The Language of Cowrie-Shells…
Cowrie-Shells Divination refers to several distinct forms of divination using Cowrie-Shells that are part of the rituals and religious beliefs of certain religions. Though best-documented in West Africa as well as in Afro-American religions, such as Santería, Candomblé, and Umbanda Cowrie-Shell Divination has also been recorded in other regions, notably East Africa and India etc..
In Santería: The Cowrie-Shells, called Dilogun, are used by Priests and Priestesses of Santería, who are called Santeros and Santeras, respectively. Both men and women who have been initiated into Santería can read Cowrie-Shells.
In Candomblé: The Cowrie-Shell, as collected from a beach, has a flattened side with a longitudinal slit, and a smooth, rounded side. Like a coin, the shell has only two stable positions on a flat surface, with the slit side facing either up or down. Most priests, however, use modified shells whose rounded part has been ground away, creating a second, artificial opening. The two stable positions of the shell are still called “open” or “closed” for divination purposes.
In representing Orisha (16 Cowries) with the choice between two alternatives, a small Vertebra (bone) is often used to symbolize bad and a pair of Cowries tied back to back to symbolize good. Any two objects can be used, but the bone is associated with death while cowries were formerly used as money. It is for this reason that the alternatives are spoken of as Ibo, meaning “covered” or “concealed.” Five kinds of good fortune (Ire – well being) and five kinds of bad fortune (Ibi – misfortune) that are to be met in the world.
Good Fortune: Longevity – Wealth – Marriage – Children – Victory
Bad Fortune: Death- Illness – Fight – Lack of money – Loss
The art of divination can only be satisfied, if and when all relevant questions are dealt with seeking appropriate answers. No one divination system is capable of giving the total and complete answer and each divination system has its peculiar specialty. For example, the Obi that is a compulsory accompanist of most sacrifice and ritual serves its purpose properly when during and after the preparation of the sacrifice, it is constantly being asked to indicate if the procedure being followed is proper, and later, to check if the sacrifice is completed and where the sacrifice has to be taken to in order for the Deity-Orisha to accept it.
The position of the Erindilogun is total, but not all comprehensive. Its main attribute lies in its ability to respond very accurately to the larger questions and to satisfy the purpose of putting light where darkness clouds the way. No divination is complete without following the process or meeting the obligation that the Odu of Ifa impose to satisfy the efficacy of the divination, which is the sacrifice that is stipulated for most of the divination.
Sacrifices (Ebo) are standard for most of the divination. Cases might arise that these sacrifice might neither be necessary nor adequate. It is the diviner who has the last judgment when it comes to that.
Oshun is the only daughter of Yemoja. Yemoja was not granted a child for the many years of the her life. So she went to seek the assistance of the Orisha who demanded sacrifice from her and told her to fill the house with water after the sacrifice. Soon she became pregnant. Just when it was clear for her to bring forth her child, the rain started to pour down for many days only to stop on the morning that she gave birth to her child, Yemoja took the child to the back of the house to bath her in the pond. But to everyone’s surprise the water of the pond started to move and then started to flow and they all shouted O-sun, -it moved, O-sun-you moved it. It was this power of the gods that was inherent in Oshun from her birth that made Orunmila to direct the Awo-Merin to initiate Oshun as one of them so that all the hindrance that is holding them back could be overcome. The Awo-Merin are the diviner of the world.
Oshun later became Orunmila wife. Orunmila the master diviner also known as Ifa was always going from his home on very long trips in the course of his job. There came a time when famine attacked the land when Orunmila was away. The rivers were drying up, the greens were no more, the animals and the birds were dying of thirst and the Humans found life too uncomfortable. Everyone was calling at the home of Orunmila to find out what had to be done, only to meet his absence. In the end most thought it fit to sit and wait for Orunmila return, and so Orunmila home was jammed and almost filled to capacity.
It was under this desperation that Oshun found her way to the back of the house and picked sixteen of the cowries which were then being used as money paid to Orunmila. Oshun consecrated the cowries and then cast them in the name of Ifa. For the birds who were the first to come, Oshun directed them towards the east where she told them that they will find the rains and the green. For the animals that came after the birds, she also directed them to the east. So the animals went in pursuit of the birds. When the Human heard the rush they came to be cast, Oshun pointed towards the east and directed them there.
No sooner than the human left Orunmila house the master came. He asked for the reason for all the commotion and mass movements. He was informed about Oshun divination for the birds, the animals and the humans. “What direction did they go?” Orunmila asked, “to the east” Oshun said, “call them back” Orunmila directed, “or else the land will be left with nothing after they all kill each other off.
The order of seniority of Odu is essential in determining the orientation of the Odu.
