Deities, Their Greco-Roman (G-R) parallels and Catholic
Any discussion of this subject must begin with Eleggua since He is the Deity Who is opportunity, beginnings, the open road. He is honored at the beginning of any ceremony and at the beginning of every week so that the doors will open and the road will be smooth. In Yorubaland His shrines are located at the door of the compound and are often found at cross roads. He is parallel with the G-R Deity Hermes or Mercury Whose shrines were erected at cross roads so that the commerce of the civilization could move easily. Eleggua was often masked with the Catholic statue Nino de Atocha (who has nothing to do with the shipwreck). The iconography of the statue are elements of the myths of Eleggua: a staff and gourd, a little basket with goodies in it (Eleggua is fond of candy), and a feather in his hat.
Ochun is often referred to as the African Venus. She is the Orisha of conjugal love, marriage, food, the stomach, pregnancy, gold, money, objects of brass and copper, lovely fans and children. She is very fond of dancing, music and loves to drink champagne. She can be very flirtatious. She is syncretized with the statue of La Caridad de Cobre Who is the Patroness of Cuba and whose statue was miraculously found in the ocean off the coast of the city of Cobre - a copper mining town - where Her shrine glistens with gold and copper ex votos from grateful women who successfully sought the help of La Caridad in finding a husband or getting pregnant. The little dark wood statue is most often clothed in cloth of gold dresses and has a baby in Her hands.
Her Yoruba name means The Mother of the Fishes. She is the Orisha of the Ocean and the Moon which influences it. Her G-R parallel may be seen in Demeter, Magna Mater or Vesta. She nurtures and fosters all living things and in some myths is the Mother of fourteen Orisha. She is a dark, large and sweet natured woman, forgiving much but irresistable when angered - Madam Tsunami Herself. She is most often masked with the statue of Our Lady of Regla. The shrine of Regla is the last thing Spanish sailors could see on the European mainland as they passed the Straits of Gibraltar. The statue of O.L. of Regla is of a full figured woman, holding a child, dressed in a frilly skirt - the foam of the waves - wearing a blue cape and standing on the crescent Moon. Regla is one of several European Black Madonnas.
The Orisha Who is the creator of the various elements of civilization: the hoe, knife, anvil, hammer, awl, pick, plow is Oggun. He is the Blacksmith and his G-R parallel is Vulcan. Oggun is the perfectly unself conscious, strong, blue collar working man.
He is very sweet and cooperative until enraged and very attractive because of His unselfconscious strength and magnetism. He is syncretized with the Catholic St. Peter who is most often depicted holding two huge metal keys and a rooster at his feet - Oggun is fond of roosters as sacrifices. He is a brilliant and triumphant warrior.
Shango is the Archetype of masculine potentiality at it basic and most rampant. He is a charming and delightful young man who flirts and seduces and is so charming that he is loved by everyone. He is the King of the Drummers and plays so well that none can resist his call to dance. When the Lightning falls straight from the thunderhead clouds to the earth it is Shango hurling bolts towards the earth so that His followers will know that He is still alive. He generates the lightning bolts in a mortar which is full of primordial Fire. As the Orisha of Fire and Lightning He is also the Orisha of War. His G-R parallel is, obviously, Mars. His Catholic mask is not so obvious: St. Barbara. The third century Christian martyr and virgin; the young girl who died rather than submit to the amorous advances of a Roman lothario has become syncretized with Shango. Iconographically, it is not as far fetched as it seems: St. Barbara is depicted with a sword- lightning bolt - and the palm of martyrdom - Shango's sacred tree - in one hand and a chalice - mortar - in the other. She is shown standing in front of a miniature tower - thunderhead - where her father imprisoned her before her martyrdom.
The Creator of the Earth, the One Who pushed the ocean back and established the dry land is Obatala. He is the Elder Orisha because He accomplished these things and organized the Orisha into a civilization on the Earth at the Yoruba city of Ife'. "Oba" in Yoruba means "King" and "tala" means "whiteness". Obatala always wears white clothing and is often depicted as an old man. His G-R parallel is Zeus/ Jupiter Optimo et Bono Who destroyed the Titans and established the reign of the Gods on earth. The statue of the Zeus in His Temple at Olympus was made of ivory plates perfectly fitted over a frame. He is syncretized as Our Lady of Mercy who is shown always dressed in white and often holding a pair of handcuffs which are unlocked. As the Elder Orisha, if you are ever in trouble, He will help you and set things rights.
The Buffalo Woman who grows a red beard when She goes into battle and whose lightning bolts run horizontally across the sky is Oya! She is the Queen of War. She is the most passionate and splendid lover of Shango. When the storm rages, the thunder rolls and the winds bellow She and He are passing over head and making love. The tornadic winds which hop skip and jump across the plain tracing random patterns of terrible destruction/ making way for new creation are her work when psyched out. She is the Orisha who brings change which, if resisted, results in destruction. As such, She is associated with the gates of the Cemetery which She is said to "own". Her G-R parallel is Hecate and, in some of Her aspects, Athena the Warrior the Berserker Woman. Her Catholic syncretization is La Candelaria: A statue of the Virgin depicted with a huge candle and wearing a blood red cape heavily embroidered with flowers. Candles, flowers are associated with the dead and burials and the color deep red is reminiscent of blood which is freely spilt in war and associated with other expressions of death.
These are only a few of the Yoruba Orisha. The word "Orisha" means "ori" head "sha" owner. Each individual is believed to have an Deity Who "owns" her head.
In Catholicism this is approximate to the concept of the Guardian Angel.