Egun - The African Fae
Changeling: the Dreaming
For the sake of simplicity and communication this article uses one word for each idea where in truth that is not the case in Africa itself. A Yoruban Villager would no more recognize the Trickster God by his Zulu name than he would recognize a Lion by its English name. For the most part I have used Yoruban names and phrases as the norm, but expect there to be as many variations on each theme as there are peoples of Africa.
The faiths of the African peoples vary significantly from one region to another; the same deity may be male in one village and female in the next, or the characteristics of two gods may be embodied in a single deity in a neighboring region; in the city of Ile Ife alone the trickster god is called by three different names. These variations inevitably arose as the myths were passed by word of mouth; add to them the incorporation into the local faith of facets of outside religions, particularly Christianity and Islam, and understanding the faith becomes difficult indeed.
Curiously, the Africans such as the Yoruba never actively worship their all-powerful creator god, the head of the African pantheons rarely receive sacrifices or have priests. Apparently the concept of an almighty God is to overwhelming and remote that he cannot be related to. Instead the worship, sacrifice and daily obligations are paid to the pantheon of lesser Gods such as the Orisha and their ilk.
The Orisha traditionally number anything from four hundred and one or six hundred and one. Some African pantheons have a pair of gods as supreme creating deities, either independent of the almighty allfather or preceding him. An Orisha, also spelled Orisa and Orixa, is a spirit that reflects one of the manifestations of Olodumare (God) in the Yoruba spiritual or religious system and has similar reflections throughout the African mythologies and belief systems.
The Orisha faith believes in an ultimate deity who is removed from the day-to-day affairs of human beings on Earth. Instead, adherents of the religion appeal to specific manifestations of the creator in the form of the various Orisha. Beneath the Orisha are a collection of spiritual beings, the Egungun, who range from Ancestors and culture-heroes to Fairy's and monstrous creatures. Among the Egungun are the Fae, or the Egun as they tend to call themselves. Much like the fae of other lands, they were born from the Dreams of the Orisha and the creator, and continued to be born from the Dreams of mankind.
As well as the Egun, Africans treat their ancestors with great respect, as might be expected in a culture with only oral records of the past, but anthropologists debate as to whether the rituals dealing with ancestry are religious in nature, or simply respectful. At least a few groups believe that ancestors, after death, become demigods, but only once they have assumed the persona of a true deity. This resembles another facet of the African faiths, the phenomenon of possession, in which mediums take on the characteristics of one or another of the gods. The characteristics of each god are so well stereotyped that mediums as far off as Haiti loll back their heads and cross their legs in the same way as the African Ifa priest when either is possessed by the lightning god.
In the tradition of Orisha and ancestor worship, the Egungun represents the "collective spirit" of the ancestors. The Ancestors worshiped are usually of ones own blood line or lineage of initiation only, but other spirit guides and renown beings are also revered and communicated with. The Egungun Cult of the Spirits of the Dead is an important part of both this ancestor worship and the devotion to the Orisha, the demi Gods of each Tribe and society. And thus Egungun can mean the ancestors, dead relatives or even the Orisha and spirits themselves. As well as animal spirits and abstract entities, the Egungun includes such eliri ipin" (witnesses to creation) as the Egun. Spirits that the Western world calls the Fae. Born from the Dreams of Olodumare and the Orisha at first and later fed by and increased by the Dreams of man himself. Though different tribes have different names for such entities, and different classifications as to which spirits are part of the overall family, many similarities exist across the continent.
The Egungun are the guardians of family morality and they can come down to help or molest, to create adversity or grant happiness. From this collective spirit pool also come the spirits of Dream and of national or cultural importance. The Fae of the Dark Continent. The Egungun collective spirits occupy space in Heaven, hence they are called Ara Orun (Dwellers of Heaven).
These spirits are believed to be in constant watch over their wards on Earth. They bless, protect, warn, and punish their Earth relatives, depending on how their relatives neglect or remember them. Their collective functions cut across lineage and family loyalty. They protect the community against evil spirits, epidemics, famine, witch-craft, and evil doers, ensuring their well-being. The spirits could be evoked collectively or individually, in time of need.
The "place of call" is either on the graves of ancestors (Oju Orori), the family shrine (Ile Run), or the community grove (Igbalele). The Egun themselves preferred to be placated and revered in the Igbalele, showing that they may be the spiritual ancestors of the people, but that they were not in fact the ghosts of their dead.
The ancestral spirits may be invited to the Earth physically or in masquerade, and such masquerades are referred to confusingly as Egungun or Ara Orun the same as the beings being worshiped and adored. Everything from a Voodoo possession to a Yoruban festival is seen as part of this practice. The supernatural powers the Spirits have over the community become real as the different Egungun celebrants perform their religious, political and social function. The coming out of Egungun is a time of festivity and entertainment. A time of deep belief in divine guidance and protection, also a way of remembering the ancient knowledge of the wider realms and their inhabitants.
