The Ax has great religious significance in the Shango aspect of Ifa religion. It symbolizes the thunderbolts that Shango hurls to Earth to strike down wrongdoers. In statues and illustrations, it is often seen on Shango's head and is equated with his power, caprice, and the creative experience of human sexuality. The ax represents a warning against the arrogant use of military power to political leadership and represents a symbol of swift and balanced justice. As a double-edged emblem, it symbolizes Shango's constant preparedness for adversaries and is often carried on top of the dance staffs called the Osbe Shango during celebrations and rituals.
The Osbe Shango depicts a female devotee kneeling in respect to Shango. The balancing of a double ax refers to an act in Shango initiation ceremonies, where the initiate balances a vessel of fire on top of his or her head to demonstrate Shango calmness in the face of danger. Its shape also symbolizes the stone axes kept in Shango shrines.
Early axes were made in Neolithic times. These ancient fabricated objects are believed to be meteorites that have fallen to Earth. Africans have found them lying around on the ground in fields and picked them up to be placed in covered vessels on the altars of Shango shrines. Africans believed that these stones contain the power of Shango's fire and that they fell to Earth during lightning strikes. The image of Shango's double-headed ax has been particularly attractive to a number of African American artists, such as David Driscoll, Paul Keene, and Jeff Donaldson as a symbol of resistance and liberation.
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- Carvalho, J. J., and Segato, R. L. (1992). Shango Cult in Recife, Brazil. Caracas, Venezuela: Fundacion de Etnomusicologia y Folklore, CONAC, OAS.
- Fatunmbi, A. F (1993). Shango: Ifa and the Spirit of Lightning. Bronx, NY: Original Publications.
- Simpson, G. E. (1965). The Shango Cult in Trinidad. Rio Piedras: Institute of Caribbean Studies, University of Puerto Rico.
- Welch, D. B. (2001). Voice of Thunder, Eyes of Fire: In Search of Shango in the African Diaspora. Pittsburgh, PA: Dorrance.