Understanding Orisha Through Kinetics

Yemaya dancers

There are different levels of understanding of Orisha. For the initiate, there are complex levels of understanding of his or her own tutelar orisha that are acquired over the years, and even then, this profound understanding is influenced both by internal forces and external circumnstances. One of the ways in which this understanding can be observed is through kinectics and dance aesthetics, in particular through the interaction of dancer, sacred music and attendees.

Caviat, I am no expert dancer. My godfather would readily agree that I indeed have two left feet when it comes to dancing for the Orisha. But the skill of the dancer is one of many elements to be taken into account when talking about the levels of understanding of Orisha through sacred music and dance, for Orisha can simply take over the body of a dancer and transform it in an instant, from uncoordinated (such as my lovely dance steps), to fluent and gracious. Once the motion start in front of the drums, anything can happen.

Take for example the steps of the dance for Yemayá, my tutelar Orisha. Her motions are regal, fluid, the hands of the dancer imitates the motion of the waves and the ocean. The dancer sometimes even makes gestures that suggest extracting water out of the sea, perhaps to cleanse the way of Yemayá’s children. All of these things are easy to observe, what goes beyond as trance unchains is another thing altogether different. Many dancers report a sense of dissorientation, spacial perception changes and perspective seems to be off. The body begins to take over and the dancer is no longer in control of the dance, the dancer starts to integrate its essense to the collective drum/heartbeat of the group, of the Orisha that approaches. Then, in a flash, the dancer is gone, lost to the world, in a primal place beyond words. The orisha has arrived and the movements become precise, otherwordly, in perfect tune with every beat of the drums.

No, I have never been there as a horse-a person that gets mounted by the orisha . How can I described the internal mechanisms of this trancepossession? Because when we cross the threshold to Igbodu (the room of consecration) there is a gnosis that is infused, I dare say, at a molecular level, during the process of kariosha (crowning or seating of the orisha in one’s head). Those who are in tune with the processes and with their own bodies, those who seek understanding beyond the meneal aspects of servitude to the Orishas know just what I am saying. The knowledge of the Orisha is contained, sealed withing the head of the priest/ess. It is up to that initiate to unlock it. Thus, being not a horse, I believe I can merge with the horse from my point of view, even if my steps are not in time with the rythm the dancer keeps.

However, the understanding of Orisha through kinetics is not limited to the act of dancing, for Orisha and mount may walk about freely during a Wemilere (party for orisha). Mother meets child. Yemayá approaches the crowd looking for one of her children. The mount may have never encountered this particular child ever before, but Yemayá certainly knows the initiate’s name, and she may call out for the person, or simply go to find him/her in the crowd. They meet and another dialogue without words takes place. Once again, motion speaks louder than words, lets say Yemayá found an Oní Yemayá (Priest of Yemayá). The initiate drops to the ground and salutes, left hip touching the ground and the elbow supporting the upper body on the floor, then in one fluid motion the initiate switches and assumes the same posture but resting on the right side of the body. Yemayá pauses, observes and then touches the shoulders of the initiate, a command is given “Didé” (rise). This interaction has a meaning that goes beyond the act of saluting the orisha. The orisha itself replenishes the priest or priestess who prostrated on the ground. When Yemayá lifts the priest, she removes from him the weight of worldly burdens and instils her blessings, and for that instance balance is achieved between Orisha and initiate.

Other motions could be analized on the same manner, each particular to the Orisha that manifests in a particular wemilere, and I would gladly go on and on breaking down each gesture I have observed Yemayá made in countless parties, however for the purposes of this short post, it is plenty to leave you with a thought: When dealing with divinity, look beyond the mundane. Leave behind your physical eyes and observe the understanding of Yemayá at a deeper level. Through kinetics and aesthetics we gain a deeper level of communion with orisha.

Oní Yemayá Achagbá

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