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Iyaami Osoronga

(My Mother the Sorceress)

By awo Fategbe Fatunmbi

This essay is mostly a compilation of information of already published info. on our Mothers.
Obviously, as a man, my knowledge is limited.
(edited 3/19/10)
Nwon ba nkorin bayi pe
Iya kere e mo ohun mi o
Iyami Osonronga, gbogbo ohun ti mba nwi
Ogbo lo ni e mda gbo dandan
Iyami Osoronga, e mo ohun mi o
Iyami Osoronga, igba l o ni ki e mda gba
Iyami Osoronga, e mo ohun mi o
Iyami Osoronga, oro ti okete ba le so
Ni le gbo dandan
Iyami Osoronga, e mo ohun mi o
Iyami Osonronga, gbogbo ohun ti mba ti nwi, ni ko mda se
Iyami Osoronga e mo ohun mi o
Petite mother you will know my voice
Iyami Osoronga (My mother the sorceress) every word that I speak
The ogbo leaf has said that you will understand it absolutely
Iyami Osoronga you will know my voice

Iyami Osoronga the calabash says that you will take it

Iyami Osoronga you will know my voice
Iyami Osoronga, the word that the okete rat speaks to the earth
The Earth will hear it absolutely
Iyami Osoronga you will know my voice
Iyami Osoronga everything that I say, you will do
Iyami Osoronga you will know my voice.
Ase O!
Iyaami (or Iyami) have been characterized as a negative force in the universe frequently
associated with "witchcraft" and the use of female power to harm others. However, this
particular belief is ill informed and is in contradiction to both Ifa scripture and Ifa ritual practice.
For one, offerings to Iyami are a component of nearly all offerings made as a result of
consultation with Ifa divination. In addition, the use of the symbolic representation of birds
(Eleye) on the crown of the king (Oba) suggests that the blessing of Iyami is an essential element
in the sanctification of the monarchy. As a divine ruler, Oba William Adetona Ayeni in the
northeastern Yoruba kingdom of Ila-Orangun, while referring to the cluster of birds (birds
represent the power of the mothers) on his great crown, is reported to have said, Without the
mothers, I could not rule (J. Pemberton in Drewal et al., 1989)
According to Chief Ifawole of Ile Ife:
"The Iyaami are the women that guide Olodumare. They go by the name Aje or Iyaami. The
three Iyaami that primarily guide Olodumare are called;
Ayere Eiye
Ayere Eiye
Oyeye Eiye Ti Se Oniko Eleiye.
These three Iyaami not only guide Olodumare, but they empower the Aje on the earth. They are
the ones that originally sent the Aje to the World. The three Iyaami have supreme power over
Aje on earth and they are the ones who initiated and spread Aje throughout the World. The Aje
on earth fall into two categories, Oso, which are male Aje and the Eleiye which are female Aje.
Esu has ability to enter among both Oso and Eleiye. No one can choose to initiate Aje/Iyaami,
they choose who they want to initiate and call that person.

No one can say they have initiated to Iyaami or say they can initiate you. No one can have or
give a shrine to the Iyaami or Aje. If someone claims to have an Iyaami shrine, can give a shrine,
to have been initiated to Iyaami or wants to initiate you, they are speaking falsely. It is
impossible to truthfully make these claims.
There is no specific shrine to Aje. To feed the Aje one must either feed them through Esu, Orita
meta (3 road junction) or the Iroko tree. No one knows the actual Aje shrine, however according
to Elders and what Ifa says, we know that the name of their house is called Ota and the name of
their shrine is called Idi.
No one knows the actual place of the Idi and if they do they can NEVER say"
According to Ifa, the difference between men and women is that women are born with ofo ase or
the power of the word. This power is called aje and is rooted in the concept of ge or female ase.
Ase is a component of the life force breathed into each human being by Olodumare; it is spiritual
power; it is the power to create. Ase is given by Olodumare to everything Gods, ancestors,
spirits, humans, animals, plants, rocks, rivers and voiced words such as songs, prayers, praises,
curses, or even everyday conversation. Existence, according to Yoruba thought, is dependent
upon it; it is the power to make things happen and change. The power of the word is an important
part of harnessing ase (Pemberton).
The day Epe was created
Was the day Ase became law
Likewise, Ohun was born
The day Epe was invoked
Ase is proclaimed
Epe is called
But they both still need Ohun (to communicate).
Without Ohun (voice), neither Epe (curse, the malevolent use of ase), nor Ase can act to fulfill its
The reason women have ofo ase is because the voice of the mother is the voice that guides the
development of children. Women are born with ofo ase, while it must be developed in men
through initiation. This is why men are presented to odu and women are not. Odu means womb;
women are born with a womb. Men experience what it means to have a womb by being
presented to odu. The idea that women cannot see odu (igbadu) because they are somehow
inferior to men is a gross distortion developed in a patriarchal west.

