Etymology: “She Tore”
Other Names and Epithets: Aido-Wedo, Ayaba Nikua (“Queen of Death”), Ayi Lo Da (“She Who Turns and Changes”), Ollá, Oya-Ajere (“Carrier of the Container of Fire”), Iya Yansan, Ọya-Iyansan (“Mother of Nine”), Oyá, Oiá, Yansá, Yansã, Yansan, lyá Mésàn, Iansá or Iansã, Lady of the Wind, Goddess of the Nine Skirts, Lady of War, Bearded Amazon, Thunder Maiden, Ayi Lo Da “She Who Turns & Changes”
Animal: Antelope, Bats, Birds, especially Sparrows and Purple Martins, Deer, Insects, especially Dragonflies and Fireflies, Water Buffalo
Colors: Burgundy, Brown (Candomble), Orange, Pink (Candomble), Purple, Rainbow, Red (Candomble), White (Candomble), No Black
Day of the Week: Wednesday (Candomble), Friday
Elements: Air, Fire , Water
Feast Day: February 2nd and November 25th
Gemstones: Amethyst, Black opals, Bloodstone, Garnets, Labradorite, Red Stones, Tourmaline, Smokey Quartz
Herbs: Caimito, Chickweed, Comfrey, Cypress, Elecampane, Flamboyan, Grains of Paradise, Horehound, Peony, Pleurisy Roots, Royal Poinciana, Star Apple, Yucca
Incense: Geranium, Patchouli, Sandalwood
Patron of: Change, Feminism
Sphere of Influence: Athletics, Businesses, Cemeteries, Change, Death, Lightning, Market Places, Rebirth, Storms, Tornadoes, Wind, Witchcraft
Symbols: axe, brightly colored cloth, balloons, broom, buffalo horns, copper, hoe, lightning, kites, graves, mattock, rake, shovel, spear, tornadoes, the sword or machete, masks, scythe, the flywhisk, weather vanes, whip, wind instruments, anything associated with the wind,
Taboo (Candomble): Palm Kernal Oil, Pork, Pumpkin, Ram, Smoke, Stingray, Mutton
Oya is a mother goddess and Orisha from Yoruban mythology found in Africa regions of Benin and Nigeria and in Latin America. In brief, she is the goddess or Orisha of many things such as: winds, lightnings, violent storms, death, cemeteries, rebirth and the market place.
Depictions Of Oya
Oya is often described as being a tall, regal and very beautiful, yet fierce warrior woman. She wears a skirt of nine different colors representing her nine children as she dances. When going into battle, Oya will wield two machetes. Sometimes Oya is shown with a dress or being bare from the waist up.
Modern Day Worship
What’s interesting, is that Oya is a goddess or Orisha whose worship is still very much so active. There are several traditions that honor, venerate and worship Oya that include: Candomble, Folk Catholicism, Haitian Vodou, Oyotunji, Santeria, Trinidad Orisha and Umbanda to name a few.
Oya’s feast day is on February 2nd and another I found listed November 25th.
Offerings To Oya
Specifically, food offerings, Oya is said to enjoy sweet and dark colored foods and anything spicy. Such foods include the following: fish, fruit, plums, eggplant, figs, kola nuts, legumes, porridge, gin, grape wine, red wine, rum, chocolate pudding, purple grapes, rice, black beans, rain water, starfruit, shea or coconut butter, yams, black she goat, black hens, pigeons, rooster and guinea hens.
Such offerings can be left at the corner of an outdoor market or at the gates to a cemetery, particularly one marked by use of divination. Yes, do place the offerings in a trashcan with a prayer to Oya in thanks. She’ll know your intentions and you’ll keep from littering.
Non-food offerings can include coins, cloth and tobacco.
Oya is a member of the Orisha, who are either a spirit or deity. In the Yoruban religion, a nature-based tradition, it is believed that the source of everything is called Olorun or Olodumare. The Orisha themselves are regarded as being different aspects of the main deity, Olorun-Olodumare.
