In Afro-Cuban history and religion, there is a compendium or syncretism of various regional cults that have been formed since the period of conquest and colonization.
In Cuba, the most popular African cults are those belonging to the Yorubá African nation, which has its initiations in the foundation of the city-state of Ilé Ife, and was expanding over the centuries to other African territories.
Thus, it happened that different deities from neighboring nations were added to the original pantheon of Ilé Ife. The city of Ilé Ife, according to Yoruba legends, was founded by a mythical king called Oduduwá, whose children and descendants formed a dynasty of kings who were deified and transformed into Orisha.
They are the ones known as Orishas, African deities adored with great devotion by the Cuban people in the Rule of Osha-Ifá or Santeria.
In mythology, the Orishas were also human beings who, according to their qualities and history in life, whether as kings, warriors or leaders, were seen after death as divine beings, deified by their followers.
Cuba and the worship of Yoruba deities in Santeria
The so-called Santería de Cuba, Afro-Cuban expression of the Rule of the Ocha, is a manifestation of Cuban syncretism, and mixes African, Catholic and spiritualist conceptions.
Thus, many pay homage to an Orisha of the Yoruba religion, added to the image of a Catholic saint.
Some of the strongest syncretisms are:
- obbatala, he is worshiped next to Our Lady of Mercedes.
- Monkey, Yoruba god of thunder, is associated with Santa Barbara.
- Oshun, Yoruba Goddess of Love, is the Virgen de la Caridad del Cobre.
- The Goddess of the Seas Yemaya, is the Virgen de Regla in Catholicism.
- Saint Lazarus and the Orisha Babalú Ayé, are also linked in the same cult.
- The owner of the yoruba road Elegua It is the boy from Atocha.
- orula, the diviner and direct interpreter of Ifá, is the saint Saint Francis of Assisi.
10 Main Orishas of the Yoruba Pantheon and their patronage
The Orishas represent the forces of nature and elements of it. These are their so-called patronages, from which we know how they protect us and what their powers are.
Next, we present the patronage of the main Orishas of the Yoruba pantheon to whom the Cuban people pay devotion:
Olokun, Lord of the Oceans
Yoruba mythology and its stories (patakies) tell that after Odduá, Olokun is the highest representation of the Orishas.
When the world was formed there was more water than land, that is why it has a high hierarchy within the Yoruba pantheon.
Olokun represents depth of the oceans and grants health and stability to humans. He grants riches hidden in the depths of the waters and has power over life and death.
Yemayá, the Queen of the Sea
Yemayá is one of the deities most adored and respected by Cubans. She is ancient and revered for her immense powers, especially since she is considered the eldest mother, the womb that brought us into the world.
Yemayá is the Queen of the sea, representative of fertility, protector of home and family.
In syncretism with the Marian invocation that is the Virgen de Regla in Catholicism, Yemayá also protects the boats and the fishermen from the dangers of the rough sea.
Changó or Shangó (in Yoruba, Ṣàngó), Lord of Thunder
It is Shangó, one of the most popular and revered Orishas for being brave and daring, considered a warrior king in the Yoruba pantheon.
He is the Orisha of justice, lightning, thunder and fire.
Shangó is the owner of the drums, dance and music, so he is extremely cheerful and lively. He represents the full joy of living and is the one who defends men in the worst wars and conflicts.
Oshún, Oxum or Ochun (in Yoruba: Òşun) Goddess of Love
Oshún is the most beautiful deity of the Yoruba pantheon, highly venerated in Cuba, fundamentally with the considered patron saint of the Island, La Caridad del Cobre, with whom she syncretizes.
This beautiful goddess who symbolizes sweet honey represents sensuality, love, romanticism, delicacy, sweetness and happiness.
She is the Queen of the River and fresh waters and is also associated with serenity and money.
Obbatalá, Father Orisha, sculptor of men
Obbatalá is one of the most important deities of the Yoruba religion. He is known as the Father of everything that lives on Earth, since he was the creator of the world and the sculptor of the human being.
He is this orisha so powerful, the source of all that is pure, he is wise, gentle and compassionate, but he can also be a warrior through whom he imposes justice in this world.
In nature he owns the mountainsañas, and also of everything white, of the head, of thoughts and dreams, is the one who guides our decisions in life.
Oggun, Ogun or Ogum, Lord of the Irons
Oggun is one of the most popular deities of the Yoruba religion among practitioners. He is an extremely strong Orisha, warrior and representative of the Irons, of Metal, of the beginnings and of hard work.
He is the Orisha of blacksmiths, of wars, of technology, of surgeons, of the army and of all professions that work with metals.
He lives in the mountains together with Oshosi, the vigilante and Eleguá, the owner of the roads, together they defend us from all kinds of adversities and obstacles.
Elegba or Eleguá, Lord of the Roads
Elegba (also called Elegguá) is the owner of the 4 corners and doors in this world. Nothing can be done on a religious level without his permission, because he is a cheat and can turn upside down any purpose or goal that you want to achieve.
He is the messenger of the gods and it is said that his is the key to open the doors of happiness, love, prosperity, health and all bonanzas.
Oshosi, Lord of the Hunt
Oshosi is the third member of the group of Orishas known as Warriors.
He is the Lord of Justice, he is the thought that can be transferred anywhere, protector of the unjustly treated, of the persecuted and of the unfortunate.
He owns the game and the bush. Oshosi is the hunter and explorer of the Orishas, and assumes the role of translator for Obatalá.
Oyá or Yansa, Lady of the Spark
Oyá She is the sovereign of the winds, the whirlpool and the doors of the cemetery.
The title of Yansa or "Mother of the Nine" is given, as her stories tell that she herself governs Eggun or the dead.
She is a fierce warrior who rides to war with Chango and Oggun, she is not afraid of anything and in the cemetery she directs all the spirits with her power.
Orunmila or Orula, the Ifá Diviner
Orunmila is the orisha of wisdom and divination.
His priests, the babalawos or "Fathers of the Secrets", venerate and respect him through the practice of divination and the arts related to the interpretation of the Ifá word.
Orula owns the Ifá boards through which he reveals the secrets of the universe and human destiny, his advice never falls, they are true and fair, and the religious must always comply with them.
There are many other powerful Orishas in the Yoruba pantheon, in this article we have only mentioned some of the most revered by the devotees of Santeria, then we share much more about the Osha-Ifá, its deities and religious wisdom.