Babalú-Ayé Basics

The elders say that Babalú-Ayé stalks the night accompanied by his dogs and the spirits of his children. He is immediately linked to the world of the spirits. During the day they rest in shade, leaning against the shade of large trees. He is especially fond of the yamao, the jaguey, the flamboyán, and the ceiba, and all are used in ceremonies of the oricha. They say Babalú lives in the heart of the forest during the rainy season, but in the dry season he enters the city, bringing epidemics. In fact, some people say when there are epidemics, you should not play for him, you should not call him. Instead, you should placate him with food and simple offerings.

People also link him to epidemics of every kind: bubonic plague, yellow fever, the Spanish influence, AIDS. Historically, though, he was thought to control smallpox. By extension he has dominion over all skin sores and diseases. Since smallpox leaves visible scars, any transfiguring disease comes under his purview.

Many people fear him, but everyone respects him. He rules over the health of each and every individual, and thus he determines the quality of life of each and every one of us. In this way, he is so important that Lucumí elders say, “You can play with the other orichas, but you cannot play with Babalú-Ayé.”

Flies, mosquitoes, bumble bees, botflies, and beetles are his messengers.

Thought to rule the Earth, Babalú-Ayé also has dominion over the spirits of those buried in the Earth. When Babalú-Ayé is present, sickness and death are also present, and his secrets often link him to the ancestors. At the same time, many lineages require him to take a secret filled with crushed herbs and other ingredients. This resembles one common form of witchcraft. As Pedro Abreu—Asonyanye once said to me, “San Lázaro is an oricha, San Lázaro is an egun, and San Lázaro is a witch.”

He is called the wrath of Olodumare, because his illnesses are so devastating.

There is another side to Babalú. He is famous for healing people. In fact, Lucumí people make a big deal about his cleaning ceremony, his awán. People wear a strand of the cundeamor plant around their necks and clean themselves with beans, tubers, fruits, meat and other kinds of food, casting their maladies into a basket lined with burlap. The elders say Babalú possesses a capacity for rebirth. They say he can even provoke a resurrection.

So I wonder: Was Jesus a child of Babalú-Ayé?