by Shloma Rosenberg
The Supreme Being, Olorun, is the least mentioned and most worshipped force in the Yoruba religion. This seeming paradox has led to the two most common misconceptions encountered among both observers and practitioners of the religion; the first being that Olorun is a remote deity seldom honored in ceremony and the second being that Yoruba religion is pantheistic.
The concept of God in the Lukumi belief system has been referred to as "diffused monotheism."* Although this label is somewhat problematic, it is, for the most part, a valid assessment. God is singular but is worshiped through many faces or aspects. Because all things are part of God, each spirit, ancestor, and deified force of nature (Orisha) is a facet of the One. Therefore, every act of worship, whether it be directed toward the Dead, the Orishas, or even one's own consciousness (Ori), is ultimately dedicated to Olorun. The avenues may be manifold, but the recipient of worship is always the Supreme Being.
The omnipotence and omnipresence of God in our religion extends beyond spiritual forces and therefore beyond the concept of God of most monotheistic faiths. It must be understood that in the Yoruba belief system, Olorun is composed of all beings, both divine and mundane. All of the universe and its inhabitants, material and abstract, are cells in the body that is God. Olorun is present not only around everything but also in everything. This being taken into consideration, it becomes clear that all acts, in the end, affect and relate to the whole, which is God.
This concept lends itself to an entirely more complicated moral standard than one finds in Judeo-Christian faiths, in which divinity is removed or separate from humanity. When one must take into account the inherent divinity of everything, the consequences of one's actions must be much more carefully considered.
The religion has been criticized by the uninformed as being a pagan cult that does not recognize God, the Supreme Being. I must answer that we recognize nothing but God, the Supreme Being.
The Names of God
Olorun (Owner of heaven--the unseen realm; olo--owner, orun--heaven)
Olorun is the name most commonly used to refer to the Supreme Being. He/She is the owner of the invisible realm of creation that guides evolution. All spirits recognized in the religion are knowable aspects of Olorun.
Olorun is the incomprehensible source of creation, the primal creator. Olorun is the name applied to God when referred to as the creator of the universe.
Olodumare (One who owns the realm of never-ending possibilities; olo--owner, odu--repository of possibility, mare--from Oshumare, the serpent of infinity)
Essentially, the names Olodumare and Olorun refer to the same force, but with slightly different shades of meaning. Olodumare refers to God in His/Her aspect as architect of continuous creation. The name describes the repository of possibility and circumstance from which each moment is born. Olodumare is the receptacle for Odu, which are the constellations of possibilities that contain all events past, present and future.
Olofin (One who has sovereign rule)
It must be said that Olofin was not considered an aspect of the Supreme Being among the Yoruba in Nigeria. He was originally an Orisha who was related to Odua and Obatala. Even now in the New World, Olofin is considered by many to be an extremely elevated road of Obatala.
When the Lukumi in Cuba were reconstructing their ritual system and aligning it with the new environment in which they found themselves, they became aware that their captors viewed God as a trinity. They recognized the Father and the Holy Ghost in Olorun and Olodumare, respectively, but they had not formerly recognized a third aspect of the most high God.
Upon examining Jesus, the other component of the Catholic trinity, they found that he was looked upon as the knowable and reachable face of a force otherwise incomprehensible. They came to associate him with Olofin, who was the highest of the Orishas and therefore the most elevated and closest to God yet still with the realm of human comprehension. The term also referred to kingship by divine right, which they also associated with Jesus.
Within the Lukumi faith, Olofin is therefore the highest knowable aspect of divinity, the most elevated force that humans can attempt to conceptualize. He is humankind's personal God.
Praise names for Olorun/Olodumare/Olofin:
Alabosudaye (Extensive protector of the earth)
This, one of the most well known praise names of Olorun, directly refutes the misconception of the Supreme Being as a remote and distant deity. As "extensive protector of the earth," Olorun is interested in the welfare of the planet and its inhabitants on the greater scale. Olorun sees and acts in relation to the big picture. This is why the events that occur in our world often baffle us. Olorun works in mysterious ways.
Alabosunife (Extensive protector of the city of Ife)
Ife is the Yoruba Eden, the point from which all life began. Olorun, as protector of Ife, looks after life from its source.
Elemi (Owner of breath)
Olorun is the only divine being who can directly give life. When an individual's body has been formed and destiny has been chosen, Olorun is the one who breaths life into their body. In addition to "breath," emi can also be translated to mean "spirit" or "life force." Olorun gives us not only the breath of life but also our soul.
Olojo Oni (Owner of this day)
God creates each day and each moment anew. One must never forget that regardless of which Orisha or Egun or spirit guide exerts its influence in a given day, the true owner of the world is and always will be Olorun. There is no being who is not mandated to bow to the omniscience, omnipresence, and supreme authority of God.
Oyigiyigi Ota Aiku (The immovable stone that does not die)
Alaye (The one who lives)
Both of these names refer to the immortality of God. The fundamental religious belief of the Yoruba is that of continuous creation. Energy cannot be destroyed; only its form can be altered. No matter what single element of God is destroyed, whether it be an individual, a river, or an entire species, God in His/Her entirety will continue to exist and create.
In the words of a popular Yoruba proverb: Ishe Olua kole baje o--The work of the Lord (that which God has made) cannot be brought down (can't be destroyed).