With the Trans-Atlantic slave trade, the worship of Oya was brought with the slaves and is now found throughout much of the southern U.S., Latin America and South America.
Parentage and Family
Obatala is said to be Oya’s father.
Yemaya – The Great Sea Mother
Yemu – Or Yembo, with Obatala, she is the mother of Oya.
Shango – (Also spelled Chango), Orisha of Thunder, her second husband. Oya is sometime considered one of three of Shango’s wives along with Oshun and Oba.
Ogun – A powerful warrior and Orisha of metal working, rum and rum making. Oya was married to him first before leaving Ogun for Shango.
Shango – Depending on the stories or tradition, Oya and Shango are brother and sister, not husband and wife.
Yemaya and Ochun are held to be Oya’s sisters.
The nine tributaries of the Nile River represent her stillborn children. These children are Egungun and four sets of twins.
The Ibeji – Twins whom Oya took in after their mother rejected them.
Ọya-Iyansan – “Mother Of Nine”
This is in reference to the Niger River known in Yoruba as Odo-Oya and its nine tributaries. Oya in her role as a Storm Goddess is seen as the queen and source of the Niger River. This connection of Oya with the Niger River comes from a story where Oya gave birth to nine stillborn children. As a result of this, Oya holds a lot of sadness from this, medical term would be Post-Partum Depression. Oya wears nine different colored scarves or skirts around her waist in honor and memory of these children.
Later, when Oshun (or Yemaya) rejects the twins, the Ibeji from her home, it is Oya who takes them in and raise the twins as her own children.
In Brazil, where Oya’s worship has traveled, she is the goddess of the Amazon River.
Storm & Wind Goddess
One of the main things that Oya is known for is that of a Storm Goddess, including winds and lightning. Oya can manifest winds from a gentle breeze up to hurricane-force level winds and tornadoes.
Harmattan – This is the name of the Dry Season in the West African subcontinent that happens towards the end of November and up to the middle of March. The Harmattan is characterized by a dry and dusty northeasterly trade wind that blows in from the Sahara Desert towards the Gulf of Guinea. Depending upon where one is at, is if the Harmattan wind is cold or hot. The amount of dust that can happen can create a haze and has been known to be the cause of flight cancellations in West Africa.
Oya & Shango – It should be noted that Shango is a god of thunder and that Oya stole or learned the secret of throwing lightning from him. Additionally, Oya would use Shango’s fear of the dead to keep in his place. During thunderstorms, both Oya and Shango ride out, destroying buildings and tearing up the landscape. Often the two are described as Oya being the lightning with Shango being the thunder that follows soon after.
Goddess Of Change & Fire
Closely related to her aspect as a Storm goddess, Oya is also the goddess of change as seen in both nature and life; which may or may not always be comfortable or pleasant to go through. Such changes that Oya is known to bring are not slow and gradual, they are fierce, quick, and often seemingly destructive. This change and the ensuing chaos as seen in the tornadoes associated with Oya are needed for new growth and preventing stagnation.
Fire comes into play as it is often a trans-formative force of change and can be a result of lightning strikes.
As a goddess of change, Oya is not seen as being held by tradition, conventions or boundaries. As a boundary breaker, Oya is known for going hunting, something that had been forbidden to women in West Africa where she was first worshiped.
Goddess Of Cemeteries
As previously mentioned, Oya guarded the gates to cemeteries, most notably, she protected those graves marked with a cross.
Iku – Oya, along with Orunmila, are the only two Orisha who have defeated Iku, the force of death.
Psychopomp – Oya will escort the spirits of the dead to the cemetery’s threshold, though she does not reside within them herself. Other Orishas, Obba and Yewá are the ones who reside within a cemetery or graveyard’s boundaries.
Oya is regarded as holding the secrets and mysteries of death and rebirth, helping the newly deceased with their transitions from the living world to the world of the spirit. In worship, Oya represents the first and last breaths of life taken.
Ancestors – as a goddess of cemeteries, Oya also holds a connection with the ancestors.
Ira – The underworld, Oya entered into the lower realm of Ira in search of her husband Shango when she heard he had died.
