This text is an excerpt taken from a booklet entitled „The timeless mind of the Sacred“ published by the University of Ibadan in 1977. It was written by Adunni Olorisha Susanne Wenger. It describes the myth of the foundation of the city of Oshogbo and how the Yorùbá people encountered Orisha Oshun at the banks of her river for the first time. It gives a deep insight on the spiritual world and is a traditional story as told in Yoruba-land, from the view of the artist. Susanne Wenger and the artists of the "New Sacred Arts" movement were responsible for saving and revitalizing the Sacred Groves of Oshun, now UNESCO world heritage site and known for the annual festival attracting thousands of pilgrims from all over the world. The Yorùbá tonemarks are transcribed as in the original copy of the booklet.
Oṣogbo, the Town a Living Myth
By Susanne Wenger
Oṣogbo tradition has it, that this town is metaphysically mothered by Ọ̀ṣun, the Yoruba goddess of The Waters of Life, who manifests herself to the Yoruba as the river Ọ̀ṣun, synonymous to the Scriptures Rivers of the Living Waters. The river bears her name, as a credit to being metaphysically and in metaintelligence first grade kindred to the goddess. When the Fulani tried to extend their unbroken chain of successful conquest all on their way to the ocean’s beaches, it was Ọ̀ṣun, who held them up. Clad in her metaphysical-anthropomorphic charms, she got the better of them with a deadly trick. She sold vegetables to them, which loosened their bowels and so their energies. That Ibadan soldiery performed the defeat physically, does not contradict the fact that they did it in Oṣogbo.
Oṣogbo is a highly successful market town. She has the reputation of being a woman, for her warmhearted hospitality to all travelers. She is a substantial market-woman and a substantial witch. A witch which is not necessarily a perverted monster, eating her own children and others, a witch can also be a female with imperative-operative magic properties. And as gods are-however intensely female like Ọ̀ṣun- synoecius in their nature, it is this her magic impetus, which gives the name to her favourite daughter, Oṣogbo, the name, oṣó wizard, of the groves, igbó. It is her metaphysical impact on this town and all born there (and anywhere) by the metaphysical-physical synonomy of fecundity, which is the eriterion of this goddess’s sacred dynamism, which caracterizes her children, who are her devotees.
Not only is every citizen in Oṣogbo aware of this, his metaphysical kindred into the world beyond and above physical life through Ọ̀ṣun, one is also aware of this town’s physical-metaphysical dual status through the strange fact that this vitally living and trading mass of physical involvements is a shadow only of ist metaphysical proto-self in the groves of Ìpólé.
Chieftaincy disputes divided the royal house in Ìbòkun. The crown’s innate magic potency was parthogenetically divided with the help of appropriate ritual, usually done when there is a profusion of strength in several people eligible to the throne. The progenitor of the future new branch chose the side of the later Ìpólé, guided by reactions and deflections of sacred medicine towards mystically kindred accummulations in the soil. But as the settlement grew under the powerful shadow of its Baálẹ̀ Ọwátẹ̀, the old trouble, clash of profuse energy arrised again between his offspring and his own into immortality extended personality. This was augmented by lack of water in that area. The crown divided again. While those in charge of the now here potent ritual instances were bound there, others were eager to migrate again.
Willing to stay was Ọwátẹ̀, the powerful priest of Ifá and Baálẹ̀ of the place. Willing to migrate was his son Lárọ̀ and his entourage. But Ọwátẹ̀’s eldest son, and crown prince Tìmẹyìn was a restless adventurer and a mighty hunter not willing to settle, neither here nor there. But nevertheless concerned about the future of his town, whose heir was without free choice, he promised, setting out on one more hunting expedition to look for a site favourable in magic-mystic respects as well as rich in water, for a settlement, on which he would install Lárọ̀ to rule, as Lárọ̀ was a highly gifted man indeed.
Travelling and hunting in the unbroken forests, not climbing down sometimes for months from the heights and crowns of the giant trees which grow into each other with entwined arms, so avoiding the chaotic denseness of undergrowth and creepers, burdened with charms and filled with supernatural desires, Tìmẹyìn came to the spot of Ọ̀kánlà, a small but never desiccating spring, inspired by the genius of that sacred source. He spotted an elephant and a shot, so rashly and unknowingly violating taboo, since that elephant was a female giving birth. Only this man’s supernatural powerful disposition could set free himself from the grip of apocalyptic disaster. But Tìmẹyìn’s impetuous exhortation and conjuring forced the axiom course of the instant violation of taboo, and forged the supernatural impact into sacred dynamicism. The surviving baby elephant was tethered and attended to with ritual-as it was now one Oriṣa- on Tìmẹyìn’s behalf there were now the shrine for Ògún Tìmẹyìn is in the King’s Market of Oṣogbo.