In Yoruba theology, like most other theologies, exists the concept of extensionism; a connection
from the human to God. In Ifa, this extension is called Ela. It is through Ela that one connects to
God (Olodumare) and receives ase. Ela speaks through Owe (ofo ase) - proverbs, Odu, oriki,
chants, etc.
Womens ways of knowing is tied to metaphor of voice (owe). In women, the development of
sense of voice, mind and self are intricately intertwined, and are the foundation for the egbe
known as Iyaami Osoranga from the elision iya a mi oso ran ga meaning, my mothers bring me
the power of astral travel What this means is that the power of the word is the power to enter the
astral plane and from that plane use the power of the word to change life on earth. In traditional
Ifa, Iyaami Osoronga is the foundation of everything (Fatunmbi).
Yoruba cosmology is heavy in dualities and polarities that are constantly seeking balance in
unity. Just as there exists the polarity of male-female energy, within female energy itself exists a
polarity that is create and destroy. Many focus on the destructive power of the mothers, giving
the impression that they are destructive. However, they are also needed for all creative pursuits.
A central figure that embodies the dual nature of the mothers, and arguably the most powerful
Orisa, is Osun (leader of the Iyami cult). Knowing that she was the source of all good things as
stated in the Ifa literary corpus, Osun never needs to vie for position among her fellow Orsa. Her
demeanor invokes the Yoruba saying,
Asu retete ko` roye` je,
ar`ngbe.`re. ni moye`e dele
One who walks slowly, (that is, acts intelligently and gracefully), will bring the chieftaincy title
home, while the one who runs (that is, acts recklessly) misses the chance of enjoying a title.
Compared with the other Orsa, Osun represents a higher and more inclusive religio-aesthetic
concept immediately relevant to the solution of human problems, regardless of their origin,
nature, or severity. Her presence and that of our mothers must be acknowledged at all major
events, festivals, and celebrations of new seasons and the new year. Virtually all greetings on
these occasions end with the prayer Odun a yabo which is a wish for a feminine, productive,
harmonious, and successful year, season, or celebration. This verbal invocation not only
acknowledges the spiritual attributes and ase of womanhood which is epitomized in Osun, but is
also a practical acceptance of the superior power of our mothers in helping the community to
cope with all the challenges of a new season, year, or millennium (Abiodun 2001).
In Yoruba tradition, women are thought to be as indispensable to men as Osun was to the sixteen
male orsa or odu at the time of creation. However, men have an ambivalent attitude toward
women. It is felt that women of any age are potential aje who possess eiye the bird power.
The symbolism of the bird is ubiquitous in Yoruba ritual and art. The crown of the Oba is
adorned with birds, the staff of Osanyin as well as babalawo, and the calabash which holds the
bird and other magickal ingredients (Odu pot, or igbadu) has birds carved on the surface.

The mothers, also known as Eleiye, owners of bird, are said to send out there birds or turn into
birds themselves at night. This is a reference to the ability of the Iyami to astral travel. It is
during astral travel that they come silently to eat your intestines. The fear of this extraordinary
power has caused men to appease women as they do our mothers (awon ya wa).
Consequently, in many social, religious, and political gatherings, men endeavor to placate our
mothers and to pray to them to use their powers for the good of society. Even though much of
the traditional political power in Yorubaland today seems to be located in the domain of men,
Yoruba oral traditions and visual art show that this hasnt always been the case. The power of
women is most represented in Osun, who as the leader of the Iyami cult exhibits the multifarious
dimensions of feminine power and whose presence continues to reverberate in Yoruba culture
and society (Abiodun 2001).
Before contact, the womens society, the Iyaami, had the authority to bestow kingship. It was the
Iyaami who put the crown on the new king. All the kings power and authority were in the
crown. It contained the ase of Kingship. The mens society and the womens society, made up of
respected elders, made decisions which were passed to the king. In a Yoruba village, Iyalode is a
title bestowed on a woman who is head of the women of the community. She is the one who
issues the birds, the power of aje. She is head of the market place, and a priestess of Oya. She
represents women in court, and settles disputes. She controls the menstruation of all the women,
and so controls all women through her mystical powers (Verger 1965).
After the arrival of Muslims and Europeans, the womens societies were destroyed so that
kingship would not be in the hands of the women, and the position could be corrupted. At that
time the Kings son could not be king. Kingship went to a nephew. So although women have
always been known to have and use ase for good and for bad (for the Yoruba, the ase of Iyami is
not in and of itself good or evil; whats important is how it is used), they wouldnt become
portrayed purely as witches who are evil and must be persecuted until after the Muslims and
Europeans came. In Odu you will find extensive praise and love of the mothers. There are many
sources that show that the idea of witchcraft developed after the arrival of Christian
missionaries and colonial officers, who, by persecuting the indigenous religion, created new
forms of pagan religion replete with witch hunting groups, and anti-witchcraft churches, etc.
(Debrunner 1959). The mothers, when they came into the world, came to roost in an Iroko tree
(as eleiye). The iroko tree is sacred to Iyaami. According to Fatunmbi:
"...Iroko from the elision i ro ko meaing I learn possession. The iroko trees are huge ancient
trees similar to the baobob tree in South Africa. The trees are scattered throughout the rain forest
and grow in isolation, meaning a single tree and not in clusters. In traditional Yoruba culture,
villages were built around the iroko tree. The iroko tree is the Ifa tree of life because within the
shadow of the iroko tree there are over a 1000 species of living things living in perfect harmony.
The effect of all these living things creating a balanced environment, is that the iroko tree is an
inter-dimensional portal. The tree is used both for the ancestors and for Iyaami. In Ode Remo on
the full moon all the women of Iyaami meet in the iroko tree in their astral bodies. It is taboo for
men to walk past the tree on a full moon.
If you were to do so accidently, you would not see anything unless you had second sight, but the
grandmothers would warn you the next day not to violate the taboo. In the sixties as part of the

