Benin’s Osun: God of Magic & Medicine
By Daryl Peav
Great Benin’s Osun or Osun Edo is the deity of magic & medicine and one of the most important deities in the Edo pantheon.
Great Benin is the territory in Edo State, Nigeria, as well as vast areas outside of Edo State, Nigeria, including some Yoruba, and Ibo territories that were traditionally controlled by the Omo N’Oba N’ Edo or king of the Benin empire.
Great Benin’s Osun or Osun Edo is not to be confused with the Yoruba Osun—river goddess in Oshogbo, Osun State, Nigeria.
Great Benin’s Osun is a male deity, that has a hot and fiery disposition. Osun Edo is the owner of all the leaves in the forest, as well as all the plant material in the world. In addition, Osun is the latent magical forces that are within leaves, plants and medicines.
These magical forces within plants and medicines represents the duality of the cosmos. They can be utilized for healing clients or killing foes. In most of Africa, the terms magic or medicine are used as interchangeably, indicating this dual nature of supernatural means and methods in the application.
Another example of duality in the approach to traditional Edo medicine, is the reference to Osun Edo as the deity of all of the leaves in the forest—is a metaphor for the most powerful leaves or plants in their natural environment, unaltered by civilization or domestication.
In addition, this metaphor refers to Osun’s ability to cause catastrophic events or upheavals in the supernatural sense. Osun is also known as the god of fire. An Edo appellation for Osun is Erhen gha ke oguosun mu okhiri igia tie or “when fire starts from Osun’s shrine no precaution is possible.”
In Edo tradition, the Osun pot is the undeniable symbol and shrine for Osun deity and serves as his shrine. For the pot to represent, and have the essence of the god of medicine, it must contain water, and the essential potent leaves, as well as the sacrifices that’s needed.
Also, the above photo of the sacred Osun Nigiogio or Osun Ematon is the powerful medicine/magical staff of Osun Edo and is referred to as the “boiling-hot herbal medicine” staff. It is a symbol of the duality of medicine and magic representing both the potent healing powers, as well as devastatingly deadly powers of destruction.