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Literal meaning: ‘owner’. The head of the Yoruban pantheon, which contains 1,700 divinities. He is Olofin-Orun, ‘lord of heaven’; also he is Olodumare, ‘almighty’ and ‘supreme’. To the Yoruba of Nigeria, this sky god is the discerner of hearts—‘he who sees the inside and the outside of man’. Active in celestial and terrestrial affairs, Olorun is able to do all things; he is the enabler of all who achieve any ends. No one has ever seen this ‘king who cannot be found by searching’, yet as Olodumare he is omnipresent: a mighty, eternal rock, forever constant and reliable.

Olorun created the universe, appointed night and day, arranged the seasons, and fixed the destiny of men. Whenever a misfortune befalls a bad person, the Yoruba say ‘he is under the lashes of god’. Death was his creation too. At first men did not die. They grew to an immense size, after which they shrank into feeble old people. Because there were so many of them creeping around, men prayed to Olorun, begging him to free them from long life, and in this way the old ones died.

Like the other gods in the Yoruban pantheon, Olorun is served by priests. They enjoy an important social status, virtually nothing being done without their ministration. The training period for priests can last as long as three years.

Subjects: Religion.

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