The Imitation of Babalú-Ayé: The Sacred Stranger


For whatever reason, I find myself intrigued today by a certain set of parallels in the material I have been laying out here: there are many aspects of Babalú-Ayé that live outside the house and cannot be brought in.  The Zulueta house in Perico has the secret that lives in an outbuilding in the patio, planted mysteriously by their founding ancestress, Octavia—Jundesi. Irete-Oyekún calls for the consecration of Ajuangan, a powerful and destructive force who also lives in the patio. Oyekún-Ojuani describes the kiti, the secret place for Asojano to eat and call his disruptive children.
Each of these seems to move against the major ritual pattern in Lucumí initiations for warrior deities, where the oricha is first fed in the forest and then, once placated, brought into the house.  These powers seem to point to aspects of divinity that cannot be civilized enough to bring into everyday life. These powers are always external and remind us of the power of the bush or the forest--el monte in Cuban Spanish. In fact, there is a story from Dahomey that identifies an earth mound as the source of the gods, so we know that these powers are prodigious and procreative.

If we take the image of something that always stands outside into society as somehow essential to both Babalú-Ayé and those who follow him, we come to something deeply untamable and alien within ourselves. In some cases, we fear to face the these things within ourselves, and in others we cannot bear the idea of showing these parts of ourselves to anyone else. As human beings that recognize the unintegrated within ourselves, we become less predictable - even to ourselves. Who really knows how she will react when the doctor announces cancer? Who can predict with total certainty how he will react to the slow decline of age or the loss of something precious like a parent, or a child, or a hand? Sometimes we shield ourselves from the world, taking refuge in the caves of isolation. Sometimes we rise to the throne of our own authority. Like Babalú, we touch our own hidden nature, and like Babalú, we become irascible and unique.



  1. Powerful connections here, powerful medicine.

    Integrating the uncivilized, while also maintaining one's position and responsibilities in society (or not) presents a rending sort of tension. How does the human live? How does one live with what emerges?

    This concern seems to be both personal and communal.

  2. As you said in an earlier post, the real beginnings, the real truth, is found deep in the bush. Could this seemingly impenetrable forest also be our most inner selves? The untamed, primitive id?


Post a Comment