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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. If you are not an Orisha adherent, but have come here for guidance, you may benefit from my article Daily Observance Ritual for Witches at Witch University. Once you’re done here, the more concise and clear instructions for people of any belief system may be helpful.
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. Contrary to colonial slander, there is no quid pro quo in African belief systems, at least any known ones. We do observance for alignment and to some degree appeasement of forces that live both within and outside ourselves. It is for us to align ourselves with nature, not for nature to bend herself for us.
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.[ephemeris]
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.
This article is amazing! Thanks for the information. I am new to ancestor veneration and Ifa. So new that I’m not even sure what to call it yet. I want to start but don’t know where to start. I don’t have an altar nor do I have a place for an altar so my thought was to make my body an altar until I can do differently. I was amazed to see the body altar suggested in this article.
The body altar should be a last resort. It is very physically taxing for everyone except people whose head is Obatala. Even for them, it can be difficult and have unforeseen consequences that may be a little inconvenient, like easily triggered possession.
If you are unable to set up an altar at home, making a shrine outdoors or in an abandoned place is good, or you can find a real Buddhist, Hindu, or Taoist shrine or temple. A Gate Keeper deity from any faith ensures that offerings will get to who they need to get to, and that the right energy will be generated and directed to you or your situation or target in case of a spell.
Also, since most people don’t know much about the deeper side of eastern religions, at the worst, your family and acquaintances will think you’re getting into meditation or something. 😉
Peace love and light. I give thanks for all that you shared. It was exactly wht eye needed. Perfect! I AM new to tgis way and many things didnt make sense to what was being said amd done and now it does. As your article confirms why. Whts for me is for me. Whts not is not. Thinking on the questions that were being raised in my soul naturally and unapologetically. Yet respectfully. While on this jorney. Much love again peace and blessings
How long should I leave the alter up and what is the proper respectful way to take it down?
Hello! I just stumbled across this article while doing research. I am affiliated to Yemoja as she gave me to my earth mother. I only began to take it seriously after a ritual in Togo opened my eyes to so many spiritual truths. I am aware that Yemoja is the Goddess of all waters (almost like the Yoruba version of Gaea) but I am most drawn to worship her through the sea. I am setting up an altar in my bedroom and would like to know if I can use the top of my bedside shelf for this or do I have to buy a table specifically for this? You also mentioned ancestral worship but my mother was the black sheep of her family and doesn’t know about them (even though she’s now the bearer of her grandmother’s gift of sight. She’s an Oracle). The same with my father as I was had outside wedlock. I have been told that I am starting a new path unfollowed by others in my families (from either side) so can I leave out the ancestral worship? Also, do I need a gatekeeper for my altar? My Goddess is real and present and seems to be very jealous of my worship and love. She’s real enough to sometimes bless me with her essence and I become like a mouthpiece for her (I have been told this is quite scary though I remember very little apart from the fact that there is a stronger essence in my body that leaves me exhausted and dehydrated afterwards). But everything I say seems to be true. So, will she accept another god on my altar? Finally, what are some of the symbols that should be on my altar? I’m sorry for this barrage of questions but you would be helping me so much. Thank you for doing this. May you be blessed always!
Thank you for your questions, Cassandra 🙂 So that we’re clear from the outset, you need your Gatekeeper and your Ancestors. Without your Gatekeeper, any imposter spirit can stand in your desired deity’s place, or the connection can be disjointed or not as harmonious as it should be. It should warn you that something is wrong if an experience with a water deity is dehydrating. This means that you or at least your body’s liquids are being vampirized by whatever is touching you.
The path of the sorcerer is different, but no less intense or strict than the path of the priest. There are certain constraints in which we must operate to be effective, to stay sane, and for us and out loved ones to be safe from backlash. A Gatekeeper is a must. I recommend choosing who is closest to your heritage, be that Eshu, Hecate, Heimdallr, Coyote, or another.
You also need your Ancestors. If you don’t know everyone in your line for a few generations, any relatives who have passed to the other side more than a year and a day ago will suffice. Most people in that situation choose their favorite or closest three to call during daily observance.
Don’t give up on something just because it isn’t “perfect”. We need to do the best we can with what we have.
Blessings and Ase! 🙂
What is a gatekeeper?
