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Of Royal Titles and Religion

The Orishas wear the crowns, we do not.

Today I find myself pondering about humility and love of God. When I came to the orisha, I had one driving desire. I wanted to give my life to the service of the Orisha. For some time, I was eager to find out who would be my main orisha. I fancied myself a daughter of Shangó for some time, and then I discovered that Oyá had some pretty neat attributes. Time went by and I fell in love with Oshún and finally, I came to find out that Yemayá was to be my orisha. I felt lucky and honored to be chosen to serve her. Truth be told I would have been happy with any of them. The force of orisha was what moved and touched me.

However, I never set myself on this path in search of self-greatness, nor to claim or lead anyone. It is not my desire to be better than my fellow practitioners, just to serve the orisha and be a keeper of traditions. Thus, when I see how much folks love to claim lofty titles I get really concerned. Where did humility go? When did being a queen or king got to be so important for my fellow practitioners? I even dislike the term ‘to be crowned’; I rather see it simply as a process, the process of seating the orisha in my head. Not as a status symbol to be shown off. I really despise those who go on and on talking about their “crowns” as if they were pretty shiny tiaras sitting atop their fat heads. Get real people, the orisha is inside, let your actions show for it and not your imaginary desire of grandeur.

Curiosity got me thinking and I decided to peruse through pages on Facebook, and one thing struck me, the preponderance of people with lofty titles. What happens if we all want to be Kings, Queens, Royal Mothers and Fathers and so on and so forth?

There are titles that serve to illustrate the level of skill an initiate posses, such as Oriaté, Babalawó, Olosha, Iyalosha, Babalosha, Hougan, Yaya, Tata, Ngueyo, Mambo, etc. Those are functional titles, they do not bother me. But the titles tied to nobility sound more to me like titles that serve the ego of the people who brandish them and no so much to illustrate the service rendered to God and community in whichever African Traditional Religion (ATR) one practices.

I guess the same can be said to be found in other religious groups. Take for example the pagans; there are sure a lot of Coven Masters and High Priestesses and Priests, Grand Magi, Exempt Adept, Masters, Mistresses…but who fills up the lower ranks? If everyone is a high priest, where are the low priests?

Going back to ATRs, what is the purpose of the trappings of nobility? In the Americas we no longer live in an aristocratic society dominated by big titles. If I remember my history well, the last foreign Kings that extended their dominance to the Americas were seriously rejected by the colonists, thus, gone was King George with the North American Revolution, and, a series of nationalists revolutions later on swept through the rest of the Hemisphere throwing out the Spanish King Ferdinand IV from Spanish held territories; as well as Pedro II, King of Portugal, out of Brazil.

If we believe that all humans are created equal in the eyes of God and we live by that concept, then a more humble kind of servitors should be there to partake of the religious bounty that the Orishas, Ifá and the Lwá bring to our life.

Is there a need for titles to bare our soul to the Divine?

In service of the Orishas,


Oní Yemayá Achagbá

4 Responses to Of Royal Titles and Religion

  1. Hounsi Sophia says:January 15, 2011 at 10:51 pmOh, precisely! If there were no Hounsis, who is there to bring offerings to the lwa when the Houngan or Mambo is mounted? Or to state one case that I found myself personally involved with, a Pagan woman (well-known in certain circles) who absolutely insists on being called “Clan Mother” by everyone she meets – irrespective of whether they are “Clan” (in her coven, presumably) or not; and apparently with no basis in initiatory terms either. When I meet someone who insists upon a grandiose title, or who demands they be treated as an Elder by all, or who seeks to proscribe the activity of others “because I say so…” it makes me very cautious. Of course, everyone should be listened to and treated with respect (whether initiated, crowned, baptised…or NOT) but in my mind, true respect is earned by your actions. The most spiritually powerful people I have met – the people who are closest to Spirit in deed as well as word – have all been the most humble, many from very poor backgrounds, and none have really cared for fame, title or what other people might think. When they give orders (which is rare) it is for others’ good, not the satisfaction of their own ego.

    • Omimelli says:January 16, 2011 at 2:54 amHello H. Sophia, Your last paragraph reminds me of the Bakenfula in our Nso. This Tata has a few decades under his belt (more than he cares to admit) always speaks softly to his peers and to the Nganga, uses very few words and always commands the attention of people with intersting stories to share. Likewise, my godfather in Ifá is another jewel, he is near 90 years old and is the most humble guy you could talk to regardless of having a really intersting background having fought in the Cuban Revolution, being a Lawyer and having seen nearly a century of history roll in front of his eyes. It is good to take a moment and appreciate those who have helped us grow and who have our back with no need for boastfull titles. 🙂 Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá

  2. b says:May 24, 2013 at 3:31 amWhat you say makes sense. But…then how does one show respect and gratitude to ones teachers and elders within santeria? In martial arts we use the terms teacher and master to denote both skill and respect. Perhaps my ideas/thoughts are culturally europeanized.Reply

    • Omimelli says:May 25, 2013 at 12:51 pmHello B It is important to show respect and gratitude, I agree. However, I rather show respect and gratitude with deeds rather than words. It is the extreme use of titles, like the tendencies to use “Queen Mother” and other flourished exagerated titles what bothers me. The terms iya (mother), iyalosha (mother or orisha) and so on are perfectly fine. Deeds my friend, that is what shows our respect and progress. Omimelli

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