An orisha (spelled òrì?à in the Yoruba language, and orichá or orixá in Latin America) is a spirit who reflects one of the subordinate manifestations of the supreme divinity (Olodumare, Olorun, Olofi) in Yoruba religion. Orisha are said to have previously existed in the spirit world (òrun) or as human beings here on Earth (ayé). Others are said to be humans who are recognized as deities upon their deaths due to extraordinary feats.
Many orishas have 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 orisha 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.
Yoruba tradition often says that there are 400 +1 orishas, which is associated with a sacred number. Other sources suggest that the number is "as many as you can think of, plus one more - an innumerable number". Different oral traditions refer to 400, 700, or 1,440 orisha.
Practitioners traditionally believe that daily life depends on proper alignment and knowledge of one's ori. Ori literally means the head, but in spiritual matters, it is taken to mean a portion of the soul that determines personal destiny and success.
Some orishas are rooted in ancestor worship; warriors, kings, and founders of cities were celebrated after death and joined the pantheon of Yoruba deities. The ancestors did not die, but were seen to have "disappeared" and become orishas. Some orishas based on historical figures are confined to worship in their families or towns of origin; others are venerated across wider geographic areas.
Ashe is the life-force that runs through all things, living and inanimate. It is described as the power to make things happen. It is an affirmation that is used in greetings and prayers, as well as a concept of spiritual growth. Orisha devotees strive to obtain Ashe through iwa-pele, gentle and good character, and in turn they experience alignment with the ori, what others might call inner peace and satisfaction with life. Ashe is divine energy that comes from Olodumare, the creator deity, and is manifested through Olorun, who rules the heavens and is associated with the sun. Without the sun, no life could exist, just as life cannot exist without some degree of ashe. Ashe is sometimes associated with Eshu, the messenger Orisha. For practitioners, ashe represents a link to the eternal presence of the supreme deity, the Orishas, and the ancestors.
The concept is regularly referenced in Brazilian capoeira. "Axé" in this context is used as a greeting or farewell, in songs and as a form of praise. Saying that someone 'has axé' in capoeira is complimenting their energy, fighting spirit, and attitude.
The orisha are grouped as those represented by the color white, who are characterized as "cool, calm, gentle, and temperate"; and those represented by the colors red or black, who are characterized as "harsh, aggressive, demanding, and quick tempered". As humans do, orisha may have a preferred color, foods, and objects. The traits of the orisha are documented through oral tradition.