“Teachings of the Santeria Gods: The Spirit of the Odu” by Ocha’ni Lele is an exploration of the patakis (an oral tradition of stories) tied to specific results achieved when using the sixteen-cowrie-shell oracle known as the diloggun in Santeria. This combination of divination and religious observance is a fascinating system I’ve never encountered before, and the patakis related to it give an insightful look at the stories that inform practioners of Santeria.
How does it start? Sixteen consecrated and modified cowry shells are cast by a trained priest with the mechanically opened side of the shell having a value of zero, whereas the natural mouth has a value of one. The numbers are added up and the result corresponds to a particular odu which is a divination pattern and the orishas (spirits) use this odu to speak to the priest. Thusly you have 16 odu that are linked to 16 orishas starting with one mouth, Okana, and ending with 16 mouths, Merindilogun.
However, this book isn’t about divination, it’s about the stories tied to the orishas that are generally passed along orally from priest to apprentice, parent to child, village to village, and across oceans. The stories embody every facet of the human condition: love, death, hope, violence, compassion, devotion, sex, greed, desire, despair, and more. Much like those consulting the diloggun, the orishas have lives, or have touched lives, filled with successes, failures, quests, and hard lessons learned.
There are stories that made me smile (and perhaps get a bit misty eyed) like the story “How a Man and a Woman Found Love” connected with Irosun who is linked to the odu of four mouths. There are also tales of intrigue, such as “The Story of Elegede” which is tied to Obara, connected to the odu of six mouths and “King Olushola Make Edo” which is connected with Ogunda, who is linked to the odu of three mouths. Also there are many stories explaining why things are the way they are, like “Why the Rooster Was First Sacrificed”, “The Creation of Copulation”, “How the Crocodile Became Powerful”, and “The Story of the Cat and the Rat”.
Loaded with stories that provide entertainment and unique perspectives, “Teachings of the Santeria Gods” is an excellent book for those looking to learn about Santeria or African folklore. I enjoyed it immensely.