Generally, the most common manifestation of Obeah found today, although maybe not practiced on an individual basis, is blended with Orisha-worship. Orisha is a monotheistic faith brought to the Americas via the slave trade and most commonly associated with Yoruba. The two main fractions of Orisha in the new world are Spiritual Orisha and Baptist Orisha, both of which, on the surface, carry a very heavy Christian ring or appearance about them.
Obeah, on the other hand, is NOT a religion in the classical sense. That is to say, there are no meeting places such as churches, mosques, synagogs or other religious buildings or shrines --- or any underlying infastructure replicating such a system. Nor is there any sort of congregation or parishioners, although there are what may be called followers, albeit scattered. Obeah is instead, a focused application of "occult power" tapping the virulent source of God's own access --- employed without sanction to facilitate or induce spells, call up answers, predict the future, or garner assist or knowledge from planes other than the conventional and implemented through the individual skill, cunning, and artistry of the Obeah practitioner --- usually beyond the guidelines of traditional witchcraft, sorcery, shamanism, voodoo (voudon), or tribal magic.
According to such sources as THE WORD OBEAH: What Does It Mean, How Does It Work? (linked below), Obeah is thought to be the remnant core of a once very powerful and SECRET religious order originally brought to the greater West Africa area thousands of years ago from ancient African civilizations to the east. The priests that brought the hidden core of Obeah with them migrated along with a larger general population to Ancient Ghana and Nigeria looking for fertile land and water, establishing themselves in the region through power and trade. As the centuries wore on they found themselves assimilated deeper and deeper into the local indigenous cultures --- with later generations becoming almost unrecognizable in relation to their eastern ancestors. In the process of that assimilation some members continued to hold on to surviving segments of their original religious beliefs --- with the new culture picking and chosing, absorbing and casting off bits and pieces of the once powerful eastern beliefs, creating in their own way what has come down to us today. Eventually the strengths of the religious beliefs diverged, with one track embracing the indigenous tribal healer or root doctor side --- with SOME aspects of what one might consider more coventional shamanism and minor bits of tribal sorcerey --- and the other branch increasingly going more and more underground, manifesting itself toward the occult and darker side, cloaking itself in the ever more secret only to emerge centuries later in present day Obeah.
How much Obeah and Orisha are truly intermixed or integrated is not fully known, however, it is known BOTH can stand alone as neither is dependent on the other. In some respects it is like Zen Buddhism and Buddhism. Zen may be considered a sect or part of Buddhism, but both Buddhism and Zen --- in their present form --- can stand alone without the need of the other. Although similarities abound in both branches of Orisha, Baptist Orisha is a more pure and ancient line of Orisha-transmission and accepts blood-offerings, functioning very much like Orisha-worship you will find almost anywhere in the world. Practitioners of both branches worship one Supreme Being, Oludamare --- sometimes called Olofi. However, Oludamare/Olofi is comprised of various aspects, which are represented by the different forces in nature. The personifications of these forces are called Orisha.
Orisha are considered spirits of nature as well as powerful ancestors who represent a concept or idea. Orisha are prayed to, asked by the layman, practitioners, priests, spellcasters or Obeahman --- not unlike an Ally is in shamanism or sorcery --- to intercede and in certain instances, BUT, unlike a familiar or an ally, actually take possession of practitioners.
There are said to be 17,000 Orisha. Chief among them are the Seven African Powers listed below, the main Orisha focused on by both practitioners and laypersons alike. The Seven African Powers are:
I. PAPA LEGBA:
Also Eleggua, Elegua. The trickster, the opener of the way and the guardian of the crossroads, both physical and spiritual. Comparable to Hermes or Mercury in the European tradition, Legba makes the impossible possible. He lifts us beyond the limitation we impose upon ourselves in daily life. He is identified with portrayals of St. Peter and St. Nicholas. His favorite offering is candy and tobacco and coconuts. You have to ask him to carry your words to the other Orisha: he is the first one asked.
Also Obatalia. From the same root-word as the word Obeah. The Mother-Father responsible for the creation of our physical bodies. Literally "chief of the white cloth," the integration of ALL colors into one as found in white light shields for example. Obatala's help is sought in ethical dilemmas and the problems of self-discipline. He is generally identified with the crucified Christ. Obatala is androgynous and sometimes depicted very old, sometimes quite young. Obatala taught the people how to do Ifa, the table divination system. He is gentle, a sky-god, but corresponds to Damballah, the primordial serpent as well. Notice the heavy ring of integrated opposites in his being such as mother-father, androgynous, young-old, dark-light, good-evil, right-wrong --- paralleling such deep religious themes as the concept of Sunyata for example.
