Orisha or Òrìṣà (original spelling in the Yoruba language), known as orichá or orixá in Latin America, are the human form of the spirits (Irunmọlẹ) sent by Olodumare, Olorun, Olofi in Yoruba traditional identity. The Irunmọlẹ are meant to guide creation and particularly humanity on how to live and succeed on Earth (Ayé). Most Òrìṣà are said to be deities previously existing in the spirit world (Òrun) as Irunmọlẹ, while others are said to be humans who are recognized as deities upon their deaths due to extraordinary feats.[1]

The Chi Wara / Chiwara / Chi-Wara mask of the Bambara people of Mali.

The Chi Wara / Chiwara / Chi-Wara mask of the Bambara people of Mali. This is a drawing of the Male (usually paired with a female), and is worn in a farming and fertility ceremony. Has become emblematic of African art, and this style of male was influential to modernist European artists.

Many Orisha have found their way to most of the New World as a result of the Atlantic slave trade and are now expressed in practices as varied as Santería, Candomblé, Trinidad Orisha, Umbanda, and Oyotunji, among others. The concept of orisha is similar to those of deities in the traditional religions of the Bini people of Edo State in southern Nigeria, the Ewe people of Benin, Ghana, and Togo, and the Fon people of Benin.[1][2]


Yoruba tradition often says that there are 400 + 1 Orisha, which is associated with a sacred number. Other sources suggest that the number is “as many as you can think of, plus one more – an innumerable number.” Different oral traditions refer to 400, 700, or 1,440 orisha.[3][4][5]


Practitioners traditionally believe that daily life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one’s oriOri literally means the head, but in spiritual matters, it is taken to mean a portion of the soul that determines personal destiny.[2]

Some òrìṣà are rooted in ancestor worship; warriors, kings, and founders of cities were celebrated after death and joined the pantheon of Yoruba deities. The ancestors did not die, but were seen to have “disappeared” and become òrìṣà. Some orishas based on historical figures are confined to worship in their families or towns of origin; others are venerated across wider geographic areas.[2]


Ashe is the life-force that runs through all things, living and inanimate. It is described as the power to make things happen. It is an affirmation that is used in greetings and prayers, as well as a concept of spiritual growth. òrìṣà devotees strive to obtain Ashe through iwa-pele, gentle and good character, and in turn they experience alignment with the ori, what others might call inner peace and satisfaction with life. Ashe is divine energy that comes from Olodumare, the creator deity, and is manifested through Olorun, who rules the heavens and is associated with the sun. Without the sun, no life could exist, just as life cannot exist without some degree of asheAshe is sometimes associated with Eshu, the messenger òrìṣà.[6] For practitioners, ashe represents a link to the eternal presence of the supreme deity, the Orishas, and the ancestors.[7]

The concept is regularly referenced in Brazilian capoeira. “Axé” in this context is used as a greeting or farewell, in songs and as a form of praise. Saying that someone ‘has axé’ in capoeira is complimenting their energy, fighting spirit, and attitude.[5]

Obatala priests in their temple in Ife

Obatala priests in their temple in Ife


The òrìṣà are grouped as those represented by the color white, who are characterized as tutu “cool, calm, gentle, and temperate”; and those represented by the colors red or black, who are characterized as gbigbona “harsh, aggressive, demanding, and quick tempered”. As humans do, orisha may have a preferred color, foods, and objects. The traits of the orisha are documented through oral tradition.[4]

  • Aganju
  • Ajaka
  • Ayra (Ara in the Yoruba language)
  • Babalu Aye (Obaluaye in the Yoruba language)
  • Egungun
  • Erinle
  • Eshu
  • Ibeji
  • Iroco (Iroko in the Yoruba language)
  • Iya Nla
  • Logun Ode (Logunede in the Yoruba language)
  • Moremi
  • Nana
  • Oba
  • Obatala
  • Oduduwa
  • Ogun
  • Oke
  • Oko
  • Olokun
  • Olumo (The patron deity of Abeokuta)
  • Oranyan
  • Oronsen (The patron deity of Owo).
  • Orunmila
  • Ori
  • Osanyin
  • Oshosi
  • Oshun
  • Oshunmare (Osumare in the Yoruba language)
  • Otin
  • Oyansa (Iyansan or Oya in Yoruba language)
  • Shango
  • Yemoja
  • Yewa


  1.  Kevin Baxter (on De La Torre), Ozzie Guillen secure in his faith, Los Angeles Times, 2007
  2. “Orisha”. Encyclopædia Britannica. Chicago, Ill.: Encyclopædia Britannica, Inc.
  3.  Clark, Mary Ann (2002). “Children of Oduduwa”. Then We’ll Sing a New Song: African Influences on America’s Religious Landscape. Rowman & Littlefield Publishers. p. 93. ISBN9781442208810.
  4.  Falola, Toyin (2016). Encyclopedia of the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana University Press. pp. 84–85. ISBN9780253021441.
  5.  “African Religions”. Merriam-Webster’s Encyclopedia of World Religions. Merriam-Webster. 1999. p. 20. ISBN9780877790440.
  6.  Robert D. Pelton (1989). The Trickster in West Africa: A Study of Mythic Irony and Sacred Delight. University of California Press. ISBN978-0-520-06791-2.
  7.  Cynthia Duncan, Ph.D

Adapted from Wikipedia, the free encyclopedia