Campaign of the Month: February 2017
The god of thunder and the king of the Orisha
The Sky Father and thunder god of the orisha is an impressive figure, a king and leader of great presence and zeal. He is the bringer of storms and of swift, often harsh justice upon those who have done wrong, ruling uncontested over his people and quick to vengeful anger when crossed. He also boasts one of the largest congregations of worshipers among his pantheon, as his veneration continues in Africa to this day as well as being widespread in the Caribbean and Americas. He is a god of incredible potency, whether he represents sexual virility, mental acuity or leadership in battle.
Obatala was walking one day when he came to a great river. He wished to cross it, so he hailed Aganju, the fire god, who had recently invented boats and was sailing around the river. He requested passage, but when he explained that he had nothing with which to pay, Aganju refused and told him he would have to swim. Obatala turned around and hid himself nearby, and by use of sorcery turned himself into a beautiful woman; when he returned to the river, Aganju did not recognize him and agreed to ferry him across in exchange for spending a night with him. This was agreed upon and Obatala crossed the river, but upon reaching the other side found that he was pregnant and was forced to remain a woman until Shango, the son of two fathers, was born, after which he returned to his natural male body.
Shango and Aganju
When, as a young man, Shango discovered that Aganju was his second father, he was determined to make himself known to him. While he had the reasonable mind of his father Obatala, he was also as fiery and temperamental as Aganju, and he swore he would not return home until the fire-god had acknowledged him as his son. When he arrived at Aganju’s house, the two gods quarreled and Aganju declared that he had no son and had never had one, since Obatala had never told him of the pregnancy. Shango, determined to force Aganju to recognize him, built an enormous bonfire and threw himself on it; when he arose from it again, unscathed and with angry, burning eyes, Aganju realized that this must indeed be his son and welcomed him.
Shango and Orunmila
Shango possessed great natural talent for diviniation, but he had no interest in it and preferred to have wild parties and enjoy himself. His uncle Orunmila, the god of prophecy, was the most powerful diviner in the universe and was severely annoyed by Shango’s cavalier attitude toward his talent. One day at a party, Shango confessed to Orunmila that he would gladly trade all his talent for prophecy away if he could be as talented a drummer and dancer as Orunmila; Orunmila agreed to the trade at once, and took all of Shango’s prophetic powers from him in return for granting him the skill of a master dancer and drummer.
Shango and the Invention of Scarification
Shango had discovered who his father was, but he did not know who his mother was, for Obatala had returned to his masculine form. He sent two of his slaves to a neighboring kingdom, asking them to make sacrifices to the oracle there to discover who she was, and reminding them to listen carefully during the ritual lest they miss her name being said. One slave was faithful to Shango and learned the identity of his mother, but the other, who was a foreigner, did not pay attention and was unable to do so.
Furious, Shango ordered that the unfaithful slave be punished with 122 cuts on his body inflicted by sharp razors; however, when this was done, he noticed that his wives seemed to find the resulting thin scars handsome. In order to please them, he had scarifications performed on his flesh also, in a pattern that he declared reserved for royalty only. Realizing that he could also turn the new practice to his advantage, he sent messages to the kings of neighboring lands, telling them about his new scars and how much his wives loved them; when the kings had themselves scarred, Shango stormed their kingdoms and easily conquered them while they were recovering from the painful operation.
Shango and the Ascent to Heaven
Though Shango once ruled on earth, the mortals in his kingdom were quarrelsome and complained that he was a tyrant. Infuriated by their lack of gratitude, Shango mounted a horse and rode it away into the deepest forest. When he did not return for months, search parties went in to look for him; they called out to ask if he had hung himself, and heard his booming voice reply that he had not, but that he refused to come back and would rule them as an unseen god from heaven from now on. He had climbed the great chain from earth to the world fo the gods and refused to ever live on earth again.
Shango and Oya
One day, Shango was in the market when he met Oya, and stunned by her beauty he determined to convince her to marry him. He followed her home when she left that night, but when she entered the forest he was surprised to see her transform herself into an antelope and bound away. The next day, he waited until she had shed her antelope skin to go to market again and then stole it, hiding it up in the rafters of his house; he then waited until she returned from market and searched frantically for it before informing her that she was in his power now and should be his wife. He took her home and introduced her to his other wives; at first they didn’t mind the newcomer, but when Oya became pregnant with twins and neither of them had yet had children, they became consumed with jealousy. They bothered Shango continuously to tell them where the strange goddess had come from, and eventually he relented and told Oshun about the antelope-skin. Though Shango had sworn her to secrecy, Oshun cunningly invented a song about an antelope-skin in the rafters and sang it where she knew Oya would hear her; Oya, hearing this, retrieved her skin and ran away into the forest again. Shango pursued her for many days, and eventually convinced her to remain his wife when she was not in the forest; to seal their bargain, she granted him her antelope horns, so that if he beat them against one another she would hear him calling to her.
