Surprisingly the topic of Osain is becoming more and more regular around here and I would like to take some time and dispel any misunderstandings regarding Osain.
Osain is first and foremost the owner of all herbs (ewe in Lukumi). This is something most people come to associate with Osain and while this is true, it goes much deeper than that. Every plant in Lukumi belief has a spirit and Osain controls all those individual spirits, he has a legion of sorts at his command. Each herb has both positive and negative qualities. Osain being the master Sorcerer and Medicine Man knows how to use herbs in both capacities. Due to this we use a euphemism “Okokan Meji” – dual hearted – to describe his nature.
He is also known as “Agbe Igi” – he who dwells in tree’s. It is this moniker that hints at his relationship and connection to Orun /Oro, as Oro uses tree’s in a specific way to do his work. Their dominions overlap a bit and they work together frequently.
It is said that Osain came to earth as a direct command from Olodumare (our creator God) – he has no mother or father as many of the other Orisha do. He descended to earth in the form of a comet, and crashed deep into the bowels of our planet, where a period of gestation/transformation occurred and Osain slowly clawed his way from the crust of the earth to above ground. That journey allowed him to learn the secrets of all earthly vegetation. From a philosophical religious view, we can surmise that Osain made pacts/treaties with all the plants as he arose from the bowels of the earth in order to survive. He is a Chthonic deity to say the least.
The physical descriptions of Osain are all very uniform to one another: (from Africa , Brazil and Cuba) he is a disfigured man, with only one leg, often times one arm, one eye that is normal and one that is mangled, one ear that is mangled and a small ear, his penis and testicles are intact and usually showing. He uses a crutch to walk.
It appears that it would be safe to assume that Osain is a very limited, handicapped Orisha but the reverse is true: he is the fastest runner, he can see way beyond 20/20 and can hear a pin drop 40 miles away. His strength with only one leg is twice as strong as a man with both legs. Another phrase to refer to Osain in Lukumi is “Elese Kan,Elese Meji” – the man with one leg is stronger than the man with both legs”.
There are many stories (or pataki’s) that describe the events of how Osain became disfigured but the most commonly accepted version tells of a fight between Orunmila and Osain: they were arguing over who was the better healer and Osain being hot headed escalated the argument. When Orunmila consulted Ifa for himself he was told to use Ogu – witchcraft – against Osain. Somehow Osain discovered Orunmilas intentions and reigned hell down on him first. Everything Orunmila tried failed and he was beaten to the proverbial punch by Osain. When Orunmila knew he was in trouble, he cried for Shango to come help him. And Shango came running… and asked what was going on, Orunmila filled him about some witchdoctor blasting him with all kinds of hell fire and Shango pin-pointed the location of the bad guy and blasted back. In that assault, Osain’s body was mangled. Osain was Shango’s Padrino (godgfather/religious mentor) and Shango was heartbroken when he discovered what he had done. Conflicted between his Padrino and brother, he forces Orula and Osain to make peace at that moment and brokered a deal with the two Orisha: without Osain, there is no Ifa or Osha.
Seeing that Osain is the master/controller of all herbs and the spirits that inhabit said herbs, it stands to reason Osain would be recognized and feared by other cultures. It also stands to reason that other cultures have their own relationships with Osain.
I realize Pablo has his own theories about the Lukumi adapting the secrets of Gurufinda and assimilating Osain from said secrets, but I don’t feel that to be the case at all. I say this as knowing how Gurufinda is mounted and how Osain is mounted. Osain is much more complete in its foundation and materials. Not to mention the depths of the secrets preserved by Ifa regarding Osain as opposed to the secrets preserved by the Congo and Carabali regarding Gurufinda.
Osain is also known in Vodou as Gran Bwa. So we have Gurufinda (Palo/Carabali), Gran Bwa (Haitian Vodou) the Green Man in European culture, Shennong in Chinese culture, etc. This being the case (every culture having a relationship with Osain) I do believe that Ifa has the “complete” secrets of Osain. Put any of the aforementioned up against Osain in any capacity and I assure you Osain will win out. Not to be disparaging of any other traditions but think of this is terms of the differences between a shovel and a back hoe. A shovel will get the job done with varying degrees of difficulty and effectiveness.
Mounting or making Osain is a complicated and long process. There are numerous human remains required, hundreds of differing types of woods, herbs, insects, and soils. Essentially what is being created is an Astral-Twin-Frankenstein of the person receiving him. (Let me point out: you can’t throw some stuff in an earthen pot and call upon Osain). The foundation of Osain is Odu Ifa – much like the foundation of a Nganga is firma’s – for specific reasons in specific orders. In order to open the way for the spiritual energies of Osain to take residence in the “ikoko” or cazuela (clay pot) you have to be a Babalawo to manipulate these forces.
Before the actual ingredients go into the “ikoko” there are three months of ceremonies to be done to align the spirituality of Osain with the person receiving it. The ceremonies must be performed during specific lunar and tidal phases. The spirit of Osain is then dispatched to visit the person receiving him and Orunmila is consulted after each visit and the ingredients of the ikoko can be added to or extra offerings can be required to be made depending upon Osain’s observations.
Once this process of melding has taken place between Osain and the initiate, it is imperative that the initiate be able to undergo problem resolution in a mature way, as Osain is quick to act on his own accord based off the thoughts, emotions and mood of the individual who received him. In Youruba/Lukumi belief the definition of witchcraft is the ability for thoughts and emotions to manifest in the physical world and influence it. This is one of the powers of Osain. I could be here for days with cautionary tales and anecdotal stories of this manner.
Osain is also the Orisha of music. Without Osain there are no Bata drums (Aña). He has over 159 songs (that I know of, not saying I memorized them). This is quite a catalogue of songs and blows every other Orisha out of the water in comparison.
I figure there are many potentially reading this who salivate at the idea of having a power like this in their possession.Let me assure you, if you aren’t marked to receive Osain via Ifa, don’t do it. With great power comes great responsibility. I say this as there are unscrupulous Babalawos who will sell you anything if you express the desire to have it.
If there are any questions I will do my best to answer, so as I don’t break any oaths etc.