Thursday, June 24, 2010


My wife had a karate teacher who was diagnosed with AIDS at the beginning of the epidemic. As he lay dying in the hospital, unable to discuss how he contracted the disease that was draining the life out of him, he turned to her and said, "Everyone is broken somewhere."

Wednesday, June 23, 2010

More Reflections of Echú Afrá

As with most things in the Lucumí tradition, there is a good deal of variation when it comes to Echú Afrá. In most houses, he is simply the guide, guardian, and spokesman of Babalú-Ayé, and most—but not all—lineages do give Afrá when they give Babalú. He is usually attended and fed with Babalú and not worked on his own. However, Afrá is also given separately in some houses, particularly as the Echú Elegguá associated with the divination sign Obara-Irozo or in preparation for receiving Babalú.

The stories give a sense of how this oricha works. In Oyeku-Ojuani, he speaks to Shakuaná, guiding him in the creation of secret place to feed his most difficult children. In Obara-Irozo, he shows Asojano to the herbs that would cure the Anai. Here you see his most fundamental qualities: Afrá is active, Afrá provides superior knowledge, and Afrá assists Babalú on his path to restitution and kingship.

As I said before, most houses give Afrá as a simple coral stone. Some add a mixture of “medicines” to empower and direct him, and some even do a separate ceremony at the crab’s cave. However, the coral stone is interesting in its own right. These “stones” are actually the skeletons of dead corals. Like the bones of a human skeleton, they last and last even after death, apparently indestructible. Their small, round openings resemble the sores created by smallpox, and so they evoke one of the original aspects of Babalú-Ayé. Once fed, Afrá becomes like an open wound that neither disappears nor heals.

Afrá reminds us of the insurmountable rawness that we all carry within us. It is painful, sore, secret, and unprocessed. That unfinished quality may be result of forward movement or intractable incompleteness. If we live with it and interact with it long enough, Afrá will provide us with valuable and hard-won wisdom. And if we listen carefully and push on, step by step, he will lead us to a new place where we may find healing and new sense of plenitude.

Still, the open sore may never go away completely.

Thursday, June 17, 2010

Where Oluó Popó United with Orula

A loyal reader in the Caribbean recently asked me about the relationship between Asojano and Orula. As I have said in other posts, the Arará-Sabalú insist that Asojano only speaks through Orula, that is, only through Ifá divination. When Pedro Abreu-Asonyanye gives Asojano, Orula eats in the ceremony; in the divination for Afrá, Nanú, and Asojano, all three speak through Ifá. Here is one account from the odu Ojuani-Odí that explains the origin of the partnership between Oluó Popó and Orula.

Once upon a time in the land of Lodoni, everyone owed Oluó Popó and no one paid him. In fact, they made fun of him. So Oluó Popó went to the house of Death and made a pact to do in all the people in nine days. When the people found out, they rushed to Orula’s house to see how they could be freed from this curse. Orula pulled this sign and said: Death through OIuó Popó. Then he explained the ebó they needed to make. The people made the ebó and then hung up the dead animals, and the odor of the rotting meat spread through the city. When Death arrived at the city to do his work, he was very happy because of the smell of rotting flesh. Laughing he said, “Look at me. All these people have died because they are afraid of me.”

With this boast and without entering the city, Death turned around and went to tell Oluó Popó that everyone in that land had died. But Oluó Popó went to see if Death was telling the truth, and he was surprised to see the people well. Angry, he returned and said Death was a liar and Orula had more power than Death because Orula had made ebó and nothing had happened. From then on, Oluó Popó united with Orula.

This story begs the question: are Asojano and Oluó Popó the same? Are they names for different stages—or etapas—in the life of the same deity? Might he have spoken through the shells at one point and then changed over later?

There are cases in which people have made up stories and inserted them into the odus to justify some particular point of view. Could it be that someone made up this story and inserted to emphasize the connection between Asojano and Orula?

Tuesday, June 15, 2010

Earth as Symbol in the Unconscious

I was recently reading Marie Louise von Franz, the grand dame of Jungian analytical psychology. In her book The Puer Aeternus, she analyzes images of the Earth in Saint-Exupery's book, The Little Prince, saying,

Earth is the will to live and the acceptance of life.
 This little gem seemed like it could find a place in this conversation.