1. Eji Ogbe 8 cowries = 2. Ofun 10 cowries = 3. Irosun 4 cowries = 4. Ogunda 3 cowries = 5. Eji Oko 2 cowries = 6. Okanran 1 cowry = 7. Ejila Sebora 12 cowries = 8. Owonrin 11 cowries = 9. Osa 9 cowries = 10. Odi 7 cowries = 11. Obara 6 cowries = 12. Ose 5 cowries = 13. Ika 13 cowries
***14. Oturopon 14 cowries 15. Ofun Kanran 15 cowries 16. Irete 16 cowries
Okanran = Loss, struggle, need for persistence. Eji Oko = Ancestors, strife among two. Ogunda = Honesty, hard work, quarrels. Irosun = Ancestral lineage, charity. Ose = Sweetness, abundance. Obara = Monetary gain. Odi = Completion, reaping what was sown. Eji Ogbe = Long life, abundant blessings. Osa = Radical changes. Ofun = Spiritual windfall – can sometimes mean an ending. Owonrin = Leaving behind the past. Ejila Sebora = Loss, gossip, capriciousness. Ika = Sickness, change. Oturupon = Courage, humility. Ofun Kanran = Peace, knowledge through study. Irete = Oppression, pressure.
“Henceforth your divination will only be about 90% accurate. Also you are permitted to borrow only twelve (12) of my sixteen (16) odus for your divination and it is the combination of three (3) casting of the Erindilogun that will be able to give you correct answers to inquiries.” (Ose-Otura)
The Diviner: While the majority of the diviners of the Erindilogun are women, the consecration of the Erindilogun is only done by men, because of the process which involves Odu-Ifa which women are not permitted to cast. Also the process of preparation before casting the Erindilogun is only open to the diviner after Oshun has granted her permission, which is sought in conjunction with any other Orisha that the diviner might be giving attention or using his home.
The Erindilogun can only be cast from dawn to just little after dusk, because it is believed that after sunset Oshun leaves the Erindilogun for her husband’s home and will not return until the early hours of the following morning.
Orisha-Oshun color is white and so Dilogun diviners customarily are dressed in white apparels, while a white piece of cloth is spread on the ground upon which the casting is done or sometimes the Erindilogun is cast in a plate, a raffia tray placed upon the white piece of cloth. While the average diviner would wish to display his or her versatility in eloquently reciting the numerous verses of the Odu as they appear on the tray, the healer is preoccupied with resolving problems and getting curses.
The healer as the active end of the process is the one saddled with the responsibility of validating the divination, but also choosing the ways and manner in which the problems identified are remedied. It is he who not only prescribe the remedy but also states the process through which remedy will become effective. If the remedy involve an sacrifice it is the Healer who will also do whatever the sacrifice entails on behalf of the client.
***It must be stated that jewelries, finger rings and any metallic object are not worn on the body of the diviner of the Erindilogun, because of the belief that such metallic materials coming in contact with the Erindilogun could interfere with the proper functioning of the Erindilogun.
The Erindilogun is an Orisha (Oshun) and so it is also worshiped like all other Orisha. Most diviners would worship their Dilogun on the eighth day. When the Erindilogun is being worshiped, it is placed on the white piece of cloth and showered with cool water. A five carpel Kola nut is placed on her. The diviner then state his request and chant her Oriki. Then he bends forward and touches the Erindilogun with his forehead, thanks the Orisha for granting his request.
He then picks up the kola nut and breaks it. He subtracts the Olufuwa (the double female piece) places it by the side and then removes Kekere obi (little chips of Kola nut) pinched off from the middle lining of each of the four remaining kola nuts. These minute chips are placed on the Erindilogun.The four Kola nut pieces are now cast for the Eindilogun to ask her well-being and other related questions about her needs and state of readiness. It is with this Kola nut that whatever is due for her could be found out. It is not uncommon for the Erindilogun to sometimes make demands from the diviner himself, sometimes during the process of divining for a client. This is indicated by the Odu that is cast on the divining tray. Any good diviner of the Erindilogun gets direct communication from the Erindilogun each time he cast the Erindilogun, and so will have no difficulty in prescribing the sacrifice or remedy.
The Cowrie-Shell = For the Dilogun the type of Cowrie-Shell known as the Owo-Ero, (peace money) is what is consecrated, before it could be used. The Owo-Ero has a broken back while the front tooth like portion must be very complete in form. The Owo-Ero is also usually smaller in size, than the average Cowrie-Shell.
The Cowrie-Shell called Owo-Eyo is usually not as strong as the Owo-Ero that is used for divination. Selection of the Owo-Ero to be used for divination, is usually limited to the middle aged and young Owo-Ero because of the belief that the young Owo-Ero is relatively innocent and will speak the truth more often than the older one.
The Erindilogun also communicates with her diviner sometime through dreams and on some occasions through trances in visionary forms. The Erindilogun is usually referred to as the Orisha by her diviners and clients alike.
Reference Sources: Ifadoyan Sangomuyiwa = Awo Falokun Fatunmbi = Babalawo Obanifa = Adiguna Awoyemi =