The Work of Pilgrimage Revisited

There are many small ceremonies in Oricha religion that could be thought of pilgrimages, where we travel out onto the land to connect with the divine, making an offering to a specific oricha. As part of giving Babalú-Ayé, many lineages carry Babá to a ceiba tree, a cemetery, and finally the egun altar in the home, giving him white wine, cigar smoke, toasted corn and other offerings at each stop.  Similarly, some lineages feed Nana Burukú at a spring or a place of stagnant water before giving her to a new devotee.  And, of course, the initiation of a new priestess always requires a trip out to feed the river with her favorite foods.  When someone is consecrated to one of the Warriors, there are extra ceremonies to feed them in the forest, offerings that cool them before they arrive in the house for the principal ceremony.

People usually gloss these trips into the natural world as preparatory ebós, little ceremonies that must happen before the “main” ceremony takes place. As Ernesto Pichardo recently said to me, “They are part of the alchemy of what we do when we give birth to a new oricha.” Still, each of these ceremonies requires that we travel out of our houses and find the oricha in a natural state to start the process. In this way, each of these ceremonies can be considered a kind of understated pilgrimage to connect with or engage the oricha.

This week in Havana (and Miami too, at least), small teams of babalawos are making these trips into the natural world to feed the “positions” before they gather to open the New Year on January 1. They feed the sea, the river, and many other positions, and after making the offering at each position, they divine to be certain that the ebó is accepted. They report back to the babalawos who coordinate the whole ceremony. Only once each position is fed they are ready to prepare for the New Year with other ceremonies on the 31st. Only after all this is completed do they take the odu for the New Year early on the 1st.  After reaching out to the whole natural world, they can mark the road for the coming year.

The ancestors have told us that Changó taught the 16 positions in Iroso Meyi, and the opening of the year comes from the odu Obara-Odí. As with most things, we know from the ceremonies that these two things are related, but exactly how and why remains elusive. The wise ancestors arranged them into the ceremonies we use today to make the most of the roads we travel.