Blood and Honey
The Sacrificial Ritual
After completing the preparations outlined in chapter four of this text, the sacrifices begin. There are a few things to keep in mind during the ceremony. First, prepare the floor between each cycle of sacrifices. Before putting any orisha on the floor to eat, the priests handling the broom and mop scrub it clean; the ashé of each animal is different, and the orishas are strict in what they eat. Those priests present without active roles in the ceremony form a chorus; in response to each line the oriaté sings, they chant a response. If the orisha being fed is one crowned on an initiate’s head, that initiate kneels with his head on the floor while the sacrifices are made. Also, beside each orisha sits a gourd. While bleeding the animals, the oriaté directs a bit of the blood flow into the gourd. Later, when the heads of the four-legged animals are seasoned as the final part of the ebo (offering) to the orisha Ajala, some of those seasonings will go into the gourd as well. The contents of this gourd are very important; it is used to season the ashéses for the orishas.
The ashéses are an integral part of the sacrifice; they are prepared by the alashé, the sacred cook. Remember that even though we offer the animal’s blood to the orisha when we sacrifice, we do not have the right to take life, and when the ceremony is over it is expected that we present a whole animal to the orishas as an account of what we have done. Obviously the animal is no longer whole because when the blood is removed we have the right to eat the meat; however, by saving certain parts for the orishas, we can present that animal as if it was whole. Those parts are the vital organs; they have the ashé of life, as does the blood, which the orisha has already received.
While the oriaté’s assistant holds the animal firmly, the oriaté scrapes at the neck gently with a sharp knife. While he does this, he sings:
Oriaté: Yakìñá, yakìñá ikú Olorún.
With firm step the dead go to heaven.
Chorus: Bára yakìñá; yakìñá ikú Olorún, Bára yakìñá.
Open the roads so with firm step the dead go to heaven.
It is important to note that the word bára can have a dual meaning in the opening chant. In many Lucumí songs, when the word is used it refers to the orisha Elegguá. In both ancient Lucumí and modern Yoruba, the word bára is a shortened form of Elégbára, a praise name for Elegguá meaning “owner of the vital force.” Also, according to a Cuban orisha priest named Hector “Tiko” Rojas, the word bára is of the old Lucumí dialect and means “open the roads.” As Elegguá is the opener of the roads between our world and heaven, the opening song acquires an even deeper meaning when examined in this context. It becomes a prayer to Elegguá, a request that he “open the roads so that with firm step the dead can go to heaven.” The dead referred to are the souls of the animals about to give up their lives to feed both our orishas and our bodies.
Oriaté: Ya wése ya wése ikú Olorún.
With washed feet, with washed feet the dead go to heaven.
Chorus: Bára ya wése, ya wése ikú Olorún bára ya wése.
Open the roads (Elegguá), with washed feet, with washed feet the dead go to heaven, open the roads with washed feet.
Oriaté: Ogún shoro shoro.
Ogún speaks fiercely (the knife is his tongue).
Chorus: Eje bale karo (also spelled: Eje balè kàwò).
Blood touches the ground; it drops and spills.
As the oriaté sings the words, “Ogún shoro shoro,” he slides the knife into the animal’s neck, slicing both carotid arteries with one smooth motion outward. Ogún is the knife, and its blade is his tongue; therefore, no matter to whom the oriaté offers sacrifice, Ogún takes the first taste of each animal. This is an intense moment in the ritual. Blood is hot, spiritually speaking, and this is the flash point of the ceremony, the time in which that heat explodes in the room.
To understand this, one must understand the teachings of the odu Unle Ogundá in the diloggún. This odu teaches us that humans should not take life; we do not have the right. It is only Olódumare, or one of the orishas, who have the right to end it. Referring to animal slaughter, Ogún is the orisha who slices the neck. The song, “Ogún shoro shoro,” is born of this odu’s ashé; he is the knife, the same sacrificial knife wielded by the oriaté; and as the orisha who takes the life of the animals, he is the first to taste all blood.
Oriaté: Ilé d’ekùn.
The earth becomes a leopard.
Chorus: Eranle ekùn ye.
The leopard eats the animal.
Oriaté: [Orisha’s name] d’ekùn.
[Orisha’s name] becomes a leopard.
Chorus: Eranle ekùn ye.
The leopard eats the animal.
After the knife slices the animal’s carotid arteries, blood drips on the floor. The blood is not wasted; it feeds the earth so that the earth does not feed on us. These two chants are sung again as the blood is directed over the orisha’s sacred implements, and the orisha, like the earth, takes on the nature of the leopard and feeds on the sacrifice. It is at this point in the ceremony that the orisha’s nature changes. No matter the orisha fed, its energy becomes something primal--no longer a human archetype, it becomes a strong, almost predatory force of nature. It becomes like the leopard, an animal sacred to the Yoruba.