Not all of us live in Africa or have the luxury of very attentive mentors or parents to keep us on track. Also, even some initiates did not get adequate training, or simply prefer to do private observance aside of community gatherings. So here is a set of suggestions for daily observances for independent Orisha adherents.
Before we begin though, let me make it clear that I do not believe that there is one way for everyone. Also, I don’t believe that personal ritual is a replacement for initiation and community involvement. I do believe however, that there are things a priest can do for you, and things you need to do for yourself. When you choose to or have to do things for yourself, you should do them as correctly as possible.
Another thing, because many of us in the diaspora are of mixed ancestry, and have benefited from contact with non African belief systems, the Yoruba ways are a sort of guideline, but you are not totally limited to that. If you do mix it up though, please make sure that all deities are given their due attention and respect.
Why You Should Do Daily Observances for the Orishas
For the same reason we digest our food, we sweat, and we sneeze when we have something irritating our nose, we need to do regular observances to channel the energy. This keeps things flowing well, and in a positive direction. When we don’t do regular observance, we create blockages, bottle-necks, and other energetic problems for ourselves.
We need to show actual appreciation for the gifts we are given, and to use what we are given to positive ends. Part of worshiping a deity is actually doing their work and allowing them to live through us. Regular observance gives us opportunities and ideas for how to make this happen.
Orisha Days of the Week
Originally, and still in many if not most temples in west Africa, they are on a lunar calendar with a four day week. The month begins on Ose Ifa on the new moon, and the next day is Ose Ogun, then Ose Shango (or maybe Jakuta, depending where), Ose Obatala, and then back to Ose Ifa. The days are named according to their ruling Orisha, but other Orishas in their family or category are also given special attention on those days.
Even if you keep a seven day week, you should be mindful of the lunar week because of the flow of liquid or water energy in the body and the Earth. You have a sort of a tide in your body that keeps time with the moon, especially if you are female or feminine. Being mindful of both solar and lunar cycles helps you to stay harmonized.
A seven day week is an adaptation for those who live and work in places where a lunar month isn’t the normal schedule. These will vary a bit from place to place, depending on how much Christian influence there was in the African diaspora population. You can read about that here. There is also a convenient Vodun calendar that you can use to keep track of what day it is. Add it to your site calendar or subscribe to it using Google Calendar. In this article, we focus on the details of how to go about doing daily observances for the Orishas.
One more thing before we start. Practicing witches, sorcerers, and healers who have to cope with daily spiritual work need to do some sort of daily observance. It’s like being a good citizen and maintaining your privilege of voting in the joined kingdoms of the Orun and Aye. In order to successfully channel spiritual energy into the physical realm, and facilitate things happening on purpose, you need to be aligned with the spirits. You can’t just drop things on them only when you need something. How would you even know a request is appropriate or not, if you haven’t spent any time getting to know your deities and spirits up close and personal? How would you know what they are trying to tell you in divination, signs, or visions? You should do daily observances to maintain your awareness.
If you are not so active, you can get away with a weekly or monthly observance schedule. If you know that you will not have time to do observances for more than a couple of weeks, it is a good idea to delegate this to a friend or family member who can do this kind of active prayer on your behalf. You can always do thought-directed prayer for yourself anytime, but if you need things to manifest in the physical realm, it behooves you to do physical actions or have them done for you.
Remember, the spirits do not need us or our prayers. We need them.
Spiritual Metabolism and Possession “Lite”
It happens sometimes, especially if we bring a specific issue to the Orishas during our observances, that we will be bathed in the energy of a particular spirit or deity. If you are not prepared for this, it may be highly uncomfortable or confusing, especially if the deity or spirit is not extremely friendly. What has happened is that you have been possessed a bit, and need to channel that energy in a positive direction.
The thing to do is perform some action related to the being. Off the top of my head, if you find yourself running into things and knocking things over, and losing things, Eshu may be playing with you. Give some treats to some kids, or feed and do chores to help an elderly person.
If you find yourself touched a bit by Ogun, and understand from your overheating and depressed feelings that this energy is building in you and needs to be processed, you need to do some work with your hands. Build something. Make a work of art. Do some chore or job that you have been putting off awhile.
If you feel the bubbly energy of Oshun, clean yourself and your home. Take a luxurious bath. Make things pretty around you. Do something to enhance the beauty of those around you.
Whichever Orisha has touched you, go out and do their work. Be their hands in the physical realm.
In some of my past teaching efforts, I kind of took it for granted that everybody knew that African spiritual practice begins with the Ancestors/Egungun. Apparently, this isn’t universally known. One should get to know Eshu as the Gatekeeper, and the next step is the Ancestors, not straight to the other Orishas. You will learn along the way how your own Ori and your Ancestors relate to the other Orishas, but to start with, you have a complete enough pantheon to start with in your own family, if they were reasonably good people. Even if they weren’t very good people or had many personality struggles during their flesh lives, the lessons they learned are relevant.
