Death and the King's Horseman

Death and the King's Horseman Yoruba Religion

The Yoruba religion informs Death and the King’s Horseman and therefore merits consideration.

Yoruba religion is found in Western Nigeria but varies widely, even from town to town, no doubt because it was spread orally and also incorporates parts of Christianity and Islam. The structure is referred to as “diffused monotheism," where an omnipotent creator-god controls the universe and lower gods preside over certain domains.

The all-powerful god is Olorun, or Olodumare. He is not actively worshipped by followers and has no shrine for followers to worship him. He is seen as the creator of everything but does not appear as a part of the Yoruba’s everyday lives. Another legend posits that there were two creator-gods – Orishala and his wife, Odudua – who may have been given the task to finish the world’s creation after Olorun did most of it. Olorun and Orishala may also be conflated. Occasionally Orishala is seen to rule over the 400-600 orisha (the minor gods) as king. These minor gods and goddesses sometimes embody natural phenomena such as rivers, or have cosmic attributes. Each deity has a shrine in the Yoruba towns, and followers decorate them with the deity’s dress and insignia, and bring gifts that correspond with the deity’s characteristics.

One of the most popular among the orisha is Shango. He is a god of thunder and lightning; he throws “thunderstones” to the earth, and the Yoruba seek out those stones for their special powers. Ogun is one of the most important gods in the pantheon, as he is the god of war, of the hunt, of contracts and deals, and of ironworking. He is perceived as powerful and revengeful. He is sometimes combined with the trickster god Eshu, whom Europeans during the imperial era identified as the Devil. This is a particularly erroneous association as there are no “evil” gods in the Yoruba faith. Eshu, for example, may be mischievous, but he is also the guardian of houses and villages. Orunmila is the Yoruba Grand Priest and the custodian of the Ifa Oracle, which is the source of knowledge. Yemoja is the Mother of Waters, the protector of women, and said to embody the amniotic fluid in a woman's womb. Oshun also helps with childbearing, and is said to represent sensuality, beauty, and gracefulness.

Some gods belong to particular regions only, such as Olokun (“owner of the sea”), a god or goddess who lived below the sea and may have tried to control the earth by means of a great flood.

The Yoruba people believe in reincarnation, but only within the same bloodline. They believe human beings possess “Ayanmo," or destiny/fate, and can become one with Olorun. All of their thoughts and behavior are interacting with all other living things. They must attain spiritual consciousness on earth and then may find communion with their “Iponri," their spiritual self. This can be done through meditation and veneration of the gods. The Yoruba try to avoid the wrath of the orisha and the attacks of witches and sorcerers in order to proceed with this spiritual development. Other orisha, ancestors, and good religious practices and rituals can assist in this in this process.