alleged transfer of power from Britain to Nigeria, British intelligence paid the Yoruba Christian
community to walk through Yoruba land burning down the iroko trees and destroying the village
Iyaami shrines. The British did this because they knew that the mothers had control over the oba
(king) and in order to install puppet kings in Yoruba land the British needed to destroy Iyaami.
The iroko tree in Ode Remo shows evidence of this burning. The entire Christian crusade was
filmed by Bascom, and the raw footage is available at the Berkeley anthropological museum. As
far as I know, it has never been shown in public."
In Odu (the Ifa oral literary corpus) we learn that women were given the power over the universe
directly by Olodumare. Odu (Iyaami, Iya'nla, Iya Agba,Odua, Odudua, Odu Logboje) is a female
deity who came into the visible realm with Obatala (Orisanla, Obarisa) and Ogun. The word
Oduduwa is from the elision Odu dudu iwa that literally means dark womb of Creation I greet or
I arrive. In better English Oduduwa means the arrival of form and structure. Here there is
confusion as there is the first Yoruba king whose name is Oduduwa. These are two different
entities. Odu the female is sometimes referred to as Odudua. We also find Odudua as the wife of
Obatala in the Diaspora. In the creation episode in Osa Meji, Odu comes to earth with Obatala,
and in another itan Odu goes to live with Obatala. Herer we are speaking of the female entity and
not the first king. Obatala as the force of expansion and Odu the force of contraction in the
universe. This is the most basic, overarching polarity in Yoruba thought.
Olorun sent them to establish the earth. Obatala had the power of creation and Ogun the power of
war and technology. Odu had nothing, so she went back to Olorun before they had left the
invisible realm and asks Olorun what will be her power. Olorun (Olodumare) tells her, You will
be Iya Won, their mother for all eternity; you will support the world. You are the mother of all
men. They must alert you, Odu, of all things they intend to do. Man alone may do nothing in the
absence of women (light and sound [expansion] alone are not enough; you need gravity
[contraction] to create form). He gives her the power of Eiye -the bird. He gives her the calabash
of Eleiye -the bird keeper. Olodumare asks her how she will use the power; she says she will kill
anyone who doesnt listen to her. She will reward money and children to those who ask, but if
people then become impertinent with her, shell take those things back. He warns her not to
misuse this power. She says as long as people dont mess up, she will give them blessings, but if
they mess up, shell kill them. She gets a bit too arrogant and misuses her power. So the power is
transferred to men, or actually the command over the power, but the power itself remains with
women. She ends up married to Obatala and he must promise her that none of his wives can look
at her. Thus women are not allowed to look at the Odu pot. The Odu pot is the most powerful
object in the Yoruba religion. Women can receive Ifa and become diviners or belong to Ifa cult
with the same status as men, but they cant look in the Odu pot, giving men the power over it.
But it is still female power, which is qualitatively better than male power. In practical terms,
this puts control of the Orunmila cult in the hands of men. The story of Odu (the deity not the
corpus) is found in Irete Ogbe:
You trample upon the brush. I trample upon the brush.
We trample the brush down together.
Ifa was consulted for Odu (Odudua) by these Awos.

They said, Odu is going from heaven to earth.

When she arrived on earth
They said, you, Odu, this is your beginning.
Olodumare gave her a bird.
She took this bird with her to earth.
Aragamago is the named that Olodumare gave this bird.
Aragamago is the name that Odu's bird carried.
He said, "You Odu, any undertaking upon which you send this bird, it will do.
He said, "Any place that it pleases you to send this bird, it will go.
He said, "If it is to do bad or good."
He said, Anything that it pleases you to tell it to do, it will do.
Odu brought this bird to earth.
Odu has said that no other person will be able to look upon it.
She said that it must not be looked upon.
If any enemy of Odu looks upon it,
She will shatter his eyes,
With the power of this bird, she will blind the eyes.
If another of her enemies peers into the calabash of this bird,
This bird Aragamago, will shatter their eyes.
She used this bird thusly.
She used it even to get to the house of Orunmila.
Orunmila went to consult his Awos.
The Oracle said, "If we teach intelligence to someone, his intelligence will be intelligent.

If we teach stupidity to someone, his stupidity will be stupid."

The Babalawos of the house of Orunmila consulted Ifa in order to know the day that he would
take Odu as his wife.
In this manner Orunmila would take Odu for his wife.
The Awos of Orunmila said "Hee."
They said, Odu that you wish to take for your wife.
A power is in her hands.
They said, because of this power Orunmila must make an offering to the earth.
In the interest of all of his people.
They said, so that with this power, she will not kill and eat him.
Orunmila made the offering.
When Orunmila had made the offering, they consulted Ifa for him.
Orunmila carried the offering outside.
At the arrival of Odu, she found the offering in the street.
Hee! Who has made this offering to the earth?
Ha! Esu said, "Orunmila has made this offering to the earth."
Because he wishes to marry you, Odu.
Odu said, not bad.
All the things that Odu carried behind her, these are the bad things.
She told them to eat.
Odu opened the calabash of Aragamago, her bird, to the ground.
She told it to eat.
Odu entered the house.
When she had entered the house, Odu called Orunmila.

She said, "Orunmila, she had arrived."

