What is the whelk game?

What about the game: how to play, orixás that command the game and more! Look!

The shell game is an oracle, that is, a tool used to try to anticipate what the future holds for someone. It can also be used as a way of understanding the current processes in the life of the person doing the consultation, as well as providing guidance for action.

Like every oracle, there is always a deity involved. In the case of the búzios, they are the orixás, who pass their messages through the interpretation of the Mother or Father of Saint present at the time. Understand how its history was formed, discover the characteristics and learn much more about this important tradition.

History of the whelk game

The game of whelk is an ancient tradition, which crosses a series of historical events until it reaches the present day. Symbol of resistance and devotion, it was banned, as well as African religious practices. Still, it has stood the test of time and remains strong in many traditions. Learn more!

■ Origin of whelks

Originating in Turkey, the shell game was taken to Africa during the period when the Turks were powerful trailblazers and invaded different territories, including those of African peoples. On the mainland, the oracle was adapted and accepted by local traditions, becoming a form of communication with the orixás.

■ The cowries in Africa

It was on the African continent that the whelk was established as a divinatory art, being used by the various nations present there. It is, in fact, the longest known oracle by the Yoruba, and which spread around the world after the African diaspora. Even in different traditions, its principles are still the same as those of its origin in Africa.

■ Legends

One of the main legends involving the game of shells is when the orixá Oxum managed to deceive the orixá responsible for this art – Exu -, and make him tell the secrets of the oracle (Ifá). For this, she asked for help from the witches and threw a golden powder in the face of Exu, who was unable to see. Desperate, he asked her to give him the cowries.

Thus, Oshun started a series of questions and with them he obtained information. First, he asked how many cowrie shells she had to catch and why (16, replied Exu, explaining below). Afterward, he said that he found a very large conch shell (Exu said it was Okanran, and explained). The same happened with Eji-okô, Etá-Ogundá, and all the others until he had already taught everything, without meaning to.

Satisfied, Oshun went to her father, Oxalá, and told what had happened. Ifá was nearby and, admired by Oshun’s intelligence, also gave him the gift of conducting the game, alongside Exu. For this reason, he and Oshun are the only two Orixás that can be part of the shell game, according to Yorubá legend.

Characteristics of the whelk game

There are some main characteristics of the shell game, which make its operation something unique and special. Understand how it works, how the reading is done, which are the main parts of the game (odus), how the preparation takes place and even the types of possible games.

■ How does the whelk game work?

The game of conch shells is usually performed over a sieve, which is covered with a white fabric and surrounded with the bead necklaces of the regent orixá. Other objects are also placed, depending on each Mother or Father of Saint. After all the preparation, the question is asked and the answer comes through the position of the shells, when thrown in the sieve.

■ How is the reading of the conch shell set?

As the name implies, it is a game of cowries, so these small shells are used for reading. In order to give them all an equal chance of falling on both sides, they are cut in the back, forming a hole. The reading is then done by placing the shells on the table, whether they are open (hole downwards) or closed (hole upwards), interpreted based on the intuition and logic of the pieces.

■ What are the orixás that command the búzios game?

There are only two orixás (Ori – head, shah – guardian), Exu and Oshun. Tradition says that Oxum was awarded the gift of playing conch shells after deceiving Eshu, his ability being given by the orixá of divination and destiny, Ifá. Eshu was the first, as he is the great messenger, able to communicate more easily with incarnates, either by himself or by his phalanxes.

■ Who are the main odus of the whelk game?

In the game of conch shells, between 4 and 21 shells are required, depending on the chosen modality. Every time you throw the pieces on the table, you can have one of the meanings – or odus. There are 16 main odus and 256 possibilities in total. Among the most important and their related orixás are:

  • Oxum, which leads to the Oxê interpretation;
  • Ogun and Ibeji, leading to Ejioko;
  • Exu, with the odu Okaran;
  • Oxóssi, Logunedé and Xangô, leading to Obara;
  • Oxalufan, with the odu Ofum;
  • Omolu, Oxossi and Oxalá, with Odí;
  • Oyá, Yewa and Yemanjá and with odu Ossá.

