A secret society with a community spirit

I don’t know about you, but as a child (one that was an avid reader of The Famous Five and The Secret Seven), I could think of nothing more exciting than the idea of belonging to a secret society. The societies I invented were not highly populated, indeed with some I was the only member. Yet, each had a rule book, numerous passwords and I was, of course, head of them all. Sadly, apart from the occasional scribbles in note book found at my parents’ house there is no evidence of the existence of any of the societies I led so successfully.

But many societies have much more longevity than mine. I find it so fascinating to discover an object with a link to an organisation where secrecy played a key role. One such object that fits the bill at our Wyle Cop shop comes in the form of these two figures (pictured). They are known as edan and have been cast in brass over iron rods. Edan are among the most fascinating sculptured objects in Yoruba culture.  The Yoruba people are from West Africa, predominantly Nigeria, where they make up around 21% of the population.

Edan sculptures play a key role in Yoruba society. They are presented to an initiate of the higher ranks of a secret society, Ogboni.  Ogboni is one of the most prominent Yoruba religious societies, which worships the owner of the earth, Onile. These figures are said to represent Onile in both male and female forms. Together the male and female forms create a third entity – a secret entity, which is only known to initiates.

The prime function of Ogboni is to harmonise all spirits and forces of nature and ensure human survival, peace, happiness, and social stability in the community. It is led by the eldest and wisest man and woman from the community. (This naturally would have been me in one of my own societies!). Members of the society wear edan around their necks, as symbols of rank, at society meetings and ceremonies. The material used to make the Edan was not picked at random…Brass does not rust and so symbolises immortality. The casting over an iron rod signifies the union of the magical forces associated with brass and iron.

As in so many cultures, the religious role of the Ogboni society is intertwined with other aspects of life. They act as a town council, a civic court, and even play a role in local monarchies. The edan can even be used as part of these every day affairs, for example, they could even be used to help to predict outcomes depending on the way they fell when placed in the ground.

Ogboni societies still exist among more traditional Yoruba today, but are not as prevalent as they were pre 1960s.  Yet, their goals of survival, peace, happiness, and social stability will resonate within every community. So, I may not be head of my very own secret society but feeling part of a community here in Shrewsbury is a pretty good consolation. Mind you, it would be even better if we had a few passwords, badges and a secret headquarters!


Vicky Vicky

Vicky runs local antiques business It's a nomad life with her partner Sam Handbury-Madin. The shop, which moved from Wyle Cop to Green Lane in 2015, sells Tribal and Asian art and collectables from around the world. Vicky is a Shropshire lass, who moved back to Shrewsbury in 2008 after time spent in Italy, London and St. Andrews (where she studied archaeology and ancient history). She met her husband Sam on her return and they opened It's a nomad life in 2012, combining their love of travel and old things! Vicky also works as a Freelance Fundraising Consultant.

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