Babalu Aye

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Babalú Ayé

Babalu Aye (also known as Omoluaye, Asojano, or Shopona) is the orisha who rules over infectious diseases and healing in the pantheon of the Yoruban religion and its diaspora in the Americas. He is one of the most feared and revered orishas because of his power over life and death. Babalu Aye's worship originated with the Fon tribe of Benin, in Western Africa, but his influence was so powerful that tribes up and down the West African coast adopted his worship. He is the patron of those suffering from smallpox, HIV/AIDS, leprosy, and other infectious diseases. Babalu Aye has a special relationship with the orisha Shango because he was the only one who reached out to assist him when he was sick and homeless. Babalu Aye is frequently called upon for help with healing and overcoming these plagues.

In the Americas, Babalu Aye is typically depicted as a leper or an old man covered in small pox, walking with crutches, accompanied by two dogs who perpetually lick his wounds. The traditional African imagery of Babalu Aye shows him covered head to toe in a mariwó masquerade comprised of palm frond fibers with which he hides his wounds from the casual observer. Babalu Aye's worship also involves a group of orishas from the Fon tribe, including Nanu (Babalu Aye's mother), Nana Buruku (Babalu Aye's wife) and Eshu Afra (an avatar or "road" of Eleggua who walks with Babalu Aye). His shrine is usually in an enclosed terra cotta pot decorated with cowrie shells, and is kept in a dark place where he will not be disturbed along with 18 loose cowries for use in diloggun divination, through which he speaks. Eshu Afra's shrine is placed next to Babalu Aye's because they walk together, and usually takes the form of a piece of coral. Babalu Aye's ritual numbers are 7 and 17. His beaded necklace pattern varies by road or avatar but usually includes a special white bead with thin blue stripes, jet beads, and cowries. His garments are usually purple and burlap. Animal sacrifice is used to propitiate Babalu Aye within African Traditional Religions. His sacrifices include he-goats, roosters, quails, pigeons and guinea hens. Altar offerings for Babalu Aye include dry white wine or grains, while peanuts and sesame seeds are his taboos and must not be offered to him.

In the syncretic practices of Cuban Santeria, in which African orishas are associated with Catholic Church saints, the representative of Babalu Aye is Saint Lazarus, a leper accompanied by two dogs, whose feast day is December 17th. Hoodoo psychic readers, spirit workers, and root doctors who are adherents of the Yoruban and Yoruban-Diasporic Religions and who petition the orishas on behalf of clients may work with Babalu Aye when there are pending issues involving blessing and healing, protection from evil, cleansing and uncrossing,spirituality, or wisdom and success


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