Updated: Jul 25, 2018
As a religious culture, the Lucumí in the Americas are not particularly attached to sacred temples and fixed structures, at least not as a general practice. Since our structure is based on households or ilés, our homes are literally our temples. Of course, some groups may have established centers or gathering places, but this is more the exception than the rule.
In most religions, places of worship and congregation are designed to uplift and elevate and as they are being created there are elements that go beyond the aesthetics in their creation, such as the consideration of Sacred Geometry.
In Sacred Geometry, symbolic and sacred meanings are ascribed to geometrical shapes. However, in the case of the Lucumí, sacred geometry is more intimate than its influence over grand temples and places of congregation. Sacred Geometry for me manifests in areas such as orisha related art and in my case, I use Sacred Geometry in the design of ashó orisha.
One of my passions in the religion is the design and creation of ashó orisha or ceremonial clothes for initiates. These clothes represent the characteristics of each orisha. Literally each ashó orisha should tell a story visually. This story is narrated through a variety of symbols, numbers, colors, geometric shapes and representations of nature according to the orisha in question.
As I prepare to create an ashó orisha for an iyawó-to-be there are many steps taken to arrive to the right and unique pattern that will be used for that outfit. Even after so many years sewing for initiates, I still start at the very basic: Research. There is always something new to discover when one deals with the orishas. They are mutable forces and as such, if open myself and observe carefully the person for whom I am to sew, the orishas and even some of my egun will inspire me in subtle ways. Therefore, I am never alone in the process of co-creation of ashó orisha.
Working for Mr. Personality
The project I have at hand is the creation for not one but three ensembles to be used at the kariosha or initiation of a new priest of Eleguá. Working for Mr. Personality is indeed a challenge. His colors are red and black, and in some instances, white maybe used as well. The highlights of the gala outfit can be done in gold, but overall, the colors are primary. The challenge is on doing something as original as possible while respecting the symbolism and the visual dialogue that the ashó orisha should inspire between the person embodying the orisha and those admiring him or her.
There are many stories that can be told about Eleguá. Before my creation process is done I will have settled on a story line to be conveyed in the style and ornaments of the gala ashó orisha. The other two pieces will be the preamble to that piece. One is used during the actual crowning or kariosha process and the other one is the ´lunch ensemble´ or the clothes that the iyawó wears early in the Día del Medio or Throne Day. The Throne Day is when community and family come to salute the new initiate and share the traditional initiation feast with the iyawó.
As I started to meditate on what this design is to be like, the first thing that came to my mind is how similar the patterns associated with Eleguá are to those new born children can see in their first months of life. It is very interesting that red, black and white are Elegua´s colors and children, being closely associated with Eleguá, can distinguish those colors well in their first months of life.
Eleguá´s gala ashó traditionally has stripes, crosses, arrows, triangles and checkered patterns. Notice illustration 1 depicting a toy for a newborn. Notice any similarities?
The core elements for an ashó Eleguá are working on sequences of number 3, alternating red and black, using cowry shells to ornate the ensemble as well as rooster feathers, the pants must end in peaks to represent virility, and most definitely the top must be…well over the top.
Some Elements of Eleguá’s Sacred Geometry
Here are my interpretations of some of some traditional elements found in the ashó orisha for Eleguá:
Crosses = represent crossroads, points of interception between mundane and divine, options and among other things the freedom to choose one’s destiny.
Triangles= represent balance and the number 3, Elegua’s primary number. They make me think of pyramids as it focuses energy from its solid base to a point atop. Eleguá is to me like a targeted beam of energy directing people to the right path.
Circles= circles and polka dot patterns of threes make me think of life in the spiritual realm, it also makes me think of inward journeys.
Lines= pathways, direction and verticality of action and thought.
Arrows= the combination between lines and triangles, speak of direction, destiny and forward motion.
To see this elements applied to ashó orisha observe the following illustrations of classic ashó orishas for dancers. Those usually consist of the pants and a vest to allow dancers freedom of movement. However, for a kariosha a more formal approach is taken and it includes the classic shirt with blousy sleeves and a square sort of front. Yes, most seamstresses use the same old pattern over and over. I am not one to repeat the same design twice, thus, I am always looking to include diverse elements and styles. What I finally chose to do will reflect both the personality of the orisha and the iyawó.
There is an interesting fact I can share, in every one of the ashó orishas I have made there is a key to the life of that iyawó. My very first ashó was for an Obatalá and I had a strong feeling to work using purple as highlight and depicting not the traditional dove but using more the star and moon and the ouroboros. The godfather agreed to the design elements and it so happened that this iyawó ended up with the path of Obatalá that uses purple as highlight and his name is Father of the Stars. This is one of many examples I can give of serendipities between my inspiration and the orisha for which I am creating an ashó.
Be that as it may, in the case of this ashó Eleguá, I will employ my knowledge of the Sacred Geometry associated with Mr. Personality and see where inspiration leads me. When I am done, I promise to post photos on the blog.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá