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Seven African Powers

To: alt.magick.tyagi,alt.lucky.w
From: (catherine yronwode)
Subject: Seven African Powers
Date: 26 Jan 1999 12:40:19 -0800

LMEA (crossposted also)

> (Blair Whitmer) wrote:

> > wrote:

> > > wrote:

> > > > The Seven African Powers whos names are;
> > > > Chango,Ochun,Orula,Yemaya,Ogun,Obatala
> > > > and Elegua have much power and if worshiped
> > > > can help in any situation.

> > > Hi. How do you worship them properly? And, how do you
> > > pronounce these names? Thanks.

> > Well, I can at least address the question of pronounciation.
> >   
> > Lucumi, which is (as I understand it) a Spanish-ised version of 
> > Yoruba (the language of the Yoruban people in Africa where Orisha 
> > worship originated), uses Latin vowels. In other words, the vowels 
> > are pronounced the same as in Spanish and other romance languages. 
> >  
> > (i) is "ee" as in the Spanish "si", 
> > (e) is "eh" as in the better, 
> > (a) is "ah" as in father, 
> > (o) is "oh" as in Ohio,
> > (u) is "oo" as in super, 
> > (ua) combines "oo" and "ah" into a "wah", 
> > (ay) in Yemaya is tricky to describe, and easy to say.  The (y)  
> > modifies the (a) before it into an "ai" sound, like the (i) in 
> > "might", but then you also say the (ya) after it..."yem-ai-yah" 
> > with the accent on the last syllable.
> >
> > I've heard multiple pronounciations of Elegua. Of the three 
> > syllables, sometimes the accent is on the second which "softens" 
> > the hard (g) into a swallowed "gwa" sound.  When the accent is on 
> > the last syllable, the hard (g) is more pronounced.
> >
> > The rest of them are pretty simple..just a question of where the 
> > emphases are.  Chango, Ochun, Yemaya, Ogun, and Obatala all have 
> > the accent on the last syllable. Orula is accented on the second 
> > syllable.  Another note...the (ch) is either pronounced hard, as in 
> > "change", or it softens into an "sh" sound.
> >
> > Now, in regards to worship.  That's not so easily answered.  I 
> > should start off by saying that the phrase "The Seven African 
> > Powers" is misleading. These seven deity or "Orisha" are only seven 
> > out of a large pantheon of Orishas.  These are worshipped in 
> > several different religions brought to the New World including 
> > Santeria (in Cuba), Candomble (in Brazil), Arara (in Cuba) as well 
> > as many others.  The phrase "Seven African Powers" is mostly 
> > predominant in Hoodoo, information on which I will refer you to
> > Cat...(if you're reading :).
> > 
> > As a priest in Santeria, I'm biased towards the belief that
> > *proper* worship of Orisha requires the direct input and 
> > guidance of  a priest in the chosen religion.  The same is not 
> > necessarily true  if they are simply being invoked for magical 
> > uses, but that's not  really "worship" least not in MY book.  
> > Personally, I would  advise *extreme* caution in invoking Orisha 
> > for magical uses without the associated religious practice and 
> > guidance from a priest.

Thanks for the pronunciation guide, Blair. 

Now, as to the use of the Seven African Powers in hoodoo magic, i have
some opinions -- not substabntiated by citations from scholarly
materials, but rather the result of my having lived through the times
described and having witnessed these events. My information is not
complete, however, and i welcome any additional comments. 

When i first began studying hoodoo in the mid-1960s, i saw no references
to the Seven African Powers or to any of the Orishas by name. There was
one obvious African cultural remnant of Ellegua / Legba / Nbumba Nzila
worship in the hoodoo "crossroads ritual," but the entity whom the
aspirant met at the crossroads was not said to be an Orisha or Loa or
Nkisi. Rather, he was verbally identified by all the folks i knew, and
in all the 20th century oral histories i later read, with the Teutonic
Devil (not the Judeo-Christian Satan, but rather Der Teufel). I assumed
that this was due to cultural cross-over dating to slavery times, a
substitution of a European wild, tricksterish crossroads god for an
African one of similar nature. 
(More on the crossroads: )
(More on the Devil / Der Teufel: )

It was only in the late 1970s or early 1980s that i first saw the
standard image known as "The Seven African Powers" in a hoodoo supply
store. I think most of you have seen it, but, for the record, a scan and
a brief description can be found at .

The central image of the painting, the crucifixion scene, is often
utilized as a separate image, called Justo Juez or, in English, Just

The introduction of the Seven African Powers and Just Judge images into
North America coincided in time with the arrival of numerous Cuban
refugees. Practitioners of Santeria in its most Roman Catholic form,
these people tended to worship the Orishas in a manner that combined
African and Roman Catholic ritual. Thus, they required holy cards,
novena candles, novena booklets, holy medals, and other Cattholic
accoutrements. The mostly Italian (and occasionally Mexican)
manufacturers of such religious goods complied with this need, despite
the fact that the Papacy has not been friendly to Santeria. 

Every religious article i have seen that bears the Seven African Powers
or Just Judge image is either a full-colour reproduction of the original
painting or a rendering of it into line-art. That is, unlike figures of
Christ or Mary, which come in numerous artistic variations (pale or
dark-skinned; Semitic, Germanic, Slavic, or African; happy, sad, pained,
compassionate, or stern; standing, sitting, floating, or reclining;
alive, dead, transfigured, or ephemeral), there is only ONE complete
Seven African Powers image and only ONE Just Judge detail that is
cropped out of it. This image was painted by someone both artistically
talented and well versed in standard Catholic iconography, for the the
saints depicted as "covers" for the Orishas are hagiographically correct
in all details. 

