Anyanwu: The Eye of Light

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“Anywanwu” by Ben Enwonwu

The sun is one of the most universally revered objects in human history. Just about every culture on the planet honors it for all the different gifts that it brings to our planet, bringing both the light and heat that make life on our planet possible.

Sol Invictus

For one, our method of keeping time is based on it, as for the majority of human history, our clocks were sundials. Most of our modern calendars (including days of the week ala Sun-day), are based off it, and lot of our major holidays originally started as solar equinox or solstice celebrations (such as Easter and Christmas respectively). Even western astrology focuses on a person’s sun signs. Needless to say, our lives revolve around the sun…literally.

“The Sun Shine Brightly” by Uche Okeke

Amongst Ndi Igbo, the Sun was referred to as Anyanwu (An-yan-wew). This is a combination of two different words. The first word, anya means eye. The second word, anwu, means light. Together, the phrase reads as “eye of light.”

Anywanu and other cosmic entities on an Igbo compound wall

Metamorphosing the sun as an eye is not an exclusively Igbo concept. Another famous example of this can be found in the ancient Egyptian character of Ra, who was depicted as a Falcon headed man who hand a sun disk on his head.

Ra

Eye of Ra

A modern example of a celestial eye can be found on the left side of a dollar bill. Here are some other examples found throughout different cultures:

Back of $1 bill

Masonic Eye of Providence

Coat of Arms of Brasłaŭ, Belarus

With the multiple appearances of this “all seeing eye”, one question will naturally arise: Exactly whose eye is it and why is it portrayed in that way? The answer will be revealed throughout this post.

The sun is a symbol of both physical and spiritual awakening. In most societies, peoples sleep cycles closely followed that of the sun. They would wake up around the time the sun rose, and go to sleep soon after the sunset. Many plants and animals also follow this trend.As an agriculturalist, I have been taught that the best way to save seeds is to keep them dry and in the dark, as they will germinate (awaken) if exposed to moisture and sunlight.

Awakening of a seed

Awakening of a seed

When spiritual awakening occurs, its usually referred to as enlightenment. If one has a good eye, they will notice that many of the holy men and women throughout history are quite often portrayed with a sun disc behind their head. Even their titles and epithets reveal as much. The Buddha, for example, name literally means “The Awakened One.”

The Buddha (Awakened One)

Lao Tzu

Green Tara

Jesus the Christ (Annointed One)

Kwan Yin (A Female Buddha)

Krishna

Krishna

It is no coincidence  that Alaigbo (Igboland) was referred to as the land of the rising sun. Many of the most enlightening spiritual teachings and examples in all of Africa had been found in that land in what is now southeastern Nigeria. One place in particular was so highly developed that people considered it to be  one of the  major cultural epicenters of modern Igbo civilization. This place was known as Agwukwu-Nri, from which I am descended from on my mother’s side.

Land of the Rising Sun

Anywanu played a very large role in life of the Umunri. “Nri people believed that the sun was the dwelling place of Anyanwu (The God of Light and Agbala (The Holy Spirit). They believed Agbala to be the collective spirit of all holy beings (human and nonhuman). The Holy Spirit was a perfect agent of Chi-Ukwu or Chineke (The big God or the Creator God). The Holy Spirit chose its human and nonhuman agents only by their merit. It knew no politics. It transcended religion and culture, and of course, gender. It worked with the humble and truthful. They believed Anyanwu, the Light, to be the symbol of human perfection that all must seek. Anyanwu was perfection and Agbala was entrusted to lead us there.” (Anuobi, Chikodi. Nri Warriors of Peace. Page 210).

Anyanwu and Agbala by Odera Igbokwe

Nri people were so serious about their veneration of Anyanwu, that they would wear it on their faces. This facial scarification was called ichi“In standard Nri scarification, the artist would carve the first line to run from the center of the forehead down to the center of the chin. They would then carve a second line to run across the face, from the right cheek to the left. The second line met the first at the center of the nose, making it a perfect cross. The second cross was drawn with one line running from the left side of the forehead down to the right side of the chin and another line running down the opposite direction. This sequence and pattern was repeated until the pattern looked like the rays of the sun. Altogether, it took sixteen straight lines, eight crosses, for a full face scarification that mirrored the rays of the sun. It was their way of honoring the sun that they worshiped. But it was more than that. It was the face and service and another way of losing one’s facial personality.” (Anuobi, Chikodi. Nri Warriors of Peace. Page 203-204).

