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Ashé Semilenú: Thoughts are Things and Words Alive

My mother is a fan of an old adage that states, “We are slaves of our words and masters of our silence.”

Orunla master of divination.
Orunla is a master of the word.

The power of words should always be appreciated and used properly. For the Lukumí, there is power in words, and some of us are blessed with a particular ashé or power: Ashé semilenú also known as ashé lenú the power of words. I would like to invite you to consider the power that this particular ashé has.

Words reflect our internal state of mind. They are the body of our thoughts, the scent of our hopes and dreams. Words shape our future. When we think of something we want to materialize into our lives, the thought becomes a thing that starts to take on a life of its own. When we speak that thought, we use the energy of the universe placed in our bodies by the creator, we gather that strength from deep within and let it out using ìmí (breath).

As we utter words, we put out into the world thoughts and vibrations which will manifest change. This is particularly important as we utter our prayers, as we bless those around us. Words are a reflection of our inner state of mind. Thus, when an olosha is upset, it is important to be sharply aware that silence is oftentimes better than speaking in anger. Particularly, speaking in anger in front of the Orisha.

It is then when we must remember one important word to apply: Sùúrù (patience). All matters in life have a solution, it is up to us to remember that cool heads prevail and that the gift of patience can turn difficulty into a blessing.

Words can help us. Here are some examples of how words are crucial to spiritual development.

Words as Generators of Iré

Every morning we have an opportunity to generate iré (good fortune). In my case, even before I get out of bed, I start the day asking with words and prayers asking my spirits to walk with me and protect my family. I ask the Eggún to protect my elders and my spiritual kin. Then a simple ritual at the doorway allows me to thank Olofi for one more day and to cool my home. I know my brothers and sisters are familiar with the gourd of cool water and know that the simplest of prayers can help us start the day right. The prayer brings forth a desire to have coolness in our home, on the roads we travel, for our spiritual self, for Eshu, and for all the Orisha.

“Omí tutu, ilé tutu, ona tutu, orí tutu, tutu Eshu, tutu Orisha.”

These two simple acts recognize the power of the forces around us and the power we have to bring forth positive things to those we love. Simple. The true secret behind them is not to say them like a parrot. It is to imbue every single word with conviction and power and to utter them as if our life depended on it. Thus, by believing that thoughts are things and there is power in our thoughts and in our breath, we create a shield of protection around us and around those we love.

Words energize, words attract and repel, words manifest: Words are always alive.

Words of Guidance

Words of power during divination.
Words convey power and advice.

When a person gets a reading, be it with an awó Orunmila or with an Olosha, the process started with the mojuba is not just chanting in a mysterious liturgical language. The mojuba is an invocation that awakes oddú and its energies. It opens communications between the realm of the divine and the mundane. Concentration is crucial at that moment both for the diviner as well as for the seeker who should be sitting completely focused on the crucial matters that bring him or her to seek advice.

Once the oddú (divination figure) is determined and the diviner starts to interpret oddú is when one can see the depth of knowledge the reader has to interpret a liturgical corpus filled with cryptic stories riddled with metaphors, personifications, and cautionary tales. The grace of the diviner is to apply the meaning of oddú clearly relaying the blessings, lessons, and warnings in a way that is relatable to the reality of the individual.

A great reader will be able to explain cultural references, spiritual advice, and the need to do what is necessary to secure iré (good fortune) or dispel osogbo (misfortune). It is important that anyone getting a reading understands that what is spoken sets actions in motion and that it is up to the person seeking the reader to profit or fail out of this opportunity of communication with Orisha.

Words that Seal Destiny

The words spoken to a newly initiated priest of Orisha or iyawó during itá (set of directives for the iyawó) are also a prime example of the power in words. The words that are spoken during the itá mark the life of the iyawó. During this process which is a private ceremony, is where a truly great oriaté (head of the até or mat, a priest versed in oddú and divination) shines. I have witnessed itás where the oriaté demonstrated mastery of reading mechanics and oddú, however, the words spoken lacked kindness and tact. Clearly, the Oriaté did not understand the impressionable and fragile state of the iyawó who is considered a newly born person. Truth can always be spoken with elegance and compassion.

The diloggún speakes to the iyawó during itá.

Likewise, I have seen oriatés with a lesser level of skills who exhibited greater compassion and spiritual development and had an innate understanding of the power of the words being spoken to both bless and warn that iyawó. A masterful italero (priest doing the itá) knows that every word and sentence is more than mere regurgitation of knowledge. The words spoken during the itá will be carried on to heaven at the end of the ceremony helping to support the life of the iyawó.

Parting Words

Consider carefully the weight, power, and grace in words. As oloshas, we have orisha seated inside of us, there is no possibility of separating this gift, the ashé semilenú—a powerful form of magic— from who we are. Take special care to keep at bay osogbo by not indulging in tillá tillá (gossip), take special care to avoid cursing others, for curses eventually will come and perch on your very own shoulders like bad news birds.

I am not saying that you have to be paranoid now about all you say, just remember, a word placed with enough power and intention indeed will manifest because thoughts are things. Words are a reflection of the inner self. Words, contrary to what we think, are not carried away by the wind. Words are seeds that take root both within us and in the mind of those who surround us; because they express ideas and once an idea has taken root in the mind it is very difficult to dislodge it.


Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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