Nana Buruku, also known as Nana or Nanã, is one of the oldest Orishas of all. We can consider her a Yoruba Goddess who is the grandmother of all the Yoruba Orishas. In this article, I’ll write about her and explain her story, the different myths she takes part in, her symbols, and her archetype. You’ll also understand how she took part in the creation of the world and the first humans.
In Neo-Paganism, Nana Buruku fits the Crone Face of the Triple Goddess.
Nana Buruku, as well as other Yoruba Goddesses, are in my free Goddess Oracle! Use the button below to access it, flip a card and receive a message from a Goddess!
Nana Buruku helps Obatala to create the first humans
One of the most important stories that Nana Buruku takes part in is the creation of the world and the first humans according to Yoruba Mythology. It all started when Obatala, the creator, was assigned by Olorun with this task.
In short, Obatala created everything from land to animals. However, there were no people created. He tried to make them from different materials but failed all the time. That’s when Nana entered the scene.
Nana Buruku lives everywhere that water meets the earth. In other words, mud is where she dwells. Preferably at the bottom of lakes and rivers. When she reached Obatala, she took with her some mud and offered him.
However, Nana proposed an agreement: If humans come from her mud they must also return to it. That’s when she became responsible for the death and taking care of the dead ones.
Nana and Obatala got married and together they symbolize creation and death, the beginning and the end.
By the way, throughout the world, there are different stories in which humans are also created from mud or clay. It’s somehow common.
Spells, potions, and Witchcraft
Nana Buruku is the Orisha known for mastering spells, potions, and witchcraft in general. But she’s not the only one.
There’s a story that shows how Nana was first a victim of a spellwork and how she used a similar one to get what she wanted after.
To start this story, let me explain first the concept of “egun”. Eguns are souls or spirits of the dead. According to Yoruba Mythology and religion, when somebody dies, their spirit must go back to the mud where it came from. And this mud, as you already know, comes from Nana Buruku. Therefore, she is able to control eguns and they serve her.
It is said Nana Buruku was once a fierce judge. She was loyal to her principals but also aggressive when deliberating sentences. She had a garden in her palace where lots of eguns would live. Whenever a woman reached her to complain about a husband, Nana would order the eguns to punish this husband. The eguns would literally drive the guilty husband to madness.
In a specific time, people got worried because Nana started to listen to women only. This way, she was not able to fully judge a situation, and husbands were always found guilty and punished (I must say this story seems to be a “justification” to the ascension of patriarchy).
Eshu, the trickster, told Ifá that Nana’s ultimate goal was to eliminate all men!
Ifá thought she was out of control and came up with a plan to “please” Nana. This plan was to marry her!
As you know, Nana Buruku is the oldest Orisha of all. So Ifá sent Obatala, another very old Orisha, to marry her. Obatala, also known as Oxalufa, visited Nana’s palace and he was received with a feast! Before start eating, Obatala asked Nana to prepare a specific juice made of “igbins” (a type of snail that symbolises Obatala as a calming and slow animal). She prepared it! The juice was ready and Obatala cast a spell on it, so Nana would become “calmer” and “slower” as the snail. He asked her to drink alongside him and she drank.
The spell was cast. Nana Buruku became calmer and slower, and she started to think more before making decisions.
As the days passed, Nana started to fall in love with Obatala and all his calmness too. Eventually, they got married. Even so, Nana never allowed Obatala to reach the garden of the eguns. She was still holding her secrets.
One day, a woman reached Nana to complain about her husband. Nana listened to Obatala and called the woman’s husband and listened to him too. Nana Buruku sure had changed! During this “trial” she even showed Obatala the garden of the eguns.
Now, another situation emerged.
Obatala desired to control the eguns too. In order to do so, he waited for several days until he was all alone in Nana’s palace. One day, when she was away, Obatala wore her clothes and visited the garden of the eguns. He imitated her voice and ordered the eguns to obey the old man who also lived in the palace. From now on, Obatala was also capable of controlling the eguns!
When Nana discovered Obatala was able to control the eguns she, surprisingly, did not get angry at him. The spell he once cast upon her was still working. Nana was absolutely in love with Obatala! Actually, she was so in love that she wanted to have a baby with him! Obatala, however, told Nana they couldn’t have a baby because they shared the same blood. She couldn’t care less.
So what do you think she did to get pregnant with Obatala?
That’s right! A spell!
That day, Nana Buruku prepared some food for Obatala and mixed some magic dust in it. After Obatala ate it, he immediately fell asleep – but parts of his body remained awakened! Nana took the chance and got pregnant!
The result of this act came to be Omulu. I’ll write a bit about him below.
Mother of beauty and ugliness
Nana Buruku had many children. Among them all, two are considered to be the very opposites: Omulu and Oxumare.
Oxumare is considered to be the personification of beauty. He is a man who also has the features of a woman in his body. In some tales, he is an androgynous being and also a shapeshifter. Oxumare was so beautiful that Nana was proud of him and she wanted everyone to see him. This way, she elevated him to the sky so he could shine there, forming the rainbow.
However, the other son, Omulu, was ugly. In fact, he was so ugly that Nana covered all of his body so no one would see him or mock him because of his appearance. In some other tales, she rejected him and abandoned him only to be found and adopted by Yemaya.
In any case, this story reminds us that all which can be considered beautiful and ugly, good or bad, and so on, come from Nana. She is able to create and also to destroy. She balances life and death. All the opposites are met in Nana.
Symbols of Nana Buruku Orisha
It is really easy to spot Nana Buruku among all the Orishas because of her colors and symbols. She’s the oldest orisha of all, so she is always portrayed as an old woman. Apart from this, Nana is always wearing purple and white clothes and holding an Ibirí – a type of staff made of dendê tree leaves.
Moreover, Nana is also symbolized by mud. As I wrote above, she dwells in the mud and she also offered mud to Obatala so he was able to create the first human beings.
So, in short, these are the symbols of Nana Buruku Orisha:
- Purple and white clothes;
Now the animals related to Nana Buruku are the following:
- Owl (for her mysterious and wise nature);
- Goat (as a sacrificial animal);
- Hen (as a sacrificial animal too).
It’s interesting to remember that Nana is represented by the water of swaps and the ones on the bottom of rivers and seas. This way, she can be understood as the “basis” for all “water-related” Orishas like Yemaya (seas), Oshun (rivers), and Oya (storms).
The archetype of Nana Buruku Orisha and her children
Nana Buruku Orisha is a calm and wise woman. She does her things slowly, paying attention to each detail of her activity. She’s a master of spellwork and witchcraft. She can conjure and control the dead as well as create ills and cure them. The archetype of Nana Buruku is similar to that of the Crone Goddess.
In the Yoruba religion and the religions that derive from it, it’s common to be “children of an Orisha”. It means that a specific Orisha becomes a mother or father to you and you acquire their traits, mood, and skills.
This way, the children of Nana tend to be calm, do things slowly, analyze situations before making decisions, and they also tend to be protective, mainly with kids. Another characteristic of these “children” is that when they dance to Nana Buruku, they make slow circular movements and bend their bodies frontward as if they were being sustained by a staff – very much like an old woman with difficulties standing up.
Nana in the Cowrie shells reading
When using cowrie shells reading for divination you can come across the Odu Egi Ologbon, the Odu in which 13 shells are open and 3 are closed. In this Odu, Nana and Obaluae come together to give a “yes and no” answer.
The two of them together come to tell you that big changes are about to happen in your life and you must be brave. These changes can be so deep and irreversible that the death of people close to you may also be involved. They warn you to be extremely careful about making decisions now.