Ichi Facial Markings

One very important part of Nri’s mission was as the peacemakers and cleansers of abomination in Igboland. They attempted to broker peace deals and end wars, even going so far as to run onto battlefields to stop them. When a land needed to be cleansed for whatever reason, and it was beyond the scope of the ritual specialists of that area, Nri priests were sent in to do the job of restoring balance.  Ironically, the sun itself is a cleansing agent, and it is capable of destroying pathogens in liquids.In alot of ways, the Nri were like the Jedi of the Igbo people. However, instead of using lightsabers, they used Otonsi rods to vanquish evil.

I always thought Obi Wan’s name looked Igbo


Anyanwu bestows many gifts to people. One gift is the one of sight. When the sun is out, things that were once in darkness are brought to light. This is meant both in the physical as well as metaphysical sense. Darkness is often used to symbolize something that is hidden or unknown, while light in this sense represents something that has been revealed.

Anyanwu Shrine in Ovoko Village

Returning back to the previous examples of the Sun manifested as an eye, it should be clear by now that the eye that is being symbolized is YOUR OWN. It represents YOUR enlightenment, YOUR sight, YOUR vision. This is is reiterated by the usage of a hawk to represent Ra. One of the things that hawks are known for is to be birds of prey. For an animal that flys to be able to spot and capture its prey from so high up in the sky, they must have incredible vision. The Avenger known as Hawkeye is appropriately named as such because of his ability to hit targets with his bow and arrow, which requires a very sharp eye.

Hawkeye, the Avenger

Hawkeye, the Avenger

A former mentor of mine once told me that ones eyes are their first oracle. For this reason, he said, he was unable to consult Afa Ugili/Akpukpala (divination apparatus)  if he were outside, as Agwu (the Igbo spirit of divination) would be working primarily through his eyes. In fact, in his book, After God Is Dibia Vol. 1, legendary Dibia John Umeh proclaims that “As Ose Obala, Agwu is the God of Light, Anwu, whose eye is the Sun (Anyanwu). ..As the God of Light, Agwu is an integral part of Ose Ora (Uche Chukwu), the universal Consciousness of God…which is the completeness awareness of what was, what is, and what will be…..God of Light whose blze or Divine Light disperses and/or extinguishes danger, evil or darkness.” (Page 114).

“Anyanwu and Agbala were not there, only coldness” by Uche Okeke

Metaphorically, this sight represents itself as insight, which is the capacity to gain an accurate and deep intuitive understanding of a person or thing, and foresight, the ability to predict what will happen or be needed in the future. In short, insight is the ability to see things as they really are, and foresight is the ability to see things as they will be.

There are many people who seek solutions to problems when the answers are typically right in front of their face, and the thing about your senses is that if you don’t use them, you will lose them. Have you ever wondered why despite all of the oracles that were all over Africa, none of them seemed to give an adequate solution to the coming domination by the Europeans? (Or if they did, the people definitely did not listen to them!)  Why is it that the only nation that was never to formally colonized in Africa was Ethiopia? Could it have anything to do with the incredible foresight of its leader, Emperor Menelik II? Were other African people overdependent on their shrines and oracles that they forgot how to use their abilities of foresight and insight?

HEM Menelik II: King of Kings of Ethiopia

One also didn’t need to use an oracle to see that the present systems we have (economic, political, industrial, religious etc) were unsustainable and would eventually fail us. A major flaw of Western Civilization is the complete lack of foresight in a lot of the decisions that have been made throughout the years. Sometimes it makes one scratch their head and wonder if those in power ever consider the future consequences of their actions or if they even care.

Other examples of a Sun god granting powers of foresight and insight would be Apollo of the Greeks and Romans, whose Oracle at Delphi was the most important oracular site of the classical Greek world. Apollo once granted Cassandra the gift of foresight in order to seduce her, but after she rejected him, he proclaimed that nobody would ever believe her prophecies. She foresaw the fall of Troy due to the Trojan Horse, and even foresaw her own death, but was powerless to stop either. Pretty messed up situation to be in right?

Apollo: Graeco-Roman God of Light, Wisdom, Prophecy, etc

As  I stated in the Amadioha post, my personal shrine of Anywanu uses the image of the Johny Storm AKA the Human Torch. He is one of the members of the Fantastic Four, with each member representing one of the four classical elements of: earth (The Thing) , air (The Invisible Woman) , fire  (The Human Torch) and water (Mr. Fantastic). However, that is a topic for another day.

