Iyami Osoronga: The Powerful Witches of the Yoruba Religion

Ìyáàmi Òsòròngá

Iyami Osoronga (Ìyáàmi Òsòròngá), also known as Iyami Oshoronga or choronga, are powerful female deities in Yoruba religion, associated with witchcraft and cosmic balance. They represent the Great Feminine Power in the cult of Orisha and Ifá and are revered and feared for their ability to influence good and evil. These deities, considered the mother figures of witchcraft, have an influence that extends to various religions with African roots, and their devotees are known as Aje or witches.

Who are the Iyami Osoronga?

The Iyami Osoronga

Iyami Osoronga, also known as Awon Agbalagba or Eleye (owner of the birds), is the Great Feminine Power within the cult of Orisha and Ifá. This deity, associated with witchcraft and both female and male witches (Aje), plays a crucial role in the balance between good and evil on Earth. Her influence is so powerful that she needs to be appeased to transform evil into good. For this reason, specific rituals are carried out such as Ipese, a special diet dedicated to Iyami.

This deity, whose veneration has expanded to other religions with African roots, is the object of deep respect and fear, and Ifá signs teach how to care for it and avoid its wrath. According to legend, Iyami can transform into white, red and black birds, using these forms to attack those who wish to harm them.

Origins and Power

In the Odu Ifá Osa Meji, it is narrated that the Iyami Osoronga came to Earth (Odu Isalaye) from the sky (Orun) together with humans (eniyan) and birds (ojo), promising not to kill each other. However, when humans began to suffer hunger and broke the promise by killing and eating birds, the Iyami, furious, obtained from Olodumare (God) the power to interfere in human life. The tree associated with these deities is the African teak, the ceiba or Iroko.

Myth and Symbolism

Iyami Osoronga

The myth of Iyami Osoronga is deeply related to the feminine power of fertility and the mystical power of certain nocturnal birds. She metaphorically compares a pregnant woman's belly to a fertilized egg, emphasizing the magical and fertile power of the female womb. In Yoruba culture, the Iyami are seen as impersonal spirits that have never had human form, and feed on evil ideas and human fears, acting as regulators of human behavior through fear.

Function and Rituals

Iyami have an important function in regulating human behavior, as they can act as destructive or protective forces depending on people's feelings and actions. Rituals and offerings to Ìyáàmi, such as Ipese, are essential to maintain balance and avoid its negative influences. These offerings can include various foods and symbolic objects, which must be prepared and presented in a specific way to appease these powerful entities.

Power and Control

The power of the Ìyáàmi is overseen by Esu and is closely related to other deities such as Ogun and Odu. In Yoruba tradition, it is believed that the Iyami transform into certain nocturnal birds and are symbolically represented on staffs and crowns of priests, showing their influence and power over humans and nature.

You can read: Orunmila (Ọrúnla), Yoruba God of wisdom, interpreter of the Ifá Oracle

Cult of the Iyami Osoronga

Cult of the Iyami Osoronga

The cult of Iyami Osoronga is a practice deeply rooted in Yoruba tradition and notable for its esoteric and strictly regulated nature. This cult, fundamentally feminist, highlights the power of women within Yoruba beliefs.

Nature of Cult

The cult of the Iyami Osoronga is characterized by its secrecy and secrecy. The women who are part of this society follow very strict rules and their meetings are sectarian, held at night and in secret places, frequently in mountains where sacred trees such as the ceiba (Iroko) are found. These meetings are held under the supervision of authority figures within the cult, and the rituals are carried out with great precision and respect.

Classification of the Iyami

The Iyami are divided into three main categories:

  • White Garlic: Generally peaceful, these Iyami help other women in their initiation into the cult.
  • Black Garlic: More aggressive and macabre, they are said to torture their victims to death.
  • Aje Rojas: Lethal and ruthless, they directly attack their victims with the intention of executing them.