Bawoni, YeYe!! I’ve been in the hospital since September recovering from an aggressive MRSA infection. I’ve begun to realign and balance spiritually, so I was elated to find information on alternative altars. I too thought the body altar was a good choice, but I’m going to do the cigar box altar. I’m Omo Oba, I cannot find much info on her so, any ideas on what to put into my box? Modupe for all of the info. I’m excited to build my shrine here in the hospital.
Ek’abo! 🙂 Thank you for your compliments and questions. It varies from place to place, as you know, but in my branch of the diaspora, Oba is a Goddess of marriage, marital commitment, home and hearth. Here in Israel, she is given much more attention than other areas of the diaspora, probably because her truth is a bit too much for the average western woman who has been overly assimilated. In Israel though, where there is a unique balance between the progressive and realist necessity of egalitarianism and the practical need and desire to form strong families, she gets a lot of love.
I have an info page on Oba at: http://soulmindbody.net/esu/2011/03/oba/
For your cigar box, I would recommend hand made durable fetishes. Polymer clay mixed with a bit of Earth and compatible materials is a good medium. If you have serious space concerns, you can make them coin shaped or use painted cloth. There are many possibilities. The “trick” is to make them durable and child safe because the first priority of Oba is her children’s wellbeing. Being crafty or at least supporting crafters is a good thing for children of Oba as well.
If you have any other questions, feel free to ask.
Many blessings! 🙂
How do you honor your ancestors. I never knew I had to before I served the lwa.
The details depend on who your Ancestors are and what cultures they hail from. However, generally you want to either have an Ancestor altar, give them place on your altar, or a memorial place or visit the place they are interred regularly. They’re an extremely important part of your spiritual practice. The Almighty and more ethereal deities are as much the Lord/Lady of viruses and tigers as they are of humans. The Orishas and other deities associated with or embodying forces of Nature are a bit closer and observable, but still with bigger priorities than us as individuals. Your Ancestors though, are all about you. It is their unions and survival that made you and your legacy through which they live and will return. So definitely get on that a.s.a.p.
I am having a difficult time. I have my Eshu. I was NOT instructed how to take care of him at all. I don’t care for my Babas wife. Sh is a mean jealous envey full woman who lies and is a back stabber. So when my Baba tells me to go to her or help I DO NOT! I tried before and what she told me was 100% wrong. So wrong my Baba yelled at me And I told him HIS wife told me what to do! When my Baba asked her if she told me this she lied and said NO. So I left that house. I am on my own with my Eshu. I have him and I LOVE him so much. I need help please before Eshu gets really angry with me. Please help me. I enjoyed your information. You know what you are talking about. I prayed to Eshu for help and I found your website. Please help me I losing and missing hope.
Thank you for your comment, Nancy. You are not alone. Many new prospects and initiates are having the same problem in sects that are too far away from their African or diaspora communities. In some cases, these things happen because they were overly dependent on the community, and didn’t bother learning crucial details for themselves. In other cases, people have claimed titles that they did not earn by community standards. Too many people are impressed by titles and the superficial trappings of African and diaspora cultures, or want to have an exotic experience without any of the responsibilities, so some of it is the market’s fault, but some people are purposefully misleading people who are sincere.
The good news for you is that Eshu does not like formality. He is more interested in sincerity and respect. So he forgives our mistakes that we make from lack of knowledge. He also multiplies himself, so one can be flexible to a degree. One person’s Eshu may like sweets more than another, and one may accept tobacco and one not…You can relax and get to know your Eshu, and invite him to instruct you. In fact, your personal Eshu may be a bit different from your home doorway Eshu, who may be different from your travel Eshu, and so on. Just be real with him, and learn as much as you can about the different ways people relate to him, and you’ll do fine. 🙂
Alafia Yeye… thanks so much for the explanation, I am very confused at the moment.. I have been made to understand that I am Omo olokun, which was worshipped in my maternal side back in Nigeria, but due to my Christianity, I have never observed or worshipped olokun. I feel that I am being pressurised at the moment to pay homage to olokun, but I don’t know where to start from as my family back home to worship olokun anymore. Please can you advice me on how to connect. I am in UK.
Alafia 🙂 There are still plenty of followers of Olokun in Nigeria, and recently the Ifa temples have started sending people abroad for outreach. One of them can be reached at his Facebook page at: https://www.facebook.com/ifaolokuntemple.ifasola
Olokun initiates and priests tend to be more witchcraft friendly than others, so you don’t have to worry about being judged harshly. They will in fact help you to keep your practices respectful and sound, and make tools for you. So it is worth it to contact them, and you wouldn’t have to worry about being overly limited by taboos.