The Human Torch

Another comic book character that can be used to represent Anyanwu would be Phoenix from the X-Men. In fact, I would say that she represents Anyanwu way better than the Human Torch because of the significance of the Phoenix, which is  a mythological fire bird found across many cultures that represents rebirth, immortality and renewal. Plus, the comic version also granted enhanced psionic (psychic) abilities  to its host, as Anyanwu also does.

The Phoenix

If you wish to gain access to the infinite wisdom, joy and love of Anyanwu, you can start by greeting her every morning as our ancestors used to do. If you decide to do so, ask yourself: Are you ready to be awakened? 

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22 responses »

  1. Honest, incredible writing. It appears Anyanwu does weild a great deal of power over human innovation and wisdom, among other things. Yet few people notice this to even venerate her. Mazi, you’ve accomplished a deep feat here. Your beautiful yet proper venture of philosophising Anyanwu in both imagery and worthy words, says a great deal of your commitment to Igbo Spirituality. Manifested by the article itself, anyanwu is indeed responsible for the current enlightenment felt across several Igbo cyber societies as of today. This is a highly insightful piece of writing and I commend you once again, Mazi, for your ensuing competence and devotion to the Igbo world and its enormous contributions of culture to the rest of mankind.

  2. Pingback: Amadioha: The Igbo God of Thunder and Lightning « Odinani: The Sacred Sciences of the Igbo People

  3. I have to say this, this article is awesome. But, that figure at the top of the page, looks like the one in the movie, Close Encounters!!! When they came down to great the scientists, this figure can be seen in the very brightly lit opening to the mothership. The resemblance is uncanny for sure!!! Thanks for sharing this.

    Nana Bakkan

  4. I really enjoy the way you show connections between different cultures and spiritual traditions. I think you picked some excellent parallels for solar/fire/light figures here. This was a fascinating article to read.

  5. This is too much, where do u get d inspiration u implore in ur writings man? Bcos they ar unique. Anyawu has always being a thing that keeps the world as one, so is d moon, stars, earth, fire/light, water, air and planets planets. They ar all found everywhr man exists and i add that expecially AIR/IKUKU, EARTH/ANI and SUN/ANYAWU ar d best man-companion In d whole universe…

  6. Omenka Nwa-Ikenga Ekene m gi,having gone through this article of yours,i say keep seeking.Yet with due humility and by knowledge of my ancestors via my father,who descends from an ancient line of centurion-patriarchs,blood nobility and custodians of the traditions of the people of OBINAGU- AGBOGUGU in Enugu State, which am of the eight generation in most recent times as could be recorded in modern numerals,i beg to make a point of suggestion-cum-correction about the creations of Nri.It would be a cause of unrest to my soul if in the support of that which exults the history of my people as a IGBO, i fail to point out those that even exults more the creator of the IGBO(being conscious of the fact that the creator glorifies himself in his people the IGBO) :The OFO was never created by the Nri-IGBO,but is an spiritual plant that grows in the forests of IGBOLAND whose essence has the power of justice inherent in it, thereby making the bearer of the plant’ stick(the staff symbol of the office of the eldest of an IGBO clan) the arbiter of the people, who himself also must be a man of the knowledge of the balance of good against evil.There are other such mystic tree-plants in the forests of IGBOLAND such as the :ANUNUEBE, INYI trees e.t.c.Finally,a history of a people of homogeneity such as the IGBO,should always be portrayed in way to serve as a consciousness and a unifying factor to the people, not as a means to project a group in a group as the group in the group.IGBO KACHAA NU!!!From the United Kingdom,by V.C UDE-NGEKE (UTOBO-IGEDE OBINAGU-AGBOGUGU)(NNADIUGWU I) utobo@live.com.

  7. Imela, very good comparisons of Anyawu in religions throughout the world. It is amazing how much the religions are really connected. Studying about Odinani and the great insight of your writings is helping me appreciate the religions of the world and answer deeply rooted questions on existence. Dalu.

  8. I read the article, Anyanwu: the Eye of Light with excitement. This excitement got more interesting when I came to this statement: “One’s eyes are one’s first oracle. For this reason, …unable to consult Afa Ugili/Akpukpala (divination apparatus) …as Agwu (the Igbo spirit of divination) would be working primarily through his eyes. “…John Umeh reported that Agwu is the God of Light, Anwu, whose eye is the Sun (Anyanwu). ..As the God of Light, Agwu is an integral part of Ose Ora (Uche Chukwu), the universal Consciousness of God…which is the complete awareness of what was, what is, and what will be…..God of Light whose blaze or Divine Light disperses and/or extinguishes danger, evil or darkness.” (Page 114).

