Monday, 8 June 2015

___OSANYIN: Lord of Plants__


___OSANYIN: Lord of Plants__
The Pantheon of the Yoruba is a complex interweaving of ORISHAS, deities whose domains and qualities form an intricate pattern of interdependence. Osanyin, lord of all plant life, is an ORISHA whose domain inexorably intersects with all others. The qualities of herbs are recognized for both spiritual and physical well-being. It is believed that the force that drives the universe, known as ASE, is in part locked up plant life awaiting use by those who have the knowledge to unlock it. The rites indigenous to the faith of the Yoruba could not exist without the herbs provided by Osanyin and the ASE within them. It is by his invocation and permission that the primary rituals of consecration are realized.

Osanyin’s knowledge and dominion over herbs is retold in the sacred texts of the Ifa in the following story:

Osanyin was lame, missing one leg and arm, blind in one eye. But his older brother Orunmila wanted Osanyin to feel worth. Orunmila arranged to leave Osanyin on the farm early in the morning with the instruction to pull weeds from between the rows of crops. When Orunmila returned in the evening, he found Osanyin in the middle of the field weeping, without a single weed pulled. Orunmila asked his brother why he was weeping and why he had not completed his task.

Osanyin replied, “You have asked me to pull the weeds, but there is not one weed here.” He pointed to one plant, and said, “You would have me destroy this, but this will cure ailments of the heart.” He pointed to many other plants, identifying their spiritual qualities and medicinal use. Orunmila was taken by surprise that his brother had such deep knowledge.

Gifts to Priests:

Orunmila then asked Osanyin to teach him and the other ORISHAS how to use the herbs for spiritual and physical healing. Osanyin gifted each deity with the herbs and sacred knowledge most compatible with their individual spirits. In turn, the ORISHAS imparted this knowledge to humankind by instructing the priests of their respective cults.

In many ways, Osanyin’s use of only a single arm, leg, and eye can be equated with the mystery of his power. When we view plants, most of us see only the outer green; it takes a person deprived of other senses and abilities to see the inherent energy within. Osanyin, although lame, is powerful just the same. Through the deprivation of certain functions, he has been gifted with one more potent. Without Osanyin, the other ORISHAS would not have the power to unlock the ASE that exists within herbs.

While in the Diaspora, initiation rites are no longer performed directly on the “chosen” of Osanyin. But in Yoruba-land (Southwestern Nigeria, Benin and Togo) the priesthood of Osanyin still flourishes. His priests are distinctive, a cult not given to trance, as are the other cults. These priests speak through a direct link to their tutelary ORISHA as if their tongues were being rattled by a divine ventriloquism. Speaking in a high pitch, uttering as their ORISHA directs them.

Birds and the Occult:

Osanyin’s voice as heard through his priests is said to be birdlike. The deity has a strong association with birds, especially owls. The Yoruba associate birds with knowledge of the occult, secrets and “witch-like” powers. This is not lost on Osanyin, whose knowledge is deeply esoteric. The iron staff by which an Osanyin priest is known often is shaped like plant branches shooting out of the ground, surmounted by a lone bird with wings spread in flight.

This is consistent with the persona of the ORISHA. Osanyin is typically seen as a loner who wanders the fields. He is given to be moody, but if understood he is more a cautious, thoughtful ORISHA, not given to grand gestures. Osanyin is to himself, picking his herbs, and communing with nature. His messages and nature are enigmatic, like his voice.

As we recognize, without Osanyin the rites of the Yoruba could not take place. This is true whether the priest is in Yoruba-land or in the Diaspora. All rites must include herbs and plants of nature.

The Yoruba classify herbs by each ORISHA as well as by the elements—EWE AFEFE (leaves of wind), EWE INON (leaves of fire), EWE OMI (leaves of water) and EWE ILE or EWE IGBO (leaves of the earth and of the forest). Adherents also classify herbs as male and female, as well as herbs of day and herbs of night and by those that incite or calm.

Sacred Gathering:

Before any rite can begin, the priest must collect the herbs necessary to make the lustral water known as OMI ERO (sacred water/herb water). Collection of herbs is usually done in the forest or a field. Before any plants are taken, a prayer is made to Osanyin, explaining why the priest is in the deity’s abode, what herbs the priest would like to take and what the herbs will be used for. Offerings of money, kola nuts, and gin are usually made.

So sacred are plants to the Yoruba and their spiritual descendants that many of the herbs have their own sacred songs. In the making of OMI ERO, for instance, the priest will sing these ancient songs over the herbs as they are being used. With these sounds the priests become imbued with the ASE in their own voices, as well as serving to remind the herb of the qualities that they bring to the sacred rites.

So perhaps the next time you find yourself in a field of “weeds,” you might remember that each has a quality that can either heal or curse. Each is known to Osanyin and perhaps, after calling his name and praying to him, you might hear his birdlike voice gently instructing on their use.

PRAYER TO OSANYIN:

Gentle, easy lift
Cool headedness
Walnut shell cut the dog’s mouth
Herbs is a child of the morning
Medicine is a child of the morning
Greeting Herbs (Greeting Osanyin)

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