Olokun is considered the patron Orisa of the descendants of Africans that were carried away during the Transatlantic Slave Trade or Middle Passage, sometimes referred to in the United States by African-Americans as the Maafa. It works closely with Oya (Deity of the Winds) and Egungun (Collective Ancestral Spirits) to herald the way for those that pass to ancestorship, as it plays a critical role in Iku, Aye and the transition of human beings and spirits between these two existences.
Olokun is experienced in male and female personifications, depending on what region of West Africa He/She is worshipped. It is personified in several human characteristics; patience, endurance, sternness, observation, meditation, appreciation for history, future visions, and royalty personified. Its characteristics are found and displayed in the depths of the Ocean. Its name means Owner (Olo) of Oceans (Okun).
Olokun also signifies unfathomable wisdom. That is, the instinct that there is something worth knowing, perhaps more than can ever be learned, especially the spiritual sciences that most people spend a lifetime pondering. It also governs material wealth, psychic abilities, dreaming, meditation, mental health and water-based healing. Olokun is one of many Orisa known to help women that desire children. It is also worshipped by those that seek political and social ascension, which is why heads of state, royalty, entrepreneurs and socialites often turn to Olokun to not only protect their reputations, but propel them further among the ranks of their peers.
Yemoja-Olokun-Mami Wata Connections
Some Afro-Cuban lineages worship Olokun in tandem with Yemoja (Yemaya/Yemanja). In the past Lukumi and Santeria worshippers considered these two Orisha to be manifestations of one another, although Western devotees believe that they are distinct but kindred energies that were paired together during the Maafa as a way of preserving both Orisha traditions. In nature, the bottom of the ocean represents Olokun.
However in Africa, Yemoja is the divinity of the Ogun River in Nigeria and Olokun is considered the mother of all bodies of water. As such, she is the principal vicereigne to Olodumare in matters that pertain to both oceans AND rivers. In Edo State (the former Bendel State), Olokun is the patron Spirit of the Ethiope River. In Benin, the deities are referred to as Ebo', not Orisa.
Lukumi Orisa worshippers in the U.S. and the Caribbean do not initiate Olokun priests. However, in their traditions, you can receive an Olokun shrine for personal prosperity. Omo Olokun or children of Olokun are typically initiated to Yemoja in Lukumi lineages. In other Orisa lineages and “sects” in the west, particularly Oyotunji, Anago and all indigene Orisa’Ifa, initiations to Olokun do take place. In addition, Olokun initiation can be undertaken by way of Benin spiritual lineages.
Two Origin Stories of Olokun Worship
Benin is widely accepted as the home or origin of Olokun worsip. While most Olokun initiates in Africa are female, the legends that mark the beginning of Olokun worship feature stories of men being its initial worshipers.
There was a hunter that resided in Urhonigbe in the Edo kingdom of Benin. One day, he ventured off into the woods on a hunting expedition. While chasing a bush pig, he was attracted to the river Ethiope where he was captured and taken to the bottom of the river by a band of spirits. It was here that he was introduced to the deity Olokun. He stayed in this underwater abode for three years and, in the course of those three years, he was encouraged to participate in spiritual rituals that went on all the time. By so doing, he learned the spiritual sciences and worship practices associated with Olokun.
Back in his home town, his family and neighbors assumed he was dead after being gone for such a long time. They were surprised to say the least when he returned on the day his three year tour ended mute (without the ability of speech), carrying a water pot on his head. His only response to their queries was to dance hysterically, much to the shock of the townsfolk. Eventually the crowd that had gathered began to mock his dance and it started what was to become a 14-day tribute of ritual dancing to Olokun. At the end of this period, the hunter began to talk again and chose to share some of his experiences. All skepticism about his story were eased as he began to do spiritual work that created positive results for those around him. He was named chief priest of Olokun at this point. Even until today, hunters re-enact this famous tribesman’s life with the annual festival and Ekaba dance. Urhoniigbe’s Olokun temple sits on the spot where he is said to have rested his Olokun pot on the 14th day.
