Orisha worship simply explained
As most of you know, I am fully aware that Orishas don’t make man, but that man makes Orishas… in Yoruba culture an Orisha can be compared to a “Big Man”, who is only big as long as he has a range of followers. I’m not the only one who thinks this way: Karen Barber in “Oríkì, women and the proliferation and merging of òrìṣà” explains it better than I can.
Especially in the Diaspora, where many Ilés and Elders insist more on maintaining a re-enactment society with an extremely rigid (and mercilessly enforced) hierarchy than on helping their practitioners develop spiritually, some of the beliefs and worship seems to have shifted away from the Orishas towards the largely imagined “sacredness” of rituals and ceremonies. No ritual is sacred by itself… it is a means to a purpose, and the less bullshit the better. I notice much of this bullshit in the simplest of things, like opening a divination for one or two quick questions: I’ve seen “established” practitioners preparing, mojuba’ing and invoking for close to an hour(!!!) before they finally got around to the divination itself. “Form” has become more important than “function”
But thank (any) God that we have Sir Terry Pratchett! His Discworld novels allow us a mirror view into our own lives, and since our Good Knight isn’t a stranger to spirituality there’s always, in every Discworld book, the odd piece of wisdom that we as Ifa-Orisha practitioners can apply to our own lives.
In Small Gods Pratchett confronts us with many practices that are also wide-spread in Ifa-Orisha, and he does it in such a way that we manage not only to laugh about ourselves, but also promise to do better in future!
This Discworld novel is set in the previously unheard of locale of Omnia, where the Quisition, led by Deacon Vorbis, tortures into its heretical citizenry a belief in the Great God Om. But the central question in the book is: what happens when belief dissipates, and is replaced by simple routine? Following the rituals of a religion is not really the same as believing in the power and glory of a God.
And on the Discworld, like in Orisha worship, there’s not exactly a lack of Gods to choose from. There are billions of them, and they’re all likely to strike you down where you stand if you insult them in any way. Great God Om used to be the greatest of all Gods, but he’s fallen on tough times. The brand of belief favoured by Vorbis is not the kind of belief Om needs. He’s losing true believers in the process, and has become quite ineffectual. Om and his one true believer Brutha follow a Pratchett tradition of teaming a wide-eyed innocent with a cynical curmudgeon, and watching as the two personalities eventually meet in the middle. Brutha is a true believer in the face of pure evil, and it’s this innocence/ignorance that allows him to survive. Om is a perpetually pissed-off little dude, angry at his new lot in life, and unsure how to get his powers back. All he knows is that Brutha is his only hope, for Brutha is the only one that can truly hear him. Their joint quest is a joy to follow. Small Gods is great fun, but it is also a great book in its seriousness. The book takes a witty look at the perils of making religion too organized – in paying more attention to the priests rather than to the Gods. This book really is “Orisha worship simply explained” !
Note for the easily bored: The book takes off a little slowly, but hang on for a few pages and you’ll be gripped!