Monthly Archives: February 2023
Etymology: Strike from shan
Also Known As: Badé, Changó, Esango (Edo people), Hevioso, Jakuta, Nzazi, Sango, Ṣàngó, Siete Rayos, Xangô (Latin America), Sogbo or Ebioso (Fon people)
In Nigeria, among the Yoruban people and the Dahomey religion, Shango is a god or Orisha of fire, thunder, and lightning. Like many storm and thunder gods, Shango lives up in the sky where he hurls thunderstones down to the earth, killing those who offended him or setting houses on fire.
Animal: Black Cat, Dog, Duck, Fresh Water Turtles, Quail, Ram, Sheep, Tortoise
Colors: Red, White
Day of the Week: Friday and Ojo Jakuta, the fifth day of the week in Yorubaland.
Feast Day: December 4th, same as Saint Barbara
Gemstones: Thunderstones; either meteorites or stone celts
Number: 3 and 6
Patron of: Resistance, Strength, Power
Sphere of Influence: Thunder, Lightning, Fertility, War, Truth, Intelligence, Courage, Power, Dominance, Resistance
Symbols: Stone Celt, Double-Headed Axe, Bangles, Brass Crown, any object struck by lightning
Taboo (Yoruba): Cowpea, don’t eat this.
Statues, imagery, and other art featuring Shango show him with a double axe on his head that represent thunder. He will often be dressed in clothing that’s red and white. Sometimes Shango has six eyes and other times he has three heads. In some traditions, Shango wears a headdress with cowrie shells on it.
In the Candomblé traditions, Xangô as he is called wears red and has a brass crown.
There is a religious ritual of Shango designed to help devotees and followers of Shango to gain and have self-control. Shango beads tell the story of his essence with white beads representing Obatala’s logic alternating in balance with the red beads of Aganju’s fire and passion when pursuing a goal.
The initiation ceremony of Shango came about after his deification which preserves his memory and the prosperity he brings to his followers on a personal level just as he brought prosperity to the Oyo kingdom in life.
Altars to Shango will often have a carved image of a woman holding her bosom as a gift to Shango with a double-bladed axe sticking out of her head. The axe symbolizes the devotee as being possessed by Shango. The woman has an expression that is calm and collected, representing the attributes or qualities she has gained from her faith.
Ritual foods for Shango include guguru, bitter cola, àmàlà, and gbegiri soup. The Bata drum is also used during Shango’s worship and rituals.
In this religion, Shango or Xangô was the son of the Oyo king Oranyan. During the African diaspora, Xangô gained strong importance among the slaves in Brazil for his strength, resistance, and aggression. Xangô became a patron orixa of plantations and many Candomblé terreiros. In contrast, Oko, the orixa of agriculture didn’t receive as much favor among slaves in Brazil and given the circumstances, I don’t blame them.
A dish known as amalá (a stew of okra with shrimp and palm oil) is sacred to Xangô.
In the Santería religion, Shango, or Changó as he is known is the focal or center point of the religion and represents the Oyo people of West Africa. Changó is a representative of the ancestors and all who adhere to the Santeria faith.
In Latin America, there is a major initiation ceremony that has been held for the last few hundred years that is based on the Shango ceremony of the Ancient Oyo. It is a ceremony that has survived and is considered the most complete to have arrived on the Western shores.
There is an initiation ceremony that is also based on the Shango ceremony and is the basis for all the Orisha initiation ceremonies within the Americas.
Other traditions that venerate Shango are Folk Catholicism, Louisiana Voodoo, Palo, the Portuguese Candomblé and Umbanda, the Trinidad Orisha, Haitian Vodou, and Vodun.
Before becoming deified or an orisha, Shango was once a mortal king, the third king of the Oyo Kingdom. After his death, Shango became deified. I have other sources that say Shango is the fourth king.
The lineage of kings is as follows: Oduduwa, Oranyan, and Ajaka. In life, Shango was known as Jakuta and was the third king or Alafin of Oyo kingdom. Jakuta was the brother to Ajaka known to be more peaceful compared to Jakuta’s more violent rule who could wield supernatural forces to create thunder and lightning. Jakuta ruled for a period of seven years that was noted for constant war campaigns and numerous battles. Towards the end of Jakuta’s reign, it is said he caused the unintentional destruction of his palace with lightning. While alive, Jakuta was married to three women named Oshun, Oba, and Oya.
