Waking up early in the morning is absolutely not my favorite thing to do. However, for the first time in my 18 years as an olosha, I decided to actually go to bed at a reasonable time after welcoming the New Year and take my children to see the ceremony of La Letra del Año at the La Cerámica Community Center in Carolina. I wanted them to experience first-hand this this act of community and to understand the importance of following the orisha’s advice in order to live in grace and balance.
I have to say, the kids were less than enthusiastic at first because there is a considerable amount of wait time while the group of Ifá priests determine the oddú and the corresponding ebós, flags and advice to be shared with the congregation. Fortunately, once the priests started to summarize the reading their attention was fully focused on the oddú: Obara Sá which came with osogbo. To be precise the osogbo is osogbo tiyá tiyá setutu ofo, meaning, adversity and gossip create loss.
Shangó comes out as the ruling orisha assisted by Oyá and defended by Oshún.
Shango is not an orisha to be trifled with as the King does not lie, and in my experience, he does not like to repeat himself either. Thus, when he warns us that gossips are not to be tolerated for they have the potential to create public embarrassment, bring down orisha houses and to create loss and even death, we really need to heed his warning.
It is not the purpose of this article to go over the minutia of the reading for Puerto Rico, for those interested in the details, follow the link to the oddú of the year posted in Spanish by the Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha of Puerto Rico which organizes the reading. However, it is my intention to make us of my personal soapbox to speak my mind about one of my pet peeves: Gossip.
Gossip by the book…
The Merriam-Webster dictionary defines gossip as the following noun: gos·sip ˈɡäsəp and it is the casual or unconstrained conversation or reports about other people, typically involving details that are not confirmed as being true. Gossip is rumor(s), tittle-tattle, whispers, canards, tidbits, scandal, hearsay, dirt, buzz, scuttlebutt…and more colorfully spoken in Lukumi: tiyá, tiyá or lépe lépe.
I think that the dictionary falls short on its definition of what gossip is. From my point of view, gossip is truly a reflection of the inner state of mind of an individual, of its soul and the feelings it harbors in relationship with other individuals and the community at large. A gossiper is a person who is out of control. When a tongue wags, malice is almost always at play and there is lack of judiciousness and discretion. A gossiper is like an unruly child, willful and irreverent unchaining a discourse that surely will lead to chaos and hurt for many.
Part of the advice given by the awós was to take care of our heads, not to place them in the hands of just anyone, even if they have the best of intentions. Our heads must be treated with uttermost care as to remain balanced. It is crucial to do kaworí eledá with coconut and water, but do it with someone who really knows what they are doing. A person who does not know the mojugba or who lacks the fundamental understanding of the ritual of kaworí eledá can end up doing more damage than good and leaving the person seeking help in worse condition or damaged. When there is no orí tutu (cool head) a person is more likely to engage in gossip and to create chaos.
If you do not have something nice to say…shut up!!!
How do we hurt each other as a community with gossip? Gossip undermines relations between godparents and godchildren and between the members of the ilé. Gossip reflects very poorly on the person who spreads it. I have yet to see a gossiper who is well looked upon by other community members. A gossiper may be tolerated because for many gossip is entertaining but ultimately a gossiper is nothing more than a pathetic human being.
My take on this is that to succeed we are going to have to reassess our inner state of mind and to learn to temper our inner voice as to always express positive thoughts. If negative discourse needs to be brought out in public or in private, then we must do it with temperance, respect and judiciousness. This year it will be more important than ever to behave with maturity and be tactful on our communications with all members of the ilé regardless of their rank and years of initiation in order to avoid friction.
My grandmother used to say, “I am the mistress of my silence and the slave to my words.” Do not be enslaved by your own words and remember that words carry power, particularly for those of us who have accepted the privilege to be oloshas or servants of the orishas. Our words have ashé; they carry the potential of edification or very well could have the seeds of our own destruction. What will you do with your words? Do you choose to edify or to destroy?
As part of the conversation one of the priests who witness the reading said that Oyá would be more than happy to welcome into her domain – the cemetery— those who do not learn to live by the rules. One can easily extrapolate from this and from part of the advice provided to couples (to treat each other with respect and sincerity) that infidelity and gossip could create life threatening situations. Thus, I would warn people to really mind their own affairs when it comes to other’s people marriages and relationships.
The oddú warns us against becoming overheated; gossip can certainly fuel heat and arguments. Also we are warned to be commensurate and keep our tempers in check.
I have to say that Shango is giving us the tools to survive a potentially tough year. However, the King is being more gracious, he is also giving us the opportunity to do self-analysis and to learn that our words are swords, weapons that can either kill us or defend our community. Shangó is teaching us the way to heal the community; he is opening up a constructive dialogue to breech difference in a mature way. Shango is giving us the opportunity to amend our behavior and to learn to live in grace and reflect that inner peace in appropriate constructive speech.
We have the power to unite our voices and silence any malicious wagging tongue that would stop at nothing to saw the seeds of destruction, fear and chaos, sometimes for reasons no better than whim.
Do not be seduced by gossipers, they are like snake charmers; they like to have an enraptured audience and enjoy the results of their maliciousness. There are no innocent bystanders when it comes to gossip, those who spread it are as bad as those who lend ears to rumors.
Thanks to the Templo Yoruba Omo Orisha of Puerto Rico for organizing the event and to the wise counsel from the awós who participated and dedicated their time to this ritual and shared their insights with their brethren.
Eleguá has the last word…
After the event I drove to Bayamón for a Batá de Fundamento given by Eshubí Lona to Eleguá and San Lázaro. Although I had not met him before, Eshubí Lona welcomed my family with most elegance and finesse as a wonderful and gracious host. During the drumming Eleguá, Shangó and Yemayá came down to share with the community. Eleguá took a moment to gather all present and underscored the importance of the oddú of the year, of not engaging in gossip as to avoid loss and of the opportunity we have to be united and heal the community. Modupué Eleguá for reinforcing this message.
Omimelli, Oní Yemayá Achagbá