Orishas are best understood, intuitively, by understanding the forces of nature that govern them. For example, you can learn a lot about Oshun and her children by studying the rivers and streams that she rules. Note that she always floats in the direction of her sister, Yemaya, who governs the sea. Notice how a flood or a flash can change her direction or mood.
The Orishas are traditional African spirits that are paid homage to in modern Santeria, Palo Mayombe, Voodoo, and other Caribbean practices. You may notice that many are similar and that all tend to mix and cross over. In Congo, the fountain of these magical traditions, we still practice in a pure form using all of these spirits.
Elegba (Eleggua, Eleggua) controls the roads and doors of this world. He is the depositary of Ashe. The colors schemes of red and black, as well as black and white, are his. They reflect his contradictory natures. Elegba stands at the crossroads of the human and divine. He brings good fortune to children because children are messengers between the two worlds. Not surprisingly, Elegba has a close relationship with the Orisha of divination, Orunmila. No spell or ritual can be done in either world without the permission of Elegba. It is to Elegba whom you make atoning sacrifices and it is Elegba who is called before any other Orisha to “open the doors” and begin the magical rituals. His numbers are 3 and 21.
Ogun is the god of iron, war and the mine. He is the owner of all technology, as well as controls how technology will interact with its natural world. The use of technology and science in warfar is the domain of Ogun. After Elegba opens the doors and roads, Ogun cleans them with his machete. His number is 7 and his color scheme is green and black.
Oshosi is the third member of the group known as the Warrior Orishas. He is received with Elegba, Ogun and Osun. Oshosi is initiated to protect the warriors and open the roads. He is the hunter and explorer of the Orishas as well as the translator for Obatala. The relationship between Oshosi and Obatala is very close. His color scheme is blue and yellow.
Obatala is the kind father of all Orishas and of human beings. He is also the owner of all heads and minds. Through Olorun, who created the universe, Obatala was the creator of the Earth and humanity. Obatala is the source of all that is good, pure, wise, gentle and compassionate. However, Obatala is a warrior and does require justice be done in this world. His color may be plain white or it may be a combination of all colors of the rainbow. Obatala is the only Orisha with both male and female characteristics.
Oya is the ruler of the winds, tornadoes, hurricanes and the burial places of the dead. Her number is nine and this gives rise to the expression of Yansa, or “Mother of Nine.” She governs directly the Egun, or dead ancestors. Oya is associated with brown colors and floral designs, but can be represented with a selection of nine colors as well. She is a fierce warrior who rides with Shango and a partner of Ogun.
Queen Oshun is the world's fresh waters, springs and rivers. She embodies love and fertility. She is also who we go to for spells in money matters. She is the youngest of the female Orishas, but retains the title of Iyalode, or Great Queen. Oshun cures with her sweet water and honey, imbued with spiritual power. Oshun is also the femme fatale of the Orishas; she saved the world by seducing Ogun and enticing him to return from the woods. In her manifestation as Ibu Ikole she saved the world from drought by flying into the sky (and transforming into a vulture). Ikole means “Messenger Of The House” and signifies that Oshun is a messenger from Olodumare. For this reason all who are initiated as priests, no matter what Orisha governs their head, must go to the river and give account to Oshun. She is represented by the color scheme of yellow and gold. Her number is five. Peacocks and vultures are hers and are frequently used to represent her.
Yemaya lives within and rules over the seas and lakes. She is also known as the Mother Of All and thus controls maternity. Her name, a shortened version of Yeye Omo Eja, means “Mother Whose Children are the Fish.” This hints at the fact that her children are legion. All life began in the sea; the amniotic fluid inside the womb is a representation of the sea. The embryo must transform and evolve in the form of a fish before becoming a human baby. Yemaya thus reveals herself as the Mother Of All. She and the root of all manifestations, Olokun, are the source of all wealth. Yemaya gives this as freely as her sister Oshun. Yemaya dresses in seven skirts of blue and white. Like the seas and lakes she is profound and unknowable in entirety. As Okuti she is the queen of witches, carrying deep and dark secrets for hexes and curses.
Shango (Chango) may be the most well known of the Orishas. He governs lightning, thunder, fire, drums and dance. Shango is a warrior Orisha of intelligence and wit, has irascible temperament and is the embodiment of manhood. Shango took the form of the fourth Alafin, or Surpreme King, of Oyo. He is married to Obba, but has ongoing affairs with Oya and Oshun. The Orisha Shango is very spirited and strong-willed. He loves all of the pleasures of the world and is used in spells for sex, lust, power and money. Shango is said to be of the same mind as Elegba, or Ocanani. If you can imagine the speed of which lightning has hit a tree or a fire has destroyed a forest you have considered the power and temper of Shango. All who are devotees of Shango stand on tiptoe or rise in seat when mentioning his name in order to show respect. His colors are red and white and his numbers are four and six. Shango frequently wields a double axe.
Orunmila is the Orisha of wisdom and divination. He was the only Orisha who was allowed to witness the creation of the universe. Orunmila is a witness to our destinations in development and thus is important to consult in divination. This is the origin of his title as Eleri Ipin, or “Witness To Destiny in its Creation.” The Babalawos of Orunmila most devote themselves entirely to the practice of divination and related arts. Through the Ifa board his priests unfold the secrets of the universe and the secrets of the unfolding of our lives. His colors are green and yellow, reflecting his relationship with Osayin Orunmila (the secret world of plants) and Oshun, with whom he remains a close relationship. Orunmila is wisdom and Oshun is knowledge and together they are inseparable, for those who has wisdom without knowledge is ineffective and those who have knowledge without wisdom are dangerous to themselves.