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Orishas (singular: orisha) are spirits that play a key role in the Yoruba religion of West Africa and several religions of the African diaspora that derive from it, such as Cuban, Dominican and Puerto Rican Santería and Brazilian Candomblé. The preferred spelling varies depending on the language in question: òrìṣà is the spelling in the Yoruba language, orixá in Portuguese, and orisha, oricha, orichá or orixá in Spanish-speaking countries.
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According to the teachings of these religions, the orishas are spirits sent by the supreme creator, Olodumare, to assist humanity and to teach them to be successful on Ayé (Earth). Rooted in the native religion of the Yoruba people, most orishas are said to have previously existed in òrún—the spirit world—and then became Irúnmọlẹ̀—spirits or divine beings incarnated as human on Earth. Irunmole took upon a human identity and lived as ordinary humans in the physical world, but because they had their origin in the divine, they had great wisdom and power at the moment of their creation.
A couple of believers and practitioners of the Ifá religion, where the pantheon system of orishas originates, believe that orishas are a different class of divine beings who became deified, divinized or transformed after their departure from their human state on Earth. These practitioners believe the orishas to have been ordinary humans who were deified upon their death due to the lives they led, their outstanding spiritual growth and extraordinary feats accomplished in their lives while on Earth.
The orishas found their way to most of the New World as a result of the Atlantic slave trade and are now expressed in practices as varied as Santería, Candomblé, Trinidad Orisha, Umbanda, and Oyotunji, among others. The concept of òrìṣà is similar to those of deities in the traditional religions of the Bini people of Edo State in southern Nigeria, the Ewe people of Benin, Ghana, and Togo, and the Fon people of Benin.
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