Oral traditions tell how during Shango’s mortal reign, a subordinate chief challenged Shango’s rule. Many people were impressed by the subordinate chief’s feats and demonstration of magic, such that they went to follow this new leader. Dismayed by this public defeat and humiliation, Shango left Oyo and committed suicide by hanging.
A variation to this story I came across is that Shango was so fascinated by the use of magic that while calling down the powers of thunder and lightning, Shango accidentally set fire to his palace and killed his wives and many of his children. It is in shame from that, that Shango left the kingdom of Oyo.
When enemies and detractors of Shango were contemptuous and spreading his shame, a series of storms swept over Oyo, destroying many homes. This caused people to believe that Shango’s powers had made him a god or orisha and these storms were proof of his wrath. There are suggestions that Shango’s followers set fire to these homes.
However, those loyal to Shango said that he really ascended to the heavens by climbing a chain and that he became an orisha. Shango would gain the attributes of an earlier orisha, Jakuta who represented the wrath of the supreme deity Olorun-Olodumare. Shango’s cult and worship would continue to grow and spread throughout Oyo and Yorubaland. Even neighboring people of the Edo and Fon would adopt Shango into their religions.
Shango is a member of the Orisha, who are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruba religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare. Shango is regarded as the most powerful of all the Orisha.
With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Shango was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America, and South America.
Much like the Hindi avatars, Shango has had many Irunmole or manifestations. The names of some of them are Airá, Agodo, Afonja, Lubé, and Obomin. All of these people are believed to have been an incarnation of Shango and like many such Irunmole, had great wisdom and power while they lived.
Parentage and Family
Oranyan – The mortal king of Oyo before Shango become deified.
Yemaja – Orisha mother goddess and protector of birth.
In some traditions, Shango’s wives are said to be the rivers.
Oba – She tried to win Shango’s love by offering her ear to him to eat. In anger, Shango sent her away and she became a river goddess.
Oshun – A river goddess and Shango’s favorite as he loves her cooking.
Oya – A Storm and Mother goddess, she is also the Niger river. It is said she stole the secrets of Shango’s magic.
Oya – Depending on the stories or tradition, Oya and Shango are brother and sister, not husband and wife.
As noted, the main wives of Shango are venerated as Orisha. All three are associated with rivers in Nigeria. The first is Oya, connected to the Oya River. Oya would become the orisha of battle, storms, and hurricanes. Oya had once been married to Ogun but would fall in love with Shango. Together, Oya and Shango partner up when going out to battle.
Then there is Oshun who is connected to the Osun River. Oshun is the orisha associated with love, sensuality, and femininity.
Lastly, we have Oba who was forever hopelessly in love with Shango. Oba would find herself rejected by Shango after another of his wives tricked Oba into cutting off her ear to feed to him. Oba went into exile in a cemetery and become the orisha of violent storms and death. She would also become the Oba River, specifically where it meets with the Osun River.
Orisha Of Thunder & Lighting
Shango is known as an orisha of thunder and lightning.
Fire – It should come as no surprise that one of Shango’s domains is that of fire as well. After all, lighting strikes are known to cause a fire.
Oṣè – This is the name that the double axe in Yorubaland that Shango has is called. The double axe symbolizes and represents lightning.
Resistance – During the African diaspora and slavery, Shango became a very important symbol of resistance.
Thunderbolts – Stone Celt
A celt in this case is a primitive stone tool like an adze, hoe or axe. Farmers would sometimes find these primitive, prehistoric tools while out-tilling their fields. Believing these stone celts were Shango’s thunderbolts, the farmers would take them to Shango’s priests who kept these in Shango’s shrine in an inverted mortar.
Shango was renowned and feared for his powers and whenever he spoke, fire came out of his mouth.
