GMC: Orisha Osumare

orisha-oxumareThe third God for September is also the second Orisha we’ve had, Osumare. Osumare (pronounced O-SHU-mar-RAY) is also spelled Ochumare, Oshumare, or Oxumaré. An alternate name is Ketu. Especially when using the name Ketu, Osumare is connected to the spirits of the dead, the ancestors, called the eggun (pronounced E-goo-N).

Osumare is the Yoruba Orisha of the rainbow, serpents, cycles, and transformation. Osmare represents movement and cycles.

This Orisha is apparently androgynous and spends part of the year as a man and part as a woman. There is a lot of disagreement and confusion surrounding Osumare, even among worshipers.

One website1 (written by a practitioner, which I think is an important distinction to make) says that some people believe that Osumare is male, others female, and still others that Osumare is Someone in between, balancing male and female energies. osumareThis author says that his father believed Osumare to be a female Orisha. Almost all the art I found depicted Osumare as male, but some had the male Osumare wearing female clothing, like the picture here. ==========>

(I’m purposely not using any gender pronouns myself, which is very difficult when you aren’t used to it! I’m writing in this way because I’m trying not to influence how this Deity is perceived by my readers. I’d like those who are interested to discover Osumare for themselves.)

This ambiguousness seems to make many people today uncomfortable, and so Osumare is pushed aside and buried, or quickly skipped over. Making information difficult to find. What we are able to discern, as far Osumare’s stories and functions, is that Osumare was a personification of the rainbow. Osumare carried messages and performed tasks for Olorun, the ruler of the heavens. Olorun is the name of the God Who rules the heavens, and the name of the heavenly realm itself. (Similarly, in Greece, Iris was the Goddess of the rainbow can considered the Messenger of Hera, similar to Hermes being the Messenger of Zeus. The rainbow carrying messages to earth from heaven seems to be in many different cultures). Osumare is supposed to symbolize the union of heaven and earth, and the balance between people and the Orishas. If Osumare is a symbol of unity and balance, then the androgyny could make perfect tumblr_mof14dde431s2hryzo1_500sense — perhaps Osumare is the balance between male and female energy as well. That’s conjecture on my part btw.

Osumare apparently helped in the creation of the world, but by carrying out whatever sacred tasks were arranged, was restricted to the sky. When Osumare asked “What about when I wish to donate gifts to the people in the land?”

Oloddumare, the Creator, replied that Osumare could dispense blessings to the people every third year, in the early hours of the morning when the sun rises. In these years, when the Rainbow is spotted early in the morning, the whole year will abound with tranquility, plenty of money, comfort and good health to all of the world. In another myth Osumare helped to cure the blindness of Oloddumare.

oshumareOsumare literally means rainbow serpent. The rainbow serpent controls movement, change, mobility. Osumare rules transformation and anything that goes in cycles, such as rain and drought, poverty and wealth. Some of the stories say that the rainbow serpent holds the world together, wrapping around the universe, with 3500 coils above and 3500 coils below.

Osumare is a guardian and protector of children, and controls the umbilical cord as well, which sounds strange and a little arbitrary at first. But the Yoruba considered the umbilical cord to a link between our living world and the world of the ancestors. It’s easy to see that is not just symbolism at work, but quite literal. The umbilicus tied you to your mother’s womb, and her to her mother’s womb, and on and on, back into the mists of history. In Candomblé ritual when a baby was born, the umbilical cord and placenta would be buried under a tree, preferably a palm tree. But no one but the parents would know which tree, so that a magician could not have power over the individual when he or she had grown.

In Cuba, they spelled the name as Ochumare, and the Deity is related and worshiped alongside Yemaya, in fact Osumare is called the “Crown of Yemaya”, and practitioners e8b8f5dde04da5e0254d9f2035434aa4say that they worship Osumare “through Yemaya”. They call Osumare “the light which crosses through the tray of the Earth (the firmament) on one side to another, from front to back”. He is also called Chango/Shango’s Assistant. Osumare’s cultus was once widespread in Cuba, but it reached its peak in the 19th century. Today it is almost extinguished there, due to few elders who carry the secrets can pass on the knowledge.

In Haiti, they call Osumare by the name of Dambola Ayido, Ayido being another name originating in Africa. In Brazil Osumare became syncretized with Saint Bartholomew.

Some of the offerings to Osumare are pure water, wild honey, beautiful flowers, white powder, perfume, and duck. The best day to worship Osumare is Sunday. One of Osumare’s titles is “Owner of the Red Belt”, so even though Osumare is depicted with all colors, as a rainbow God naturally would be, it could be that red is a special color.


Suggested Links:

Babalawo Obanifa: the Orisha of the Rainbow

Osumare: the divine moon

Iroko: interesting syncretizism of the Orisha and Kabbalah, with Osumare as the Rainbow Serpent climbing the tree, and each Orisha representing a different Kabbalistic realm.

Osumare: the Spirit of the Rainbow

Yoruban Religion: Its cosmology and mythology


A YouTube video Get to know a Yoruba Deity: Osumare

A video from the same woman as above. A little information about Yoruba religion and history.  One of the cool things I noticed right away is that the ATRs (or African Traditional Religions) and Greco-Roman practices share the practice of libations, and also that this woman hails “all Gods and Goddess known and unknown”, which is similar to something said in some Greek or Roman rituals.

  4 comments for “GMC: Orisha Osumare

  1. Osumare
    December 27, 2017 at 9:39 am

    Great post, very kind words!

  2. Dwayne
    July 2, 2020 at 1:14 pm

    thank you for this article.

  3. Bia Nyx
    February 20, 2021 at 11:02 am

    This is awesome, thank you for your research! I would like to add that Orishas/their archetypal energy are experienced through movement. They are danced, which you should consider trying if you’re reading thus! During corona, has online classes in Creative Carribean Movement (Wed), Afro-Haitian (Fri and Sat), and for Black History Month has special workshops in Dunham Technique (Afro-Haitian meets ballet) and Silvestre Technique ( Afro-Brazilian meets modern). Many of classes are for beginners, so no need to feel intimidated, but it is physically demanding/challenging. Teachers are excellent. (Btw I do not work for them, I just love Afro-Haitian and Afro-Cuban dance and want to share). Enjoy! Thanks again for great info.

  4. February 24, 2021 at 4:03 am

    This is a very informative post. Thank you for your understanding and portrayal of this Orisha.

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