Creating an Orisha Altar: Tools for Honoring Yoruba Spirits
Each Orisha has particular requirements when it comes to setting their altars. Altars do not necessarily need to be very fancy or expensive, but care and thought must be put into setting them up. Some items or offerings are sacred to one, but taboo to another. To connect with the Orishas, it is important to have their altars correctly set up and maintained. Here are some examples of the right ritual objects for each Orisha:
Obatala is an orisha, a spirit in the Yoruba religion, who is associated with purity, wisdom, and creation. For Obatala, the eldest of all Orishas, use:
- A white cotton cloth or cover
- A metal crown
- A dove-handled bell
- An Obatala candle
- Tools for Obatala Ayaguna (the youngest avatar of Obatala)
- Tools for Aguidai-Obatala
- A sopera
- An Obatala doll, statue, or other image
- Offerings should include bland white foods such as meringue, rice, coconut, cocoa butter, white yams, and eggs. Do not, under any circumstances, offer Obatala alcohol. Salty and spicy foods are also no-nos for his altar.
Yemaya, an orisha in the Yoruba religion, is linked to the sea, fertility, and motherhood. For Yemaya, mother of the world, place:
- Shells, especially cowrie shells
- Silver objects
- Images of mermaids, waterfowl, fish, dolphins, or other creatures of the sea.
- Blue altar cloths
- Her blue or silver crown
- A statue or other image of Yemaya
- A sopera
- A Yemaya candle
- Yemaya incense
- Blue flowers, like irises. If blue flowers cannot be found, a bouquet of many colors is fine.
- Offerings include fruits, all seafood, lettuce, coffee, and white wine.
Elegua is an orisha, a spirit in the Yoruba religion, who is associated with crossroads, communication, and trickery. Elegua, the personification of destiny and the crossroads, enjoys:
- Toys, bells, marbles, and other objects suitable for children.
- Depictions of crossroads
- Statues of baby or adult Elegua
- A prayer card or other depiction of Elegua
- Red and black candles
- Elegua incense
- An Elegua head statue
- Red and black altar cloths
- Offerings like fish, yellow rice, toasted corn, tobacco, candies, and liquor will be accepted by Elegua, as will nut oil and Chilean red pepper.
In Yoruba mythology, Ogun is revered as the spirit associated with war, metalworking, and technology. For Ogun, Orisha of creativity, iron, war, and hunting, set the altar with:
- His tools
- An iron rooster
- A cauldron (or use the complete set)
- Iron objects, like a cannonball, anvil, or iron
- Iron nails
- A candle
- A statue or other image of Ogun
- Offerings include plantains, grapes, pomegranates, red meat, gin, rum, and cigars.
Shango, also known as Xango, Sango, or Chango, is the orisha connected to fire, lightning, and music. Shango, the god of thunder, dancing, and virility, enjoys:
- Single or double-headed axes.
- His crown.
- A covered wooden bowl called a batea.
- A pedestal for the batea called a pilon.
- Double-headed thunderstones.
- His wooden tools.
- A drum, especially a bata drum.
- A doll, statue, or another image of Shango.
- A Shango candle.
- Offerings include hot and spicy foods. He also likes red foods like apples and pomegranates.
Ochosi is an orisha, a spirit in the Yoruba religion, who is associated with justice, hunting, and the forest. For Ochosi, master hunter and fisherman set the altar with:
- Ochosi's tools.
- Antlers, deer heads, animal pelts, ram's horns, or turtle shells, as symbols of his hunting prowess.
- His bow and arrows (these live in his and Ogun's soperas).
- A statue or other image of Ochosi.
- An Ochosi candle.
- Offerings include game animals and fowl. He also enjoys fruits such as plantains, pomegranates, bananas, grapes, and pears.
In Yoruba mythology, Orula is revered as the orisha connected to divination, wisdom, and prophecy. Orula, the master of divination, enjoys:
- A statue or other image of Orula.
- A cedarwood polvera de Orula.
- Green and yellow altar cloth.
- A bouquet, especially one with lots of greens and bright yellow flowers.
- An Orula candle.
- Offerings include coconuts, wine, and sweet cakes.
In Yoruba mythology, Oshun is highly respected as the orisha connected to love, beauty, fertility, and prosperity. The goddess of beauty, Oshun, is fond of:
- An Oshun statue or another image of Oshun.
- An Oshun candle.
- A yellow altar cloth.
- Yellow shells, and yellow flowers such as sunflowers, marigolds, or roses.
- A crown for Oshun and other Oshun altar tools.
- Mirrors, fans, beads, and other items that are related to beauty.
- Small bowls of water, or a small fountain.
- The use of gold, copper, or brass metals.
- Offerings that include honey or sweet fruits.
Oya, in Yoruba mythology, is the orisha linked to the wind, the dead, and the marketplace. For Oya, goddess of the Niger river and ruler of storms set the altar with:
- Her crown.
- Fresh eggplants.
- Shea butter.
- An appropriate sopera.
- Osun de oya.
- An image of a lightning bolt.
- Red gourds.
- Copper jewelry.
- A rainbow-colored Oya candle.
- A statue or other image of Oya.
- Offerings include chocolate, eggplant, beets, purple grapes, and wine. She also likes sesame seed candy, chickpeas, black beans, and rice.
Altars do not necessarily need to be very fancy or expensive, but care and thought must be put into setting them up. Put them in a place of honor, and keep them clean and well-maintained. Be sure to provide regular offerings of the proper foods, drinks, plants, and other objects, and you will forge a powerful spiritual relationship.