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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.
In Yoruba tradition, Oya, also known as Yansan-an, is the god of lightning, winds, violent storms, death, and reincarnation. Sometimes, she is referred to as the custodian of cemeteries or heaven’s gate. Regarded as one of the most powerful Yoruba deities, the Oya Goddess was married to Sango, a Yoruba god, and regarded as his favorite wife.
The Oya Goddess is associated with quite a number of symbols which include a machete, sword, horsetail flywhisk, water buffalo, lightning, and masks. These symbols are a representation of what Oya does or how she operates. For instance, she is referred to as the goddess of weather because she uses lightning.
Oya is the third wife of Sango Olukoso, the Yoruba god of thunder. Sango has two other wives – Osun and Oba, but Oya was his favorite because of her unique qualities, which complemented that of Sango. It is said that her power of lightning usually announces the arrival of her husband.
The Oya goddess is worshipped on the second of February in some traditions and the twenty-fifth of November in other climates.
Yes. The Oya goddess is regarded as the patron of River Niger in Nigeria. Hence, the Yorubas ( a dominant tribe in Nigeria) call the river – Odò Oya (Oya River).
People pray to Oya to protect them and their families; give them strength to combat life. You can also pray to her for love, money and more. However, while praying before the goddess, caution must not be thrown to the winds because of the fierce temper of Oya for disrespect and other vices.
There are two predominant stories about the number of children the Oya goddess gave birth to. In one of the stories, it was said that she only had one set of twins. In most stories, she was said to have had nine stillbirths (four Twins and Egungun). She often wore a garment of nine colors to honor her dead children. The number of children she had earned her the nickname – Ọya-Ìyáńsàn-án.
Oya is the second god after Orunmila (another Yoruba god) that defeated death. Her psychic abilities, such as the power to call forth death or hold it back, coupled with her role as the guardian of graveyards, are why she is regarded as the goddess of cemeteries.
Worshippers offer the “akara” to the goddess as a traditional offering. The “akara” is a meal made by crushing beans and frying them in balls inside hot palm oil. An unseasoned akara is usually used in rituals.
The Oya frowns at the killing of rams as well as buffalos because of their inclinations to turn into humans.
Spiritually, this number has a divine quality. It indicates human beings’ ability to perceive energy beyond their physical bodies and the potential to sense the elements that inhabit other beings and their natural components.
Also, number 9 represents empathy, unconditional love, experiences, emotions, inner lights and intuition. Like the orisha, it also stands for transcendence and ascent to a greater level of consciousness.
The Oya goddess speaks through the Oracle depicted by the number 9. The number 9 could also refer to the number of stillborns she had.
Oya loved Sango and assisted him in wars. She cannot be directly blamed for Sango’s death, although it is popularly believed that she convinced Sango to pitch Gbonka against Timi (two of his loyal servants who were equally powerful). His failure to defeat Gbonka led him to commit suicide. Oya, saddened by his husband’s disappearance, took her own life too.
Although the remains of Oya weren’t found during excavation, different religions and traditions honor, venerate and worship the goddess. These religions include folk Catholicism, Candomble, Oyotunji, Haitian Voodoo, Umbanda and Trinidad Orisha.
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.