BABALU AYE THE ORISHA OF THE UNHEALTHY
Babalu Aye, often referred to as Asojano, is the Orisha responsible for epidemics and the healing of infectious diseases. His name translates into "Father, lord of the Earth" and he is the earthly representation of Olorun, a deity. West Africans associate him with smallpox while Americans tend to think of him as the patron of diseases such as influenza, leprosy and HIV or AIDS. He brings these diseases onto humankind and is also responsible for curing them. People often fear him as his job is to punish transgressions, but people also love him because of his healing powers. He is highly respected and his name is never actually used as it is believed this will bring on an epidemic.
There is some dispute as to the lineage of this orisha. Babalu is, for the most part, considered to be the son of Yemaya. His relationship with Nana Buruku is where many differ. Some believe she was his wife while others state that she is his mother. Still others state that Nanu is his mother. No matter who actually gave birth to him, most associate him with Osain who is the herb orisha. This is due to Babalu's understanding of the forest and how plants can heal.
Asojano is often referred to as Shopona by those who practice the Yoruba religion. When he claims a victim, people respect him and offer gratitude. It may be that you will hear him called Alapa-dupe. This means, "One who kills and is thanked for it". According to legend, Shopona was once old and lame. A celebration was held at the father of the orishas palace and Shopona attended, but when he attempted to dance, he fell. The other orishas laughed when this happened so he tried to give them smallpox. Obatala, the father of the orishas, prevented this from happening and banished Asojano from the area. Since that time, he has been living in the bush. Others say that he traveled to the Fon people where is he also worshipped.
Babalu Aye came over to the Americas when slaves and free people alike came to the continent. Not only did the names vary by where these people came from, the ritual practices and stories of his life did also. In Cuba, they are referred to as Arara and Lucumi. He is one of the most popular orishas in this country and many associate him with Saint Lazarus. On December 17th of each year, tens of thousands travel to El Rincon to the Church and Leprosorium of Saint Lazarus. Here they honor Asojano and knowledge of his rituals is claimed. Sack clothes are used in these rituals as Asojano was a humble man who is often portrayed as dressed in burlap. He is easily recognized by his symbols of crutches and two dogs.
During these rituals, which actually begin on December 16th, many Cubans will gather to light candles and make offerings to the orisha. They stay until midnight when he is to arrive and then ask San Lazaro to keep them healthy and safe by watching over them. When petitioning the orishas, many will call on Babalu for healing and blessing. Others ask him for protection from evil. Wisdom and success are two things that one may request of this orisha and the same is true of uncrossing and cleansing. Root doctors, spirit workers and hoodoo psychic readers all will request these of him. Ritual numbers associated with him are 7 and 17 and altar offerings include grains and dry white wine. Avoid sesame seeds and peanuts unless you wish to offend him.
Many themes will be seen in the worship of this orisha. Earth is one such theme. Many associate him not only with the Earth, but also with other material blessings. The emphasis is placed on materials in human life and its centrality. Another theme is death and resurrection. He symbolizes the circle of life through his experiences with debilitation, exile and restoration. This is more commonly seen in the Americas rather than in West Africa.
Exile and movement are other themes commonly seen associated with Asojano. Movement is seen to be the cure for stagnation and therefore, in important initiations, his vessel will be moved from place to place. No matter where the vessel is moved though, his is considered to be a complex orisha responsible for uniting various realms. As he is strongly tied to the Earth, rituals which honor the dead often include him and many tie him to the feats of magicians as he is seen to work with panaceas and poisons.
Babalu Aye Paul Simon referred to this orisha in the song, "Rhythm of the Saints". In addition, he also used the orisha in his Broadway play, "The Capeman". In 2008, Jorge Moreno sang Babalu at the Victoria's Secret fashion show. These are just a few examples. Watch I Love Lucy reruns and you will hear Desi Arnez sing it so often that it became his signature song.
Asojano is present in many forms around the world. When you hear this name mentioned, ensure you know which religion is being spoken of. With many different versions and variations, if you do not, you may become very confused as to this orisha and what he represents.