Tìmẹyìn himself proceeded on, hunting and dreaming of unforseen encounters which he intended to right. In the groves of Awowò, he surprised a group of the god Ọ̀sanyìn’s entourage, 16 genii, conferring with each other on the energies and properties of herbs, floral energy’s synonymy in this and the other world, whose god Ọ̀sanyìn is. As Ọ̀sanyìn is closest helper of Ifá, the oracle whose outstanding priest Tìmẹyìn’s father was, he could break into the circle, so entering initiation into divine status. It is this event and these genii’ “third eyes”, shinning in transcendent flames, which is commemorated in the wake, which initiates the yearly Ọ̀ṣun-celebration, with the 16 oil lamps on Ọ̀sanyìn’s sacred ọ̀pá osoòrò.
He then reached the place called Ọja, “the market”, flat rocks on the height of Òntótó. This was and is a market, (place of trading as well as of ritual or ceremonial gatherings) for prehuman-primordials, mystical matters on the level of physical-evolute para-organic presences, unperceivable by uninitiated senses. There he first heard the sound of the river, which noisily jumps over plump, dark boulders there, where the sacred ponds Láoọkọ̀n and Iwẹ̀dá are providing for their type of Ọ̀ṣun devotees. But echo guided him to that side, which we know as Ojubọ Oṣogbo, the place which is the residence of the goddess herself.
Pursuing an antelope he, the unfailing hunter was to his maddening disappointment, cheated of the bliss of the kill, as the deer vanished inside the body of one mighty tree on the pond’s bank. He would not suffer the loss ans set-unheard of sacrilege-fire to the tree, which burned wildly, till it fell, with a tremendous splash, into the pond. To his bewildered surprise Ọ̀ṣun appeared greatly annoyed, abusing him, as only she knows to do, blaming him for breaking her pots, as the pond is her Idi aro, Indigo-dyeing place. From all the other ponds he heard the voices of her wives sympathizing with her.
The encounter however took a turn to the better, when Ọ̀ṣun saw the man himself, but only after a stormy scene about his attacks on the inhabitants of her sanctuary. But the encounter between Ọ̀ṣun and Tìmẹyìn was an intense one to the point of catapulting him, who was mystically prepared by the genii of Ọ̀sanyìn, into divine status. He is to Òṣogbo since then Ògún Tìmẹyìn, Òṣogbo’s romantic aspect of the god Ògún.
Before his departue, he got Ọ̀ṣun’s promise to welcome his brother, Lárọ̀ and his entourage, which he intended to direct towards settlement on the banks of the sacred river. He would install him there as the Baálẹ̀, with a crown, which Ọ̀ṣun herself would place on his head. He, Tìmẹyìn the classical mystical adventurer, would never give up his restless movements.
Tìmẹyìn, Lárọ̀, Ògìdán and Ṣogbó, all integrates of sacred symbolism and mythic men, arrived. Ọ̀ṣun welcomed them affectionately; Lárọ̀ especially was a delight to her. It is Lárọ̀ who till now is the immortal ruler of the town which was founded later. He lives on in the person of the Atáọ́ja, the town’s king, who through certain rituals during the installation assumes the immortal, through Ọ̀ṣun’s love immortalised identity of Lárọ̀. During his term of reign, an Atáọ́ja is a living vessel for Lárọ̀’s life, of which service he is relieved only - again ritually - after his death, so as to return into his own derivation of rebirths. Ọ̀ṣun also helped Lárọ̀, who till then had no offspring, into great fecundity, making him initially adopt one of her own children, a fish. The reunion with this fish is ritually repeated annually, when the Atáọ́ja has, during the great festival, to put his hand into the river, which will hold a fish.
The sacred virgin, who has to carry Ọ̀ṣun’s paraphernalia to the river during the annual procession, so as to renew the pact on behalf of all children of Ọ̀ṣun with her sacred river and giving it the property to confer with them on her behalf, has to be a daughter of Lárọ̀. She is chosen by Ọ̀ṣun, who will proclaim her choice to her priests on a certain day of the ritual year. She may be “Arugbá”, carrier of the sacred calabash, for several years, till she is grown up and she will carry the Igbá the last time when she will proceed from the river, on the day of procession, to her husband’s house.
Susanne Wenger Àdunni Oloriṣa: The timeless mind of the Sacred. Its New Manifestations in the Ọ̀ṣun Groves. Institute of African Studies, University of Ibadan, Ibadan, 1977, p. 20-22