She said her powers are numerous.
but she did not wish that they should fight with him.
She said, she did not want to fight with Orunmila.
She said, even if someone asked her help, asked her help to fight him, she would not fight him.
Because Odu did not wish that Orunmila suffers.
Otherwise, if they wished to make Orunmila suffer, Odu with the power and with the power of
the bird would fight the people.
When Odu finished speaking Orunmila said, not bad.
The time came, Odu said, Orunmila, You are going to learn my taboo.
She said, she wished to tell him her taboo.
She said, she did not want his other wives to see her face.
She said, that he should tell all of his other wives that they should not look at her face.
Whoever looked into her face, she would fight.
She said, she did not want anyone to look at her appearance.
Orunmila said, "Fine!"
He then called all of his wives.
He prevailed upon them.
The wives of Orunmila would not look at Odu's face.
Odu told Orunmila that.
She said, with him she would make his burdens good.
She said, she would heal all things.
She said, anything that he causes to go wrong, she would repair it.
She said, if he observed his taboo.

She said, all things that she completed would be good.

Anyone who would disturb them, she would in turn disturb them.
If Oso (sorcerer) wished to destroy,
She said, she would leave him nothing.
Then he himself would be destroyed.
All his children, who are Awo
He will implore them that they should never dare to trifle with Odu.
Because Odu is the power of Awo.
He said, if the Awo possesses Ifa, he will also have Odu.
The power that Odu gives him says that.
No woman must look upon her form.
From this day no Babalawo is complete without possessing this Odu.
One who does not have Odu will not be able to consult Ifa.
The day that one comes into possession of Odu,
On that day will he become a person that Odu will not allow to suffer.
The ban against looking at Odus face is an allusion to the prohibition against looking into the
igbadu of the babalawo. The igbadu is the Odu pot, the calabash that every Ile or lineage must
have and some babalawo have. In Odu Ose Oyeku we find the story of how Odu, Iya Agba (the
respectable and elderly woman), gets the igbadu. Having aged, Odus mind was getting
confused, so she placed her power in igbadu (igba odu), a calabash containing four smaller
calabashes given to her by her four council members Obatala, Obaluaiye,, Ogun and Odua.
Each smaller calabash contains the force of these Orisa. Efun (white chalk) for Obatala, osun
(red camwood dust) for Obaluaiye, (Sopona), charcoal for Ogun, and mud (from the bottom of a
river) for Odua. These four represent the four corners of the earth contained in the calabash.
Igbadu is the house of Odu. One may not enter this house without rubbing ones eyes with Omi
ero composed of odundun, tete, and rinrin leaves, shea butter (ori) and the water from the shell of
a snail. An initiation into the Orunmila cult, before entering the sacred forest, the initiate must
first adore Odu, Orunmilas wife in igbadu. Otherwise, Orunmila will not listen to him, and will
not even know that this awo is his child (Maupoil 1943).

The struggle for dominance between male and female that is a central component of life on earth
is repeated over and over in the Yoruba folklore, Odu and history. Central to this struggle is
mans acknowledgement of womens superior spiritual power that cannot be taken from them,
that is based in womens ability to create life. In all these myths and stories, men try to control
the power of the Iyami that was bestowed on them by Olodumare. Yet, whether or not men are
able to rest control, they are always dependent on women, even Orunmila. The word odu means
womb. Women are not given Odu because they are born with odu. They are not permitted to
look into the odu pot, because there is a secret associated with Odu (igbadu) and Osun (here we
are not speaking Oshun the spirit of the river, but Osun, her male aspect, which is represented in
a staff called opa Osun, that is the power of protection for the babalawo) that allows men to
protect other men from unfair abuse by the women of Iyaami Osoranga. If women learn the
secret the balance of power between men and women would be lost.
In another verse a woman comes to the rescue of her husband and this husband is Orunmila
himself. The verse comes from the Odu Eji Ogbe:
Orunmila got a visit from Iku (Death). Iku said that he came to challenge Orunmila to see if
Orunmila really was a true diviner. Iku told Orunmila that he needed to come to Ikus house
the following morning in order to perform divination for him. That day Iku got three covered
bowls ready. In one bowl he kept a head of a blind person; in another bowl he kept the legs of a
lame person; and in another bowl he kept the head of a ram. Before Orunmila went to visit Iku at
his home, Orunmila performed divination and Ifa told him that he had to send his wife to the
market and there she would meet with the wife of Iku. She should be generous to the wife of Iku
and should share food with her. These were the directions that IFA gave to Orunmila and
Orunmila relayed the instructions to his wife. Indeed, when Orunmilas wife got to the market,
she met with Ikus wife and when Ikus wife asked for some food, Orunmilas wife generously
shared food with her. Ikus wife felt very grateful and told Orunmilas wife that her husband had
challenged Orunmila, but she would let Orunmilas wife know what the challenge entailed and
what was in each of the bowls. Orunmilas wife listened attentively and when she got back
home, she let her husband know what was in each bowl. The following day, Orunmila went to
the house of Iku, confident of his divination skills. As he was en route to Ikus house, he noticed
that his wife followed him. As a wise being he didnt mind her following him and kept quiet. As
he came to Iku house, Iku welcomed him and asked him to come in. After pleasantries were
exchanged, Iku proceeded to ask Orunmila to perform divination for him. Eji Ogbe came out,
and Orunmilas mind went blank! He looked up at the ceiling, but there was no IFA to be found
there! He kept on scratching his head and saying hmmmm, hmmmmm. But suddenly his
wisdom kicked in and he said, This Ifa is too simple for me, it is so simple that my wife will
explain this Ifa to you! So Orunmilas wife came forward and told Iku what the content in each
bowl was. Upon completion of her task, Iku became very silent and was very impressed that if
Orunmila could send his wife to explain the content of each bowl, how powerful Orunmila must
be. He felt humbled in the presence of Orunmila. As Orunmila went back home he made sure he
gave his wife all the credit.
Many verses speak to how women had all the power, complete dominance, but lost it for using it
arrogantly and unfairly. The excessive use of power by the Iyami (women) brought about
submission to Orisanla, an Orisa that is calmer and more patient (in creation story). Interestingly,

