Babalú-Ayé is simultaneously one of the most feared and revered Orishas in the Yoruban tradition. As the deity presiding over the powers of life and death, his influence was so widespread that his worship grew from a single tribe in West Benin to many tribes all along the western coast of Africa. Because of his relationship with illness, he is the patron deity of those who are suffering from sickness or infirmity.
His domain is twofold -- he can cure the sick, and send illnesses as punishment for the wicked. Even though vaccines and medications like antibiotics have tamed some diseases, the emergence of new and more dangerous illnesses are testament to the fearsome power of Babalú-Ayé's domain.
The Image of Babalú-Ayé
In African traditions, Babalú-Ayé is shown as a muscular man with a crutch, covered head to toe in braided raffia (mariwó) curtains to hide the sores and scars of smallpox. In American traditions, Babalú-Ayé typically appears as a man riddled with leprosy or smallpox sores.
He walks with crutches and is often depicted with two dogs who lick his wounds. In Cuban Santeria, Babalú-Ayé is associated with Saint Lazarus -- a Catholic saint depicted as a leper accompanied by two dogs. Like Lazarus, his feast day is December 17th.
Babalú-Ayé's shrine is a terracotta pot adorned with cowrie shells. It is kept in a dark, quiet place where he will not be bothered, along with 18 loose cowrie shells used to communicate with him in diloggun divination.
The Children of Babalú-Ayé
Healers are the children of Babalú-Ayé, whether they work in a medical or spiritual capacity. They may have suffered a skin condition when they were younger, and are generally happy people (though they may have tempers!) who quickly showed an aptitude for healing. They may be attracted to healing positions ranging from surgeon to medical researcher, to shaman.
Showing Respect to Babalú-Ayé
Call on Babalú-Ayé in times of sickness, whether to heal the sick or send those who cannot be cured peacefully to their deaths. While he is feared for his power to give and take away illness, he is also a happy and merciful deity. It was Babalú-Ayé alone who helped Shango when he was sick and had no one else to turn to.
Babalú-Ayé's garments are usually purple and burlap and his traditional colors are earth tones, yellow, and royal purple -- the colors of a bruise. His beaded necklace pattern varies, but usually contains cowrie shells, jet beads, and a white bead with thin blue stripes.
When praying to Babalú-Ayé, make offerings of his favorite foods: roasted or popped corn, beans, or other grains. Rum, tobacco, or dry white wine are also appreciated. Do not ever offer peanuts or sesame seeds -- they are taboo. Animals associated with him are vultures, buzzards, and other carrion birds, and his gemstones are bloodstone, tanzanite, snowflake obsidian, and jasper.
Set your altar with his stones, food offerings to him, an Osun/Perro de Babalu Aye, and white, yellow, or purple candles. Place a statue of his image on your altar. Pray to him for compassion and mercy.
Diloggun and Obi divination
Diloggun divination is a formal divination ritual that allows for communication from the Orishas, performed only by the initiated. Obi is another form of divination using coconut shells. It is customary to say a short prayer to the deity you are throwing obi to.
To communicate with Babalú-Ayé, recite the following prayer:
God of the epidemics and the sick.
I pray to you now, have pity on us your children.
Oh, glorious father, keep sickness away from my home and protect your children from epidemics.
Thank you, my father.
Though Babalú-Ayé is a fearsome deity, he also embodies compassion and relief. Call upon him to alleviate suffering from illness, and give him offerings and prayers to help those in need of his mercy.