Updated: Jul 14, 2021
Article by Head Editor In Charge Curtis M. Brown II
Photographer: JayLee Photography (IG: Jayleephotographyac)
If I were to ask you who is the mythological God of Thunder and Lightning. How would you respond? Most of our nerd-centric comic book readers are most likely answering "Thor" with a slightly condescending look on their face. It's also how I would have responded 3 years ago, though I've never been one to follow Norse Mythology.
I am an African-American who retains a pretty decent working knowledge of Norse, Greek, Roman, Jewish and Judeo-Christian mythology thanks to religion, mainstream media, public school, books and videogames. So obviously I've heard of names like Thor, Zeus, Jupiter, or--for our Christians--Jesus Christ as plausible responses for the question I asked earlier.
Honestly, those responses probably make up 99.9% of how most people would respond. I currently live in that 0.1%, since I recently learned about the African deity Shango. Now I know most of you probably have this face right about now:
Allow me to explain: Ṣàngó is viewed as the most powerful and feared of the Nigerian orisha pantheon. He casts a "thunderstone" to earth, which creates thunder and lightning, upon anyone who offends him. Shango is the immensely powerful Lord of Thunder, Lightning, and Fire.
If I do say so myself, I think he could kick Thor's pretty blond a** all over Asgard. Ṣàngó is a duel axe-wielding, womanizing, drum-beating, African warrior. As the wielder of lightning, Shango provides victory over enemies for those who supplicate to him; and protects from all evil. He is widely feared as a instrument of divine justice. He is also Black AF!
Yet, I bet you have never heard of him. As a matter of fact I bet you haven't heard of the majority of the pantheon of Yoruba or Egyptian deities. I'm ashamed to admit I didn't either, until I began researching African mythology a few years ago. I fell in love with the rich history, the cautionary tales, and powerful characters who actually looked like me. I was amazed so many of us, the children of the African Diaspora, have no idea of our own culture, our own stories, our own mythologies. Yet we've been force-fed everyone else's culture for our entertainment, and when African mythology is rarely presented...it's always in a negative or evil veneer.
So for years I've set out to tell our stories in a positive way through our Head Nerds In Charge platform. Enter Demetrius Holt, or as many of you may know him HellSpawned Cosplay. Recently, Demetrius has reached social media fame by being featured in April's edition of Men's Health Magazine. He was praised for being one of the trailblazers in the cosplay community fighting for the inclusion of Black faces in all spaces of main stream media. Demetrius approached me with the opportunity to take part in this amazing idea he conceptualized to celebrate Juneteenth 2021.
Photographer: Harry Crosland ( IG @Eyesofh_photography)
Demetrius pitched me the idea of inviting black cosplayers from all over the nation. The purpose was to gather for a Juneteenth photoshoot to commemorate and highlight African Deities, African Mythology, Blerd (Black Nerd) Culture; and for it all to come to fruition on Freedom Day. Ironically, this conversation took place sometime in February, almost 6 months before President Joe Biden would sign Juneteenth into being a nationally and federally recognized holiday the day before the event on June 18th 2021. As Demetrius would say, this idea was "lightning in a Mutha F**kin' bottle". Juneteenth plays a pivotal role in American history especially for African-Americans and, intrinsically, in Demetrius' family history.
You see, Demetrius' grandmother Lottie McGill helped found the Juneteenth celebration in Polk City, Florida at a time when it wasn't even nationally recognized. So, for Demetrius, this photoshoot on Juneteenth wasn't just for the Culture, it was also for the legacy his grandmother Lottie left behind. So, from the inception, this was a project Head Nerds In Charge collectively knew we needed to support. The impact of seeing people of color in a divine and positive light is exactly the narrative we strive to promote on our weekly web-show. We became an official sponsor of the event and actively worked with Demetrius and his collective of talented photographers, cosplayers, and award-winning cinematography team who documented the entire event. When I asked Demetrius what motivated him to even come up with this concept, he said:
"We know the mythologies of other cultures so well that we find ourselves identifying with entities that don't even look like us. Time to give ourselves the spotlight we need. Especially on the first nationally recognized Juneteenth."
On June 19th 2021 history was made in Bowie, MD with the first Black Diaspora African Deity photoshoot, on the first nationally recognized Juneteenth, founded by the descendants of enslaved Africans. They carried these stories in their souls shackled to boats, and passed their knowledge on through the generations, despite the efforts of many in this nation to erase that heritage from the annals of history.
Here are the results:
an orisha (deity) of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. Oshun is commonly called the river orisha, or goddess, in the Yoruba religion and is typically associated with water, purity, fertility, love, and sensuality. She is considered one of the most powerful of all orishas
Cosplayer: Shanae Thomas (Blk.Unicorn_Cosplay)
West African deity is one of the famous important figures in West African mythology. Anansi’s origins are from the Ashanti people of Ghana, who brought the traditions to the Caribbean with them where they truly blossomed. He is depicted with the elements of a spider and likes to bring stories to children. Anansi can be considered one of the central trickster-heroes of mythology, who in turn helped fashion folkloric tricksters such as Br'er Rabbit - like Anansi these trickster-heroes are clever, sometimes mischievous but ready to avenge misdeeds or punish evil-doers.
