Secrets, Gossip, and Gods






What is Candomble`?



Slaves and Secrets



Secret Place : Initiation



Signifying the Street


pp. 37-9 natures of various deities

p. 37

"Oxala` "walks slowly but always arrives at his destination," and in ritual the drum rhythm that calls him is calm and dignified.


Oxum is a female orixa` of fresh or "sweet" ... waters. ... in Brazil she has ... the qualities of a coquette, revered for ... her unabashed vanity ... . ...

p. 38

Drums rhythms are played to honor and call Oxum with the bare hands ... .


Iansa~ ... dances with the force of a windy tempest ... . Iansa~ love sex."


"Oxo^ssi is the orixa` of the forest and ... he is often draped in green ... . ... Oxo^ssi is also remembered as the king of the J=Yoruba city-state of Ketu and therefore is the founding orixa` of the Ketu nation of Candomble` in Brazil."


"Nana` Buruku is a female orixa` associated with the primordial depths of the cool mud as the bottom of the sea and underground. She is .... said to have been present during creation itself, and ... is ... consort of Oxala` (or Obatala ...). But because of her great age she ... also ... plays an important role in dispatching the dead to orun, the otherworld of the ancestors. ... Nana` originally appeared in the myths of the West African Fon ..., where she was mother of the sacred twins Mawu and Lissa, who appear in the pantheon of Haitian Vodou."

p. 39

"Exu` is the messenger and trickster, a "hot" orixa` of the street associated with the colors red and black ... . ... Exu` is always fed first during any ritual procedure, ... because it is he who must be energized to fetch other orixa`s as the go-between".

p. 43 sexual myths

"Odudua is portrayed as earth and the wife of Obatala, the Sky, and the two were locked in a smothering embrace ..., before Odudua rebelled against Obatala and knocked him off of her. ... the resulting separation made space for land, the air (personified as the orixa` Orungan), and the seas (as the orixa` Yemanja`). Orungan had incestuous desires for his mother, Yemanja`, who stumbled as she fled from his approach, bursting her great breasts and giving birth to freshwater rivers and the other fifteen orixa`s."

{" Geb fell madly in love with his mother, Tefnut, and when his father, Shu, died he raped his mother." ("Creation")} {"Geb, who raped his own mother Tefnut, to appropriate the royalty of Shu," the air-god ("Gods").}

"Creation" =

"Gods" =

p. 46 strange sexuality of deities

"Landes (1947), after all, recorded that the drummer and ogans of the 1930s were frequently the actual physical lovers of the wives of the orixa`s".

"the bisexual orixa`s, like Logunede or the rainbow serpent, Oxumare^."

Landes 1947 = Ruth Landes : The City of Women. NY : Macmillan.

p. 51 Kardecist practices

"The mediums, dressed in white or blue medical clothing, offer "passes" (passos) over the bodies of their subjects, moving their hands over the skin to attract negative vibrations or energies to their own hands, and then cast them into the air".

"Spirit possession itself is relatively subdued in spiritist meetings, marked by a sudden hissing of breath and a trembling of the shoulders."

p. 53 spirit-possession in Umbanda

"These spirit guides ... seek help humans ... . A typical ceremony uses drum rhythms and songs to call the spirits to descend ... and mount their mediums, who then consult privately with participants in the stylized manner specific to their spiritual kind. Most often the spirits offer advice on ... future plans. They usually cleanse their patients by ... snapping fingers around their bodies and chanting magical phrases".

p. 55 why persons decide to become initiated into Candomble`

"symptoms like anxiety, agitation, or depression ... "of the head" are often interpreted as the initial stages of orixa` possession, as a kind of summons obliging the person to become the orixa`’s vehicle." {this is likewise true of Siberian initiations into shamanhood}

pp. 63-4 the names /Yoruba/ and /Nago^/

p. 63

" "Yoruba" may derive from

"Yooba," Oyo’s word for its own particular dialect, or from

"Yaraba," their northern rivals’, the Hausas, title for those of Oyo".

p. 64

"Nago^ was derived from anago, a term the Fon of Dahomey applied to Yoruba-speaking people residing in their midst".


Additional to Yoruba are "those who in Brazil were called "Jeje," West African Ewe speakers".

p. 64 Yoruba secrets

"In Ekiti, as in Brazil, secrets are borne on the body by elders who are to have "eyes but no mouth" (Apter 1992, 107), and who outer, public head (ori ode) masks the true intent of the inner head (ori inu) ... . In Ekiti, as in Brazil, secrets have material homologues, like the closed calabash carried on the head of a priestess during a Yemoja (... Yemanja`) festival ... (97-117). ... In Ekiti, as in Candomble`, orisa are made by humans through ... ase."

