Ọ̀ṣun -The goddess of fertility

This post was originally published as a note on facebook (https://m.facebook.com/notes/10151791899418011/) but because many people cannot reach it anymore, maybe because of Facebook’s privacy policy, I have decided to republish it here as I have just made a reference to it in my write up; “Catholics are idol worshippers” https://ewaade.com/2019/11/20/catholics-are-idol-worshippers/

So, here you go; We will title this;

The Belief in the One True God- an exegesis

I have been considering the belief and trust in God for a long time. Why? ’cause, it took a while for me to meet him and not only to meet him but to understand him and learn the little I know about him today.

In the Spirit of true brotherhood, we are called to respect all people irrespective of their religion, race, cultural and/or ethnic background. It is through this love and respect for all people that we may win them over as it’s not actually the fact that we believe in God that wins us His heaven but the way we live our lives.

For a while now, I have been fascinated about Susan Wenger- the Àdùnní Òrìshà (https://en.m.wikipedia.org/wiki/Susanne_Wenger ). Why?
In case you didn’t know before now, there are two UNESCO world heritage sites in Nigeria, one of
which is the “Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove”.

If you know me, you will know I love to travel, and not just travel for pleasure or leisure but to learn. Now, the closest in proximity of the two World Heritage sites to me is; The Osun Osogbo Sacred Grove ’cause I reside in the South-Western part of Nigeria in West Africa.
So, I made up my mind to visit the grove undaunted by the fact that there are shrines within the grove, a river in which the people believe reside the goddess herself who is known as “Ọ̀ṣun“- the goddess of fertility.

I began to do my research and I discovered a yearly festival was held in the honour of Ọ̀ṣun as specially requested by her as a renewal of the vow she made to the founding fathers of the land.

Now, what do you think piqued my curiosity? The fact that I am Yòrùbá? wrong. The fact that it a UNESCO World Heritage Site? Wrong. The fact that I love adventure? Still Wrong. So what?
The person’s effort through whom the Grove became a World Heritage Site- Susan Wenger herself. You may not know what it means to have a World Heritage site in your country, but if you know, you will want to delve into this more.

Now, back to the matter.

I followed the news from then, waiting to learn of the date because the date changes every year. I made up my mind and I told my Jesus of course ’cause of the sensitive nature of the event (a celebration of idol worship), I asked that if it be his will, I’ll like to visit the grove during the festival. It is from this experience, I present to you this exegesis:

The belief in the One true God- an exegesis

I got down from the motorbike and slammed my hat on, there were so many people like I’d never seen anywhere in my life, I clutched my bag tightly as I saw some uncanny faces amongst the throngs of people who filled the Ataoja’s palace. There was also some scramble, I believe some guy had just stolen or messed up, another one was topless and was been carried off…
I was amazed to see so many people, it wasn’t my first time in a gathering of so many people but I mean, you literally had to feel for your way through the crowd.
I finally discovered that the Ataoja’s palace was actually some distance from the Sacred Grove, so I’d take another bike.
From that point, I knew only Jesus could have taken me to Ọ̀ṣun, this bike man was heaven sent! He acted as my tour guide.
Now, to the matter…

    THE EXEGESIS

The first place I headed to when I weaved my way through the crowd into the grove was the river. It reminded me of the water of baptism. Priests and Priestesses lined the river bank, you only needed to ask and pay a token and you could have your head “washed”. They didn’t believe it was an ordinary washing, it was more like a spiritual cleansing. Some people went into the water, and did the washing themselves. So many people came with kegs to fetch some of the water, some people even drank the water. I was awestruck by these acts.
As Christians, who believe we serve God, why do we shy away from the waters of baptism? why do we still pray that God should forgive the sins of our forefathers? of Adam and Eve? after baptism? Do we not believe that the baptism our Lord instituted washes away all sins and makes us a member of his Church, a member of his family? Do we not believe that the baptism is a sure sign of our repentance and our firm belief in him? and our willingness to listen to instructions from his ministers and learn about him while we prepare to receive the other sacraments?

As I left the river bank, I noticed some people scrambling to enter a small shed and I wondered what they were all trying to do.

I was informed that they wanted to see the “Arugbá Ọ̀ṣun“- the Arugbá Ọ̀ṣun is the votary maiden who bears ‘Ọ̀ṣun‘s calabash during the festival. She is the cynosure of all eyes on the final day of the festival, she leads the procession moving in a trance-like state to the river.

You won’t even begin to imagine how many guards she has. she is flanked on both sides by high ranking Priests and followed by so many other high-ranking devotees. Now, to people like me, it’s all fanfare (by the way, I didn’t witness her arrival, or her departure from the River and I didn’t go to visit her at the shrine, I heard and saw pictures of the lady from another guy who did that) but to the devotees it’s important. She is the one who bears their prayers and sacrifices to the goddess who protects them. However, I was opportune to meet the Arugba from one of the previous years!(1979). She announced it with pride and even waited for her picture to be taken. She had her own entourage and was treated with some degree of reverence even though she made the sacrifice for her people 34 years earlier! Now, if the Ọ̀ṣun goddess would not want just any other female but a female from the royal family (specifically that of the Ataoja) and also a virgin to bear her calabash, then how and why do Christians have a problem with the immaculate conception of the Blessed Virgin Mary? why is it difficult to believe that she was born without sin and lived in that state perpetually? why is it difficult for Christians to believe that Mary was a Virgin and remained a Virgin even after delivering her child? why?

