Saturday, June 21, 2014

An offering to the Earth Mother for Solstice

Today, I was honored to witness a Yoruba Summer Solstice ceremony. My friend invited me and I want to say thank you for this enriching experience. Let's get started.


The ceremony was held in the woods behind Rainbow Gardens in Ogden. It was lovely and natural with a dirt path leading to the ceremonial location. Around the ceremonial location were chalk crosses at the four cardinal points of the compass. There were chairs set up for the guests, and a hole dug in the earth with colors around it. It was explained to me that there is a ceremony to open the hole and they ask permission of the nature spirits before doing so and surround it with colored powders all made of organic materials. They explained that this represents both one of the gods of their tradition who is envisioned as a rainbow serpent coiled around the earth, and as a symbol of protection against any malicious forces that would come forth from the ground.

There wasn't much more to the atmosphere than this. No candles, no images of the deity, just the earth opened up ready to receive the offerings presented to it.

I loved that it was outdoors and I loved the symbolism of breaking open the earth and offering to it directly.

The People:

I didn't interact with many people there really except for my friend and the priest. The priest was very kind to me and answered a lot of questions. He was dressed in lovely green robes and had on several necklaces, one made of sea shells and one that had his title written on it, "Baba Aworo Oshun" on it.

There was also the priest's partner assisted in parts of the ceremony as did another woman who translated some parts of the ceremony in English.

The rest of the people were quite and didn't interact much with us, though I didn't sense any hostility or suspicion from them.

Overall, it was a nice, quite crowd, not many of us there.

The Ceremony:

I am deviating a bit from the normal structure as there was no sermon or traditional service like in Abrahamic faiths (Christianity, Judaism, Islam). Instead, it was an offering ceremony done almost exclusively in the Yoruba Language, though some parts sounded like Portuguese or possibly Spanish. The first part had some translation into English, but the rest was indiscernible to me. So, I will only be talking about the ceremony.

First off, a little background on the ceremony. The Summer Solstice is the New Year for people of this tradition. On this day, it's traditional to offer a cow as a sacrifice to the Earth, then the cow is to be cooked and eaten by the whole community. In countries like ours, where animal sacrifice is not legal, they instead make other offerings.

The ceremony started with the priest ringing a bell and honoring the spirits of nature. He told me that normally a drum is used, but their drummer had another commitment, so they used the bell instead. He honored the four corners: North, South, East, and West; the Sun, the water, the Earth, the Orishas, etc. After that, he and the two helping with him went to the chalk crosses marking the four corners and either blessed or offered them water and cornmeal while chanting something in Yoruba.

After that, offerings were made into the hole that was dug. The offerings were cakes made of cornmeal and another set of cakes. For the life of me I can't remember what those were made of.

He then offered water into the hole and cornmeal. After that, he took a swig of gin and blew it into the hole as an offering. I'm not certain the full symbolism of this gesture, but it was kind of cool to see.

There was a bowl containing a bunch of kola nuts soaking in water. He took one of the nuts out of the water, then chanted something over it, then touched his head and heart with it. He then came around and touched the head and chest of everyone present with it while saying something in Yoruba. He came back and offered the nut into the hole.

They then passed out kola nuts to all of us telling us to speak our hopes and wishes into the nut. He did the same and then split the nut open and scryed his own fortune from the nut. He then had everyone come up one at a time to split the nut open and to offer them advice that he said the spirits told him based on what was said into the nut.

While he was reading for other people, I took a picture of my nut.

The priest's advice to me based on the reading was really interesting and not what I expected to hear. After he was done reading, he had me blow on the nut, then toss it into the hole as an offering.

Once the readings were over, we were told that the ceremony was to be closed, but that the closing was sacred and not to be seen by outsiders. So those of us not in the Tradition left and that was that.

Overall Experience:

This was a very moving ceremony. It was all about honoring the Earth and experiencing a connection with everything around you. The idea that religions like this, particularly Voodoo and Santeria (which is derived from Yoruba), are demonized and made to be cheap horror tricks actually upsets me now. I saw nothing even remotely disturbing or upsetting about this ceremony. Do I believe in these things? No. But of all the types of spirituality out there, these ones are pretty benign.

There is nothing to fear from these faiths. In fact, we should admire them. These are traditions that testify of a human spirit that won't be crushed. A culture and and people who have not let their traditions die under the hands of malicious slave owners, attempts to assimilate them into a foreign culture, or the judgmental eye of a society that fears their practices. This is a testament to how strong and how beautiful we can be. To condemn it as some sort of collection of parlor tricks done to harm people and bring about evil is abhorrent.

I loved Yoruba and would like to see more of it sometime.

Additional Notes:

Because of how busy of a week it has been, I haven't had a chance to do a pre-service blog for where I'm going tomorrow. So I will combine both blogs about the church I am visiting into one blog. I will be visiting Elim Lutheran Church, part of the Evangelical Lutheran Church in America.

Until next time, peace be with you.

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