Also Yemalia, Yemalla. Literally "mother of fishes". She rules birth and the surface of the oceans, and works closely with Olokun, who rules the depths. She works through dreams and intuition. Her waves wash away all sorrow. Her compassion nurtures her children through any spiritual or emotional crisis. Her love sustains life. She is identified with Mary, Star of the Sea.
Also Ochum. The Goddess of love and abundance. The power of desire is hers, and she often uses s this power to transform. She is beauty, laughter, and generosity. The erotic is her sacrament. She is often compared to Aphrodite, and is identified with the portrayal of Our Lady of Caridad. Oshun likes to heal hurt with love, and plants seeds of change in people.
Oshun is also associated with Ibu Kole, the vulture. It is said in ancient days Oludamare/Olofi became disgusted with humans and their behavior, turning away from their needs and prayers. Resources were depleted and famine spread throughout the world. As far as Oludamare/Olofi was concerned the human race could end forever. Because vultures fly higher than any other winged bird, Oshun transformed herself into the form of a vulture in order to fly to the heavens and intercede on the behalf of humans and save her children. Olodumare was so compelled by such spiritual virtue that he fulfilled her request. See: The Vulture as Totem.
A revolution in constant progress, Oya brings sudden change. She is a whirlwind, an amazon, a huntress, and a wild buffalo. Lightning and rainbows are signs of her presence. She also rules communication between the living and the dead. Think of Hecate or Artemis. She is identified mostly with Saint Catherine. The Spanish name for Saint Catherine is Santa Catalina. Interestingly enough, 'la Catalina,' who is cited as having similar powers and attributes as OYA, was the name of the infamous sorceress that bedeviled both Don Juan Matus and Carlos Castaneda.
Also Shango. Chango is a king, and his name is synonymous with justice. He lived in historical times and ruled as the fourth Alafin (or chieftain) of Oyo, a city in modern-day Nigeria. He is a knight in shining armor. He uses lightning and thunder to enhance the fertility of the earth and of his followers. Myths concerning his death (or rather the fact that it did not occur) link him to the European figure of the Hanged God. He is identified with representations of Saint Barbara.
Also Ogum. God of iron and machines, Ogoun is a smith, a soldier, and a politician. In modern times he has come to be known as the patron of truck drivers. He is the spirit of the frontier cutting paths, through the wilderness with his ever-present machete.
Although Ogoun clears the way for civilization, he does so through constraints. The more spiritual aspect of the small path one-on-one approach of the machete rather than the broadstroke abusive the use of iron and machines. He often prefers to dwell alone in the wilderness seeking solace and meditation. See Doing Hard Time In A Zen Monastery. He is identified with Saint Anthony.
- CHANGO:Top Center
- OYA:Top Right
- OGOUN:Middle Right
- PAPA LEGBA:Bottom Right
- OBATALA:Bottom Left
- YEMAYA:Middle Left
- OSHUN:Top Left
---OBATALA--PAPA-LEGBA--CHANGO--- OSHUN------JUST JUDGE
CENTRAL FIGURE: Just Judge, crucifixion of Jesus. Watched over by a
rooster on a pedestal. Inside the circle the word "Olofi" sometimes appears.
The rooster is thought to signify betrayal as in Mark 14:30: And Jesus said
to him, "Truly I say to you, That this day, this very night, before the cock
crows twice, you shall deny me three times."
THE WORD OBEAH: What Does It Mean, How Does It Work?
TIME TRAVEL: MEETING YOURSELF
Fundamentally, our experience as experienced is not different from the Zen master's. Where
we differ is that we place a fog, a particular kind of conceptual overlay onto that experience
and then make an emotional investment in that overlay, taking it to be "real" in and of itself.
ZEN ENLIGHTENMENT IN A NUTSHELL
ON THE RAZOR'S
POWER OF THE SHAMAN
"A NATURAL WEALTH: The Gods of the African Diaspora"
Gnosis, issue 28 (Summer 1993), by Nisi Shawl
"THE WORD OBEAH: What Does It Mean, How Does It Work?"
by The Wanderling