quickly retreated lest they be slaughtered on the spot. This is completely in line with oriki which state:

Òşun Òyèyénímò
Obìnrin gbònà okùnrin ń sá
Obínrin tíí dádé okùnrin
Irú re sòwón.
Òşun who is full of knowledge
The woman who blocks the road and men run away
The One who lays in ambush to afflict the enemy
The woman who wears a crown like a man
You are rare
Ajegun soro
The one who makes war with her fury

Osun symbolizes purity and her colors are white and shades of amber or gold. Her devotees are expected to uphold fair play, not tolerate gossip, backbiting. Her shrine always has a pot of fresh water which is filled early in the morning by a virgin. Osun is owner of all rivers, streams or small rivulets of water and offerings can be placed there for her. She accepts cool water, corn porridge, goat, mashed yam, yanrin vegetable etc. She is known as the owner of brass, brass being held in high value by the Yoruba, so bracelets, anklets, necklaces, musical instruments such as bell, rattle, are all symbols of Osun. One will usually always find a pair of brass edan, the male and female figures, in her shrine. She is known for her love of coral beads and children of Osun can braid them into their hair in a signature Osun style, along with ropes around the neck and wrists. A powerful woman of beauty, Osun loves and is greatly loved by her people.

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