People with European ancestry who come to African belief systems often worry because some of their Ancestors were racist. So they avoid communing with them because they are afraid that these may be harmful Ancestors. If it helps, even Africans have to be careful of Ancestors with harmful agendas.
This is why we start with Eshu. If your family has a history of atrocities or complicity with those who commit them, you must specifically ask Eshu to prevent your harmful Ancestors from communicating with you or harming you or those you care for until they have sufficiently detached from their flesh lives to let go of their evil ways. Pray for them to heal so that they can move forward to the next life without damaging their children’s children.
Because we are our Ancestors returned, and even minus any mysticism, all actions have consequences, it is good to pray for their growth and healing because otherwise our children will bear the marks of their bad deeds. In the worst case, lines can be cut short if wrongs are not righted.
You likely do have Ancestors who were decent people, and they are the ones you want to be welcoming to. When you set up the Ancestor/Egungun place on your altar, keep them in mind. It is likely that they don’t like your bad Ancestors any more than you do.
Today, there is some debate among west Africans about the usefulness or appropriateness of fetishes or tangible representations of deities and other spirit or extradimensional and/or extraterrestrial beings. It is my opinion that one should follow their conscience in this, but do so mindful that the traditions developed as they did for good reasons. There are advantages and disadvantages to each approach, but the more esoteric way is not suitable for everyone, and has led to millions being led astray into anti Nature, inhumane practices. Without a visible symbol, people tend to place their ego above the principle, and make up all sorts of overly self serving beliefs. On the other hand, if sacred objects become more important than the principles, this can lead to inhumane behavior as well. When deciding what will be in your sacred space, try to be honest with yourself about what suits you best, and what will keep you pro Nature and humane. Be mindful of your Ori, your Head Orisha, and your ancestral traditions, as what practices served your Ancestors best will likely serve you as well. This is not the situation to be keeping up with the Joneses, so to speak, or following trends.
Here in Israel, we have a varied approach to this, often with individuals choosing to make a fetish for some deities or spirits, and not for others. As is normal for Africa, we do not have a visual representation of Olodumare, and some extend that to not using humanoid representations of Obatala or other more ethereal beings, except for statues or pictures of avatars such as Krisna, Buddha, or Jesus (though some argue that Jesus may have been more Eshu because of his reportedly explicitly declared mediator status). Some choose to not have humanoid representations of anyone, but consecrate functional tools or other objects to a particular being. There are many ways of going about this. Your Eshu may be a stone, or it may be a doll, or it may be a drawing, or it may be the corner of an altar box with his symbol in it.
Whichever way you choose, Eshu or the Gate Keeper by another name, and your entire conscious pantheon should be there, or at least the leading deity of each family. Eshu belongs at the top left corner when you are facing your altar. You may, if you like, put an additional Eshu at the center. There is such a thing as too much Eshu in a place. Some people can tolerate more or less of his obvious presence. If you already have Eshu at the door, you may want to keep only one Eshu at the corner or at the center, wherever he feels more comfortable.
Shango and Ogun should not be placed next to each other. In the spirit realm, they are in perfect harmony, but in the human psyche, they are too conflicting energies to be contained in the mind or body at the same time. Even though Shango uses tools and Ogun uses fire to forge, there is the problem of the joyful, ecstatic, even though sometimes destructive energy of Shango, and the “Darwinist”, blunt, harsh and a bit depressive energy of Ogun. So even though they overlap, this is a boundary that it is wise to keep for your sanity’s sake. I like to keep Ogun to one side of Eshu, and Shango to the other.
While speaking of conflicts that can possibly be problematic for the human psyche, some choose to put buffers between Oshun and Oba, between Nana Buruku and Ogun, between Oko and Olokun, and between Yewa and Shango on their altars as well.
Daily Offering Guidelines
Ideally, for the sake of daily observances, you should have an incense burner, a stone or ceramic immolation bowl, a candle holder, and a potpourri pot or cauldron. Some may choose to add a stand or stone platform for small blood sacrifices as well. Not everyone can manage this, and that’s okay. One should attempt however, to do the best that one can. It is okay to be innovative and inventive so long as one follows certain guidelines.
Always give to Eshu first except for blood offerings. Unless it is a blood offering, Eshu is to be fed first because he opens the way for us to speak to and be spoken to by other deities and spirits. If you do not go through the Gate Keeper first, you may misunderstand what is being told to you, or you may open yourself to attack or trickery by beings specializing in illusion. Opening up to the spirit realm or higher than third dimension without the Gate Keeper makes you vulnerable…”naked in the woods” if you will. Never forget this.