Apter 1992 = Andrew Apter : Black Critics and Kings : the Hermeneutics of Power in Yoruba Society. U of Chicago Pr.

pp. 65-6 Yoruba cities of specific deities {cf. Kemetic and Sumerian cities of specific deities}

p. 65

"Shango`’s ... cult, primary in Oyo, is officially nonexistent in

p. 66

Ife, where an orisa called Oramfe` controls lightning;


Oshun ..., whose cult is prominent in the Ijesha region, is absent in the Egba` region;


Yemoja (Yemanja`), who rules in Egba, is barely known in Ijesha. ...


The patron orisa of Ketu, Oso^ssi (Oxo^ssi) the hunter, is alive and well in Brazil".

pp. 67 royalty as eucharist (with witches as congregation at this eucharistic mass)

[Ekiti Yoruba] "power which ... kills the king and consumes his flesh and blood" (1992, 108). ... The secret of the Yemoja festival ... is that it promotes fertility by ritually "killing the king" and "feeding him to the witches" (1992, 114)."

"secret societies like the Ogboni council ... sending the king a red (hot) parrot feather in a calabash ... (Apter 1992, 97-117 ...). In today’s Candomble`, the red parrot feather (iko odide) is worn on a new initiate’s forehead and is commonly said to represent the menstrual blood of Oxum {the grey parrot’s "red tail feather (i`ko’o’de,) is linked with menstrual blood and fertility" (GS, p. 241)}, which, mixed with the semen of Oxala`, creates the initiate’s new life."

GS = Babatunde Lawal : The Ge,`le,`de’ Spectacle. U of WA Pr, 1996.

p. 71 renunciation of Christianity in Brazil

"the revered priestess Ma~e Stella ... publicly advocates for all devotees of Candomble` to renounce the Catholic saints and return to the true African tradition, since devotion to the saints was a contingency of the simulated conversions under slavery."

pp. 75-6 the Great Houses of Candomble`

p. 75

"The 1820s and 1830s, ... was ... the time of the founding of a terreiro called Engenho Velho, the "Old Sugar Mill." [p. 194, n. 3:13 : "The terreiro is also called Casa Branca, "the White House," and Ile^ Iya Nasso^".] ... [The woman Iya Nasso^’s daughter] Obatossi ... founded the terreiro named after her "mother," ... at its final site on Vasco de Gama Avenue in Salvador (Verger 1981b, 28-29)."

p. 76

"succession ... led to ... two new terreiros :

one in the neighborhood of Gantois, Iya` Omi Ase Iya`mase ...;

the other called Axe` Opo^ Afonja` (the force of the staff of Afonja`).

These three houses, along with Alaketu, comprise the traditional houses of the Nago^-Ketu nation".

Verger 1981b = Pierre Verger : Orixa`s : Deuses Ioruba`s ... . Salvador : Corrupio.

p. 78 successive abolitions

"the twofold emancipation – from slavery in 1888 and from the monarchy in 1889 – did not lead to the sweeping changes for which the slaves must have hoped."

{Did the monarchy’s abolition of slavery lead to the hereditary nobility’s overthrow of the monarchy because the monarchy was at that point deemed too liberal an institution by the nobility?}

"Only the life of the Negro remains the same /

He works to die of hunger /

The 13th of May fooled him!"

{The Civil War in the United States failed to improve the condition of the slaves there also : not until J. F. Kennedy were legally-mandated civil rights enforced.}

pp. 108-9 colors of beads of necklaces for deities












dark blue




pp. 116-7 retained in temple : a reliquary for each living initiate

p. 116, Fig 5.4

"clay vases (peji), each of which is the material index of the initiatory union of an individual and his or her patron orixa`."

p. 116

"Each ceramic jar hold the seat ... on an initiate’s Orixa`. Along with the material image of the orixa` (igba`), it includes the sacred stone ...; both the head

p. 117

and the stone (ota`) are sites where the orixa`’s axe` is conjoined with the initiate’s vital force ... .


The clay jars contain not only the stone but also metal objects ... associated with the particular orixa` :"



metal object



small bow and arrow



double-edged axe



tiny gold fan or mirror







p. 119 cultic initiation by means of substances : animal-blood {cf. Mithraic baptism}; chalk; wax; feather; turban

"Blood is touched to the iao^’s head, tongue, shoulders, hands, elbows, knees, and feet, and she feels the axe` ... vitalize her own body.

Next, her head, shoulders, and upper arms are dotted and decorated in white chalk in imitation of the spotted Angolan chicken which, in cosmogonic myth, scratched the earth into existence (Barros, Vogel, and Mello 1993).

