[Pictured above: A dry riverbed in Oregon, California, taken on July 19, 2016. It is the home of Oshún Ibú Oddoi]
Certain roads of Oshún fascinate me; they always have, and they always will. They can be dark, mysterious. They can take on the attributes of their spouses, and at times I wonder what male orisha was not romantically involved with her as the ages passed. There are many roads I think about each time I go to the river, each with their own special ashé. Some consider them rare because they rarely open on the heads of initiates, while some are considered descriptions of spiritual forces related to Oshun. But none of them are rare; they exist in nature everywhere, and none of them are just "spiritual forces;" instead, they are all part of the mystery that is Oshún . They are all her, but each is distinct, separate, an invulnerable, invincible force in nature. By understanding them, we understand more about the orisha Oshún and her place in this world.
Oshún Ibú Oddonki: Every river has a beginning, a place giving it birth. There are some that begin in the tallest of mountains or the fattest of hills; these are born of the melting snow, or sometimes rain. They form rills, and then gullies, and eventually they become the powerful streams of water we know as rivers. At lower elevations, natural springs release their underground water, and while a spring is a river beneath the earth, it emerges from darkness and travels towards the sea. As it moves to lower elevations, it becomes fatter, deeper, and stronger. A lake can birth a river, such as the Nile’s source, Lake Victoria in Burundi. In bogs, places where water can’t sink into the earth because it is too wet, water moves to lower elevations, coming together in a river that perhaps meanders, or speeds, towards the sea. Every origin is unique, but as the river takes shape it sheds the qualities of its natural parent and becomes a powerful, unstoppable, ever moving stream, always winding its way from higher elevations to the sea. While the sources vary, however, one camino of Oshún is found pulling on the fresh water, giving it shape, and form, and force as it begins a its long journey, Oshún Ibú Oddonki. Her name means, “she who lives where the current begins.” But that is not where her home ends. Just like the water cannot help but gather to itself, gaining speed and gaining force as it flows to a lower elevation, she, too, travels with it until the force is enough to sustain itself. Oddonki is swept by her own current, flowing with it to a place where it becomes thick, swollen, churning with mud. As it slows from the weight, Oddonki’s ashé fades so other roads of Oshún can command the channel.
Oshún Ibú Aremú Kondiamo: In the mountains, everything belongs to and is influenced by Obatalá. Even the river, Oshún’s domain, can’t help but acquire his traits when its source is the snow melt from Obatalá’s highest peak. While we do find Oshún Ibú Oddonki as the source of all rivers in the mountain, the mountain river itself belongs to this Oshún, Aremú Kondiamo. Her nature is like that of Obatalá, to the point that she is said to be the Obatalá of the river. This camino knows the ewe growing on the mountain; she can use them to hex or to heal. Unlike the other Oshún, she dresses in white much like a iyawó. Her child anoints her sacred stones with cocoa butter and efun, just as if she was a camino of Obatalá; but her sopera takes water, enough to cover all her stones and tools. She is tied in with Orúnmila’s ashé; and they are important to each other. This is reflected in her eleke pattern: it is made of mother of pearl, coral, white, and five spans of yellow and green beads.
To my knowledge, Aremú Kondiamo was not romantically involved with Orúnmila; instead, they share adventures on behalf of Obatalá, legends recorded in the odu Unle Okana and Unle Ofún. In both odu are stories about elephants; Unle Okana is the most well known. When Obatalá’s elephant ran away, Aremú Kondiamo accompanied Orúnmila on the search. It refused to come back and tried to attack, and Orúnmila killed it. Although he was able to kill it, he was unable to clean, cut, and quarter it; Aremú, however, was a skilled butcher. Once cleaned and quartered, they carried the meat and tusks back to Obatalá. In an earlier patakí told in Unle Okana, Obatalá had established ownership over the elephant and its ivory. A similar story is told in Unle Ofún; however, when the elephant ran it took items belonging to Obatalá, things it believed were magical and had ashé. And, again, Aremú and Orúnmila tracked it and killed it. This is her association with Orúnmila; she completes jobs he knows not how to do. And it is for this reason she is given the honor to sit on a table of Ifá.
Oshún Ibú Oddoi: Fresh water is not an infinite resource; it might seem vast and limitless, but only a small fraction of the world’s water is potable. If more runs to the sea than is replaced by other sources, eventually the river slows, and then shallows out. In time all the water can run back to Olokun, leaving only a dry bed of rocks and cracked earth. When this happens, the spirituality of Oshún Ibú Oddoi emerges from the dryness; she sits among the rocks and the cracked earth, sunning herself in the dry bed. Simply, she is the river without water; she is drought; she is the Oshún who thrives on the parched earth. The Arara brought her knowledge to us; to them she was known as Fosupo. We know her as a sorceress, a witch, a woman who draws strength from the harshness and dryness of the earth. She is known by many as the wicked side of Oshún.
Oshún Ibú Oroyobi: She is another camino I meditate on when I go to the river. The odu Okana Oché (1-5) tells her story. She was alone, poor, with nothing to call her own, and she followed the river as it poured out into the sea. Oroyobi wanted to throw herself from a cliff and crash into the rocks below. She knew she was an orisha, but she didn’t know if she was immortal; she wanted to test that. Olokun felt her sorrow, her pain, and he rose up from the sea to give her ownership of all the cowries filled with sand. “And what am I to do with these?” she asked. He told her to pour the sand from the cowries onto the riverbanks; and everywhere the sand fell, she would have a place to rest and call her own. Oroyobi did this, not realizing that cowries were the medium of exchange and commerce in the mortal world. She spent years lining the rivers with sand from those cowries, and when she was done she had so much wealth she lacked for nothing. Wherever there is sand beside the river, we know Oroyobi has walked, but we do not know if she is there now. Probably she is not, for she still wanders upstream by the riverbanks, pouring sand from those cowries and adding to her wealth.
Oshún Ibú Iñani: While Oshún Ibú Oroyobi created the sandy banks, making herself a rich woman, another camino of Oshún lives on the sand at the river’s edge, enjoying the water at her feet, the breeze in her hair, and the sun on her face: Oshún Ibú Iñani. She cools herself with a bronze fan lined with jingle bells, and prefers the sound of those to the harsh sound of the larger brass bell. Because all roads of Oshún must sometimes pass by a sandy bank, many leave their offerings for that camino o Iñani’s sandy bank, hoping that she will hand off the ebó when their camino comes by.