One other exception in feeding Eshu first may be made when you receive an online donation to do offerings or spell work on someone’s behalf. Before you transfer the money to your account or spend it on supplies, you may send a portion of it as an online donation or other electronic or “wire” transfer to your home temple, ile, or specifically to a temple or shrine of Ogun, or some related effort. It is not required that you feed Ogun first in such a case, but some find that it suits their conscience better since the means of providing for the offerings was through computer technology, which is one of Ogun’s domains. You would still be feeding Eshu first offline.
For incense offerings, you can use a premade incense if you have to, but I recommend making some Eshu incense. This should go on the charcoal first in your daily observances. If you are well supplied, you can try Orisha Online Altar’s Eshu incense recipe. If you can’t manage that, one of the basic bare-bones recipes is:
- 3 pinches of black pepper or long pepper
- 1/4 cup of cinnamon, anise, allspice, coffee, or clove powder
- 3 teaspoons of sugar
- a tablespoon of benzoin powder or grated wax
There is also a general Orisha incense, and a “Seven African Powers” incense that can be used as a general offering. This is good for those who have privacy, time, and space concerns, and want something that will be pleasing to everyone. You can buy it or make it yourself. A bare bones version of this is:
- 3 pinches of black pepper or long pepper
- 3 pinches of red pepper
- 1 tablespoon grated coconut
- 1 teaspoon sugar
- 1 tablespoon sandalwood or agarwood shavings or powder
- 1/4 cup benzoin or frankincense powder
You have probably seen different recipes, and it is okay to use those. However, there is a reason mine is different. One is that the black and red pepper together have a strong gate opening energy, and all the Orishas like coconut. Sugar attracts good fortune and benevolence from Eshu and Oshun. Sandalwood and agarwood are especially attractive to the more ethereal Orishas, though go with agarwood if you are in need of success energy. Benzoin and frankincense are all-around pleasing to the spirits. If you have any Native American ancestry though, you may wish to add one of your local tree resins that was given as offerings such as copal or pine “amber”.
In the case of a blood offering, Ogun is fed first, and then Eshu. This is because Ogun is in charge of tools, so he would be fed first by default anyway. It is a good idea to give him his due thanks and credit for this.
VERY IMPORTANT: be extremely careful not to wound yourself while giving blood offerings. Do not ever give your own blood to Ogun. In some traditions, children or hard core adherents of Ogun who are entering a blood pact with others of their brotherhood, or preparing for literal war, have been said to do so, but under no other circumstances should anyone do this. Do not approach Ogun directly if you have any open wounds that have not scabbed over fully, or if you are menstruating or having post pregnancy bleeding. To wave your blood under the nose of Ogun is to offer yourself as a sacrifice to him. People who have done this often die or at least bleed some more in some sort of machine related accident.
Oya does not like smoke much. She loves Shango, so she can take a bit for the sake of fire, but don’t go overboard. Offerings to her should involve as little smoke as possible, or none at all. Offerings to her can be water or scented water sprayed or splashed into the air, watering a plant with large leaves or one of her sacred plants, a bowl of liquid left to evaporate, or steam such as potpourri. Some warrior women may like to wet their bodies with a pleasing, grassy scented water, and then dance or do martial arts forms to let this evaporate with their sweat as an offering. This gives it heat and fire energy without any smoke.
Offerings to Shango and related fire deities should NEVER be done in a metal container. It should be fire safe ceramic or stone. Be sure that the item you are using is industrial or at least restaurant grade, and can handle an open flame without cracking or exploding. You should also generally serve Shango with the left hand because in his best known earthly incarnation he is royalty. One should not touch him or his things during ceremony, with the hand they normally wipe their bottom with. Some other Orishas are less uptight about this, but because children of Shango and others who are heavy with his energy tend, in real life today and in the foreseeable future, to be royalty, and other kinds of natural leader, it is good to keep this bit of decorum.
Speaking of which, do not do observances or other altar work when you are ill. Some don’t consider a cold a real illness, but others do. One of the few universal Ifa and diaspora rules is to not poop on your altar, meaning you and your hands should be clean as possible. If you are spraying snot everywhere, and have diarrhea and other excretions out of control, you should not approach your or anyone else’s altar. So take a break when you are sick, or at least wait until you are no longer having uncontrolled excretions.
The Daily Observance Ritual
Different people have different ways of doing daily observances. Some have privacy and space concerns, and others still prefer to be very natural, not have an indoor altar, and to do their observances outdoors at a sacred place. It’s all good. The daily observance is a personal ritual, and needs to be very you. So I will provide a few examples from the many ways I have done it and seen it done by others.