Orisanla (Obatala), although portrayed as a fatherly orisa (father of many orisa along with
yemaya as mother) is believed to be androgenous. Theres the popular itan (story) in Osa Meji of
how Obatala tricked Odudua (Iyami) out of the Eegun clothes and men came to control the egun
cult. This struggle for power between Odu and Obatala plays out yet again in another verse of
Osa Meji (the aje are born in this Odu). It is another version of when the Eleiye came to earth
and didnt have power and then Olodumare gave them a power greater than mens. The Eleiye
are making Obatala angry because they eat his cotton that he planted. Then they get the power
and have the only river on earth and Obatala steals water from them. Orunmila saves him.
Another story on how Orunmila gained power over the Eleiye (owners of birds the mothers)
with Esus help, and on and on.
The fact that there are so many stories about the polarity of male-female energy, suggests that in
Yoruba thought, this polarity is in constant flux and plays a primary role in life on earth. The
term Aje (Ah-jeh) (not aje [ah-jay] which means wealth, abundance, riches), is derogatory when
used to designate a woman as a witch. You dont do this in traditional Yoruba. Better to call
them mothers, Iyami, awon iya wa or eleiye (owners of birds). When we mention these women,
we touch the ground as a gesture of respect.
The more widely known aspect of Iyami is as the elderly women who keep the calabash that has
the bird. These women were given this calabash by Olodumare when the first woman, Iyami or
Odudua left Orun. It is the calabash of existence itself. It is believed these women organize at
night and transform into birds (astral travel) and go out and engage in maleficent acts. The other
aspect is the ancient diety Odudua, or Odu Logboje. She is the one who received the power over
the world in the calabash, the power itself symbolized by the bird. But, as I said earlier, she
abuses the power and Olodumare takes it back and gives it Orisanla (Obatala). He will now
exercise the power, although Iyami retains control.
There are male sorcerers, by the way, called Oso (osho), but they arent as powerful as the
women. They belong to the Orisa Oko cult. Aje is really just the name of the power itself, not the
person, but after the arrival of Muslims and Christians, the term started to be used for persons.
Women have aje, a form of ase (ashe). It is passed down to them from their mothers. If you got a
womb, you got aje, but sometimes it needs to be awakened. So in Odu, you have stories of
benevolent mothers, and of malevolent mothers.
Bend your knee for women
Women brought us into the world
Thats what makes us humans
Women are the Spirit of the Earth
Bend your knee for women
The following is an excerpt from Irete Meji:

Two hundred and one people arrive on earth at Ota; they choose from amongst themselves an
Iyalode (female leader). Those wanting to acquire aje power visit Iyalode with a calabash, saying
they each want a bird. Iyalode places a bird inside the calabash, covers it and gives it to each
woman. They must care for them and hide them where only they know where it is. When they
wish to send eiye out on a mission, they uncover the calabash. Eiye goes out with the message
given to her to one of the four corners of the world. When the mission is completed the bird
returns, saying to its keeper, I have carried out the assigned task. It goes back into the calabash
and the calabash is put back in its hiding place.
Oriki Iyaami
This elegant bird flies upside down
Descends softly on the roof of the house
Moving as silently as a cat
If instructed to kill, it will kill
If instructed to bring back someones intestines
It will bring them back
When they fall upon someone to eviscerate them
This person is unaware
That it aims to remove their intestines
The following is an excerpt of an article written by Henry John Drewal (1974) regarding Gelede,
a visual yearly performance that honors the mothers, and in so doing placates them:
Among the western Yoruba, elaborate masquerade performances known as Gelede pay tribute to
the special powers of women (whether elderly, ancestral, or deified) collectively known as "the
mothers." Traditionally, a night ceremony known as Efe precedes the afternoon performance of
Gelede. What is voiced in Efe songs is visually intensified in Gelede masks and costumes. The
import of Efe songs has already been analyzed (Drewal 1974). The mothers are believed to
possess a spiritual life force (ase) equal or superior to that of the deities (orisa) (Baba-lola 1971;
Beier 1958:7; Verger 1965). Ase is itself a neutral force, neither positive nor negative. Its
implementation determines its ultimate character. The mothers, who use their special power for
both the detriment and benefit of individuals and communities, evoke a striking image of duality.
The negative dimension of the mothers is expressed in the term aje, terrible or destructive
mother, or witch. Fear and horror permeate the words of informants when they guardedly discuss