Guardian of Stillborn/Unborn Children – As a mother who was unable to keep her own children as they were stillborn, Oya guards and protects the spirit of the unborn or stillborn children, taking them to herself as she guides them to the afterlife.
Illnesses – Oya is called up and invoked during times of a serious illness. Curiously, one source mentioned that Oya protects the lungs and nasal passages. Which makes sense as she is representative of the first and last breath that a person takes.
Goddess Of Markets
This is where Oya can be found, in the market places where businesses are conducted. Whether that place is in a Boardroom Meeting or on the street level, open market, Oya deals in the changing flow of fortunes made and lost. She is noted for being a very shrewd business woman who is also good with horses.
Oya did live many centuries ago where she was a princess of the Oyo clan and consort to Shango, the then ruling king. She was known then as an unbeatable warrior whose skills were unequaled. After her death, she became deified as an Orisha.
Oya’s favored weapons are a pair of machetes forged by her first husband, Ogun.
After becoming deified, Oya employs the wind, storms and tornadoes as her weapons along with raising the egun or spirits of the dead to fight as soldiers.
Feminism – As a goddess of female empowerment and a champion of women, Oya will mete justice on their behalf
Women often ask Oya to give them the ability to choose their words so that they may speak persuasively and powerfully.
Huntress – Hunters and Chiefs will seek out Oya’s blessing when hunting or when selecting new, strong leaders.
Justice – Oya’s machetes represent the sword of truth, cutting quickly to the truth of the matter and dealing out matters of equality and custom. As an agent of change, Oya will cut through all injustices, deceits and dishonesty that’s in her path. She will speak only truths, even when they are hard to hear.
Protector Of Women – In her role as a warrior, Oya is known to be a strong and fierce protector of women. Oya also protects children and spouses. The newly deceased are often said to be her children whom she cares for as her own were stillborn.
The main animal that I found mentioned repeated as being sacred to Oya is the Water Buffalo. Such an animal is often her avatar or representative or it is Oya herself, having transformed or shape-shifted into this form.
Buffalo Horns – A set of buffalo horns rubbed with cam wood to make them red are placed on alters and shrines dedicated to Oya.
Antelope Skin – This story reads a lot like the Celtic or Irish stories of selkies and seal maidens.
One story about Oya mentions that she had originally been an antelope who could take off her skin to transform into a beautiful woman. She would do this every five days when she came to the market in town; hiding her skin in the forest or under some bushes.
One day, Shango meets Oya in the market place and is immediately taken in by her beauty. So enamored of her was he, that Shango followed back to the forest where he saw Oya take her skin and transform back into an antelope.
The next time that Oya returned to market, Shango was hiding, watching for her to change into a woman and hide her skin. As soon as Oya went into the market, Shango came out of hiding to take the skin home where he hid it up in the roof rafters.
With out her skin, Oya became Shango’s wive and went home with him. It should be noted, that Shango has two other wives who became jealous of Oya and the attentions that Shango gave her. She had become his favorite after all.
When Oya bore twins, the other wives, Oshun and Oba told Oya where to find her antelope skin up in the rafters.
Just like the Irish stories, as soon as Oya regained her skin and donned it, turning into an antelope, she took off for the forest.
Spousal Conflict – Not every couple are always going to get along, so its not surprising to find a story of Oya and Shango getting into it and having a fight. Oya changed into an antelope and charged at Shango with her horns. Thinking quickly, Shango made a peace offering of Oya’s favorite food of akara, bean cakes, placing those before her. Pleased with the offering, Oya accepted Shango’s apology and peace offering by giving him her two horns. From then on, whenever he needed her help, Shango needed only to beat the two horns together and Oya would come.
A Stormy Affair – Oya, Shango & Ogun
Oya was first married to Ogun, an Orisha of War and Smithing. The two lived out in the forests together. Ogun was often away working in his smithy or at war, frequently leaving Oya alone.
This provided an opportunity for Shango who wanted to avenge his adopted father Obatala. It seems that Ogun had created some offense towards Obatala and was thus banished to the forest. The banishment wasn’t enough for Shango and he decided to go seduce Oya.
