Gods and Spirits

The Yoruba, of Nigeria imagine the cosmos as consisting of two distinct but connected worlds --

  • aye, the visible world of the living, and
  • orun, the invisible, spiritual realm of the gods, ancestors, and spirits.

These two worlds were created by Oludumare (sometimes called Olorun) - a supreme being who is considered the owner of heaven. Oludumare is also the source of ase - the force which gives life to all living things. Prayers are offered to Oludumare, but no shrines are built for people to make offerings directly to him. Instead, the Yoruba worship many gods (called orisha) who can communicate with Oludumare on behalf of the people on earth.

The orisha are made up of several different categories of gods:

  • There are the 'cool,' temperate, calm gods such as Obatala, the divine sculptor and Osanyin, the god of medicine.
  • There are also 'hot,' temperamental gods like Ogun, the god of iron, and Shango the lord of war and thunder.
  • Another group is the spirits of great ancestors - humans who have become gods.
  • There are also spirits connected with the earth, rivers, mountains, and trees.

Eshu and Shango are two of the most important gods and feature prominently in Yoruba artworks. Let's learn more about them...



© Michael C. Carlos Museum of Emory University,
Memorial Art Gallery of the University of Rochester and Dallas Museum of Art
For more information please contact odyssey@emory.edu.
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