the aje: "the one who has water in the house yet washes her face with blood" and "the one whose
vagina we can never approach." The term, as Beier explains, "represents . . . the mystic powers
of womanhood in their more dangerous destructive aspect" (1958:6-7). The destructive mothers
are most often thought to be involved in matters of infertility, impotency and the death of
children, for they control the flow of menstrual blood and semen. They transform themselves
into birds of the night in order to seek out and devour their victims (Adeleye1971; Prince
1961:797). They are constantly angry, easily irritated, and jealous of those who are too happy,
beautiful or prosperous. They institute prohibitions and then refuse to explain them in order to
create situations where men can be punished. These negative propensities combine to produce an
image of vengefulness and unpredictability.
In their positive aspect, the mothers are regarded as calm, creative, protective progenitors.
Honorifics such as "my mother, the provider," "great mother," "old and respected mother, the
one who saves," "old and wise one," and "the owner of the world" reflect these qualities. The
mothers are also noted for their knowledge of herbal medicines and often attain widespread
reputations for cures of special ailments (MacLean 1969:37). Besides their healing qualities, they
act as a moderating force within the society to assure the more just apportionment of power,
wealth, prestige and the maintenance of moral laws and conduct (Verger 1965:159).
The mothers were not always believed to be moderate. According to one myth, they were given
ultimate power over the other gods and men by the supreme deity, Olodumare, but subsequently
lost sovereignty because they failed to act with calmness and rationality (Verger 1965:200-218).
These qualities are thus central to the nature of the mothers and the key to man's relationship
with them, for as one informant explains: "The Great Mother [Iyanla]gave instructions that
anyone who worships her must have patience" (Ogun- dipe 1971).
Yoruba society deals with the spiritual power of the mothers in two distinct and opposing ways.
In the first, certain male-dominated cults (Egungun and Oro) confront, attack and destroy those
identified as aje (Bascom 1944:67), a function more recently assumed by the Atinga movement
(Morton-Williams 1956). Masks and other visual forms associated with these cults contain
imagery evocative of male supremacy and vengeance. Gelede imagery, in contrast, exemplifies
another approach to the mothers. The following text from the ancient verse of the Ifa oracle
known as Osa Meji re-creates the mythic origin of the Gelede masquerade (Beyioku 1946):
Pele ni ns'awo won lode Egba
Pele ni ns'awo won lode Ijesa
A da f'Orunmila, o ns'awo re Ilu Eleiye
Won ni ko ru Aworan, Oja ati Iku
0 gbo, o ru, o de Ilu Eleiye, o ye bo
0 wa nsunyere wipe -

"Mo ba'ku mule nwo ku mo

Iku, Iku gboingboin
Mo b'arun mule, nwo ku mo
Iku, Iku gboingboin"
Greetings were their secret among the Egba
Greetings were their secret among the Ijesa
Ifa told Orunmila when he was going to
the grove of the Eleiye (witches),
He must put on a mask, a headwrap and
leg rattles.
He obeyed, he put them on, he arrived at
the grove of the witches and he was safe.
He rejoiced in dancing and singing"I have covenanted with Death, I will
never die.
Death, Death no more,
I have covenanted with sickness, I will
never die.
Death, Death no more."
Orunmila, the deity associated with Ifa, put on a mask (aworan), headwrap(oja), and leg rattles
(iku)- the three essential elements found in all Gelede costuming. The regalia protect him from
the negative propensities of the destructive mothers, for as one elderly priestess reputed to be
extremely knowledgeable about such matters states: ". . . these masks are an ancestral rite that
the ancients did in the past which they called eso [something done with carefulness]... They must
not do it in an uncovered way. They must not dance nakedly to allow people [especially the
destructive mothers] to see their eyes" (Akinwole 1971). The regalia also provide pageantry
which appeals to their positive dimension (Verger 1965:146). Thus priests and elders voice the

requisite attitudes of patience, indulgence, and composure in words such as "we must pamper
(tu) them and be living" and "the one to worship the Great Mother must have patience." Gelede
visual imagery evokes these same attitudes in elaborate displays which coolly yet sharply
evaluate the quality of Yoruba life as the mothers would do. With each successive masquerader,
some aspect of Yoruba life and thought passes in review. In preserving the traditions by
ridiculing unacceptable changes and praising acceptable actions, the imagery entertains, placates,
and honors the "gods of society" (orisa egbe)-the mothers.
The Gelede masquerade is an elaborate ritual in which the polarity of male-female energy which
plays out politically and in many other ways is brought into a delicate balance for the benefit of
the community.
Wanderer, or wind, who does what he likes and means what he does, was the nickname of OsaMeji
Before Osa-Meji came to the world he was advised to make sacrifice because he was going to
practice his Ifa art in the midst of witches. He was told to give a he-goat to Esu, a guinea to his
Ifa and a pigeon to his head. He did not perform the sacrifice as he was in a hurry to come to the
Although he was one of the sixteen children of Orunmila who decided to come to the world at
about the same time, he did not find the way to the world in time, because of the he-goat he
failed to give to Esu. His guardian angel could not guide him because he also made no sacrifice
to him. His Head did not come to his rescue either, because he offered no sacrifice to it. He was
therefore wandering on the way until he came to the last river in heaven before crossing to the
world. At the bank of the river he met the mother of witches, Iyami Osoronga who had been
there for a long time because no one else agreed to help her to cross the river. She too was
coming to the world but was too feeble to cross the tiny thread bridge over the river. Iyami
Osoronga begged him to take her across the river, but he explained that the bridge would not take
two passengers at a time. She then proposed to him that he should open his mouth so she could
get into it. He agreed and she took a position inside his stomach. When he got to the earth end of
the bridge, he told her to come out, but she refused on the grounds that his stomach provided a
suitable abode for her. His problems with witchcraft had begun. When she refused to disembark,
he thought he could bluff her by saying that she would die of hunger inside his stomach, but she
said that she would not die for as long as he had a liver, a heart and intestines, because those
were her favorite meals. He realized what problem he was up against, when the women bit his
liver. He then brought out his divination instruments and sounded Ifa on how to get out of the
impasse. He was told by Ifa to make instant sacrifice with a goat, a bottle of oil and white cloth,
which he brought out quickly from his Akpo minijikun. He quickly cooked the liver, heart and
intestines of the goat and told Iyami that food was ready for her. When she smelt the inviting
scent of the food, she came out of his stomach. She however told him that it was forbidden for
her to eat on full view of anyone. He then made a tent with the white cloth and she went under
the tent to enjoy the meal. As she was eating Osa-Meji ran away and quickly found a womb to
enter to come to the world. As soon as Iyami finished eating, she looked round for Osa-Meji but
he was nowhere to be found. She began to shout his name Osasa, Osasa, Osasa which is the cry
of the aje to this day. She is still looking for Osa-Meji up till now. No other divinity is able to

