The Orisa Of The River
I am too embarrassed. I like to consider myself a conscious student of Ifa. I like to consider myself in tuned with nature and less likely to take nature for granted. I have been watching the happenings of flooding along the Mississippi river practically right in the back of my own neighborhood. The level of the river water has risen significantly. I have seen the Mississippi flood, but I cannot remember the last time I have seen the river so swollen.
Last night I drove across the big 270 highway bridge just north of St. Louis, Missouri to check up on some property I have in a storage locker just across the river. The river looked like a lake. The little road that runs along the river on the Missouri side was a lot closer to the water than it should be. As I drove into Illinois there were soggy puddles of standing water in the fields just on the other side of the river levee. I marveled at all the water. The Chain of Rocks canal that runs parallel to the larger river is no longer visibly separate from the river adding to the lake affect. It was another impressive manifestation of nature.
My property was safe by the way. Now that the family has a minivan, I parked my blue 1992 Honda Accord wagon in covered storage with some other items that are hard to keep when a family is trying to stay in a large one bedroom apartment. In order to keep the car in good shape, I start her up once a week and let her run for a few minutes. The river will crest in the next day or so and it looks like the levees will hold easily. I was prepared to move my things. I was even prepared to lose a few items. But it looks like the wagon and the other items will be safe.
However, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that had not acknowledged the Orisa Osun at anytime during this ordeal. When I saw the storms traveling through the upper Midwest, my mind automatically went to the Orisas Oya, Yemonja, and Sango. I saw the winds blow and the tornadoes spin and I would give praise to Oya! I saw the rain fall and I would give praise to Yemonja! I saw the lightening strikes and I would praise Sango! I saw the rivers swell and I said wow. I have been severely lacking in my appreciation of Osun. I would like to take a second and correct that mistake.
Osun, the Orisa of the river, plays a seriously important role for humanity. The river has done so much for humanity. We have used for travel. We use it as a source of drinking water. We have disrespectfully used the river as an open toilet for our waste products. The river water has quenched the thirst of our crops. We have used the power of the river to light our houses. Man is so smug to think that we can build river damns strong enough to hold the river at bay. We think we can build levees that will keep the river confined to a small channel of water that is guaranteed to hold the water for five hundred years!
The river must be the Rodney Dangerfield of nature. It gets no respect.
Orisa are interdependent. In nature, it is rare for one Orisa to manifest change alone. They work together. Oya, Yemonja, and Sango have created conditions that have made the normally docile Osun an assertive, uncooperative, force of water, one of the most forceful elements of nature. While high velocity winds, raging fires, and movements of earth are destructive forces in their own right, the river Orisa can effectively turn our world upside down with a burst through a barrier with so much energy that a wall of water will destroy anything in its path for miles and disappear as quickly as she came. Or, Osun can creep quietly and glide slowly but relentlessly, without exhaustion, until she has literally consumed our entire world. She will stay for days, and then quietly slink away just as slowly, leaving considerable damage in her wake to everything made by the hand of humans.
As humans we have done a lot to try and redefine the relationship between the land and the river. The natural occasion of water exceeding the river banks was part of nature’s cycle. To live next to the river was to live with the fact that it is only temporary and when the river wanted to exceed the banks it was time for those living next to her to leave. It was natural. Water pouring over the land helped replenish water tables. Even the sediment and sludge that traveled with the water would carry nutrients to help keep land fertile. All of this is nature keeping maintenance of its self.
But we have engineered levees and water management systems that are intended to make the cycle of water exceeding the river banks a once in a five hundred year event. We’ve built concrete canal systems that are intended to keep the rainwater from being absorbed into the soil and instead, moving it back to the river so it can be swept out of our vicinity, back to the river, to be whisked away to some other location. And when nature responds with even greater river swells, man responds with stronger levees, damns, dykes and locks until mutually assured destruction is inevitable. The mutually assured destruction is not shared between humans and the river but among all the people who dare become so comfy that underestimate the danger of the situation we create for ourselves.
If somehow Osun burst through the levee that kept my property across the river safe it would be no one’s fault but my own. I made the choice to put my property within her reach. I know the river is swelling and yet I leave my property there instead of moving it safely out of the way. Just like the river helps to take excesses away from the land it would take my excess stuff away from me.
For now, it looks like Osun will let us keep our excesses. Regardless, she deserves an ebo. Tonight, I plan to go to the grocery store and buy a melon, apples, oranges, and etcetera. I will make a big basket of fruit. I will take it to the old Chain of Rocks Bridge that crosses the Mississippi that is now reserved for pedestrian and bicycle traffic across the river just south of the 270 interstate highway bridge. I’ll go out there to the middle of the river and toss the fruit in. I’ll watch the water rage below me. I’ll feel my heart pound in my chest with adrenaline as common sense heightened by a sense of self preservation tries to convince me not to take such an unnecessary risk with the river so swollen. Hopefully, the experience will instill with me such respect for the river that I will never take Osun for granted again.