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In Yoruba religion, Oya was the goddess of weather, known to be one of the most powerful deities in Africa. She was also a strong and brave warrior who was considered to be unbeatable. Her Celtic equivalent is Brigitte, Catholicized as St. Brigid.
Who Was Oya?
Oya was an Orisha in Yoruba religion, meaning that she was a spirit sent by one of the three manifestations of the Supreme God, known as Olodumare. She was known by several names in Yoruban mythology including:
- Oya-Iyansan – meaning the ‘Mother of Nine’
- Oya-ajere – meaning the ‘Carrier of the Container of Fire’
- Ayabu Nikua – meaning ‘The Queen of Death’
- Ayi Lo Da – ‘She Who Turns and Changes’
Oya and her brother Shango were born to the Great Sea Mother, the goddess Yemaya, but it’s not clear who their father was. According to some sources, Oya was barren or could only have stillborn children. However, she took a sacred cloth with the colors of the rainbow and made a sacrifice out of it (to whom she made the sacrifice isn’t known) and as a result, she miraculously gave birth to 9 children: four sets of twins and the ninth child, Egungun. This is why she came to be known as the ‘mother of nine’.
Not very much is known about Oya’s origins or her family but some sources say that she was married to her brother, Shango, and some say that she later married Ogun, the god of iron and metal work.
Oya was often depicted wearing the color of wine, which was said to be her favorite color, and displaying nine whirlwinds since nine was her sacred number. She’s sometimes portrayed with a turban on her head, twisted to look like the horns of a buffalo. This is because according to some myths, she married the great god Ogun in the form of a buffalo.
Below is a list of the editor’s top picks featuring Oya statue.
Depictions and Symbols of Oya
There are several symbols associated with the goddess Oya, including the sword or the machete, the water buffalo, a horsetail flywhisk, a number of masks and lightning. She sometimes appeared in the form of the water buffalo and she often used the sword or machete to clear up a path for change and new growth. Lightning was a symbol strongly associated with her as she was the goddess of weather. However, no one actually knows what the horsetail flywhisk or the masks symbolized.
Oya’s Role in Yoruba Mythology
Although she’s well known as the goddess of weather, Oya played many disparate roles, which was the reason she was such an important deity in Yoruba religion. She commanded the lightning, storms and winds and could bring about tornadoes, earthquakes or practically any kind of weather she chose. As the goddess of change, she would bring down dead wood, making room for new ones.
In addition, Oya was also a funerary goddess who carried the souls of the dead to the next world. She watched over those who were newly dead and helped them to make the transition from life to death (in other words, to cross over).
According to the myths, Oya was also the goddess of psychic abilities, rebirth, intuition and clairvoyance. She was so powerful that she had the ability to call forth death or hold it back if necessary. These responsibilities and being a guardian of graveyards is why the goddess is commonly associated with cemeteries. Because of her abilities, she was known as the ‘Great Mother of Witches (Elders of the Night).
Oya was a wise and just deity who was regarded as a protectress of woman. She was often called upon by women who found themselves in conflicts that they couldn’t resolve. She was also an excellent businesswoman, knew how to handle horses and helped people with their businesses, gaining the title ‘Queen of the Marketplace’.
Although she was a benevolent goddess who loved her people, Oya was fierce and had a fiery demeanor. She was both feared and loved and for good reason: she was a loving and protective mother but if necessary, she could become a terrifying warrior in a fraction of a second and destroy entire villages, causing great suffering. She didn’t tolerate dishonestly, deceit and injustice and no one was foolish enough to anger her.
She is also the patron of the Niger River, known as the Odo-Oya to the Yorubans.
Worship of Oya
According to sources, there were no temples dedicated to Oya in Africa since no remains have been dug up during excavations. However, she was worshipped not only throughout Africa, but also in Brazil where the Amazon river was believed to be Oya’s River .
People prayed to Oya daily and made traditional offerings of acaraje to the goddess. Acaraje was made by peeling or crushing beans, which were then shaped into balls and fried in palm oil (dende). A simpler, unseasoned form of it was often used in rituals. Acaraje is also a common street food, but special acarje was made just for the goddess.
Oya was one of the most important deities in Yoruban mythology and she was also one of the most loved. The people revered her and invoked her aid when in times of trouble. Oya’s worship is still active and continues to this day.