The Palm Tree
In Ebvoesi, there was a boy named Omobe (rascal, troublesome child) that had great physical ability and was trained to be a wrestler. As he grew older, his wrestling abilities grew stronger and before long he was considered the greatest wrestler in the world. At his birth, the local priest/diviner warned his parents to not allow Omobe to climb palm trees. But one day while his parents were away, he decided to climb a palm tree any way. From high up he could peer into the spirit world and he noticed that several divinities had gathered for a fantastic wrestling match! He immediately climbed down and made his way to the spirit world to test his own luck amongst a variety of spirits. He beat every opponent. Ancestors, Undergods and all others lost at his hands, even Ogun. Finally, he prepared to wrestle Olokun. While he summoned all of his physical strength, Olokun drew on his spiritual powers.
During the match, Omobe attempted to throw Olokun to the ground, but instead Olokun ended up firmly attached to his head. All attempts at removing Olokun from his head failed and Olokun declared it his permanent abode as a sign of Omobe’s arrogance and disrespect towards the other spirits. When Omobe returned home, the local priest/diviner advised him to appease Olokun or die. So for seven days, Omobe made sacrifices. On the last day, Omobe was initiated as the first Olokun priest. After this, Olokun loosened his grip on Omobe’s life and gave him peace.
Even so, it was subsequently said to all rascally children that Omobe’s lack of respect for constituted authority had landed him in dire straits and that if they did not alter their ways they might share the same fate.
Contradictory stories in Orisa culture
In Orisa culture, it appears that some stories contradict or compete with other ones. The disparities or differences that exist are well understood by indigenous practitioners. They are seen as a way by which the spirits recommend that one researches various avenues of traditional religion, worship, practice and initiation within the Orisa system. Furthermore, while the stories are regarded as fact, they are also understood to be indicators of historical and social factors, which obviously differ from region to region.
Communion with Olokun
Those with a connection to Olokun may experience her/his messages and healing through dreams and when in contact with the ocean. Priests may use mirrors in a divination system known as scrying, clouds (sky-gazing) and more familiar oracles like Merindinlogun (16-cowry divination) to communicate with Olokun on behalf of his or her self, client, community or nation.
A Prayer to Olokun
Iba Olokun fe mi lo're. Iba Olokun omo re wa se fun oyi o.
I praise the Spirit of the vast Ocean. I praise the Spirit of the Ocean who is beyond understanding.
Olokun nu ni o si o ki e lu re ye toray. B'omi ta'afi. B'emi ta'afi.
Spirit of the Ocean, I will worship you, as long as there is water in the Sea.
Let there be peace in the ocean. Let there be peace in my soul.
Olokun ni'ka le. Mo juba. Ase.
The Spirit of the Ocean, the ageless one, I give respect. May it be so.
Relationships as allegories
In female form among the Yoruba, Olokun is the wife of Olorun and, by him, the mother of Obatala and Odudua. Other relationships are numerous, especially when the gender of Olokun changes. Again, while these relationships are taken quite literally, they actually serve to tell occult members which Orisa work well together in healing situations, as well as to provide historical references to relationships between communities that serve as centers or hosts to main shrines for each of these Orisa.
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- Olookun Owner of Rivers and Seas, John Mason
8 Charles Spencer King.,"Nature's Ancient Religion" ISBN 978-1440417337
- Yemoja / Olokun: Ifa and the Spirit of the Ocean, Awo Fa'Lokun Fatunmbi
- Oriki Orisa, Vol. 1, Awo Falokun Fatunmbi
- Olokun, the divinity of fortune, Osadolor Imasogie
- Olokun: a focal symbol of religion and art in Benin, Alfred Omokaro Izevbigie
- African Mid Sculpture, Ulli Beier
- The art of Benin, Paula Ben-Amo
- The musical instruments of the Ẹdo-speaking peoples of south-western Nigeria, Åke Norborg
- Symbolism in Olokun Mud Art, Paula Ben-Amos
- The Initiation of a Priestess: Performance and Imagery in Olokun Ritual, Joseph Nevadomsky and Norma Rosen
- Chalk Iconography in Olokun Worship, Norma Rosen
- Mbari and Olokun Compared, Nigeria Magazine
- The history of ancient Benin Kingdom and Empire, Daniel Nabuleleorogie Oronsaye
- Black Gods--Òrìṣà studies in the New World, Gary Edwards, John Mason
- Detailed explanation of the Orisha Yemonja-Olokun
- Worship Olokun!
- Consecrated Olokun Drums
- Oyotunji Village & Lineage
- In Benin Olokun is Oba N'Amen
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