If you are at all familiar with the religions that have been brought over from Africa and melded in syncretistically with other religions, particularly Roman Catholicism, you’re likely familiar with the Afro-Brazilian religion known as Candomble.
Candomble, like its cousins Vodou and Santeria, is rooted partly in the Yoruba religion, and is both syncretistic (meaning their religion is blended) and polytheistic at the same time, meaning practitioners worship many of what we’d call gods. These gods or entities of Candomble are called “orixas,” also known as “orishas.”
What Are the Orishas?
Orishas are considered powerful nature gods, and they are neither wholly good or wholly evil. Like us, they contain a bit of both, but still emanate from and serve the supreme Creator, Olodumare, who is considered divine. How can a god be neither good or evil, but still be divine?
In Candomble, they don’t have a concept for “good” or “evil” like other religions seem to. They do, however, believe that if you do what many would consider evil, that evil will come back to you eventually. That said, Candomble is not a dualistic religion, so comparisons between typical Judeo-Christian judgments between what’s good and bad don’t entirely match up to what’s practiced in Candomble.
Practitioners also believe in destiny and that one should fulfil one’s destiny to the fullest, whatever that may be. Candomble practitioners also believe that each practitioner or devotee has a teaching spirit that’s with them always and protects them.
Just as Candomble is syncretistically practised with Catholicism, Candomble is polytheistic in the sense that they worship not just the orishas but also the voduns of the Fon and Ewe nation, as well as the nkisis/minkisi of the Congo.
One of the well-known and most revered orishas of Candomble is Exu. Exu is, more or less, similar to the Greco-Roman god Hermes/Mercury, in that he is a messenger between heaven (“Orun”) and Earth (“Aiye”). Because he is also sensual and mischievous as well as a bit provocative, he was labeled as something of a Satanic figure, which is completely misguided.
Because Exu is the orisha of communication between heaven and earth, he is honored before all other orishas, to guarantee his function as messenger is completed.
Each orisha has a feast day, favorite song, drumbeat, etc, and the orishas are part of what makes Candomble such a fascinating religion.