Yoruba Spirituality & Earth Consciousness
Orúnmìlà fehinti o wo titi,
Orúnmìlà learned back, gazing contemplatively
Oni, “Eyin ero okun,
He said, You travelers to the sea,
Eyin ero osa
You travelers to the lagoon,
Eyin o mo pe, ise Òlódùmarè tobi
Don’t you perceive that the works of God are marvelous?
In the Yorùbá tradition, worshippers demonstrate our love for the Creator by caring for Creation. For us, nature is sacred. Furthermore, Creation is made sacred by the òrìsà, who are the indwelling spirits of nature. We come to better understand the òrìsà and our relationship to them as we learn to perceive the subtleties of the natural world. In fact, one of the most significant pathways to unification with the òrìsà is through the environment; through the soil, through swamps, through rivers, through trees, through birds and snakes. In fact, the significance of nature to Yorùbá tradition cannot be overstated. All of the òrìsà, without exception, are associated with natural phenomena. Even the universe is perceived as a spherical gourd, equally divided and held together by a rainbow boa: Igbá nlá méjì, àdé ìsí; aiyé áti sánmà (A mighty calabash of two hemispheres; earth and sky). This imagery symbolizes Olodumare, whose name means “the owner of the source of creation, who is the child of the rainbow serpent”. Beyond that, the image denotes the mystic union between the Creator and His creation.
Likewise, the word okun in Yorùbá means “sea”, but the goddess of the sea is called Olókun (the owner or lord of the sea). Similarly, osa is the lagoon. The divinity that dwells there is called Olósa. And so it is that each of the òrìsà is synonymous with a particular aspect of the natural environment. Yorùbá tradition strongly supports the concept of nature as sanctuary. “This is the main reason why, in theory and in practice of Yorùbá living, all creatures must be treated with respect and reverence. In a typical Yorùbá setting, you may not just dig the ground for any purpose without due permission from the soil or the earth goddess. This is in the belief that the soil possesses life of its own. Rivers, streams, even rain water are treated with some level of respect. Indeed, it will not be an exaggeration to say that Yorùbá religion has always been a highly environmentally respectful religion. Adherents of Yorùbá religion are regularly involved in reforestation and preservation schemes, and their shrines are protectors of nature…” The environment is sacred.
Consider, for example, your own experience of having spent even a little time in nature; walking on the beach, hiking in the mountains, canoeing down the river or even playing with the children in the park. These experiences, more than anything else, demonstrate the healing effects of nature. This is because nature is a pure expression of God’s awesome character and we are all part of nature. The outdoors reconnects us to that fundamental truth.
Children are especially attuned to the wonders of nature. When we properly allow them to experience natural events, like the smell of field of flowers, or a river flowing through the forest floor, or the view of a green valley from a mountain top, the child’s innate sense of amazement is quickly awakened. When I was running Camp Ìwàléwà, an Oakland-based arts & outdoors summer experience for 4-12 year old children, I was blessed to have the children teach me how to experience and learn from Mother Nature. When I founded the camp, I had elaborate visions of children learning the details of Bay Area flora and fauna in tandem with their folkloric identities, as described in animal tales, story songs and indigenous arts & crafts. These elaborate visions were matched by equally elaborate lesson plans and activities. When I presented them to the children, the response was conclusive: BORING!!! They tolerated my workbooks and sketch pads and microscopes for about an hour, then the call of the wild would overwhelm them and off they would run, in all directions, never even looking back to glance at poor old Baba.
I admit, my feelings were hurt. My teacher pride was wounded. Fortuntely, the gods put a random magazine in my hands. In it, I found an interview with Tom Brown, the tracker. I learned how small and insignificant lesson plans are, in comparison to Mother Nature herself. “Why do we need notebooks when we have this FANTASTIC living encyclopedia all around us?” I started to observe my students more closely, differently. I watched which trees they gravitated to, who picked up sticks and what they did with them; first a light sabre, then a spear, finally stacked with 50 others to make a house… I began to see how effortlessly the children channel the consciousness of the divinities. I learned to see the natural rythm and flow of the day and reformed my teachings to match the predominant energies at different times of the day. The result still fills my heart with intense joy: AWESOME!!! The children absolutely loved it. At Camp Ìwàléwà we learned to ride the wave of curiosity to heightened self awareness. Make no mistake about it: this exact same sense of wonder leads people of all ages to heightened spiritual consciousness and purification. We only need to make space for it.