Cosplayer: Anthony Wiggins (Lee_collins22)
is the Kemetic name for the Egyptian goddess who was called Isis by the Greeks and Romans. Auset is the protectress of women and children. She is considered to be a healer and bestower of well-being. She is manifested in the form of love, motherhood, valor and devotion to God. She became the most of powerful of all the gods and goddesses in ancient Egypt – a throne originally held by the Sun god, Ra. Ra, depicted as the uncaring god, caused great suffering to the people during his reign. Aware of this, Isis – being the people’s goddess who helped her people in many ways, successfully fooled Ra into giving up his throne and power, she in turn used that power for the benefit and care of the people.
Cosplayer: Katie Murphy Ladybri Cosplay
Cosplayer: Lisa Williamson Lizzi3silva
Ogun is the God of iron, energy, creativity, war, hunting and invention. This fierce warrior is one of the oldest Orishas and is pictured as a blacksmith as he’s a powerful spirit of metal work. Ogun is said to be the first of the Orisha to descend to the realm of Ile Aiye (the earth) to find suitable habitation for future human life. One of his praise names is Osin Imole meaning "first of the primordial Orisha to come to Earth". Like metal, he is rigid and strong and is usually seen with a machete, bow and arrow or a hammer. Ogun is the god of Truth and Justice and presides over deals and contracts. In Yoruba courts, devotees of the faith swear to tell the truth by kissing a machete sacred to Ogun.
Cosplayer: Christopher Akinbuwa (AVSterling)
Cosplayer: Richard Sutton fitnessbysutton
Yemoja is the African Goddess of the Ocean and the patron diety of pregnant women. She is honored not only in Africa but in Brazil. She is the creator goddess of the Yoruba tribe. This goddess went with the members of the Yoruba tribe when they were captured and taken to various areas in the world as slaves. She then became very well known and given different names. This is why she is honored in Brazil and also how she is associated with Virgin Mary. She is different then most goddesses because she is, in fact, a mermaid. Yemoja created a tribe and gave birth to all the water, salt and fresh, so she became a goddess.
Cosplayer: Sassy Shelton Oni Sassy
Ancient Egyptian god of the dead, represented by a jackal or the figure of a man with the head of a jackal. In the Early Dynastic period and the Old Kingdom, he enjoyed a preeminent (though not exclusive) position as lord of the dead. The ancient Egyptians revered Anubis highly because they believed he had tremendous power over both their physical and spiritual selves when they died.
Cosplayer: Christopher Dixon (Mr. Tetris)
Cosplayer: Tadiwa Njagu
is a popular Lwa (spirits of Haitian Vodou and Louisiana Voodoo.) within religion in the Dominican Republic. She is considered the patron saint of love, money, and general happiness within the religion in the Dominican Republic 21 Divisions. She is often considered extremely flirtatious, generous, and playful by her devotees. She, as well as other worshipers, are concerned for other female loas, as they consider themselves able to provide for anything a person could request.
Cosplayer: Kayci Lyn (Glamazon Rogue)
To the ancient Egyptians, Horus was one of the most important deities. He was commonly depicted as a falcon-headed god with a double crown. The pharaohs of Egypt were associated with Horus since the pharaoh was considered to be the earthly embodiment of the god. In the beginning stages of the ancient Egyptian religion, Horus was believed to be the god of war and the sky, and was married to the goddess Hathor. Horus was originally the Sky God, but he is also known as War God, Hunter’s God, God of Kingship and others.
Cosplayer: Wendell Smith (BigSMU)
Nut was the goddess of the sky and all heavenly bodies, a symbol of protecting the dead when they enter the after life. According to the Egyptians, during the day, the heavenly bodies—such as the sun and moon—would make their way across her body. Then, at dusk, they would be swallowed, pass through her digestive system during the night, and be reborn at dawn. Nut is also the barrier separating the forces of chaos from the ordered cosmos in the world.
Cosplayer: Lydia West (Sybernetiktyger)
Baron Samedi is one of the loa of Haitian Vodou. He is a loa of the dead, along with Baron's numerous other incarnations Baron Cimetière , Baron La Croix and Baron Criminel. He is syncretized with Saint Martin de Porres. Baron Samedi is among the most well known figures within Haitian Voodoo. His distinctive look, the purple suit and skeletal face, has made him memorable both within both the religion and in popular culture. Haitian Voodoo is a type of syncretic religion, developed in Haiti when West African slaves were forcibly converted to Christianity in the 18th century. A syncretic religion is the combination of two or more separate theological or mythological belief systems. In the case of Haitian Voodoo, the combination of West African beliefs intertwined with Roman Catholicism, creating the religion we see today. Baron Samedi is the head of the Gede family of loa; his brothers are Azagon Lacroix and Baron piquant and he is the husband of Maman Brigitte together they are the guardians of the past, of history and heritage.