[The initiatrix-priestess] shaves ... the initiate’s entire head. ... At the crown, the priestess makes two small incisions, ... with the blood of a white goat poured over the cranium in a bath of axe` (sundide`) ... . [The initiatrix] tamps the wound with a mixture of herbs ... (atim) ... . A cone of wax is molded at the crown of the head to contain the infusion ... . The cone is called an adoxu ["From the Yoruba : -do`, stand up, o`su`, tuft of hair left without cutting" (p. 197, n. 5:7).] thereafter the iao^ will also be known as an adoxu initiate, one who has had her head made ... . {"During the New Kingdom people were depicted carrying little cones in their hair, which are generally interpreted as having been made of solid perfume." ("PH&C")}

Blood is then dabbed onto the forehead and a red feather adhered to it, and

her entire head is bound in a new white cloth after the fashion of a turban, which holds the cone, the adoxu, in place."

Barros, Vogel, & Mello 1993 = Jose` Fla`vio Pessoa de Barros; Arno Vogel; Marcos Antonio da Silva Mello A Galinha-d’Angola. Rio de Janeiro : Pallas.

"PH&C--P" = "Personal Hygiene and Cosmetics – Perfumes"

pp. 120-3 closing of the body ["to have a closed body, a body that is invulnerable to magical attack" (p. 120)]

p. 120

"After her confirmation and coming out ...,

the iao^ is instructed to sleep belly down ...;

p. 121

to not be on the street ..., where it is feared that Iku (Death) could enter her womb and cause her next child to be an abiku spirit and emerge stillborn;

to refrain from sexual intercourse for three more months ... ."


"Her leaving is divided into four phases :

first is the pana`n, a relearning of mundane tasks; next comes the securing of the body for travel;

third is ... the visit ...; and

fourth, finally, ... dressed in white ..., she will be delivered safely to the door of her secular home."


"The pana`n ["From the Yoruba, ... : pa-, to scrub or wash, -non very much" (p. 197, n. 5:8).] is often a ... somewhat ludic event ... . As though she ... knew nothing, she is shown ... normal life activities, and she is expected to repeat the motions of each to the amusement of onlookers. ["When males are initiated as adoxu ..., the activities taught in the pana`n are much the same" (p. 197, n. 5:9), so as to instruct them how to assist females in housework.]


Then the iao^ is auctioned off ..., to her own family, her husband, or, in lieu of these, to a wealthy individual to whom she is then bound in ... an honorary ... relationship. ...


In the second part of her departure, ... a ritual of safe travel is performed. ... . ... dry food offerings are passed over her body, this time particularly over her extremities. ...

p. 122

Exu` of the body, makes deep cuts and small ones ... He is standing at the entrance over the doorframe ... . {cf. the doorposts whereto blood is applied for the Passover}


Finally, [the conductrix of the initiation-caerimony] guides her to step carefully over the ["lit" (p. 121)] candle {cf. dedication (in <ammo^n) to Molok by leaping over a fire – "a pit was dug and a fire lit therein, and the victim leaped over it", being carried if "blind or sleeping" (Talmud, Sanhedrin 64b – "HST&MP")} ... .


The next morning, ... is ... a farce, ... a mocking deception of the church."

p. 123

"Her daily life may resume."

"HST&MP" = "Moloch Problem"

p. 125 cosmogonic myth

"Olorun entrusted Oxala` with the creation of the earth, giving him a line to descend, a portion of dirt, and a five-toed rooster. When Oxala` neared the exit to the gods’ domain, however, he saw the other divinities having a party and stopped ... . Soon he became .... asleep on the ground. Odudua ... took the tools given by Olorun, descended over the waters, threw down the dirt, and placed the cock upon the surface to scratch it into the shape of the earth. When Oxala` awoke, he ... declared palm wine taboo for his followers. ... Olorun resolved ... that to Oxala` would be entrusted the creation of humanity (e.g., Bascom 1969, 9-11).

Another version, collected by Juana Elbein dos Santos (1975, 61-64), adds ... Exu` ... . Oxala` ... set out with the sack of existence to create the world but failed to perform the obligatory offerings to Exu` ... . ... Olorun, meanwhile, realized that he forgot to include the sack of dirt in the package given to Oxala` and sent Odudua after him with the dirt. Odudua, unable to awaken Oxala`, took the sack of existence and the dirt back to Olorun, whereupon Olorun entrusted Odudua with the task. With the aid of ... Ogum, Odudua descended the staff uniting ... orun and aiye, and created the earth. ... Oxala` awakened, ... and was solaced with the task of creating the forms of life that would populate the earth."

Bascom 1969 = William Bascom : The Yoruba of Southwestern Nigeria. NY : Holt, Rinehart & Winston.