    I want to encourage more of this illustrative and splendid exploration of Igbo deities in the application of world ethnography. This is one way we can make sense of what our culture is and how to understand it more deeply and pragmatically. By connecting the local to the outside, we offer more acceptable significance of our culture, cosmology, religion and oracle of rites such as Anyanwu – properly accounted for as seeing and knowing.

  9. The Nri, properly called Eri from the name of their first ancestor who landed in Igbo land after the Deluge and inaugurated a lineage of Priestkings among a people who then saw themselves as immortal sons of God, and their time as a continuum, introduced time reckoning to a people who lived in timeless union with Anyanwu. Their Obu Uga at Aguleri, according to Umeh, represents Obi that came with Time Reckoning (Uga/Ifa Ngafe). By contrast the indigenous Igbo possessed Obi Mbu or Obi Chukwu, the immortal Obi established outside the realm of time reckoning, which lasts forever. Eri/Nri are migrants. They brought civilization, but not all of Igbo culture; and their leader Eri became a servant of the Igbo Anyanwu God who lives inside the earth with the earth mother. He came to learn at the alter of the Ever Living One whose sons and daughters – the cave men (the autochthonous IGBO forest people) are also all gods. By the way that God’s real name is alo IGBO. The Yorubas call him IGBO OLODUMARE. Colonialism spoilt all that, and now we have to relearn who we are.
    Catherine Acholonu (author and researcher in Igbo Cultural Sciences).

  10. Instead of being arbitrary about the correctness of what someones knowledge or scholarship has revealed or not revealed, it might be best to ask, “HOW do we know” whether or not what is being proposed is true or not if the proposal has not been tested?

    • Well one very easy way we know that what is being claimed is untrue is the fact that the history of the place which is now known as Nri is only a few hundred years old. So unless this “Deluge” occured within the last millennium, it has absolutely nothing to do with Nri.

  11. It seems as though someone has taken a myth literally. According to Nri mythology:

    “In the beginning Chukwu, God created and sent down a man, Eri and his wife, Nnamaku to earth (precisely somewhere in Aguleri, Anambra State). On reaching earth, Eri and his wife found the earth surface covered by water, and so they stood upon an anthill and petitioned Chukwu about the poor state of the environment. Chukwu responded urgently sending an Awka blacksmith with his fi ery bellow and charcoal to dry the earth. While Eri lived, Chukwu fed him and his people with Azu Igwe, heavenly fi sh. This however stopped when Eri died. Chukwu then instructed Eri’s son, Nri to sacrifi ce his (Nri’s) fi rst son and daughter and bury them in separate graves. Nri obliged and after twelve days yam, ji and cocoyam, ede grew in the graves respectively, marking the beginning of agriculture.”

    This is a FIGURATIVE story. None of these events actually happened. Instead of trying to make literal sense of this story, it would serve people better to see the deep symbolism behind it.

  12. Hi, firstly, I’d like to say that your website is easily the best source I have for my research on Odinani, which I find to be one of the most difficult traditional African religions to find reliable sources on.

    I try to incorporate a lot of these stories into my artwork, and I’ve been having some difficulty depicting Anyanwu.

    While I could easily just depict Anyanwu ad the sun, if I were to depict it as a person, would it be more in line with traditional Odinani to depict it as a man or a woman?
    In Nri Warriors of Peace, the author describes Anyanwu as a man, but many other sources describe Anyanwu as a sun goddess, and therefore a woman. Since you seem to be a genuinr practitioner of Odinani, I would very much prefer your opinion on the matter. If it isn’t too much trouble, please get back to me when you can.

    • Thanks for the appreciation! I would say that each depiction of Anyanwu, as well as the other spiritual forces of nature is a matter of artistic interpretation. In some places, Ani, the spirit of the earth is depicted as male, but in most places, Ani is depicted as female. Go with however your spirit guides you.

  13. Hello my name is Roby. I got directed to this website by looking at the UN website that has a statue of Anyanwu in front of it as a gift and wanted to know more about it. It is very interesting but I do have a problem with this site. I am a Christian and and to see the Lord Jesus Christ in the on your list of as one of the gang is disturbing. I am a huge advocate of people should be able to believe what they want, that is your choice. Saying that, I need to tell you the truth. The Lord Jesus Christ is the One and only God. I cant tell you what to believe and what not to believe, i can just tell you that there is a huge difference between mythology, pagan gods, sun worship, enlightenment, earth worship and the Lord Jesus Christ, He is God. The Bible says that there is no God before Him and there will be none after Him. I would love to share the Gospel of Jesus Christ with you, if you would let me.

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