Jakuta – When not identified as an ancestor, it is believed that Shango likely usurped the duties and aspects of an older deity by the name of Jakuta. This older deity, Jakuta was known to hurl fire stones as punishment towards people if they acted against the wishes of Olodumre, the Supreme God, or Orisha. The name Jakuta means “Hurler of stones” or “Fighter with stones.” The prefix Ja means to hurl from aloft and the suffix okuta means stone. That’s interesting to note in connection to the stone celts that farmers would find out in fields and believed to be thunderbolts. Jakuta is also associated with a fellowship of meteorites.
Possession – Those who worship Shango and become possessed by him can eat fire, using oil-soaked cloth known as itufu to do so. Some may carry pots of live coal on their head or shove their hands into coals without any harm.
As a fertility deity, particularly masculine fertility, Shango grants wealth and prosperity to his followers just as he did for the kingdom of Oyo during his mortal life and reign.
Dance – Shango’s power, seen in his ritual dances represents the dangerous side of sexual relationships. Another interpretation is a warning of the arrogancy in using military force for political gains and leadership. The bata drums are beaten to represent the sound of thunder.
As seen in the dances that Shango does, he is also he orisha of war as in life, he held many continuous campaigns and battles to expand his influence.
Oṣè – The double axe that represents lightning is also a symbol of military prowess and the use of violence.
Justice – There is also a close association of the use of force or might to make right and enforce justice. Shango was known for being rather harsh and strict with his subjects.
There are a few different Saints that Shango has been equated to and it varies by the religion revering him.
Saint Barbara – The Saint whom Shango is equated to in the Candomble tradition. She is the patron saint of armorers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners, and others who work with explosives. She has an old legend that connects her to lightning and mathematicians.
Saint Jerome – They are the patron saint of translators, librarians, and encyclopedists. In some traditions, he is regarded as the husband to Saint Barbara and for that reason, Saint Jerome gets syncretized or equated with Shango.
Jupiter – The Roman god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.
Marduk – The Mesopotamian god of fertility and storms can be comparable to Shango.
Raijin – The Japanese god of thunder.
Teshub – The Hurrian god of the sky and thunder.
Thor – The mighty thunderer of Norse mythology, he is the god of thunder and war.
Zeus – The Greek god of the heavens, his attributes are the lightning bolt.
Etymology: gelem “raw material”
Pronunciation: “GOH-ləm,” “goilem” in Yiddish
The first time I heard of the golem has a place in folklore outside of tabletop gaming with Dungeons & Dragons is with the Disney cartoon series Gargoyles in the episode “Prague.” Where an animated statue of a human-made from mud or clay is brought to life.
Disclaimer – Not to be confused with Gollum from Tolkien’s Middle Earth series.
What’s In A Name?
The modern term golem comes from the word gelem and means “raw material.” In more modern times, the Hebrew use of the word is used to mean “fool,” “silly,” “stupid,” “clueless,” and “dumb.”
In the Bible and more accurately, the Torah, the word golem is used when referring to something that is still in embryo or incomplete. The passage for Psalm 139:16 has the word “gal’mi” which means “my unshaped form.” In Hebrew, the root words are written with the consonants “glm.”
The Mishnah uses the word when referring to an uncultivated person. Modern usage of the word sees golem being used as a metaphor for “brainless lunks” or those serving others under controlled conditions or seen as enemies by others. In Yiddish, the term golem is used as an insult for someone who is clumsy or slow.
Creating a golem seems to be pretty straightforward. Create a life-sized human figure from either mud or clay. This figure is then given life when specific holy words are carved into the brow or hung around the neck with the words being spoken by a skilled Rabbi who knows the arts of Kabbalah. The golem can also be returned to lifelessness by changing the words.
Talmud – In the earliest stories of Judaism, Adam whose name means “red [clay]” is first created as a golem from the dust of the earth when he is created into a shapeless form.
In Judaism, only a very holy person who was close to God or strived to be could gain the wisdom and power needed to create life. However, no matter how holy a person became, the golem they created is but a shadow compared to God’s creation.
Sefer Yetzirah – Or the Book of Formation, this book dates from the Middle Ages and has passages that expound on how to create and animate golems. It must be noted that it is very little in Jewish mysticism that supports this work.