Symbolism in Cult

Symbolism plays an important role in the Iyami cult. On the crowns of the Oba and the staffs of the priests (Osun), the birds represent the influence and power of the Iyami. This symbolism suggests that the blessing of Iyami is an essential element in the sanctification of the monarchy and in the protection of the community.

The Yorubas believe that the Iyami possess birds that have a peculiar screech when they fly in the middle of the night towards their meeting place. This sound is seen as a bad omen and specific prayers are performed to protect oneself from its negative influence. It is believed that Iyami can cause illness, conflict, infertility and chaos if not properly respected.

Example of a sentence used to appease the Iyami:

"A kiioso pe ki ode orisa o ma de, bi ko ba ti de wara eni, Onaire o!"
«One cannot decree that the hunters of the divinities do not hunt, as long as they do not hunt our close neighbor, good riddance!»

This cult is an integral and deeply respected part of the Yoruba religion. Through specific rituals and offerings, followers seek to maintain balance and avoid the wrath of these powerful deities. The practice of this cult reflects the complexity and depth of Yoruba beliefs and the importance of women in their spiritual and social structure.

Initiation to the Cult of the Iyami Oshoronga

The initiation into the cult of Iyami Osoronga is a deep and complex process that involves the selection, preparation and training of new followers by experienced witches. This process is essential to maintain the balance and continuity of Iyami power within the Yoruba community.

Selection of the Initiates

The Ìyámi Òsòròngá choose their initiates, who cannot choose to join voluntarily. This call is inevitable and cannot be rejected. The selection is made by the Aje Blancas, known for their more peaceful and protective nature within the cult.

"No one can choose to initiate in Iyami, they choose who they want to initiate and" call "that person, (whether they want to or not). No one can say that it has started in Iyami or the one who started it, can say that it has started it. No one can have a throne or receive an attribute from Iyami. (Chief Ifawole Aworeni 2011).

Initiation Process

The initiation process includes several steps, from recruitment to full training in the doctrines of the cult. The main stages are described here:

  1. Recruitment and Pact: The Aje Blancas begin the recruitment process, where those chosen must make a pact that irrevocably links them to the cult. This pact is a deep commitment that symbolizes total surrender to the power of Iyami.
  2. Instruction and Training: Initiates are educated in the secrets and practices of the cult, learning to wield the powers granted by Iyami and how to perform the rituals and offerings necessary to maintain her favor and avoid her wrath. This instruction is given exclusively by the Aje Blancas.
  3. Rituals and Ceremonies: During the initiation, various rituals and ceremonies are performed that symbolize the acceptance of the initiates into the cult. These rituals are secret and are carried out in hidden places, generally in the mountains, near a ceiba tree (Iroko).

Prohibitions and Rules

The cult of Iyami Osoronga is extremely hermetic and its members must follow very strict rules. One of the main rules is that no one can declare themselves initiated, and the process must be carried out and recognized by the Aje. In addition, the meetings and rituals are exclusively at night and take place in secret locations to protect the privacy and safety of the participants.

Tools and Symbols

The initiates receive various tools and symbols that represent their new status and power within the cult. These include:

  • clay jar: It represents the uterus and is painted with symbolic colors: white, red and black.
  • esu: A figure made in a snail, which is placed inside the jar.
  • Ram or beef jar: Lined with colored beads and placed inside the jar.
  • reef stone: Round and polished, it symbolizes the transcendence of the Eggún (ancestral spirits).
  • Scepter: Made of ceiba wood or cane brava, it symbolizes the power and authority of the initiate within the cult.

Initiation Ceremony

The initiation ceremony is a solemn event full of symbolism. It is performed under the light of oil lamps or candles and is accompanied by the sound of bronze or iron bells, which help to invoke the presence of Iyami. The initiates are presented before the Aje and must go through a series of tests and rituals that confirm their commitment and dedication to the cult.

In conclusion, initiation into the Iyami Osoronga cult is a meticulous and rigorous process, designed to ensure that only the chosen ones, properly prepared and committed, can join this powerful and mysterious society. This initiation guarantees the continuity of the cult and the preservation of its secrets and powers through generations.