If you want to keep a fight going, this is one way to do it. With the affair and Oya leaving Ogun for Shango, a war broke out between the two.
These wars and fights are often seen in the thunderstorms and the two Orishas, Shango and Ogun continue to be at odds with each other. Obatala often has to come play moderator and impose a peace on them, that is, until the next storm breaks out.
To The Rescue – Saving Shango
Shango got himself into a lot of trouble and made more than a few enemies with his numerous affairs and seducing the wives of the other Orisha.
One night, when Shango was out dancing at a party, some Shango’s enemies managed to capture him and toss him into a jail. Going so far as to throw away the key too.
Later, when Oya is wondering why Shango didn’t return home, she had a vision in which she saw that Shango was being held captive. Oya called down a fierce storm and summoned a bolt of lightning to break the bars of the jail cell holding Shango.
Since then, Shango has always respected Oya’s abilities and skills as a warrior. However, it still doesn’t stop him from always remaining faithful as a husband. He is, however, careful not to ever make Oya mad.
Betrayal By A Ram
The story goes that Oya and the ram were once best friends. When the ram found out that there was a bounty on Oya’s head, it betrayed her.
When Olofi discovered this, he demanded that the ram be sacrificed. Hurt by her friend’s betrayal, Oya has since been unable to bear the sight of the ram. At the same time, Oya is unable to be in the same room with him being sacrificed as she still cares for him.
In ceremonies, when Oya is being consecrated, the ritual items for Shango, Inle, and Yemaya are removed from the room. Likewise, when Shango, Inle or Yemaya are being consecrated, Oya’ ritual items are removed from the room. All of this is to pay respect to the fact that Shango, Inle and Yemaya’s favorite food is ram and they thus bear his scent on them. So the four not ever being in the same room during consecrations is out of respect and remembrance of the ram’s betrayal to Oya.
There is a story told, about how Oshun’s essence or life was fading as people were beginning to concern themselves with other things instead of worshiping her.
As it was, Oya insisted to her husband Shango, to consult with the diloggun (a form of divination) for the first time in order to mark an ebo or sacrifice to Oshun, thereby, saving her. This sacrifice bonded the two in friendship.
Maman Brigitte – Haitian Goddess
Oya has been connected to Maman Brigitte as a syno-deity. Maman Brigitte is a Voodoo goddess or Loa who protects those graves within a cemetery marked with a cross. She is the wife to Ghede or Baron Samedi. Like Oya, she has been connected to the Catholic Saint Brigit.
There are a few different Saints that Oya has been equated to and it varies by the religion revering Oya.
Saint Barbara – The Saint whom Oya is equated to in the Candomble tradition. She is the patron saint of armourers, artillerymen, military engineers, miners, and others who work with explosives. She has an old legend that connects her to lightning and mathematicians.
Saint Brigit – Not just the saint, the Celtic goddess Bridget of the same name. She is the patron saint of Ireland and babies, blacksmiths, boatmen, brewers, cattle, chicken farmers, children whose parents are not married, children with abusive fathers, children born into abusive unions, Clan Douglas, dairy workers, Florida, fugitives, Leinster, mariners, midwives, milk maids, nuns, poets, poor, poultry farmers, poultry raisers, printing presses, sailors, scholars, travelers, and watermen. That is quiet a lot if you ask me.
Saint Teresa – There’s like five or six different Saint Teresas, so I’m not sure which was meant with mentioning her. With the mention of a feast day of October 15th, Saint Teresa of Avila seems to have been who they were mentioning. She is the patron saint of Bodily illnesses, headaches, chess, lacemakers, laceworkers, loss of parents, people in need of grace, people in religious orders, people ridiculed for their piety, Požega, Croatia, sick people, sickness, Spain, and Talisay City, Cebu.
Virgin Mary – “Our Lady of La Candelaria” and “Virgin of Candelaria” as in the Virgin Mary of the Canary Islands, Spain and sometime connected with the Black Madonna.