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OSHUN AND THE WHITE CLOTH

(As I heard it told by Luisah Teish, Priestess, Wise Woman, and Master Storyteller)

In the Yoruba religion of West Africa, one of the greatest of the Orishas is Obatala, father of wisdom, who was also called "King of the White Cloth", because of the magnificent white cloth he wore. Many times Oshun had asked him to teach her the power of divining. And Obatala always said, "No, no, Oshun, you're too young. No, Oshun, you're too pretty. Oshun, you can't possibly learn the art of divining."

It was the habit of Obatala to bathe in a certain pool. And one day, as he was bathing, mischievous Eleggua, Orisha of the Crossroads, came by. There was Obatala in his pool, with his beautiful white cloth folded nearby on a rock. Well, Eleggua saw his chance and made off with the cloth, so that when Obatala finished bathing, it was no where to be seen. And there he had to remain, naked in the water, until Oshun happened by. "What's wrong, Father?" she said. "Well, Oshun," said Obatala, "someone took my white cloth, and now, ah, I can't leave the pool. I'm sure you see my problem."

Oshun looked around. She noticed footprints going off into the forest, and she had a pretty good idea about who those footprints belonged to. Oshun said, "Father, I'll go and find your white cloth, but if I do, will you teach me the power of divining?" Obatala, who was becoming very tired of bathing, said, "Yes, yes, anything, just get me my cloth!" So Oshun first went home to make a few preparations. She took the rhythm and the flow of the river, and put them on her hips and in her walk. And she took the sweet honey, and put it on her lips, on her breasts, on her voice. And then she went to Eleggua's house.

Eleggua saw Oshun standing in his doorway, golden in the sunlight. And suddenly, Eleggua got a powerful urge for honey.

"Oshun, Oshun," he said, "Give me some honey!"
Oshun said, "Give me the cloth".
Eleggua said, "Honey!" Oshun said, "Cloth!"
Eleggua said, "Honey....."
Oshun said, "Cloth......"

And so they negotiated, and when, at last, Oshun returned to Obatala in his pool, she gave him back his cloth. Which was how Oshun came to learn the art of divining. And when Oshun had learned all she could learn, she taught everyone in the village the art of divining, and she taught them all absolutely for free. Which is why the Orisha Oshun, whose name also means Sweetwater, is also sometimes called the sacred whore.

 

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