There are also possible odus:

  • Etaogunda, with Obaluayê and Ogun;
  • Owarim with Oyá, Ogum and Exú;
  • Iorosun, related to Iabas Yemanjá and Oyá;
  • Ossain and Oxumaré, from odun Iká;
  • Egilexebora, by Xangô, Obá and Iroko;
  • Egionilo with Oxaguian;
  • Nanã with odun Egioligibam and Ewa Eoobá;
  • Ogun, with Obeogundá and,
  • All other orixás not mentioned are from the odu Alafia.

■ How is the preparation of the table for the whelk game?

Before starting to ask questions, it is essential that the shell game is clean and prepared. For this, the shells are washed with herbs and colognes. After spending the entire night exposed to the rays of the full moon, the cowries must be carefully stored. It is important to have a candle, water and incense on the table while working. Then a prayer is offered and then the reading begins.

■ Why consult with whelks?

Usually, people look for oracles to clear specific doubts. The ideal is to ask more closed questions, which do not require a very broad interpretation, to get better results. In other words, yes and no questions, for example, are great to consult with cowries.

However, it can also be a consultation to find out what is your head orixá – which, in Candomblé and Umbanda, represent the saint who accompanies the person in this life. Of course, it is also possible to ask open and more complex questions, as long as you go to a trusted professional and whom you believe.

■ Some types of whelk games

In the same way that there are several particularities in each Candomblé tradition – since they were formed by different African nations, the reading of the game of búzios can also have differences. These are the main games and how they work:

  • Alafiá game: for this game, perfect for closed yes and no questions, 4 cowries are used;
  • Odú and Ketô game: they serve both open and closed questions and has 16 shells, the most traditional version used to reveal the orixá in the head;
  • Angola Game: the most complete and suitable for open questions that require greater detail, with 21 Búzios.

Common doubts about the shell game

As traditional as it is in the country, the game of whelk is not as well known as other oracles, such as the Tarot or Gypsy Deck. Therefore, some really important questions may arise. Below are some of the answers.

■ How do you know if a whelk game is real?

As with any other form of an oracle, it is essential to trust the person who is looking for the answers for you. So, to know if a game is true, it is essential that the Mãe de Santo or the babalorixá are reputable people, recognized by the environment as such and, preferably, indicated by someone you know well.

■ What is the difference between face-to-face and online búzios games?

There are two aspects to this topic. While, on the one hand, there are those who defend only face-to-face consultations, on the other there are those who do the consultation at home and provide assistance online, highlighting their advantages and saying that there is no difference.

What is pointed out as a weak point in the readings of online whelk game is a supposed reduction in the energetic connection, which becomes less intense when away. In addition, there are those who choose to ask the customer to blow the pieces, increasing the connection. But, in general, both have similar effects.

■ Is it possible to throw shells for someone else?

It’s not ideal, after all, the shell game is extremely personalized and can reveal points that the customer may prefer to keep to themselves. In addition, there is the issue of the orixá of each one and their guidelines, which may not be the best, if they do not request the game itself. For those who cannot find a place to do the reading, there is always the option of making the consultation online.

Can the shell game help us make more assertive decisions?

Yes, there are great chances that the shell game will help in decision-making, especially if it is done with a competent professional. Also, by asking the questions in the game, you are processing the information and thinking about possible solutions to your problem. This leads to new connections, which can lead to a new idea about the subject.

Another point is that, in the búzios game, you can find out who your head orixá is, which represents many of your daily characteristics. Once you have this information, you will know if you are more impulsive, thinker, critic and other relevant points. Consequently, you will think better about yourself and seek to balance what needs to be limited, in addition to developing those energies that are pending.

However, most important of all this is that, when playing shells, you are actively seeking to find a solution to a given situation. Of course, this will help you to direct your efforts in search of it, making the whole process more efficient. In this way, yes, you can find the most assertive decision, but always rely on your intuition and, mainly, on your rationality.

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