You are so helpful. Thanks
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Thank you so much, for this article…im new to recognizing my ancestry n spirituality, but I definitely am enjoying learning and taking all of this new info in. Ready to apply all of my new knowledge to my everyday journey….Ashe
P.s. are you on Facebook? If so, I would like to follow u on there and soak up more from u. Thk u again.
I am new in the Orisha system and I was wondering what action needs to be taken. Can I serve the Orishas without being initiated? What steps should I take to find someone to teach me or can I learn with Eshu? Should I ask Eshu to open doors for me to be initiated?
I am curious as well. I’m responding so I will be notified when/if there is an answer. 🙂
Hello Aaliyah 🙂
Thank you for some very good questions. I’ll try to answer them as well as possible without writing a book in here.
Yes you can serve the Orishas without being initiated by a community, but community is still very important. If it’s just self help or religion, you can believe whatever you like and practice how ever you see fit, but once you start a path to serve the community as a witch or priest/ess, you become accountable.
Many people were basically thrust into the position of village or community witch or acting priest(ess) because they had the talent and were needed, and there was no time for formality. I’ve seen many cases like this. If someone has the time and luxury to get human guided training first though, they should take that opportunity.
Eshu will teach you as he teaches all of us, but he is a harsh teacher with a dark sense of humor. As many of the accidental town witches I mentioned before will tell you, some lessons they’d rather have learned through their ears than on the skin on their butts or from guilt.
If you’d like to go the traditional route, but you know you’re more witch than priest, I recommend seeking the closest egbe Olokun. They are generally more witchcraft friendly than others since one of the domains of Olokun is “the mysteries”. If you’re going non traditional Orisha adherence, you should find an elder mentor or teacher so you have some guidance, but still keep in friendly relations with the African priesthood.
Bear in mind that there is more than Orisha out there. I recommend them here because most African Americans have some Yoruba ancestry, and even for those who don’t, the Orisha systems are universal enough that they’re a good basis for anyone. You may have different benevolent Ancestors though, and they need to be respected as well. There is a kind of rule of thumb in this. If they turned their back on you before, you are under no obligation to honor them when they are departed. You do owe some respect to the fact of your genetics, but the hard day to day reality of your being matters more.
So whatever the general principles are and whatever works for others, you have to follow your soul and the divination done for you. If the divination done for you says something is a good path, take it. If it’s destructive, don’t. Some people have ignored divination on this matter and done what seems right or popular, and it turned out disastrous.
Keep that honest, open dialogue with Eshu and he will point…sometimes maybe drag you to the right direction.
Blessings and Ase!
I am new and have so many questions. Is there another way to contact you?
Thank you for writing this article. I’m also new to Ifá after looking for ways to connect with my culture and ancestors. Can you please explain what you mean by closing the ritual? Also can you reccomend a resource that tells you which days correspond to each Orisha other than the ones you mentioned? Thank you again! This will really help me to start my practice.
Wow, I’ve been blessed to have come across this! Thank you so much for your detailed information. I’m fairly new and my husband, (being the conservative Christian that he is) considers this “witchcraft” but I’ve akways felt Oshun’s spirit for the past 18 years. I’ve tried honoring her a few years ago and was forced to throw away anything dealing with Yoruba.
I’ve been dealing with a lot of anxiety and depression and really want to honor them but I feel stuck and deprived that I can’t practice or even think freely. I’m almost at the point where I’d rather leave my marriage. I don’t know how to go about this. 🙁
I feel like Oshun won’t even listen to me because I’m keeping her a secret?
Lena, I can understand here you are coming from with your feelings. I am a combat veteran who deals with PTSD, depression, anxiety and physical limitations but I have suffered with the first three most of my life because of the stress my family brought me and the pain and hurt that I endured because of them. I grew up in a family that is generationally rooted in Baptist and Christianity but I always felt conflicted and forced. Even when I joined the church it was much so out of expectation than my own desire, so over the years I struggled practicing but not feeling anything that was part of this religion and I was afraid to be open with my feelings because anything outside of Christianity seems to be branded not believing in God and not voodoo or evil or devils work.