Shango and Sere
There was once a minor goddess of gourds named Sere, who had no one to serve and was worshiped by no one. Seeking to improve her lot, she visited a diviner and followed his instructions to swallow a magical medicine consisting of beads, seeds and pebbles. When next she passed by a shrine to Shango, she threw herself down to perform the customary hail and the seeds in her stomach rattled together loudly; Shango heard the noise, and intrigued by it called out to her to keep making the noise. He was so impressed by its unique sound that he began to dance around the kingdom, and everyone marveled at Sere’s power. She became the goddess of rattles, and one of Shango’s most devoted servants in charge of music and dancing.
Shango, Oba, and Oshun
Shango had taken three wives, the beautiful Oshun, the crafty Oya, and the devoted Oba. Oshun, who was beautiful and bewitching, was his favorite, which caused Oba to be consumed with jealousy. Hoping to recapture Shango’s attention, she tried to subtly find out from Oshun how she kept him so happy; Oshun, however, recognized her ploy and was angry and jealous herself. She told Oba that Shango loved her the most because she was the most accomplished cook among them, and further told her that she used a secret ingredient; long ago she had cut off a piece of her ear and dried it, and when she cooked Shango’s dinners she sprinkled bits of the ear’s powder atop it. She claimed that this exotic spice made him mad with desire for her, though in truth she did no such thing. Oba immediately ran home and began preparing a stew for Shango; since a bit of Oshun’s ear sprinkled in his food made him desire her the most, she determined to make him want her even more, and sliced off her entire ear, stirring it into the pot. When Shango returned home that evening, he began to eat the stew with relish, but when he saw the ear floating in it he believed that Oba was trying to poison him and, roaring with rage, chased her from the house with his axe, causing her to eventually fall upon the ground and turn herself into a river to escape him.
Shango and Obatala
When Obatala set out to visit Shango, he was mistaken for a horse-thief preying on the king’s horses and imprisoned in the dungeons. He remained there for seven years, and while he was in jail Shango’s kingdom sickened, becoming prone to plagues, droughts and barrenness. At his wits’ end, Shango begged Orunmila to perform a divination to tell him what to do to end the epidemic, and was told that there was an old man in his dungeons who had been wrongfully imprisoned. shango immediately ransacked all his dungeons until he found Obatala, to whom he profusely apologized and who he ordered to be sent home with the richest gifts at his disposal, as well as setting his slaves to build an enormous house for Obatala’s pleasure. Once this had been done, the land lived again.
Shango and Oya’s Defection
Shango’s youngest wife, Oya, was a fiery goddess with a temper to match his; he cherished her quick wits and sharp tongue, and often strode into battle with her at his side. One day, seeing that other gods were rising in the land, he decided that he needed to increase his power and sent a message to Eshu, the god of magic, asking for a medicine that would make him more powerful and strike fear into the hearts of all men. Eshu agreed to make this for him, but insisted that he send the volatile Oya to pick it up from him, claiming that if Shango came himself and consumed the medicine he would be too afraid to remain in his presence. When Oya arrived, he gave her the parcel of medicine and cautioned her strongly about its power and importance; he stressed it so much that she was consumed with curiosity and opened the parcel on the way home and tasted a little of it. When nothing happened, she continued home and delivered the parcel to Shango, who was pleased to see her; when she opened her mouth to speak to him, however, the medicine she had consumed caused flames to shoot out and Shango knew that she had stolen some of it. Enraged, he chased her across the kingdom, brandishing his axe and hurling bolts of thunder and lightning at her heels, until she was cornered and turned herself into a sheep in order to hide from him among others of a herd. The local people begged Shango not to destroy all the sheep, who were their livelihood, so he turned and returned to his kingdom, declaring that Oya should never set foot there again if she valued her life. Oya founded her own kingdom, as far from Shango’s as possible, and there hid and practiced the new magics she had learned from stealing her husband’s power.