Most Relevant Stories (Patakies) of the Iyami Osoronga

Iyami Oshoronga

The legends and myths surrounding Iyami Osoronga are fundamental to understanding his role and influence in the Yoruba religion. These stories not only highlight Iyami's immense power and ability to intervene in the human world, but also underline the importance of maintaining balance and respect towards these powerful deities. Through these stories, the teachings and warnings that have been passed down from generation to generation are revealed, thus shaping the practices and beliefs within the cult of Iyami Osoronga. Below are some of the most relevant myths and stories associated with Iyami Osoronga.

Iyami's Arrival on Earth

One of the most significant legends about Iyami Osoronga is found in the Odu Ifá Osa Meji, where it is told how Iyami came to Earth. According to the story, when humans (eniyan) and birds (ojo) descended to Earth (Aye) from the sky (Orun), they made a sacred promise not to kill each other. However, the humans began to suffer from hunger and, under the influence of Esu, broke the promise and began killing and eating birds. This angered Iyami, who obtained from Olodumare the power to interfere with human life as punishment for breaking the sacred balance.

The Power of Iyami and Orunmila

Another important legend refers to Orunmila's power over Iyami. It is said that when Iyami tried to test the power of Orunmila, they sent him witch birds. Orunmila, foreseeing this, prepared ishu with ekujebu (a very hard grain) and an opipi eiyele (featherless dove) and showed them that just as they could not eat the ekujebu or their son fly, they could not kill him. This display of power ensured Iyami's respect for Orunmila and established his authority over them.

Ìyáàmi and Agborin

In another story by Oyekun Pelekan, it is related how Iyami and Agborin (humanity) were sisters. Iyami had only one child, a bird, while Agborin had many children. One day, Agborin left her children in the care of Iyami and, when she returned, she found them healthy. When it was Iyami's turn to leave her, she left her son in Agborin's care. The sons of Agborin, hungry, killed and ate the son of Iyami. Upon returning, Iyami swore revenge on her sister's children, promising to wipe them out as long as the world existed.

Iyami and Obatalá

Another myth narrates the confrontation between Iyami and Obatala. At one time, the Iyami ruled the Earth and controlled the ritual ceremonies of the Eggún. Orunmila commissioned Obatalá to make ebo with slugs and a whip, and he dressed in ritual clothes to scare the Iyami. This act subordinated them to Baba, prohibiting women from witnessing certain Eggún rites. Later, Iyami fell in love with Orunmila and married him, but established that no living woman could see her without risk of dying instantly, which explains why women cannot be consecrated as Babalawos.

The Protection of Orunmila

In a story by Ìretè Òwónrí, it is told how the Iyami tried to exterminate humans and challenged Orunmila with a riddle. Orunmila made a sacrifice and used sacred leaves to appease them. The Iyami, impressed by her wisdom, proposed a riddle: "What can burst?" Orunmila responded: "An egg that is thrown seven times on a pile of cotton does not burst." Satisfied with her response, the Iyami gave up their intention to exterminate her.

These myths and stories of Ìyàmi Òsòròngá highlight their power and the need to respect and appease them through rituals and sacrifices. These narratives not only illustrate the crucial role of Iyami in Yoruba cosmology, but also underline the symbiotic and respectful relationship that humans must maintain with these powerful deities to maintain balance and harmony in their lives.

Rituals and Offerings to the Iyami Osoronga

Rituals and offerings to Iyami Osoronga are essential practices to appease these powerful deities and maintain their favor. These offerings, which reflect the duality of the beneficial and destructive nature of the Iyami, are made with meticulous precision and following specific rituals that have been passed down through generations.

Offerings to the Iyami Osoronga

The Iyami Osoronga, like all deities with African roots, have their own specific offerings that are used to entertain and appease witches. The Ifá signs show us different ways and sacrifices that can be made. The Odu Ifá Osa Meji reflects a standard way of making these offerings.

