Few African religions are as fascinating and colorful as the one practiced by the Yoruba, a faith that became so widespread, its influence spread throughout the globe, and in particular, the Western Hemisphere’s Caribbean Rim. Because this faith was considered to be a form of devil worship by westerners importing slaves from Africa, the Yoruba hid their religious beliefs under the guise of Christianity, invoking spirits disguised as Christian saints to conduct their rituals and sacred rites. 

Known as Aborisha, this faith continues to be practiced today, a religion overseen by legendary Oshas (or kings). Perhaps the most popular Osha within this pantheon--because of his power and magnetism--Shango is the personification of a great warrior and king. He is credited with overseeing a range of rituals and causes: justice, dance, thunder, and fire—-each representing the joy and intensity of life while remaining a vanguard of necessity. 

Who is Shango and is he considered good or bad? The correct answer is both. Believers bring their problems and care to him and he has been known to deliver both favorable and non-favorable news. The owner and interpreter of the sacred Ifa’s oracle, Shango is not just a seer but a forecaster of future happenings. Yet his ancestry is long and distinguished in terms of Yoruba mythology. 

He first made his presence known on earth at a fortuitous time--when mankind had turned its collective back on God. To ensure the people of earth return to their former piety, God disbursed Oloddumare, Shango’s twin, to make sure Shango’s leadership produced a re-purified society. 

Over time, Shango assumed a panoply of names and personalities while retaining his original persona. Legends purport that he killed his children and spouses in his journey to become an Orisha. Perhaps this conflict arose from the fact that the word Shango means rebel, but his physical manifestation is far from menacing. 

When the question, “Who is Shango?” is asked, wise men often use a doll carved of cedar to serve as his emissary, but upon close examination, verification is done by identifying the double ax that replaces the doll’s head. What form did he assume during those early slave days when the Yoruba were forced to hide their faith? Saint Barbara, the Christian martyr who suffered at the hands of the Syrian King Maximian (305 to 311 BC), substituted for Shango so believers could worship him. 

For followers of Shango eager to invoke his name and presence for any number of reasons, it’s best to conduct ceremonies, rituals, and devotions on a Saturday. Shango’s number representation is 6, so those faithful to him can use any combination of sixes to pray for good fortune, mercy or other outcomes. Wear red and white and Shango will be honored, and Shango is celebrated on December 4th, Barbara's official saint day. 

If you seek symbols that represent Shango for any reason, cedar wood isn’t the only material you can use as a way of reaching out to this bold and powerful spirit. Since he is associated with weaponry like axes, swords, sabers and mace—as well as crowns, castles, and glass—all of these can be used in divination ceremonies, and if you wear or pay tribute to a turtle, you will remain in Shango’s good graces. 

Another way to pay tribute to Shango is to perform his favorite dances to the beat of native drums. Those dances can be athletic, sensuous, full of gestures like fire eating, war-like movements or even erotic gesturing. In current lingo, anyone asking the question “Who is Shango?” should be satisfied with this response: He is a force to be reckoned with as a spirit and a sacred symbol, even under the guise of a female Christian saint!