The Arugbá Ọ̀ṣun is the one flanked by the right by a man on a red head covering and blue attire. The calabash is draped by the blue and red covering

I saw fascinating images, that of the goddess, (in the shape of a mermaid), symbols that depict her as a goddess of fertility, a standing structure with children all over her. Now, the devotees knew just where to pray, I can assure you, they all went to the river bank but they went back to the statues to sit and relax and to take pictures. Some of them set up some light refreshment and sources of entertainment around these statues.

While admiring one of the sculptures, I met a Priest with his hair plaited and a very full beard and in his full regalia replete with the òjá (a traditionally woven fabric tied around the waist by a mother used in securing a child on her back in place, also draped on the neck by men of the traditional religious cults) and his staff, which had several of the small “gongs” the other devotees held and shook when they prayed for a person or you gave them money. What did he come to do at the site where I was admiring the beautiful sculpture? He came to take a picture.

A person who has attained such a level of spirituality and is a teacher, a strict adherent of the customs of Ọ̀ṣun shouldn’t take such pictures right? since he knows all these things couldn’t possibly be ‘Ọ̀ṣun‘ right? Wrong, you are. All the sculptures are infact tributes to the goddess for the wonderful works they believe are wrought by her. Now, do you not see the problem of reading Biblical texts too literally especially without the guidance of an authority like the Church. God gave his commandments to Moses, “nothing should be made in his image or likeness” (Exodus 20:3-5). Yet, it was thesame God who prescribed the exact measurements for all the creatures that were going to be in the temple which Solomon built him. Surely, the commandments had been given the Jews by then? So, do you worship the image you kneel in front of to pray? When you place your Bible in front of you or you hold it when you pray, do you pray to that Bible? When you hold it out or against your chest when you are frightened or you have just had a terrible dream, do you believe that Bible is the God that will save you? When you pray before an image, you are still praying to God through which the wisdom to carve these images has come. It acts as a special point of reflection other than just staring at a blank wall or other abstract stuff.

Just opposite the “Visitor’s information Centre”, there was a signpost forbidding fishing, felling of trees, killing of animals and other activities which they considered may desecrate the grove. Now, why do want to come to Church and act anyhow? why do we even want to act anyhow anywhere we are, we are the living temples and each of us make up a body of Christ, his Church…? why do we want to live double standard lives? why do we want to tell our Pastors how he should run the Church? Why do we want to be anti-authority? Why do we want to leave and set up our own “Church” or “Ministries”? Why? Are our actions not borne out of selfishness? A wanting to exalt ourselves? A lingering pride?

As I weaved my way through the throngs of crowds, I noticed that many people were gaily dressed, most of the devotees and ardent worshippers wore white, some of them had the image of the fish on their clothes, they adorned beautiful hairstyles (male and female); their goddess wasn’t a goddess of poverty, of dirtiness, or of scruffiness and they had to show their best to the world, they believed they belonged to her and hence had to display her image; the fish. How much more we who have been borne from these waters of baptism? So many people give excuses for visiting Church dirty… “thou shall not wear a man’s clothing”- what is a man’s clothing? every culture and ethnic group have clothes for both sexes- the scottish men wear skirts, edo men wrapper, even the women too wrapper, only the dressing would differ. So, what’s with trousers? thesame oyinbo who provided the men with trousers also made trousers for their female counterparts which wasn’t borne out of a willingness to be like a man or a woman. To the issue of earring and make-up and all of the other adornments; which God will not want you to use all of that? surely, not the God in Ezekiel 16:1-14. So, why do we come to Church dirty and in the worst of Clothes? why do we think Sunday morning is the most appropriate time to iron the clothes we will wear to Church?

Finally, to the image; the fish. They engraved the image of the fish on their costumes. Which image should be found on a Christian? I recall Jesus’ encounter with the pharisees who came to ask Jesus if it was lawful to pay taxes to Caesar (Mark 12:17). What many of us do not even know is that, as a true Jew, you were not expected to have that coin on you especially in the temple (you can read more on that yourself). Jesus saw through their hypocrisy and of course flawed their arguments, he instructed them to give back to the person whose image was on the coin, the coin. Now, whose image is on you, a Christian? It’s the image of the living God ’cause he made us in his image and likeness. That means we should put on Love, ’cause God is love, it’s through your love that other people will know that you are Christ’s (John 13:35, Matthew 5:45)

Finally, for those who weren’t ‘aje butter‘ like me (lol), you wouldn’t even begin to imagine the long distance they trekked, the long arduous walk under the scorching sun, just to be at the river, they did it with joy, chatted and laughed along the way, some people were there the whole day. Pilgrims from around the world, even white people… Now, someone will give me a reason he/she cannot go to Church because he has no t-fare, will give an excuse for not following the instructions has laid down in the Church for prayer because of one discomfort or the other…

Now, this exegesis I expect to draw a lot of debates, this account reminds me of St. Paul’s trip to Athens (Acts 17:16-34). These people have not yet encountered the one true God who created the Osun-Osogbo sacred Grove and all that is in it. How much more you and I who have met him? How has this experience influenced our lives and those around us? Have we become too familiar with him?

Worthy of note is the fact that the State is named after this river in the Sacred Grove. So, one of the 36 states in Nigeria is Ọ̀ṣun state and the Capital is? You guessed; Oṣogbo.

Have you visited the Osun-Osogbo Sacred grove? Did you visit during the festival? How did your visit influence you?

Please share your experiences below. Thank you.

Please do not copy any of the images without express permission. Thank you

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