As with all cultures of the world, all wisdom, knowledge and understanding of any given nation or ethnic group has been historically preserved in secret societies such as the Yoruba Egungun Society (Egbe Egungun). It is through these societies that the Africans preserve and nurture the history of wholesome community and family development and growth and elevate the memory of their ancestors through enshrinement celebration and ritual. One such society, Egbe Egungun Jalumi is a secret society of African-Americans dedicated to reclamation and preservation. There are Egbe or societies concerned with all manner of cultural relevance to different African groups and they all have their own names for such groups depending on Tribal language. [As with the majority of things in this article, I will use the Yoruba names].
Just as the People of Africa and their descendants throughout the world have Egbe or secret societies, so do the Egun themselves. These Societies are based around the Orisha to whom they owe service or under whose dictates they fall. They closely resemble the Kiths of the Western Fae, although not completely. Several Egbe consist of more than a single type of Spirit or Fae who fall within the general remit of that Orisha. Some of these Fae are simply the same being with a different name in other languages but others have developed different forms and Fae miens because of their location or the myths that became associated with them. A Healer spirit from one Tribe might have white skin and silver hair, yet the myths of another tribe paints them as red as the sand. But because they all belong to the same Egbe and are governed by the basic tenets of a single Orisha, their birthrights and Frailties are the same and they represent the same Dreams as their siblings.
The true Fae of the Egungun, those born of Dreams, tend to prefer the word Egun to differentiate themselves from other Egungun. They retain much pride even when working in unison with other spirits and will use the two distinct words to refer to either all spirits or just the spirits of the Dreaming. All Egun are Egungun, but not all Egungun are Egun. There are ten powerful and widespread Egbe-Egun or societies of the Egun, though few doubt that there are many others with lesser powers and fewer numbers still extant in the world today. Probably a society for each of the Orisha once existed, though many have now either fallen from memory or retreated into the Spirit worlds.
There are ten societies among the Egun, which are roughly synonymous with the Kiths of the Western Fae. However the definition is not specific to one lineage or even one Fae mien, but to the Orisha each society takes as its patron (and in many cases its founder). Each of these Egbe-Egun receives a detailed description on the following pages.
Kith page 1 contains descriptions for the:
- Egbe-Eshu - The society of tricksters and messengers.
- Egbe-Ogun - The Society of War and craft.
- Egbe-Olokun - The Society of Seas and Rivers and lakes.
- Egbe-Ombwiri - Society of ancestor spirits, ghosts and Guardian Angels.
- Egbe-Orunmila - the society of Wisdom, fate and divination.
Kith page 2 contains descriptions for the:
- Egbe-Oshossi - The Society of the hunt and of nature.
- Egbe-Oshun - The Society of Love and fertility.
- Egbe-Oya - The Society of chaos and Change.
- Egbe-Shango - The Society of Heroes, thunder and Lightning.
- Egbe-Shokpona - The Society of disease and Heat.
Ori is a metaphysical concept important to Yoruba spirituality and mythology. An important part of the traditional Yoruba faith depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one's Ori. Ori literally means the head, but in spiritual matters is taken to mean an inner portion of the soul which determines personal destiny and success. Ori refers to one's spiritual intuition and destiny. It is the reflective spark of human consciousness embedded into the human essence.
In Yoruba tradition, it is believed that human beings are able to heal themselves both spiritually and physically by working with the Orishas to achieve a balanced character, or iwa-pele. When one has a balanced character, one obtain an alignment with one's Ori. Alignment with one's Ori brings, to the person who obtains it, inner peace and satisfaction with life. To come to know the Ori is, essentially, to come to know oneself, a concept far from foreign to Western philosophy.
To the Egun, Ori is most easily understood as a duality forever battling with itself for unity. One half is Ngono: Night, feminine, passionate and tricky, yet also wise and instinctual. The other half is mchana: day, masculine, logical and forthright, reliant on debate and tradition and sometimes foolish. On the surface, there is much similarity between the two courts and the Unseelie / Seelie divide of the Kithain. Certainly the Legacies of each side of the divide appear to be almost identical.
Many Egun still struggle with their Ori and may swing from one legacy to another over their lifetimes. The wisest Egun state that knowing oneself is not a simple task and there are many pitfalls on the path to iwa-pele. However those legendary few who do succeed in the quest are forever at peace with their dual natures and remain of the same court for eternity. Even then however, there are situations which could lead to a fall in which they lose this vaunted state. The philosophies of the two states of Ori have begun to form strict social gatherings and rules, based entirely on the urges felt by those more closely associated with one type of Ori or the other. Not as diametrically opposed as the Kithain Courts, they do clash from time to time. Whether they differ over the best method to defeat Banality or as to whom is most suited to rule a certain Shrine or Tribal group, such conflicts have been known to end in bloodshed over the past few centuries.
