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Obatala (also known as Obanla, Ochanla, or Oxala) is the eldest of the orishas in the Yoruban religion and its diaspora in the Americas. His name means "King of the White Cloth," and he is the embodiment of peace, reason, logic, and diplomacy. He is the orisha who fashioned the bodies of mankind, while it is Olodumare who breathed life into them. One day while creating human bodies, he drank excessive amounts of palm wine, one of his favorite beverages, and created imperfect bodies. That evening Olodumare breathed life into the bodies and when Obatala came out of his drunken haze he discovered that the bodies were missing limbs, suffered from genetic defects and other deformities. From that day forward he claimed them, and all people with disabilities as his children. It is for this reason that Obatala is the patron of those who are missing limbs, suffer from deformities, dwarfism, autism, or other genetic anomalies. Obatala is the only truly hermaphroditic orisha in that half of his paths or avatars are female and half are male; therefore there are both male and female incarnations of Obalata. All of the orishas hold great respect for Obatala, and he is often the ultimate negotiator between them. He is frequently petitioned by followers for protection, peace, healing,and wisdom.

Obatala is typically depicted as an old black man with a shock of white hair, dressed in long flowing white robes and holding a white fly whisk. There are variations for younger roads and female avatars of Obatala. These include Obamoro, a male path who is very old and prefers quiet, calm surroundings; Ayaguna, a young, vibrant, male road who is a fighter and warrior; Ochanla, a very old, female road who sits quietly and knits while contemplating the world; and Oshagiyan, an old male road who knows the suffering that war creates in the world and advocates for peace and diplomacy.

Obatala's shrine is typically in the form of a white ceramic glazed container, filled with his mysteries, accompanied by 18 loose cowrie shells for diloggun divination, through which Obatala speaks. His shrine is always placed higher than the other orishas' shrines, in deference to his wisdom and position in the pantheon. Obatala's ritual number is 8. His beaded necklace varies slightly by road, but all include white beads and occasionally clear beads. His garments are of the purest white with silver trim. Animal sacrifice is used to propitiate Obatala within African Traditional Religions. His sacrifices include: white goats, white hens, white pigeons and guinea hens. Offerings for Obatala include meringues, egg whites, cocoa butter, cotton, cascarilla (compressed powdered eggshells), or white yam. Salt and palm wine are his taboos.

In the syncretic practices of Cuban Santeria, in which African orishas are associated with Catholic Church saints, the representatives of Obatala are The Virgin Mary in her white-garbed form as Our Lady of Mercy or with Jesus Christ. Hoodoo pyschic readers, spirit workers and root doctors who are adherents of the Yoruban or Yoruban-Diasporic Religions and who petition the orishas on behalf of clients may work with Obatala when there are pending issues concerning blessing, healing, and peace; protection from evil; cleansing and uncrossing; spirituality; or wisdom and success.


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