Elbein dos Santos 1975 = Juana Elbein dos Santos : Os Nago^ e a norte. Petro`polis : Vozes.

p. 126 how to terrify the death-deity

"Barros and Teixeira (1993, 27) ... record a myth wherein an African village was threatened by Iku, Death personified. The villagers sought help from Oxala`, who responded to their plea by painting white spots on a black chicken and filling his throat with bizarre sounds ... . The spotted chicken’s (gallinha d’Angola) unworldly voice terrified Death, who thereafter left the village alone."

Barros & Teixeira 1993 = Jose` Fla`vio Pessoa de Barros; Maria Lina Lea~o Teixeira : "Corpo fechado / corpo curado". REVISTA DO RIO DE JANEIRO – UNIVERSIDADE DO ESTADO DO RIO DE JANEIRO, 1(2):23-32.

p. 133 foods for specific deities at ebo` (communal offering)


that deity’s food


"corn popped"




"white corn ground"


"rice cooked"



p. 139 imprisonment of a god under erroneous criminal charges

"Oxala` decided to visit his friend Xango^ ... . ... Oxala` set out and met Exu` ... with a great pot of palm oil. He attempted to help Exu` by lifting the pot ..., but Exu` maliciously spilled the oil all over him ... . ... Finally he came to Xango^’s kingdom ... when Xango^’s servants appeared and seized Oxala`, misjudging him as a ... thief. {Thieves can be recognized by their frequent deliberate spilling of oil over their bodies in order to render their bodies to slippery to be easily caught.}

He was cast into prison, where he remained for seven years. During those years Xango^’s ... crops failed."

{cf. Yo^sep’s being cast into prison (B-Re>s^it 39:20), where he praedicted and there occurred (B-Re>s^it 41:54) a 7 years’ famine in Mis.rayim.}

Ifa was consulted, and ... Oxala` ... was released ... . (Bastide 1978a, 90-91 ...)"

Bastide 1978a = Roger Bastide : O Candomble` da Bahia. Sa~o Paulo : Nacional.

pp. 143-4 origin of blindness; origin of wind

p. 143

"Odudua, the earth, was the wife of Oxala`, the sky. ... They began to fight and Oxala` tore out her

{Daughter of Themis (Pindaros : 13th Olympian Ode) and of Astraios (Aratos : Phainomena 96), is goddess Dike ("D") of "piercing eye" (62nd Orphic Hymn), who is aequated with blinded Latin goddess Iustitia.}

p. 144



... she cursed him, saying, You’ll never eat anything but slugs (which is why slugs are offered to Oxala`).


Odudua and Oxala` had two children, Aganju and Yemanja`. {Aganju is the "o`ri`s,a` of the fire" ("BSMSh", p. 411).}

{Themis was (according to Aiskhulos) mother of (CDCM, s.v. "Themis") Prometheus, who brought fire to mankind.}


The first inhabited land and the second was the mother of fish. Yemanja` married her brother, Aganju, and had a child, Orungan, the air between Sky and Earth. ... He {Orungan} tried to convince her {Yemanja`} that it would be good to have both a husband {Aganju} and a lover {himself, Orungan}. But she ran from him and when he was about to catch her, she fell and her breasts burst and from them ran two rivers of water, which united into a great lake, and from her body came fifteen orixa`s. (paraphrased from Parrinder in Woortman 1973, 33)"


"Oxo^ssi, orixa` of the hunt, complained to Oya ["Oya is ... Iansa~." (p. 198, n. 6:5)], orixa` of wind, that every time he needed leaves he had to beg Osanyin for them. Oya pitied him and ... she ... began to wave her skirts, generating a fierce current {of wind}. The wind knocked over Osanyin’s gourd, scattering the leaves all over. ... (Barros 1993, 23 ...)"

"D" = "Dike"

"BSMSh" = Jose` Fla`vio Pessoa de Barros : "Brazil’s Sacred Music of Shango". In :- Jacob K. Olupona & Terry Rey (edd.) : O`ri`s,a` Devotion as World Religion. U of WI Pr, Madison, 2008. pp. 400-15.

CDCM = Pierre Grimal : A Concise Dictionary of Classical Mythology. Basil Blackwell, 1990.

Woortman 1973 = Klaas A. A. W. Woortman : "Cosmologia e geomancia : um estudo da cultura Yoru`ba’-Na’go^". ANUA`RIO ANTROPOLO`GICO 77:11-86.

Barros 1993 = Jose` Fla`vio Pessoa de Barros : O segredo das folhas : sistema de ... Candomble` Je^je-Nago^ do Brazil. Rio de Janeiro : Pallas.

Paul Christopher Johnson : Secrets, Gossip, and Gods : the Transformation of Brazilian Candomble`. Oxford U Pr, 2002.