Shango, Timi, and Gbonka
When Shango had ruled his kingdom for a long and peaceful time, it happened that some neighboring tribes made war and he was forced to defeat them. This he and his two sons, Timi and Gbonka, did easily, but they so distinguished themselves in battle that the people began to venerate them as much as Shango himself, who became angry at this disrespect. He sent Timi away to a neighboring kingdom to capture it, thinking that he would die in the attempt, but instead he captured the capital city all by himself and began to rule there. Further angered, Shango sent Gbonka to tell him to return home, knowing that Timi would refuse and the two would fight, hopefully killing one another; however, the two warriors fought each other to a standstill and Gbonka used magic to subdue Timi without killing him so that both returned to Shango’s kingdom. Furious that his plans were not reaching fruition, Shango refused to speak to Timi, claiming that he was shamed by his ignoble defeat; Timi immediately set forth to fight Gbonka again, but was again put to sleep by magic. Shango told them both that their contest could not be decided by such underhanded means, and presided over their third fight; this time Gbonka beheaded Timi after putting him to sleep. Enraged by this craven behavior, Shango ordered Gbonka executed, but flames could not touch him, and the people were so afraid of him that they fled, leaving only Shango and his wife to face him. Aware that he could no longer regain his people by normal means, Shango departed into the woods and there hung himself in the night, leaving his wife to run wailing back into the kingdom, proclaiming that he had died; the people there were confused by this, but Gbonka decreed that it was true and that he was now the rightful ruler. That night, however, a great thunderstorm rocked the kingdom, and Shango appeared in its midst, proclaiming that he lived and was more powerful than ever; the people repented their disrespect and begged him to spare them, and when he did so, Gbonka was banished forever.
Shango and the Mortal King
In order to test the loyalty of a mortal king who worshiped him, Shango one day turned himself into a small child and went to the king’s palace, where he told him to get off his throne because he, Shango, was the true king. Not believing that the child was a god, the mortal king attempted to find his parents and, when that failed, instructed his servants to get rid of him by throwing him into the river. The servants did so, but almost as soon as they returned the child had reappeared, despite the fact that they swore they had drowned him. The king tried again to have him killed, but now the child began to perform miracles and feats fo acrobatics, preventing anyone from grabbing hold of him, until finally he hung himself in the forest. The king was pleased that the bothersome boy was dead, but no sooner had he prepared a sacrifice to thank Shango, the boy resurrected himself again. As soon as the king left his throne to see this marvel, the boy appeared on the throne and refused to leave it; the mortal king had been found unworthy by Shango, and he was banished while a mortal child was chosen to rule in his place.
Shango and Ogun
Though Shango had no rivals among the gods and ruled as their supreme leader, he began to hear rumors that some of the orisha preferred Ogun as king and believed he was more powerful. Furious at this challenge to his authority, he called Ogun to come demonstrate his power in a contest so that he could prove to everyone his right to be king. Ogun’s strength was great, but Shango called down such enormous displays of thunder and lightning that the heavens split and the ground caught fire. He was not paying attention to where he struck with the deadly lightning, however, and accidentally threw it down upon his palace, obliterating it and killing everyone inside, including his children and less important wives. Mortified, he hanged himself; but seeing as how he had won the contest and proven himself as king, he resurrected himself shortly thereafter and resumed ruling.
Shango and his Wives
Shango once consulted Orunmila for advice on his future, and was told that he must sacrifice the parrot tailfeather he always wore on special occasions or risk losing his three most prized possessions. Shango did not want to part with his feather, however, so he ignored the prediction. He then held a great festival in honor of himself and some of the other orisha, which angered his three wives because he had not invited them to be worshiped there. In retaliation, each of them held her own festival; while all were successful, Oba borrowed his parrot feather and wore it, and it impressed so many of the worshipers that they began to say that she must be his favorite wife. The other wives, hearing this, were insulted and immediately abandoned Shango, turning to rivers when he tried to catch them as they left; Oba, feeling terrible that she had caused such disharmony, turned into a river herself as well, leaving Shango destitute. He then realized that his wives had been his three most prized possessions, and was forced to spend many years begging them to return before they would agree to live with him again.
Shango and the Dead
Though Shango was the most potent and powerful of the orisha, as a god of life and energy he could not abide the coldness of death and avoided it at all costs. When his wife Oya decided to force him to be faithful only to her, she summoned up a horde of the dead and instructed them to surround his house, making him unable to leave for fear of them. He remained trapped in his house until one of his other wives, Oshun, noticed his predicament and seduced the leader of the dead men away, allowing Shango to escape while they were distracted.