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Understanding Orisha through Kinetics

Yemayá dancers in blue dresses.
Yemayá Dancers by Xiomara Gutierrez

The orisha way of life is one of wonder and continuous learning. The process of kariosha or initiation into the Orisha priesthood is but the first step into what should be a life of devotion, service to the orisha, and of course, to community religious work.

A great opportunity for an olosha to gain a deeper understanding of the orisha is by being an active participant in batás or religious drumming to the Orisha, preferably with Anyá. It is then when the sacred drums and the priests trained to call upon the orisha join forces with the Akpwón to invite the orisha to manifest on earth through trance possession.

The act of surrendering of one´s body to the Orisha provides an opportunity for understanding the orisha through kinetics. Kinetics is understood scientifically as the effect of forces upon the motions of material bodies or the changes in a physical or chemical system. However, when it comes to a dancer and the Orisha, one can understand the combination of the Anyá, the skill of the drummers, and the voice of the Akpwón as the forces which in turn impact the body of the dancer and facilitate the arrival of an Orisha.

A caveat, I am no by far an expert dancer. My godfather would readily agree that I indeed have two left feet when it comes to dancing. However, the level of skill of the dancer is immaterial and I have always sustained that the orisha gets what the orisha wants. Thus, if an olosha is to be mounted, graceful or not, the Orisha will control that body with ease regardless of their level of dance proficiency. That willingness to surrender an important step in gaining a deeper understanding of one´s Orisha through kinetics. The orisha can take over the body of an olosha dancer and transform it in an instant from uncoordinated (such as my less-than-lovely dance steps), to fluid and graceful, like my Orisha sister Sevylla or my own godfather Yeguedé, both beautiful dancers. Once the dance starts in front of the drums, anything can happen.

Take for example the steps of the dance for Yemayá, my Orisha alagbatori (tutelar). Her motions are regal, fluid, the hands of the dancer imitate the motion of the waves and the ocean. The dancer sometimes even makes gestures that suggest extracting water out of the sea, perhaps to cleanse the way of Yemayá’s children. All of these things are easy to observe, what goes beyond as the trance unchains is another thing altogether different. Many dancers report a sense of disorientation, perception of space changes and perspective seem to be off. The body begins to take over and the dancer is no longer in control of the dance, the dancer starts to integrate its essence to the collective drum/heartbeat of the group, of the Orisha that approaches. Some dancers get a dazed expression, some others fight the trance and try to flee. Some others just surrender and then, in a flash, the dancer is gone, lost to the world, in a primal place beyond words. The orisha has arrived and the movements become precise, otherworldly, in perfect tune with every beat of the drums.

Understanding the Orisha through kinetics is not limited to the act of dancing during a batá. Once an orisha has manifested and taken over an oloshas body, the orisha is free to walk amongst those present and seek out its omó (children) for many reasons. A mother’s embrace

Yemayá has manifested during a batá in her honor. She walks dressed in her blue regalia, irukere (horsetail whip, this one is by Elegant Orisha) in hand, her eyes searching the crowd, looking for one of her omó (children). The mount may have never encountered this particular child ever before, but Yemayá certainly knows the initiate’s name and calls it out. Orisha and omó meet and communication begin to take place.

Once again, motion speaks louder than words.

The olosha realizes Yemayá is approaching and immediately the initiate drops to the ground to offer the ritual salute. Left hip touching the ground and the elbow supporting the upper body on the floor, then in one fluid motion the initiate switches and assumes the same posture but resting on the right side of the body. Yemayá pauses observe, and then brushes the body of the olosha with her irukere in a fluid loving gesture. The orisha touches the shoulders of the initiate, a command is given “Didé” (rise). These sequences of actions have meaning beyond the act of being recognized by the orisha, saluting, and following her instructions. The orisha itself is cleansing the body of her omó, replenishing the spiritual energies of olosha who prostrated on the ground. When Yemayá lifts the priest, she removes from him the weight of worldly burdens instilling her blessings and during this interaction, Orisha and initiate exist in a moment of sacred privacy and balance even if surrounded by dozens of people.

Other motions could be analyzed in the same manner, each particular to the Orisha that manifests during a wemilere and during other ritual environments such as the moment of a crowning itself. However, I will not discuss because those are private moments that I believe are better left unspoken and left to those who devote their lives to the Orisha.

For the purpose of this short post, I will leave you with a thought: When dealing with divinity, look beyond the mundane. Set aside your mundane perception and observe the understanding of the orisha at a deeper level. Through kinetics and the aesthetics of ritual dance, oloshas progress in their personal level of communion with orisha.

Omimelli Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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