Preparation of the Offering:

  • A clay pot or container is used that is placed at a crossroads.
  • The Ifá board is placed with iyefá, which has been prayed with the Odu of Ifá Osa Meji and Oshe Nilogbe.
  • It is sprinkled on the food or adimu that is being offered.

Ingredients of the Offering:

  • Eggs, corojo, beans, rice, meat, pork, goat, rabbit, fish, chickens, sweets, fruits, gin, wines, brandy and honey can be offered. All these materials must be supplied raw.
  • The animals offered to you include rabbit, goat, goat, sheep, snapper, chicken, guinea and rooster. The viscera of animals are also offered, with a predilection for the liver. The ingredients to be used must be indicated by Ifá in the divination.

Ceremony:

  • A clay pot is placed on top of an incinerator, and on one side is the Orúnmila board filled with divine dust. The Odu Oyekun Bika is prayed and, at the end of the sacrifice, this divine powder is sprinkled as a seasoning for the offering.
  • Typical ingredients include 8 raw eggs, 8 boiled eggs, palm oil, rice, beans, various meats (beef, goat, pork, mutton, rabbit, fish, chicken), vegetables, salad, fruits, sweets, wine, gin, brandy , kola nut, honey and a snail.

Propitiate the Iyami Osoronga

The rituals dedicated to Iyami Osoronga, known as propitiations, are generally performed by the Babalawos and are performed at night, using the light of oil lamps or candles to illuminate the offering. The ringing of bronze or iron bells is essential in capturing Iyami's attention, ensuring that they hear her requests and grant her mercy and forgiveness. An example of the procedure is detailed below:

Preliminary Ceremony:

  • Before performing the main ceremony, one goat must be offered to Eshu and two Adie dun dun (chickens) to Orunmila. This step is crucial to prepare the way and obtain the favor of these deities before proceeding with the rituals directed at Iyami.

Preparation of Ingredients:

  • The ingredients are prepared following the specific steps and prayers indicated by Ifá.
  • They are placed in a clay pot on an incinerator, next to Orúnmila's board filled with divine dust.
  • Typical ingredients include 8 raw eggs, 8 boiled eggs, palm oil, rice, beans, various meats (beef, goat, pork, mutton, rabbit, fish, chicken), vegetables, salad, fruits, sweets, wine, gin, brandy, kola nut, honey and a snail.

Presentation of the Offering:

  • The name and surname of the person for whom the offering is made is mentioned, invoking Iyami's attention.
  • Specific prayers are performed during the preparation and presentation of the ingredients.

Prayers and Charms

  • During the sacrifice, specific prayers addressed to Iyami are recited to invoke his presence and request his favor. An example of a prayer is:

«IYAMI OSORONGA, OLO KIKI ORU, AFINJU EYE TINJE LAARIN ORU,
AJE LO TUTU MANBI, IRUMAN LOOGUN DANU,
"IKONIRI IJA IYAMI ASHE."

These prayers are vital to ensure that Iyami accepts the offering and grants the requests made.

Use of Tools and Symbols:

  • Tools used in rituals include:
  • Ajitena: Boards painted with specific symbols.
  • clay jars: They represent the uterus and are painted with symbolic colors (white, red and black).
  • Other symbolic objects: They represent the power and authority of Iyami.

Altar Maintenance:

  • The maintenance of the altar is an essential part of the worship of Iyami. It is advisable to perform certain specific rituals during the great saint ceremonies, such as:
  • Iyami Wash: Every three months, with a mixture of red wine and egg yolks.
  • Placement of adimuses: At midnight or noon, depending on the purpose of the ritual.

These rituals and offerings are essential to maintain balance and harmony between the followers of Iyami Osoronga and these powerful deities, ensuring their protection and avoiding their wrath. The careful and respectful practice of these rituals ensures that requests are heard and that peace and balance is maintained within the community.


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