Well Supplied Home Altar
- Prepare the mind by contemplating Eshu.
- Gather all the supplies for giving small offerings to Eshu and the deities of the day.
- Light the charcoal.
- Call to Eshu while putting a small dose of Eshu incense on the charcoal. Ask him to open the way to commune with and give thanks to the deities of the day.
- Wait for the gate to open, and then add incense for the other deities, or give small offerings to them in their respective ways.
- Enjoy your time with the spirits manifesting around and through you. You may do their dance and/or perform some other activity to “metabolize” their energy. Some also do divination at this time.
- If there is no other spiritual work to do immediately, thank the spirits and Eshu for their attention, and close the ritual. If there is, leave it open and do what work should be done.
Cigar Box Altar “Bare Bones” Observance
While traveling, or on a military or work hitch, some people can only keep a small box altar. For them, daily observance has to be short and sweet, and they may not be able to burn incense. So daily observance is a short ritual in the morning or before bed, and offerings are given throughout the day according to local or family traditions and common practices.
- Prepare your mind by contemplating Eshu.
- Call to Eshu once when opening your box.
- Arrange your small fetishes within the box.
- Call Eshu the remaining 2 times, asking him to open the way.
- Greet the deities of the day as best as you can within the time and situation.
- Thank them and Eshu for their presence, and close the box.
Over the course of the day, you give the first sip of your coffee to Eshu by spilling a little of it to the left. It is okay if thereafter, you soak it up with a napkin, and deposit this in the trashcan. If you smoke, you also give Eshu your first cigarette of the day…the first three if you are rich. You also give him at least a piece of the first sweet thing you have that day. If you drop some coins, leave them on the ground. Whoever takes them will be blessed. Basically, the spirits will take from you as needed to keep you balanced and flowing positively. Unless you need it for survival, do not try to recover material things that you may drop or lose.
Outdoor Walking With the Spirits
Some people, especially children of Obatala, like to do their daily observance by walking outdoors. They tend to have altars and shrines and sacred places around their neighborhood or someplace they visit regularly. So this is not a hard set of rules, but a sort of example you can take inspiration from, based on a child of Obatala who works by the sea.
1. Prepare your mind.
2. Find a place between two trees or bushes, or a sort of natural “corner”, and call to Eshu.
3. If it is safe to, give Eshu some incense, but if not, some sweets or coffee will be wonderful too.
4. Stand at the edge of the water and greet Eshu of the Sea (known in some places as Exu Mare). Ask him to open the way.
5. Greet the deities of the day, and if it is a Yemaya or Olokun day, take a dip in the water and ask for cleansing and protection. If it is an Ancestors day, or if you are in a period of extreme sadness, you may wish to avoid submerging more than your toes in the water.
6. Give small fish and sea life friendly food offerings.
7. Exit the water if you were in it, and thank the spirits for their attention.
The Body Altar
Some people are imprisoned and have everything material taken away from them and no privacy. In these cases, some choose to make their body their altar. This is a highly energetic practice, and would cause the average person in a normal situation considerable discomfort. It is not recommended except in dire circumstances.
If you must, here is a brief list of the body parts that correspond to various Orishas. This may also be helpful in healing. Mind you, these vary by local tradition, and there is plenty of overlap.
Eshu – the atlas (the bone connecting the skull to the spinal column), all joints and corners of the body, and all openings of orifices into the body.
Obatala – the head and brain.
Yemaya – the uterus, mucous membranes, glands, and lymphatic system.
Ogun – the hands, feet, and muscles, and temperature regulation.
Oshun – the clitoris and vagina, the head of the penis, the prostate, the tongue, the senses, digestion, the fat and skin, and blood.
Oya – the lung cavity, vocal chords, and sinuses, basically anything to do with breath and breathing.
Olokun – the pancreas, liver, spleen, the kidneys, the urinary tract, and basically all the self cleaning mechanisms of the body.
Shango – the nervous system, and electrical energy in the body.
Some Orisha adherents who also do Yoga and Hindu based practices have developed correspondences between the Orishas and the chakras.
These are just a few of the ways you can go about giving daily observances for the Orishas. As I said, it is very personal, and there are just a few standards that mostly have to do with tradition and metaphysical soundness. Be creative, and be enthusiastic. This is the one time of your day or week, if at no other time, that you give your full attention to the spirits. Even this varies somewhat. If one has likeminded people around, one may be somewhat friendly and casual and enjoy the company of the humans who are also enjoying the company of the spirits. Some though, are very solemn and focused. This is their time to get away and meditate. Really, this is your thing and you should do what connects your Ori to the Universe the best.
If you have any questions, feel free to ask.
Blessings and Ase!
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