On Sunday, December 11, I was privileged to attend an event put on by Oloshas United Los Angeles which welcomed all Orisha communities of Southern California to come together for a wemilere to pay homage to Obatalá, so that he may assist humankind to heal and promote world peace.
A few words of explanation might be in order. According to their website, Oloshas United was founded in 2014. They “promote solidarity, tradition, and service for the preservation of our global Orisha community. Oloshas United is made up of Orisha Priests, devotees, academics, and interested individuals.”
According to Orishanet, “Santería or La Regla Ocha (Rule of the Orishas or deities) is the primeval and powerful Afro-Cuban religion now practiced worldwide. As much a culture and a world-view as it is a religion, La Regla Ocha retains the rites, music and even much of the language as practiced when brought to the New World from Africa during the slave trade. This ancient body of shamanic wisdom was adapted to the modern urban world by these slaves, among them some of the greatest minds in history.”
The same site has this to say about the spirits known as orishas:
“The orishas are the emissaries of Olodumare or God almighty. They rule over the forces of nature and the endeavors of humanity. They recognise themselves and are recognised through their different numbers and colors which are their marks, and each has their own favorite foods and other things which they like to receive as offerings and gifts. In this way we make our offerings in the manner they are accustomed to, in the way they have always received them, so that they will recognise our offerings and come to our aid.
The orishas are often best understood by observing the forces of nature they rule over. … As you observe the orishas at work in the world and in your own lives you will gain a better understanding of them and their ways. Yes, they are complex, but no more so than any other living being such as you or I. We are also blessed from time to time in the religion with the opportunity to meet the orishas face to face during a wemilere (drumming ceremony) where one or more of their priests will be mounted.”
From the same site, “Obatalá is the kindly father of all the orishas and all humanity. He is also the owner of all heads and the mind. Though it was Olorun who created the universe, it is Obatalá who is the creator of the world and humanity. Obatalá is the source of all that is pure, wise peaceful and compassionate. He has a warrior side though through which he enforces justice in the world.”
The Wemilere is a ritual celebration to honor to a particular Orisha, in this case, Obatalá. While there are rules for initiates, the most important thing for non-initiates is to be respectful, displaying courtesy and manners.
There were a number of elements in the ritual which stood out to me as an outsider. Greetings and prostrations between practitioners were based on a ritual hierarchy. According to one of the resident initiates, Jesse Barboza, “the saluting prostrating on floor of one Olosha to another is based on years of full Orisha what we call Kari Osha initiation.”
I was told that new initiates would dedicate themselves to a particular Orisha whereupon they would shave their heads and wear white clothing from head-to-toe for a year, both as a symbol of purity and as an energetic protection against misfortune. At the end of this process, they would be “crowned”, either with a white crown or of the color(s) aspected to the Orisha in question.
I am reminded of the Abramelin Operation where an initiate dedicates himself or herself to the pursuit of accessing their Holy Guardian Angel, or higher self, depending on your viewpoint. The difference is that the Abramelin Operation is done in secret by a rich person who has a servant catering to their needs. Here, initiates have the support and encouragement of their community, after which their accomplishment gives them higher standing than they would have otherwise.
Divinations are normally done to determine the needs of the Orisha being worked with. At this event, Obatalá requested that a number of doves be released so as to bring about healing and world peace. A number of doves were removed from a cardboard box and carried around the ritual area so that they could absorb the energy of the altar, practitioners and drumming prior to being released.
It is well known that spirit possession plays an important role in African diasporic traditions. Towards the end of the ritual, one man experienced possession during the prolonged drumming and dancing. He was clearly in a safe place to do so as he was in experienced hands.
Here are my photos from the event: