Oshe Shango refers to a double-headed axe that is the divine weapon of Shango, a Yorubian god of thunder, patron saint of twins and giver of children.
Shango was the third Alaafin or king of the ancient Oyo empire. He was a powerful ruler and his reign brought prosperity to the kingdom. But, he had a volatile temper and was fascinated with mystical powers. Shango inadvertently creates lightning that destroyed his capital, killing a number of his subjects along with many of his own wives and children. He left the kingdom in repentance and later committed suicide. Oyo experienced destructive thunderstorms after his death, and these were believed to represent Shango’s wrath. Thereafter, he was proclaimed as an Orisha (spirit) and a priesthood was established for worshipping him.
Oshe Shango became one of the prominent ritual objects used for honoring Shango. It is carried as a staff or dance wand by his followers during special processions, annual festivals, and other public worship activities. The staff represents the deity’s violent and unpredictable power that is personified through dance. An entranced devotee dancing to staccato drum beats waves the Oshe Shango in threatening gestures and then abruptly, in a quiet and calm motion, draws it to himself.
In its basic form, the Oshe Shango is a shaft featuring a female figure (and sometimes a child). Projecting from its head is a double club/axe with blades shaped like thunderstones to represent the thunderbolts that Shango hurled at those who offend him. However, designs of the Oshe Shango may vary due to the unlimited iconography and widespread dispersion of Shango worship, and also because of the artist’s creative prerogative. It can range from non-figurative sculptures with undecorated axes to shafts with intricate figurative configurations and uniquely styled double axes.
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