Weakness – What makes the golem a pale shadow of God’s creation of humans is that golems are unable to speak. In the Sanhedrin 65b, Raba creates a golem using the Sefer Yetzirah. When Raba sent the golem to Rav Zeira, they spoke to the golem. When the golem was unable to answer, Rav Zeira comments that the golem was created by a colleague and for it to return to dust.
Another weakness of Golems is their inability to disobey any orders from those that created them and that can lead to folly and problems.
Ultimate Wisdom & Holiness
Creating a servant was seen as the ultimate act of one demonstrating their wisdom and holiness to make and create life. There are numerous stories throughout the Middle Ages era of many prominent rabbis having done so.
That makes sense. There’s the Tiamat and Abzu creating the Anunnaki and in turn, they created the Igigi who in turn go on to make humans.
Plus, the creation of homunculi was pretty common during the Middle Ages by alchemists. Plus the idea follows us into the current age with stories like Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein novel.
Modern Hubris – More current literature and media tend to see the creation of another being as an act of hubris and folly where the creation turns on the creator.
Limitations – Of course, over time, there would be other limits and aspects added to the tales of golems. Many such stories include where it is the use of magical or religious words that will animate the golem. Examples are where one of the names of God is written on the forehead, writing the name on a piece of paper and sticking it to the forehead, or playing the paper or tablet under the tongue of the golem. Another word is “Emet” meaning “truth” in the Hebrew language. Then to return the golem to a lifelessness, the first letter of Emet is erased to form the word “Meit” or “dead” in Hebrew.
As I previously mentioned further up, the earliest stories from Judaism, namely the Talmud, Adam, the first man is a golem created by Yahweh or God from the dust of the earth. Adam’s name means “red [clay].”
The Golem Of Prague
This is the story referenced in the Disney Gargoyles episode “Prague.” The story of the Golem first appears in an 1847 collection of Jewish tales called “Galerie der Sippurim” by Wolf Pascheles of Prague. Another, fictional account of this story was published by Yudl Rosenberg in 1909.
In Czechoslovakian legend, in 1580 C.E., the Jewish community was under a lot of threats of violence, massacres, and blood libels.
For those that don’t know what a blood libel is, these are false accusations thrown towards the Jewish communities, claiming they kill people, usually claims of children in order to use their blood in their rituals. Add weight to these grisly accusations, a child would be killed and then left near the home of a prominent Jew. Sometimes a child just outright disappeared. These accusations would get so bad, as was happening in Prague, Jews were getting murdered by mobs, if they weren’t getting arrested and put on trial.
Unfortunately, these types of accusations still continue in the modern day, though the term has broadened more to include any unpleasant accusations. You would think even in more modern, current times people would be better aware of this. But we still have those who persist in their misinformation and conspiracies where any efforts to correct them, tend to cause them to double down on their cognitive biases and misinformation.
The chief rabbi in Prague at the time was Rabbi Yehudah Loew Ben Bezalel, a renowned scholar of both Jewish law and mysticism. Loewe was no stranger to the persecution his community suffered from. He grew up with constant persecution to his people and was familiar with how communities would grow and settle where they were better treated until such time they would have to move and leave when the locals eventually turned on them.
To confront this, Rabbi Loew and two of his colleagues set about to create a life-sized golem that they animated by inserting a piece of paper with the word “shem” written on it into the golem’s mouth. In Kabbala, the word “shem” is regarded as being an interpretation of God’s divine and holy name. This golem was known by the names of Josef and Yossele. He was known to be able to turn himself invisible and summon the spirits of the dead.
Loew would use the golem to perform several menial tasks that required a lot of strength. Then, every Friday evening, Loew would remove the piece of paper so the golem would not interrupt people on the Sabbath.
As luck would have it, there came a Friday when Loew forgot to remove the piece of paper and the golem ended up running rampant. By the time the rabbi learned of the problem, he left the service in search of the golem. When he found the golem, Loew removed the paper from it’s mouth and he and his colleagues carried the golem back to the synagogue. The companions sealed the golem away in the attic of the Prague Synagogue. A ban was placed on those entering the attic. Legends hold that a rabbi and a later generation went up the stairs and saw the golem, that rabbi placed a ban on even going up the steps.
