You have to experience this
Since making Ocha, it has really struck me how much this religion cannot be learned apart from experience. No book (or blog) can teach you much of anything, other than a few lovely stories. When I first got into this religion, I enthusiastically consumed every book and website I could find, perhaps because my contact with the religion has always been out of town and thus infrequent. And I certainly learned a lot that I’m glad to know, but I never really ended up learning much about the Orisha until I started meeting them.
In Lukumi, the Orisha speak to us through divination with dilogun, coconut, and the Babalawo’s opele. They also speak to us through possession, when they mount their priests and dance and give advice. This direct contact with the Orisha is something I cherish most about this religion, because I get to actually hear what they say, rather than follow vague feelings and hope for the best.
It was through this direct contact that I started to realize that everything I thought I knew was wrong. Yemaya, for example. In a lot of what is written about Yemaya, we speak of her as a gentle, loving mother. The kind of mother who coddles you and gives you cookies. She is seen as sweet and generous. And she definitely can be. The Yemaya I have come to know, however, is very different.
The Yemaya I know and love is immense. And she will cut you. The Yemaya I know is no nonsense. She loves us all as deep as the ocean, but she knows when to use tough love. Like the ocean, her waters can be rough. She is a survivor who fights brutally to protect her children, but also won’t take any crap from her children. She can be harsh, because you need it.
Suffice it to say, I don’t get the warm fuzzy feelings from her that I had expected. And I love her for it.
I’ve had this experience with so many Orisha, expecting one way of relating to them and finding a completely different feeling when I actually meet them. Maybe we stereotype the Orisha with traits we want them to have, like an ebó to bring those traits out in them. I don’t know. You’d have to ask someone older and more experienced than me. Still, it’s very interesting just how different they can be.
The more that I learn, the more that I realize: this is not a book religion; this is a religion of experience.
(The above painting is my favourite painting of Yemaya! So beautiful!)
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