Excerpts from the website CANDOMBLE - Uma Religião sem Mistérios a Serviço do Povo.
Translated by yours truly Guatambu (any improvements to the translation contact me)
A magical energy, the universal sacred of the orixá. A powerful energy that is always neutral. Manipulated and directed by men through the orixás and their symbols and/or elements. "
The most precious of Ilê*, axé is the force that ensures dynamic existence.It is transmitted, should be maintained and developed, as all forces may increase or decrease; and this variation is related to the activity and conduct of the ritual.The conduct is determined by the scrupulous observance of the duties and obligations of each holder of axé, yourself, orixá, and Ilê.The development of individual and group axé affects the axé of the Ilê.
* - Ilê requires its own definition here. Ilê is basically synonymous with terreiro. A terreiro is a temple or house of candomblê. Think of it like you would your local church, synagogue, mosque, or buddhist temple. Each of these types of houses of worship have their unique characteristics in terms of symbols, architecture, look, and feel, and the same is true for a terreiro. - Guatambu
"The axé is connected to the initiated, and directly proportional to its ritual conduct - the relationship with his deity, his community, his duties and his babalorixá (priest of candomblé)."
The strength of the axé is contained and transmitted by certain elements and material substances, is transmitted to humans and objects, maintaining and renewing the powers of accomplishment.The axé is contained in a variety of representative elements of the kingdoms: animal, vegetable and mineral, water (fresh and salt), earth, and forest (untamed vegetation or urban space).It is contained in the natural and essential substances of each being whether simple or complex, living or dead, that make up the universe.
There are places, sounds, objects and body parts (especially animal) impregnated with axé. For example, the heart, liver, lungs, gizzard, kidney, feet, hands, tail, bones, teeth, ivory, genitals, roots, leaves , river water, sea, rain, lake, pool, waterfall, orô (prayer), Adja (sort of bell), illus (drums) ...
Every ritual act and offering involves the transmission and revitalization of axé.To be truly active, these ritual acts and offerings must come from the combination of those elements that allow for a specific result or achievement. To receive axé means to incorporate the symbolic elements that represent the vital and essential principles of all that exists.
Xerife pointed out Mestre Acordeon's song "Pedir o Axé", and added the lyrics with translation below...
Vamos pedir o axé
(Lets ask Axé)
Pressa roda começar
(So this round can begin)
De conforme os fundamentos
(Within the fundations)
Capoeira e candomblé
(Capoeira and candomblé)
Oh ie viva Meu Deus! AXÉ BABÁ
(Oh yea viva my god! Axé Babá)
Oh Ie viva Seu Bimba! MEU CAMARÁ
(Oh yea viva my Bimba! My friend)
Oh ie é mestre meu! SEMPRE SERÁ
(Oh yea you are my master! ALWAYS WILL BE)
Oh ie volta do mundo! QUE O MUNDO DÁ
(Oh yeaa the world spins! That the world does)
Vamos pedir o axé, meu pai! MEU PAI XANGô
(Lets ask axé, my father! My father Xangô)
Vamos pedir o axé, minha mãe! IEMANJÁ
(Lets ask axé, my mother! IEMANJA)
Vamos pedir o axé, meu rei! REI OXALÁ
(Lets ask Axé, my king! KING OXALÁ)
Vamos pedir o axé, meu pai MEU PAI XANGÔ
(Lets ask Axé, my father MY FATHER XANGÔ)
Reparado added from Mestre Acordeon's book...
"Aché (Axé, Asé) is the magic force that moves all things in the universe according to the African religions in Brazil. It exists in all realms of nature and can be transmitted through specific rituals. Although Capoeira has no direct connection with religion, the capoeiristas, as the majority of Brazilians, are related one way or another with Afro-Brazilian rituals. Aché in Capoeira means the connection with the roots, a special energy to be developed by any capoeirista. To wish aché to someone means to wish good luck. For those who believe, some special people transmit aché through their wishes."
p.6 Almeida, Bira(Mestre Acordeon). Capoeira: A Brazilian Art Form. Berkeley, California: North Atlantic Books, 1986. Print.
“At the heart of this Yoruba religion is the concept of àse, an individual’s personal spiritual power, which grows throughout life through a person’s diligent application to doing good deeds, coupled with appropriate and calm behavior and with service to the gods in the form of sacrifice. The reciprocity of service between gods and humans is essentially the giving of strength, the renewal of àse to the orisa through blood sacrifice of animals designated as belonging to a specific deity. Renewed and grateful deities in turn bless their supportive worshipers with added ase. The rules of this loving support between humans and gods are all known to that father-of-all-knowledge, the babalawo”
~The Way of the Orisa by Philip Neimark p. XII
Babalawo is a priest of Yoruba religion.
“The orisa are energy that, for the most part, represent aspects of nature. Osun (pronounced O-SHUN) represents sweet waters, love, money, conception; Sango (pronounced Zhan-GO) represents thunder and lightning, strategy, and he is the warrior; Esu (pronounced A-shew), messenger to Oludumare (the single God), owner of roads and opportunities, owner of ase (spiritual energy)…”
~The Way of the Orisa by Philip Neimark p. 14
“In Ifa, blood sacrifice is usually undertaken for major problems and for initiation. When an animal has been used to remove illness or misfortune, its flesh is not eaten. When an animal is offered as part of the process of initiation or for the enhancement of some joyous moment such as childbirth, marriage, or the opening of a new business, the animal will be skinned and prepared for cooking. The meal of that animal is thought to carry powerful àse, or energy, and is good for all who partake. In this, Ifa is very similar to the Hebraic concept of kosher. The animal is made kosher when the rabbi lets its blood while offering prayers to God. The act of making something kosher was not intended to be restrictive but rather transcendent; the individual eating the kosher food is supposed to acquire the spirituality of the sacrifice itself. And as in the Jewish tradition, in Ifa only a trained holy person (babalawo, or priest) who has been initiated into the use of the knife can perform the ceremonies”
~The Way of the Orisa by Philip Neimark p. 38
For people who have a problem with blood sacrifice, eating a chicken sandwich is no different.
“Esu is also the possessor of divine ase, the inner energy and power that allows us to access the right side of the brain and use its powers. Ase is similar to, but more than aura, soul, or spirituality. It is a living, breathing, palpable flow of energy that can either increase or diminish, depending on our behavior.”
~The Way of the Orisa by Philip Neimark p. 76
O Pé, who is from Nigeria and brings from his own experience growing up there, added...
Axé (Àse, in yoruba spelling) is one of those words that I always heard as a kid but never translated. As far as I was concerned, translation was pointless because the context of its use was quite foreign to "western" cultures. The word usually came up in call-and-response exchanges between a priest/medium and a supplicant. The supplicant would bring a sacrifice or offering to the medium who would then present it to the gods. During the presentation, the medium invokes the blessings of the gods on behalf of the supplicant. The supplicant responds with "Àse" after each invocation. The simplest such ritual involves a medium pouring out libations in celebration of some important cultural event. So I guess in my mind, "Àse" is just a word used to claim the blessings of the gods; very much similar to the way christians say "amen" after a prayer.
I hesitate to refer to the context as "Yoruba religion". To the "un-westernized" yoruba person, the gods, libations, sacrifices and all things spiritual are an inextricable part of life. The spiritual laws are simply part of the mechanics of the observable world - the physical laws are not enough. In that sense, I contend that it's just Yoruba culture.
That's my take on it. I don't know how it applies to capoeira. I have always been puzzled by its widespread use in Brazilian hybrid religions since I assumed (probably incorrectly) that the majority of slaves in Brazil were not acquainted with Yoruba culture.