withstand the aje when they decide to fight. They can always subdue all of them, with the
exception of Olodumare and Orunmila, due to the way they handled them on prior occasions.
Anyone who believes that charms and other diabolical preparations can subdue witchcraft is
merely deceiving himself, unless they are aware of special incantations made in the past for this
Irete Owonran (Irete Olota) Ota is the town where the Iyami came into the world:
Orunmila goes to look for the secret of Iyami in Ota. He makes ebo of a white canvas sack, a
white pigeon and a calabash, which signify, I have a bird too, dont fight me. He arrives at the
market on Ota. The mothers say Ha! the soup is here the one they want to eat has arrived. But
Esu, who resides in light and dark, and thus knows everything, has given up their secrets to
Orunmila. He tells them, Orunmila is more powerful than all of you combined; he has his bird,
bring him yours (submit to his power). They bring their birds, but they are very angry that
Orunmila is about to reveal their secret. Orunmila makes ebo of ekujebu, a large and very hard
grain (which birds cant eat) and a chicken opipi, which is a chicken that cant fly. The Iyami
wish to attack Orunmila but they cant because of the ebo which is a secret message that says,
The brutal Aje cannot eat ekujebu,
you cant hunt me down;
disheveled chicken with clipped wings
cant fly up to the roof,
you are unable to bring me death
This is how Orunmila obtained the secret of the Iyami.
In Ogbe Ogunda we learn how Orunmila was able to appease the anger of the mothers.
The peoples children and the children of Eleiye were always fighting. The peoples children went
to seek protection from various Orisa. None can help them. The Iyami-Eleiye are too powerful.
But thanks to Esu, Orunmila knew their secrets. He new that when they came into the world they
drank from seven rivers. He new the names. Orunmila consulted the oracle and made the
prescribed ebo of ojusaju leaves, oyoyo, aanu, and agogo ogun, honey, a red parrot feather, efun
and osun. He was protected. The oyoyo leaf declares that Iyami is (yonu) satisfied; the ojusaju
leaf that she (saju) respects him; the aanu leaf that she (shaanu) takes pity on him; the agogo
ogun leaf that he will receive everything he asks for using a bell (agogo). Iyami is satisfied, but
on one condition; Orunmila must answer the riddle. What does the phrase, They say throw,
Orunmila says catch. Esu had told Orunmila the answer. It means they will throw (seven times)
an egg and Orunmila must catch it with a wad of cotton. So everyone is happy, and the children
are saved. The whole thing ends with a chant regarding the seven rivers the ebo, etc. The riddle
points to the epic struggle at the beginning between Orisanla (Obatala) and Iyami. An egg is

always part of an offering to Iyami, and cotton is associated with Obatala. Catching the egg in
cotton speaks to how Obatala was able to neutralize the action of Iyami in the creation myth.
In Ogbe Osa we learn how the Iyami-Eleiye also work for good. Upon arrival in the world the
Iyami-Eleiye go to perch on seven different types of trees one after another. They carry out
different activities in each tree; the first three they work for good; the second three for evil; and
on the seventh tree for both good and evil. The seven rivers and seven trees I believe refer to the
seven heavens above and the seven heavens below. At the highest heaven, the seventh tree, good
and evil are joined; the polarity does not exist at that level.
by Chief FAMA
Across the board, there has been a high demand for J pot and J staff (pa'g). But, how
much is understood of J? To discuss J pot and J staff, it is ideal to discuss J, the
energy; and J, the persona. Who is J and what constitutes J? Popular western
mythology considers J to be a witch. Is that so? In my opinion, there is a huge difference
between J of the Yorb mythology and the witch of the western mythology. The analogue
here can best be compared to s of the Yorb myth and Satan/Devil of the Christian
mythology. Just as s wields a powerful influence in Yorb religion, J wields enormous
power. J doubles in definition: J the energy (witchcraft) and J the persona (witch).
Even though the name, J, is used interchangeably, J the energy is the core of the
definition. To be an J (witch), one must have acquired J the energy, referred to in Yorb
local parlance as 'gba eye j' (receive the bird of J.) The receipt of the J in this instance is
not the same thing as receiving a physical pot of J. Also, the reference to 'bird' in the parlance
does not mean that a bird is literally received, either. J, the energy, is invisible; it is usually
transmitted invisibly and discretely, too. J the energy can be inborn, it can be acquired and it
can be received unsolicited.
An example of an inborn J can be found in young children who are naturally pure in spirit and
innocent in character by virtue of their closeness to nature at the early ages. At this stage of
young children's lives, the purity of their minds are without equal and their acts without
prejudice. If a particular child has J, such a child's pronouncements will be laden,
surprisingly, with forecasts of future events and/or accurate references to past occurrences. In a
particular instance, the child might reveal information about his/her past life -family history,
occupation, even his/her gender in that past life.
For example, a young male child once asked his parents, "Where are my tools?" This child was
about three years old at the time. He had rushed to his parents from outside while playing with
other children when he asked the question. In this family, there was once a knowledgeable
herbalist. The herbalist had died decades before the child was born. Since it was already
predicted that the herbalist would reincarnate, his tools and other significant elements of his trade
were kept in an attic, out of everyone's reach. So, when this child asked for his tools, his parents
took him to the room and showed him the tools. That was the end of that story at that stage as the
child never asked for the tools again.

