These are highly important beings of an esteemed nature. ORISHAS are not quite gods — think of them as a spirit cocktail with a slice of saint and a tiny dash of divinity for flavor.
At the last count there seem to be at least 1,700, from the highly obscure to the extremely infamous. Some ORISHAS are worshipped as gods in their own right and they include top names such as BABALU-AYE, ELEGUA, OBATALA, OCHOSI, OGUN, OYA, SHANGO and YEMAYA.
There was a time when they conducted a power struggle against OLORUN and tried to persuade him to abdicate for sixteen years. Unwilling to give up control of the Universe to lesser deities, he offered them a trial period of sixteen days.
Within eight days the whole Universe had ground to a halt. They consulted the oracle ORUNMILA who could give no answer. So they had to eat humble pie, confess they didn’t have a clue about running Universes and ask for pardon.
Being a really great sort of God, OLORUN was nice as pie about it, and soon returned the world to order. The ORISHAS became his humble but devoted servants for evermore.
If there is a moral to this story we suppose it is: ‘Sometimes it is more cruel to be kind.’
The ORISHAS are now highly thought of and are worshipped in places as far away as the West Indies. See our entry on ORICHAS for the Caribbean slant.