There are Egun who have achieved iwa-pele in all the societies, but they are rare and have often retreated from the autumn world. While many of the courts have an equal number of Egun balanced in one direction or the other, there are some who are notably dominated by a single bearing. The Egbe-Ogun, Egbe-Ombwiri and the Egbe-Orunmila have many more Egun oriented towards the masculine ordered side of the balance while the opposite is true of the Egbe-Oshun, Egbe-Oya and the Egbe-Shokpona.
Ase, which also spelled "Axe," "Ashe," or "Ache," is the life-force that runs though all things, living and inanimate. Ase is the power to make things happen, an affirmation that is used in greetings and prayers, as well as a concept about spiritual growth. Orisha devotees strive to obtain Ase through Iwa-Pele or gentle and good character, in turn they experience alignment with the Ori or what others might call inner peace or satisfaction with life.
Ase is Glamour in its purest form, but also much more. The Egun can harvest Ase in much the same way that the Nunnehi harvest Glamour. Some Egun have also learned to harvest it in the way Kithain do. Yet another trick learned from the Western Fae (or taught to them by the Egbe-Eshu, depending on which tale you believe). For those who can muse Dreamers for their Ase, the world outside of Africa seems a slightly less fearsome place, but the skill is somewhat less appropriate in their homelands.
In Yoruba mythology, Oshunmare (also Oshumare, Oxumare) is a rainbow serpent, both male and female, and is a symbol of regeneration and rebirth. Though having many names, it is most known in the new world as Aido Wedo, the name for the Rainbow serpent in the language of the Dahomey. Egun believe that Oshunmare, perhaps an Avatar of the Dreaming itself, or a type of Chimera, will guide them between their births. Leading them back to the Villages of the Egungun for a time and then steering them towards their next incarnation when the time comes.
A story told by the Egbe-Eshu relates how the sorcerers of the Egba-Orunmila taught the Changeling way to others in order that they might merge with their human charges and know them. Seeking a better understanding of Ori. And so it was, according to the Egun, that Changeling's existed in Africa long before Banality forced them to hide in mortal form.
However there are other tales, less widespread which paint this as a revision. In these stories the Egbe-Eshu returned from their worldwide roaming with stories of Banality and with the method to escape its worst ravages. If the Dreaming still recalls which tale is true, it has not yet revealed to any Egun the facts of the matter.
Whatever the truth, by the time the slave trade was in full swing, the Egun had mostly followed other Fae and become Changeling's. Many of them were taken to the Americas or have been born there in the years since that shameful period and have been forced to make their way among the Afro-American (and Afro-European) populations. Any place with a reasonable African population can considerably give birth to a reincarnated Egun.
As interest in African indigenous religions (spiritual systems) grows, Orisha communities and lineages can be found in parts of Europe and Asia as well as North and South America. Influencing the spread of new world faiths such as Anago, Oyotunji, Candomblé, Lucumí, Voudun and Santería. While estimates vary, there could be more than 100 million adherents of this spiritual tradition worldwide.
For the most part, these Egun have been able to join the worldlier Egbe-Eshu and are mistakenly assumed to be members of that Kith by Western Fae. Occasionally Egun are unable to pose as Eshu and their unusual nature forces them to avoid the local Fae society, hiding among the Gallain such as the Nunnehi or among the outcasts. More than a few of these 'monsters' can be found in the Shadow Court or dwelling among the Thallain.
The other option for Egun outside of Africa is to return to Tlam. This is a euphemism for receding into the dark hidden places of their new homes and gathering in groups of similarly cursed peoples. Whether that be the sewers or underground systems of the city or the caves and tunnels of more rural areas. Tlam is a dark place under earth in African mythology where all life once sprang from. In the mythology of the Kabyls of Algeria for example, Itherther, a buffalo, and Thamuatz, a buffalo cow, were the first living beings on earth. They emerged from Tlam, and populated the world. Their son is Achimi, and all those who have returned to Tlam are called by his name.
In Yoruba mythology, Olodumare is the creative force that drove the establishment of existence and the entire universe. The force behind the mundane Realm and the Dreaming, the land of the dead and the World of Spirits. Olodumare literally means "Owner of the Rainbow Womb" in Yoruba, and represents a concept similar to the Brahman of Hindu cosmology - being not an Orisha or Deity per se, as much as the sum total of all divinity, and the source of all Ase. Because of this overall concept and the closeness of the Egun with other Egungun, the Fae of Africa are at least tentatively aware of the other Realms. Though they are no less susceptible to Banality, there are many who do not cling so exclusively to the Dreaming. Seeing it as their true home and place of birth, but only as one Country in the overall spread of creation.
Since arriving in America the Egun have begun to make a relative peace with the Nunnehi, due in no small part to their ability to traverse the Happy Hunting grounds by means of the Spirit pathways from the Dreaming. While not all Egun are happy or comfortable in the other Realms, certain Egbe have developed an affinity to such places due to the belief that their Orisha is the lord or at least an important figure, in those places.