Surprisingly, that child whose past professional life was that of a herbalist, is now a medical
doctor, a gynecologist. He made it through medical school successfully, in spite of the
suffocating challenges of going to college in his country. To date, this gentleman's inborn energy
still propels him as it seems that almost all his decisions and actions are successful. Enlightened
minds are not surprised about these achievements, but the uninitiated wonder.
Another type of J can be acquired but it does not come in a pot. Rather, it is usually induced.
There are many forms of this type of J; I will limit my writing to just two. The first J in
this category lasts for short periods of time whenever it is used. The instrument to induce the
J in this category is usually put under the pillow at bed time. I will call it a pillow charm. If
this pillow charm is properly prepared, any harm intended for the user will be revealed before the
plotter has the chance to carry out the deed. Beyond that, J's actions can be viewed remotely
by the user, if she/he is brave enough to dare such intrusive act. This vision is like looking into a
mirror - the user sees the J's action as it unfolds because she/he is momentarily transported to
the esoteric sphere where she/he is able to monitor the action from that level. This is the safest
way to observe J and os (wizard), the persona, in their natural, spiritual habitat. Once the
user is out of bed, however, or the pillow charm is removed, the vision ceases.
The other J instrument in the category comes in the form of incisions under the eyes. This
action induces permanent vision. The person who has this procedure instantly witnesses J's
activities whenever she/he is around J, the energy. This is the most dangerous intrusive
instrument on ones activities and/or enclave. From witnesses' accounts, an intruder's eye or eyes
can be remotely impaired or compromised, leaving the person blind permanently, except if the
person has been fortified ahead to fight off the expected injury.
Of the J instruments enumerated above, the pillow charm possesses less risk as its usage is
somehow limited to fending off attack or preventing an attack. The most potent J is the one
transmitted from one person to the other, mostly from a mother to her daughter. Sometimes, from
a family member to a new born baby girl; or from another J, such as a midwife, who might
have played an important role during the birth of a baby. The J in this instance is multifaceted
- she has J, the energy, and she is J, the persona. J has the natural ability to see beyond
the naked eyes: she has an invisible "third eye." She does not depend on any instrument to view
or see anyone or any action. She is herself the energy and the action. Her J, the power, lasts
her entire lifetime. A lucky living being blessed with this type of J is an endowed spiritualist.
J uses her J energy to diagnose; treat; heal; change bad luck to good luck; change
misfortune to gain; loss to profit. In line with Oldmar's will of 'good and bad' going together,
J has her own share of this cosmic justice. She can unleash her J arsenal, without mercy, if
it becomes necessary for her to win a case.
This recognition of J's might brought about her many alias, some of which are: gb (elder);
y (mother); ymi (my mother); y by (mother of a child that will not die), meaning that the
J being so addressed at this juncture, will not attack or kill a child remotely. Importantly, this
definition should not be confused with the 'y biy' title in the gbni society. Then, eleye
(one who possesses a bird) - a fighting term. So, is J a bad energy; a wicked person? No. J
is good, both ways. J, the persona, is given an enormous gift by Oldmar and she should be
so appraised and extolled so that humans can benefit positively and profitably from her influence

with the cosmic forces. According to s tr in the Od If, sun was the first human to
possess J.
How did sun get J, the energy? Oldmar empowered sun with the J. Then, He
sanctioned sun's actions ahead of the J being tested or used. This everlasting sanction holds
true to date as J are the only beings on earth capable of transmitting J, the energy, to other
deserving beings. After Oldmar endowed sun with J, sun used her newly bestowed
power to call her male colleagues to order when they went against Oldmar's order of
inclusiveness to that of exclusiveness. With their inability to find solution to their sudden failure,
the these male Irnml trooped back to Oldmar. They explained their ordeals to Him. Being
the architects of their own ordeals, Oldmar directed them back to earth and pointed out their
mistakes. They followed Oldmar's instructions and regained control of their given tasks.
With sun's J, these Irnml learned of check and balances, they developed a sense of
community, and a sense of comradeship and that of partnership. sun's J went from being
physically powerless to being spiritually powerful. At the same time, the discipline of nurturing,
forgiveness and transcendency was imparted to women through sun. Harmony between the
genders was strongly established at this initial stage of human cohabitation.
As it is, Oldmar gave sun the instruction, blessing and everlasting sanction to hold, use and
transmit J reverentially to deserving beings, most especially females. J became a worthy
gift, the highest and most rewarding spiritual gift, that an J can give to her child or to anyone
else she feels strongly about. This is where the Yorb parlance of 'gba eye J' holds forth the
most. This is the only medium through which J is received.
Afimo je tOsun
Iye wa a ba won pe limo
Awa fimo je tOsun o
We give our reverence to Osun
The unseen Mother ever present at every gathering
We give our reverence to Osun, o