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Yoruban Deities and rituals that make “appearances” in JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE

Dear All,

JOE TURNER’S COME AND GONE invokes figures from several religious Pantheons.  One of them is Yoruban cosmology.  Here is a list of the Yoruban deities that Wilson invokes in his play as well as how they are usually understood.  BEWARE, though, Wilson invokes these figures, but the parallel is never one to one.  For example, no character stands in for a single God.  Rather, the play associates characters with different Gods at different times.


Eshu is an orisha, and one of the most known deities of the Yoruba mythology and related New World traditions.

He has a wide range of responsibilities: the protector of travelers, deity of roads, particularly crossroads, the deity with the power over fortune and misfortune, and the personification of death. Eshu is involved within the Orisa (also spelt Orisha or Orixa)-Ifá system of the Yoruba as well as in African diasporic faiths like Santeria/Lukumi and Candomble developed by the descendants of enslaved West Africans in the Americas, where Eshu was sometimes identified with Saint Anthony of Padua, Saint Michael [1] or Santo Niño de Atocha, depending on the situation or location. He is often identified by the number three, and the colours red & black or white & black, and his caminos or paths (compare: avatar) are often represented carrying a cane, shepherd’s crook, as well as a pipe.

Eshu is a god of Chaos and Trickery, and plays frequently tempting choices for the purpose of causing maturation. He is a difficult teacher, but a good one. As an example, Eshu was walking down the road one day, wearing a hat that was red on one side and black on the other. Sometime after he departed, the villagers who had seen him began arguing about whether the stranger’s hat was black or red. The villagers on one side of the road had only been capable of seeing the black side, and the villagers on the other side had only been capable of seeing the red half. They nearly fought over the argument, until Eshu came back and cleared the mystery, teaching the villagers about how one’s perspective can alter a person’s perception of reality, and that one can be easily fooled. In other versions of this tale, the two tribes were not stopped short of violence; they actually annihilated each other, and Eshu laughed at the result, saying “Bringing strife is my greatest joy”.

                                                                                                                    An Ifa Divination Plate

Ifa, god of divination, who is usually termed the God of Palm Nuts, because sixteen palm-nuts are used in the process of divination, The name Ifa apparently means something scraped or wiped off: he has the title of Gbangba (explanation, demonstration, proof). Ifa’s secondary attribute is to cause fecundity: he presides at births, and women pray to him to be made fruitful; while on this account offerings are always made to him before marriage, it being considered a disgrace not to bear children. To the native mind there is no conflict of function between Ifa and Obatala, for the former causes the woman to become pregnant, while the latter forms the child in the womb, which is supposed to be a different thing altogether.

Ifa first appeared on the earth at Iife, He tried to teach the inhabitants of Ife how to foretell future events, but they would not listen to him, so he left the town and wandered about the world teaching mankind. After roaming about for a long time, and indulging in a variety of amours, Ifa fixed his residence at Ado, where he planted on a rock a palm-nut, from which sixteen palm-trees grew up at once.

Ifa has an attendant or companion named Odu (One who emulates), and a messenger called Opele. The bandicoot (okete) is sacred to him, because it lives chiefly upon palm-nuts. The first day of the Yoruba week is Ifa’s holy day, and is called ajo awo, “day of the secret.” On this day sacrifices of pigeons, fowls, and goats are made to him, and nobody can perform any business before accomplishing this duty.

What is Ifa Divination?

At the top of the tray is the face of Eshu, the god who mediates between the world of the spirit and the human world. Eshu’s face appears on virtually all Ifa divination trays. The diviner sits with the tray in front of him, placed so that Eshu is opposite, facing him.

Other decoration varies widely from tray to tray. The figures on this tray have been identified as follows: upper left, upper right, and bottom, a kneeling woman with a child on her back, presenting offerings in a calabash; left, a soldier with a crossbow; right, a priest of Osanyin, a god of healing and wisdom ; lower left, a couple making love; lower right, a seated figure, probably a second representation of Eshu. A band of cowry shells, formerly used as money in West Africa, runs around the central part of the tray.

Yoruba thought ranks the desirable things of this world in five basic categories: health and long life, wealth, marriage, children, and victory over one’s enemies. It is probably no coincidence that all five types of good fortune can be associated with carvings on this tray.


In Yorùbá religion, Sàngó is perhaps the most popular Orisha; he is a Sky Father, god of thunder and lightning. Sango was a royal ancestor of the Yoruba as he was the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. In the Lukumí religion of the Caribbean, Shango is considered the center point of the religion as he represents the Oyo people of West Africa. All the major initiation ceremonies are based on the traditional Shango ceremony of Ancient Oyo. This ceremony survived the Middle Passage and is considered to be the most complete to have arrived on Western shores. This variation of the Yoruba initiation ceremony became the basis of all Orisha initiations in the West.

The energy given from this Deity of Thunder is also a major symbol of African resistance against an enslaving European culture. He rules the color red and white; his sacred number is 6; his symbol is the oshe (double-headed axe), which represents swift and balanced justice. His dominance is over male sexuality and human vitality, in general. He is owner of the Bata (3 double-headed drums), as well as the Arts of Music, Dance and Entertainment. Shango can be deduced, in some regards, to be the essence of “strategy” (logic and passion drawn and fashioned precisely to achieve some end).


Ọṣhun in Yoruba mythology, is a spirit-goddess (Orisha) who reigns over love, intimacy, beauty, wealth and diplomacy.[1] She is worshipped also in Brazilian Candomblé Ketu, with the name spelled Oxum. She should not be confused, however, with a different Orisha of a similar name spelled “Osun,” who is the protector of the Ori, or our heads and inner Orisha.

Ọṣhun is beneficent and generous, and very kind. She does, however, have a horrific temper, though it is difficult to anger her. She is married to Orula but only because of a contest put up by her mother Yemaya. The man to discover her daughter’s true name would take her hand in marriage, Orula with Eleguas trickery learned the name and Orula paid off Elegua and married Oshun. Oshun went to a drum one day and fell in love with the king dancer Shango, the god of thunder. Shango is married to Oba, Oya, and Oshun, though Oba is considered His legitimate wife.


One Response

  1. Thank you for this valuable information.

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