Ashe

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In the sacred creation narratives of the Yoruba nation, in the spiritual tradition of Ifa, Ashe (Axe, Ase) refers to the heavenly and godly force, also called Olodumare, used to bring about the universe. In renderings of traditional Yoruba cosmology, the first spiritual power that existed was the energy of Ashe. Ashe, using thought, determined to take material form, thus becoming the Creator, Olodumare. As God, Ashe then exists at the center of all that is and all that will be in the world. Olodumare thus willed itself into being from its own divine essence (the self-existent being). Olodumare uses its Ashe, which lies at the core of its being, to create all things. Olodumare infused this original force into the whole of creation, including its own manifestation of equal male and female source energy (Olodumare, male; Olorun, female).
Varying interpretations of the concept confirm that Ashe is a primary example of an organizing force that accounts for the origins and nature of humans and the universe. Ashe is believed to embody “divine power, authority, order, vital force.” Ashe has been defined as a combination of “grace and power.” Ashe is “God itself. Everything that is shared in that divine essence and is, as a result, sacred.” Ashe is a fluid concept, in that it bridges the space between the seen and unseen worlds. It exists in all things, yet it can be an active or passive force. Ashe is always present and cannot be destroyed. It is understood that a priest or priestess could summon the presence of the orisha to increase his or her Ashe. The concept is also related to the idea of “soul” in the acquisition of the dynamic uses of power involving the material world. In this African spiritual category, Ashe exercises control over objects. One sees it as the indwelling vital energy.
The Yoruba concept of Ashe spread outside of the African continent through the enslavement of African people during the 18th and 19th centuries. European colonial restrictions on African culture and religion were unable to suppress the migration of intellectual and spiritual ideas. Ashe may have been the most important phenomenon to survive the Middle Passage. Within the legacy of the transplantation of African culture in the Americas and around the world, Yoruba religion continues to thrive and develop through the forms of Santeria, Vodun, and Condomble.
In the global expressions of contemporary Yoruba religion, Ashe continues to be an important concept of ritual expression, sacred empowerment, and critical analysis. Because of the nature of the concept of Ashe, connections to the quantum field theory of physics where Ashe is a form of charged energy that seeks wholeness with the Supreme Being, Olodumare are often made. Ashe then is not only a universal source of energy, which commands and orders the world, but can also be used as a form of utterance (as in the sense of Nommo), which praises and confirms spiritual authority.

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Further Reading

  • Abimbola, W. (1976). The Yoruba Ifa Divination System: An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Asante, M. K. (1992). Kemet, Afrocentricity and Knowledge. Trenton, NJ: Africa World Press.
  • Gonsalez-Wippler, M. (1989). Santeria the Religion. New York: Harmony Books.
  • Mauge, C. E. (1996). The Lost Orisha. New York: House of Providence.
  • Mazama A. Afrocentricity and African Spirituality Journal of Black Studies 33 (2) (2002). 218–234.
  • Yai, O. B. (1996). Yoruba-English/English-Yoruba Dictionary. New York: Hippocrene Books.