!!!Very Important Sidenote!!! Many times, you will see the term “Ancestors” used as a sort of shorthand to encompass all of the Dead/Departed/Passed On. I do it too, in this article. Though this is acceptable as a linguistic shortcut, it is not technically correct. First, because someone doesn’t have to physically be in your direct line to be an Ancestor in spiritual terms as opposed to physical/genetic terms. Second, because in African and diaspora belief systems generally, Death is viewed as a sort of life in and of itself, just not in animated physical terms. So after death, one undergoes both a physical and energetic transformation before they or an amalgamation of theys return. Sancista Brujo Luis explains the various terms for the deceased in Brujeria on a video on YouTube. Take the time to watch it because for those of us whose main languages are Germanic or Latin based, the letter of word is important because we rely less on tone or inflection in our languages.
Now, if you have to make due because you don’t know who your most advanced Ancestors are, then you do what you must. It’s not a good idea to do without the link through the departed simply because you don’t have an ideal situation. Just remember to go through your Gatekeeper and be respectful and mindful.
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.