*Many often confuse Papa Legba with Baron Samedi. Thanks to the guidance of our contemporaries well versed in the Haitian culture we are able to explain the difference between the two: Like Samedi, Papa Legba acts as a bridge at the crossroads between life and death, allowing the living to communicate with the spirit world. However, Papa Legba has no authority over the bridge from the physical world into the spirit world. He merely facilitates communication. It is Baron Samedi alone who welcomes the living into the afterlife.
Cosplayer: Greg Jones (Urban Jedi Knights)
The Orisha of home and marriage, first and true wife wife of Shango. A beautiful woman and taught those in the kingdom and other Orishas how to read and write. Patient and had a gift for teaching, as she is a strong and fierce warrior. She represents what it is to sacrifice for love and is related to the lagoons. Excellent cook and can go head to head with any Orisha, as she knows how to fight. Obba Nani is queen and mother, protecting her people with grace and beauty.
Cosplayer: Taryn Bell (Mstarynbell)
Ala is a goddess of the Ibo, African people of eastern Nigeria. The daughter of the great god Chuku, she is the mother goddess of the earth, ruler of the underworld, guardian of the harvest, and goddess of fertility for both people and animals. According to Ibo beliefs, Ala makes a child grow within its mother's womb. She remains near and watches over the child as the child grows into an adult. Later when the individual dies, Ala receives him or her into her womb, known as the pocket of Ala. The goddess is also a lawgiver who shows people how to live a good life. Her laws emphasize moral values such as honesty.
Cosplayers: Erika Phoenixxx (Erikaphoenixx)
He is the Orisha of the crossroads, which includes all other doors and roads. He is the very personification of destiny and fate and allows for the happiness of men. The number that symbolizes Elegua is 3, while his colors are black and red, displayed through a necklace. His partner is named Echu, who governs over all misfortune.
Cosplayer: Abe Washington
is a spirit of life and death. Olokun is revered as one of the most commanding Orishas in the Yoruba religion. She is an androgynous Orisha that can take on any form. The guardian of the deepest depths of the sea, Olokun is the owner of the oceans and all of the riches that they possess. The deep sea is her kingdom and she resides there happily. The ocean may be understood as the source of all life. Many ancient creation myths correspond to modern scientific theories that living beings first emerged from the sea. Likewise, each individual human being emerges from the womb’s amniotic sac of salty fluids. The bottom of the sea is also the realm of death, the proverbial watery graveyard. Olokun controls the spiritual staging area that human souls must cross to be born or to return to the spirit realm at death.
Cosplayer: LJay Phoenix ( LJayPhoenix )
The agile and elegant goddess of love and of sex. beauty, jewelery, flowers, luxury, wealth, dance, femininity as well as discord, vengeance, jealousy; the loa of ideality in Haitian Voodoo is Erzulie Freda. She is respected and wealthy, wears her hair long and is also very demanding. She requires her lovers to dedicate a room entirely for her ritual lovemaking. The Rada aspect of Erzulie. She wears three wedding rings, one for each husband. Agwe, Damballah and Ogou. Her symbol is a heart and she is always envisioned as a beautiful spoiled mixed raced woman.
Cosplayer: Raine Morgan Akemiraine Cosplay
Aja is a patron of the forest and all the animals within it. She holds the secrets of botany and is a master of potions and healing herbs. She passed this skill to the Yoruban people, who practice her craft to this very day.
Cosplayer: Tris Westbrook Moonlight Miss
The history of Shango has traveled over centuries and continents, from the Yoruba people of Nigeria and Benin in West Africa. Also known as Chango, Sango or Xango, this African deity was elevated to an Orisha after his death. The fourth king of the Yoruba Oyo Empire, he is the god of thunder, drumming, dancing, fire and male virility. Known for his love of partying, Shango has a ritual dance named after him. He is a master at the drums and the rumble of the thunder reminds us of his rhythmic sounds. Referred to as the "King of Santeria," he is a commanding sorcerer who uses his power to cast spells.
Cosplayer: Tony Spann (Urbentinespann)
Tefnut (Tefenet, Tefnet) was an ancient Egyptian goddess of moisture, but was strongly associated with both the moon and the sun. She was known as both the left (moon) and the right (sun) “Eyes of Ra” and represented moisture (as a lunar goddess) and dryness (or the absence of moisture, as a solar goddess). Her name means “She of moisture” and its root can be found in the Egyptian words for “moist” and “spit”. Tefnut was generally depicted as a lioness or a woman with a lion’s head. Less often, she was depicted as a woman. She always wears a solar disk and Uraeus, and carries a sceptre (representing power) and the ankh (representing the breath of life). She also occasionally took the form of a cobra.
Cosplayer: Teffinae Wharton (Teffy Wonder)