There is one oddity about the image, however: it is more or less square
in proportion, not a vertical rectangle. Thus it is not easily adaptable
to being printed on a standard Catholic holy card of the kind
mass-produced in Italy, nor will it readily fit on the vertical
rectangular label of a glass-encased novena candle. In order for it to
be utilized on such articles, bordering elements must be added to it at
top and bottom. The Italian holy cards bearing this image that i sell in
my shop have a lovely sepia-charcoal graduated fade at top and bottom to
make up the length of the image; similar cards from Mexico have a garish
flat cyan backround. The Just Judge detail-image can only be roughly
cropped to fit the vertical rectangle of a holy card or novena candle
label; in doing so, part of the picture to each side is lost. The
Italian Just Judge holy cards i sell are cropped in such a way that they
fill the card entirely, but part of the scene is cut away. 

Because the Seven African Powers and Just Judge images do not really fit
the proportions of the articles to which they are applied, i have always
assumed that the original painting was not commissioned by an Italian
holy card manufacturer, but was adapted by them from a specific painting
that had became an object of cult interst in Cuba at an earlier time. . 

Another reason for assuming that the Seven African Powers image was
created outside the ecclesiatical mainstream is Blair's comment above
that the Orishas depicted are not the entire pantheon; they seem to be
simply the artist's favourite seven, or, more likely, those given the
most prominence in his or her house of worship. The image as it stands
gives newcomers to the religion a slightly skewed set of information
about who the Orishas are, as it serves to consolidate the prominence of
those seven deities over the others. It is, in some sense, a hegemonic
statement, albeit doubtless produced with innocent motives. 

Now, even as this Seven African Powers image was meeting general
acceptance in the Cuban Santeria community that resulted in Italian
production of it as a holy card, an entirely unrelated event was
occuring, namely, the immigration of a wave of Santerian Cubans to
America during the late 1970s. Bearing the Seven African Powers image
with them, these folks ran smack into the ongoing African-American
social movement called African Cultural Nationalism. During the late
1970s, the popularity of the book (and later TV mini-series) "Roots,"
combined with the rhetoric of African-American political figures who
promoted "black pride" and "black power" led many people who had
previously looked down on their African ancestry to take up the wearing
of African clothing and adopt African names. Some turned from
Christianity to Islam as a statement of their disaffection with American
values; others investigated African religions. Santeria, despite the
Catholic influences that both adorned and concealed its African
character, met a real need for African-centered religious expression in
the African-American community. Even among those who retained their
Baptist, A.M.E., C.O.G., or Pentacostal Christian religious
affiliations, the Seven Afircan Powers image -- with its entrancing
title "AFRICAN" -- cast a warming glow. 

This cultural mingling was all taking place during a time when
traditional old-style  hoodoo suppliers were slowly going out of
business due to the age of the proprietors and/or were being bought up
by one surviving company, International Imports (a.k.a. Indio Products).
As immigration from Latin Amercia increased, the static or shrinking
African-American hoodoo spiritual supply market sector Indio served was
slowly eclipsed by the newly developing botanica market, and Indio began
to slant its product base toward Spanish-speaking Santeria customers.
The Seven African Powers name and image were applied to many products at
this time, as Indio standardized the former proliferation of hoodoo
supplies into a streamlined and uniform set of hoodoo-cum-Santeria

Since the 1920s, if not earlier, hoodoo conjures and root workers were
used to working with a pan-cultural mixture of imagery in their magical
practices -- including Jewish kabbalism (e.g. "Secrets of the Psalms"),
Japanese Shinto-influenced Buddhism (e.g. "Hotei, The Lucky Buddha"),
German and French invocatory magic (e.g. Albertus Magnus' Egyptian
Secrets" and "The Black Pullet"), Catholic ritualism (e.g. devotionary
candle-burning), Mediterranean folklore (e.g. belief in the Evil Eye),
and alleged Romany divination systems (e.g. "Gypsy Witch Fortune Telling
Cards"). The cross-cultual nature of hoodoo and the "African" name
almost guaranteed that the Seven African Powers image would be readily
integrated into the hoodoo catalogue of efficacious articles. Despite
Protestant Christian unfamiliarity with Catholic saints or Lucumi
Orishas, the central figure of Christ crucified conveyed a powerful and
familiar message to most African-Americans and the word "AFRICAN"
supplied a strong incentive for acceptance. 

Thus, in the early 1980s the Seven African Powers name entered hoodoo as
an all-purpose power-enhancing magical formula, considered to be
equivalent to John the Conqueror or Commanding Power in its presumed
effects, and used in much he same manner -- with the added value of
conveying African Cultural Nationaism or black pride as well. At the
same time, the Just Judge detail-image, due to its evocative name,
became associated with, and began to be used as an equivalent to, the
already extant hoodoo magical formula called Court Case. 

While worship of the Just Judge can be integrated into conventional
Protestant worship of Jesus Christ, worship of the Seven African Powers
is not found in hoodoo, as far as i can tell. Rather, the name and image
are used in magical rites only, for the purpose of enhancing personal

Other Santeria-influenced spiritual supplies bearing the names or
likenesses of Orishas have had less success in penetrating the
Protestant Christian hoodoo market. Chango Macho candles are
occasionally sold to men in hoodoo stores, due to the presence on them
of the familar word "macho," which has entered the English langiuage as
a borrowing from Spanish. They are used much like John the Conqueror
candles, to increase virility. Yemaya and Ellegua candles, on the other
hand, although widely available in American botanicas, do not seem to be
found in many hoodoo supply stores at the present time, except in mixed
Latino and African-American neighborhoods which share a Protestant /
Santeria customer base. 

If anyone has further information on the origin of the Seven African
Powers image -- especially the name of the painter and the date and
place the picture first appeared in print -- i would be very grateful to
hear about it and would update my database accordingly. 

catherine yronwode

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