Over time, people forgot about the golem and even today, no one is allowed inside the synagogue’s attic area or shul. In other places around the Czech Republic, visitors can access the attic or shul areas of other synagogues.
Variation – Another version of the Golem of Prague holds that Rabbi Loew dreamt that the Lord commanded him to create a golem in order to protect the Jewish people. It is this version of the story that is the basis for the Disney Gargoyles’ episode “Prague” and possibly the inspiration for Mary Shelly’s novel Frankenstein.
Another minor add-on to this legend is that during WWII, a Nazi agent is said to have gone up to the attic area and later died of suspicious circumstances.
The Golem Of Chelm
In this story, rabbi Eliyahu of Chelm created a golem that kept growing in size to the point that it tore the name of God off its forehead. At that point, the golem became inert and toppled over to crush its creator.
The Golem Of Vilna
This story is about Vilna Gaon or “the saintly genius from Vilnius,” circa 1720-1797. Rabbi Chaim Volozhin presented several different versions of a particular passage from the book Sefer Yetzira to his teacher the Gaon. Chaim made a comment on how he should be able to easily create a live human from these passages. In response, the Gaon confessed, saying that he once began to create such a being when he was a child under the age of 13. However, the Gaon received a sign from Heaven to cease doing such a process due to his young age.
The Clay Boy
This is a Yiddish and Slavic folktale that takes and combines elements for the golem and The Gingerbread Man. Essentially this story follows the childless couple motif and archetype.
An older couple whose children have grown up and left home decided one day out of loneliness to make a child out of clay and dry him on the hearth. To their delight, the clay child comes to life and the elderly couple treats him as a real child. However, the Clay Boy doesn’t stop growing and in soon enough time, he has eaten up all of the couple’s food. The Clay Boy continues his voracious appetite by eating all of the couple’s livestock and eventually, he eats the couple themselves. Unsatiated, the Clay Boy goes on a rampage through the village and doesn’t stop until a goat goes and rams them, smashing them to pieces.
Late Nineteenth Century
When we get to the later part of the 20th century, we see many non-Jewish or Gentiles become interested in stories of Golems, using them in various media for literature, movies, T.V. series, even an opera, and so on. These stories show the Christianization of the golem. Notably in the Christian idea that humanity should not presume to be God or play God lest hubris visit them horribly. That such acts end in folly and disaster. Notable stories, again Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. Stories that don’t feature a golem, but other creations would be like H.G. Well’s Island of Doctor Moreau and any number of various science fiction featuring a robot uprising.
Similar Folkloric Figures
Androids – Robots, Cyborgs, Automatons, the idea of an artificial, mechanical being has been a part of the science fiction landscape and examples of these can be found in a few various mythologies. In the early part of the 21st century, we are seeing advances in AI and robotics that these beings are here, real, and no longer part of a what-if, speculative science fiction.
Clones – This is another area that has gone from science fiction to science fact with Scientists able to clone humans or animals in labs. There are many science-fiction literature and media that go into the ethics of cloning and what rights a clone has.
Frankenstein’s Monster – Or Frankenstein’s Creature, this is an artificially created man by the title character in Mary Shelly’s Frankenstein. In the book, the creature is created in a vat, via means of alchemy. Whereas many movie adaptations have the creature created from various body parts of cadavers. Later literature and media will give the creature the name Adam in reference to a line where the creature says “I ought to be thy Adam.”
Galatea – This is the name of a statue brought to life by the goddess Aphrodite in answer to the sculptor Pygmalion’s prayers.
Homunculus – This is a small person that Alchemists were purported to be able to create from alchemical journals. These anecdotes were popular during the 16th century.
Mökkurkálfi – In Norse mythology, the Mökkurkálfi is a clay giant created by the troll Hrungnir that helped to fight against Thor.
Tulpa – A bit more esoteric, Tulpa, or thought forms that can be created. Unlike golems, a tulpa is not likely to have a physical, tangible body.