There are many things I love about serving the Orisha, but none that elevates my soul like the scents, colors and songs of the lavatorio (the wash). When we invoke the great orisha Osaín the representative of all the herbs, trees and plants upon the earth, the greater process of creating a new priest truly commences.
It has been many years since the very first time I was allowed to view this process, once I finished my year in white or iyawó (bride of Orisha) year, and I had done all ebbós (sacrifices) prescribed in that process.
I still remember it with awe. My first lavatorio was for a set of twins to be dedicated to Yemayá, my own head Orisha. It was winter, snow fell abundantly outside the Igbodú in Chicago and I could feel Oyá singing in the winds of the frigid air.
I was a tabla rasa (clean slate), for I had purposely withheld from studying any songs that had come across my way related to lavatorio. I was given one of the basins containing the tools to be prepared to Yemayá. The Oriaté was a tall dark-skinned Cuban, his name, Lázaro. He told me that he could feel raw energy coming out of my hands and he wanted that gift for the new iyawó.
I sat on a low stool, a bit of an uncomfortable position for someone nearly 6 feet tall, but I said not a word. My eyes were open like saucers, my ears alert to instructions and my heart beating faster than the wings of a hummingbird.
We started the process of taking the stems off the leaves. I worked diligently and silently. Then his voice filled the air, high tones stretched across the room filling it with energy… Kuru kuru bede…
There was an elder iyalosha (mother of orisha) sitting next to me, she smiled at me and pointed to her eyes and ears, so I followed her every motion and picked up the cadence of the work of preparing Omiero (sacred herb water). At the same time my mouth and brain started to work in ways I did not imagined, as I listened to the Oriaté sing, the answers started to flow out of me in synchronicity with the other oloshas in the room.
I became part of the flow of a centuries old connection as though my body was not longer mine. For me this was then mysterious and surreal, but now as years have gone by and I have come to analyze things, it is no longer a surprise how things unfolded. I strongly believe that when a person becomes an iyawó there is a connection that goes deeper than spirit, there are codes in our body that are awaken, we feel spirit differently than before, it is as though Orisha unfolds hidden knowledge in each of its new creatures.
I could write for hours about the details of that and countless other Osain ceremonies I have attended, in some houses there was a martial discipline about the process, in some others I have gone as a guest I have seen some oloshas chatter and giggle only to be brought down to earth by the stern look or a couple of sharp words from the Oriaté. I guess not everyone reveres the process the same way I do. It is important not to trivialize ritual, to always approach it with wonder and to keep the heart joyous when working with the Orisha. Staying focused is paramount in any ceremony, pouring your heart out into the waters of Omiero, is even better.
To all of you oloshas out there, may the Orishas keep your voice clear, your heart in happy and your hands dexterous even if frigid water from a river somewhere in Chicago gets poured over them as you prepare Omiero. Ashé Omó Osaín!
Oní Yemayá Achagbá