Perhaps the most common ceremony for worshiping Babalú-Ayé is the awán. In the ceremony, a basket is lined with sack cloth with many plates of cut-up food encircling it. Some elders say 13 plates, some say 17, and some even say 77 plates must be present. After sunset, participants gather round the basket and taking handfuls of food from each plate into their closed hands, rub the food around their bodies to remove negativity or osobo. Each handful of food is cast into the basket, until everyone has cleansed themselves. People are also cleansed with a speckled rooster, a guinea hen, two eggs and the já, the ritual broom of Babalú. Different lineages finish the awán in different ways, but these things remain pretty stable wherever you go.
Those who work the awán in the so-called Lucumí tradition follow the Arará-Dajomé lineage of Armando Zulueta. They place things at the bottom of the basket to begin. They crumble charcoal and add a peice of bread smeared with palm oil and topped with seven guinea peppers.
When Pedro Abreu-Asonyanye of the Arará-Sabalú performs the awán, he begins by tracing a circle of chalk on the ground. Inside the circle he marks a series of divination signs to invoke the key moments in the life of Asojano. Called atenas, these signs bring the specific aché of each sign to bear on the awán and the lives of those who participate. Pedro uses the following signs:
Oché-Turá is where Echu entered the world.
Ojuani Meyi is where Asojano's pot and já were born.
Irete Meyi is Asojano's spirituality.
Ogbe Twanilara is where Orunmila began speaking for Asojano. (Some people say this is also the birthplace of the secrets of Asojano.)
Ogbe-Yono is the journey of Asojano from to the land of the Arará.
Ocana-Osá is a sign used to remove osobo.
He also uses Obara-Oturá and Otura-Ché.
The study of these substances and signs should lead to new insight into the life and times of Asojano.
(So as I prepared to write this post, I realized that I have never taken a picture of an awán for Babalú-Ayé. The closest ritual is a similar ceremony done for Olocun, as seen in this photograph from the Playa de los Chivos in Habana del Este by David Brown. The awán for Babalú takes a similar form, but it always takes place after dark and it has a different function.)