Orisha, Òrìṣà, Orixá, Orichá
Òrìṣà is a term that has been subject to many interpretations. The word itself is clear in meaning, a ‘shard of consciousness.’ One story from the Ifá corpus speaks of how Ôbàtálá, when he was bringing the calabash of creation to earth, came down to the first mountain. He descended along a golden chain, but stumbled as he hit the summit of the mountain, and the calabash of creation broke into 201 pieces. From these shards òrìṣà took shape as a unique – and limited – manifestation of the divine plethora.
On an almost primitive level of metaphysical constitution, this is what òrìṣà is: specific and singular divine potencies, that are awakened as they hit Ayé (the earth), and spark forth a particular form of divine fire. The spark constitutes the core of every ensouled material manifestation, beasts, humans, minerals, trees, and other natural phenomena. This idea of shared consciousness is crucial for understanding Ifá philosophy and cosmology. Since everything that is partakes of a shared divine fire, everything is divine. We might read pantheism or animism into this as much as a qualified monism.
These philosophical discourses are actually of less importance in relation to divine sparks continually encountering other divine sparks, because everything possesses orí, consciousness. Ifá is a philosophy about shared commonality and divinity; everything holds the divine fire within, whether strong or weak in its flickering dance. When the calabash of creation fell to the ground, we also learn that 200 shards took form at the right side, but one shard took form at the left. This dynamic is replicated in our hands, the left being a symbol of restriction, force and protection, and the right being a symbol of gratitude, welcome and blessing. The two hands demonstrate our capacity to rend and gather. We find in the hands, the eyes, the legs, the ears and the buttocks a reminder of the importance of unity and also the power we hold in being authors of fortune and misfortune, dispersion and gathering.
This idea is encoded in one of the many interpretations of the word ènìyàn. Ènìyàn is one of the terms used to describe humans – but also witches – in the odù Òsá Ogúndá. Ènì means ‘people’ and yàn defines a capacity for choice or being chosen. In other words, Ifá is clear that man came to earth with the free will to choose what is good or what is bad, although the term ènìyàn implies the act of choice as much as being chosen. It implies that humans were chosen to take this journey because they were elected to do good and to recognize the shards of divine consciousness dispersed everywhere and thence gather together in harmony.