The World or Universe, in Yoruba cosmology is conceived of as a giant Calabash mellon. The sky and Heavens with stars are one top, and the bottom is the Earth. This idea of Heaven above and Earth below is common among Afro-Semitic and Classical Mediterranean cultures.
Earth is known as AYE, and Heaven is Orun or Timbelese Olodumare. The words Heaven and Earth are not accurate translations. Christian missionaries, wanting to convert the indigenous people of Africa, took specific Yoruba religious terms and recast their meanings. For example, in Yoruba translations of the Bible, the name of the Orisha Elegba is used as the Devil or Satan.
This, obviously, is a gross and rude perversion of Yoruba religion.
To understand The Orisha concept of the Universe, you must first give up any Western (Jewish, Moslem, Christian) notions of Heaven and Earth and Hell. In the Western religious view, Heaven is a place far away, vaguely in the direction of Up in the Sky. Heaven is where God lives and the Good Dead live. Hell is somewhere below the Earth in some dark, cavelike place. In the Yoruba View, there is no Heaven in that sense. The Unseen World (a better translation of Orun) is sort of parallel to this one. The Spirits and Orisha (Divinities) exist in that world. Although we live in Aye, The Seen Material World, there is a spiritual part of all Human beings which exists in the Unseen World. Think of the metaphor of an iceberg, where some part of it is above water and obvious, and the rest is hidden but connected to the Exoteric (seen) part.
Our bodies exist in AYE. When we die, we merely shed our bodies and so the spiritual part of ourselves the Eleda and Ori, continue to exist in the Spiritual plane. Human beings are merely spirits in bodies.
The stucture of the Universe is as follows: God, whom we call Olodumare, exists on the top; below God-Olodumare are the Orishas, below the Orisha are Egun (Spirits and Ancestors), below Egun are Humans who are initiated, and below them are Human who are not initiated. All other forms of life, animals and plants are below humans.
The Cross is another symbols which describes an important aspect of Lukumi World Concept. The cross was an important religious symbol even before the advent of Christianity.
The cross, firstly, represents the Cross Roads. The Cross Roads represents Destiny. You leave the Village, and the small pathway yields to a larger, wider road, which then splits into two paths. Which do you take? That decision is Destiny. That decision can determine a Future. That intersection is where Elegba lives. The Crossroads is the intersection between the World of Orun and the World of Aye. Between Sky and Earth and East and West (Where the Sun is bron and then Dies each Day) is the intersection, controlled by Elegua. This is the great CrossRoads, and is represented by a Cross, Sky, Earth, East West. This Crossroads is remembered and paralleled on the Divining tray, when the diviner blesses first the head of the tray, then the foot, then the East side, and then the West side.
The essence of Lukumi/Yoruba Cosmology is to understand that this existence consists of Dimensions or World which are seen and unseen. That God exists and made space within Himself for creation, that a variety of Spiritual Beings exist, including Humans. That the Unseen world is inhabited by Orisha, and Ancestors and other spirits, and that Humans are merely spirits in bodies.
Heaven is our Home; This World is Only the Marketplace. — Yoruba Saying.
© 1999 Ewetuga Atare — This may be quoted from only with permission from the author. Permission will be given to quote from this if you send email to firstname.lastname@example.org and if you include the proper citation and credit. All citations must include the original author's name, his email address and home page (Ewetuga Atare, email@example.com, http://www.lukumi.nu)