In many of today’s cultures and societies, feminine power and energy is not considered as important enough to be celebrated. Almost in every part, including in religion and spirituality, it is demoted in status and seen as a ridiculous notion. I remember sitting in a Pentecostal church one time listening to the sermon of a female pastor who openly praised Father God but found the idea of Mother Nature or Mother God to be absurd. Why is it that we can have a Father God, a son who is a savior, but the mother’s role is either erased in the role of the Holy Spirit or reduced to a human in the form of the Virgin Mary.
Fortunately, there are still spaces that celebrate and honor the sacredness of feminine power and energy. Last Wednesday, I went to a sold-out event (proving the thirst still for this appreciation), the Caribbean Cultural Center‘s The Goddess Grove presenting the premiere of Jamel Cherry‘s documentary Odun/Osun: The Return to the Water about the Orisha goddess Osun (Oshun). The film featured footage from a tour of the Osun Grove and the annual Osun festival in Oshogbo, Nigeria as well as the history, myths and mythological importance, and the socio-cultural importance of figure Osun.
The night began with musician Baba Neil Clarke introducing the movie and giving a brief summary of the significance of Osun. Clarke emphasized that Osun was more than the stereotypical portrayal as a kind of beautiful voluptuous woman who likes to party and dance. She represents a spirit, a major expression of the feminine dimension of God, there to represent the feminine part of existence. He also compelled us not to define feminine power through masculine definition and that modern cultures have broken up a lot of these traditions and understandings, and like Humpty Dumpty, we are trying to put them back together again through these various diasporic experiences.
Clarke’s words resonated while watching the film as Cherry described the meaning behind the Osun — the vitality of
water, the mothering aspect of water where all life sprang, the healing of water. Starting and ending with the river named after the goddess in Osogbo, the film first takes us on a journey first through Osun’s grove. Declared a world heritage site by UNESCO, this seemingly otherworldly site is filled with shrines and artwork, and is a nature sanctuary for a variety of plants and animals. While showing us the grove, Cherry tells us how Osun was essentially one of the first strong woman figures who demanded respect from the other 15 original gods who were male when they tried to take away her power and domesticate her. She defied the role that was being forced on her and in the end got what she wanted.
Besides being such an inspiring figure that she has a grove dedicated to her, she also is a strong inspiration for unexpected people. The film includes the story of Susanne Wenger, who left her homeland of Austria to live in Osogbo, became a Orisha priestess and started an artist collective who did a lot of the art in the grove. Her power is so strong that during Odun Osun festival dedicated to her every year, the incoming king has to be part of the festival and honor her, even if they are part of another religion, like Islam. During the festival are reenactments of the founding of the city, the procession back to the river filled with music and dancing, divination and masquerade costumes, members of other indigenous groups and their traditions like the Akan, the kind of ring shout dancing around the 16 lamps shrine in honor of the original gods, and spirit possession. It was great to see a film showing some of the origins of many of our spiritual and cultural traditions that we have in masquerade and carnival traditions in the West.
Cherry will be producing DVDs of the film within the next few months as well as showing the film next Saturday at CCCADI’s Transforming the Temple: The Bliss of Now event. In the near future, he is planning to make a film looking at the spread of Orisha tradition, specifically the Shango lines, throughout the Americas, like in Trinidad, Cuba, Brazil and the USA. Before the end of the night, we also were treated to Baba Neil Clarke, Ayanda Clarke and Sekou Alaje leading a performance of traditional Osun songs from the Caribbean, which you can watch some of below.
By the way, CCCADI is still raising money to relocate to and renovate the firehouse on 125th street in Harlem. They have had to postponed the project because of the increase of the price to buy it. Please consider donating so they can have their own space to continue providing programs like this.