About two years ago, I had to learn to follow my heart and my spirit which were puling so strongly at me to follow what I needed that it almost felt like a gravitational pull. This is how I knew, it wasn’t about capoeira, my family, expectations or anyone else and I was having depression bouts migraines and on a lot of medication because of this internal struggle. So what I have done, is I started surrounding myself with people who I knew felt this same way. First, by wanting to preserve the elements. You can do this subtly without triggering him or anyone else and until you find your comfort. For example, I started listening to water machines in my apartment to keep the presence of Yemenja with me to help me sleep and keep me at peace. I work with wood and saw prayers to Ogum when I am making something then eventually it just grew.
They do hear you and will help you make a way through whatever conflict you are feeling and find your comfort. I wish you peace and all that is well.
I really like this site, pls help, i just discover iam omo olokun, though am a christian and neva have i involved myself in worship of any idols before, but people see me tell me am from water, i didn’t believe because i neva see signs, and i always reject it. But last year before my wedding a woman told my that i must set my olokun before the wedding else something else might happen that day, so i when ahead and set it. But after then different people have said i am queen there, but the only thing i remember was always having dream of marrying a king or prince, But now things are very difficult for me and my husband and someone told me that this group of people are following me around and are angry that i abandon them, and that my husband is also from olokun and a king where he came from, pls help me , what do i do, things have turned upside down for me, i want to be seeing them and being friends with them, what do i do. Thanks
I am so grateful to have found this article. It has been a great help, as I am new to Orisha as well. I was advised I am Oshun and was given instructions on what foods to offer and to make the alter. Baba is initiating on my behalf due to my not having the money to buy supplies. My question is how long should I wait before I begin doing my daily ritual?
Thanks in advance
Thank you so much for this post, I have always felt that there was a missing spiritual gap in my life every since if I was a kid. The formality of being raised in a certain religion and place didn’t feel natural to me and I repelled it more and more as I grew older. Every where I went, water has always been my soother and where I find comfort and peace. As I began to wonder what were the original beliefs of the counties of Africa that I found out I originated from and studying the culture around Salvador because I was drawn to the culture of capoeira. I felt right at home and that. my life had found its missing link.
The elements have always been a major part of my balance, peace and life and I want to to make them a huge part of my life and honor them. I had an encounter where out of nowhere, I felt a strong pull and beckoning from inside pushing me to make a visit to Salvador, Bahia and that I would find home there. I resisted for a few. months and finally made arrangements and went there with my son Kenyen.
Yemenja is the orixa that is celebrated their the most and when I encountered the offering house of hers in Rio Vermelho I remember feeling surrounded by her and feeling like I found my place of spiritual rest.I knew from that day forward, that with the elements and the orixas is where I wanted to be. In everything, I had done and have done, I realized I have turned to the elements for help without realizing it: by growing organic, making herbal medicines, preserving anything that comes from nature and I am heavily drawn to water, wood and sympathy of sickness. Omulu is someone I fear and respect because I have dealt with so much sickness and lost so many people in my life but understand it to be a part of the balance of life. I believe that sickness also tells us indications about what we are dealing with and ourselves.
I work with wood but I listen to the grain and the trees for what to make from it and if it should even be cut. I burn sage before I work with anything in my shop and wait for it to go out.
I have long since realized that being Baptist for me was not true to my spirit or my life and since then have found myself drawn and wanting. more to be part of honoring and worship of the nature deities of God. I want to learn more about honoring them more and eventually becoming an initiate though I am not sure where I should start or who to contact. But this gave me a great beginning. Thank you so much from San Antonio, TX
Greetings and many thanks for your informative and thoughtful posts!
I hope my question finds you in good health and spirits.
What gatekeeper spirit might you reccomend for someone of mixed jewish and romanian heritage who has lived half their life (by choice) in a Spanish speaking country? I feel very disconnected from the more formal religous aspects of both judaism and the romanian orthodox christian tradition, however I am more and more aware of the need some sort of ancestor guided structure into my ritual/spiritual/divination practice. Life keeps putting the orishas and santería in my path thanks to friends, chance encounters and my geographic location however I am not sure if a gatekeeper from this tradition would be the best choice to honor or if there would be a better option.
Also, the only ancestor I have met and knew more than just a few times was my grandmother however we were not very close as there was a lot of conflict over the years between her and my mother. Should I honor her as a representative of my maternal line, or perform further research to see if there might be a friendlier or more available ancestor to work with? In theory my great grandmother had some divinatory powers, to which my mother ascribes my own howevwer I know few details of her life story…