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TALE OF YEMAYA - by Luisah Teish


Once there was a beautiful woman by the name of Ye-ma-ya, who looked into the waters of the ocean.

"Prayer to Yemanja" (Zolrak)

In this article I wish to introduce readers to one of the most powerful Goddesses found in the many African-Caribbean
traditions. Her name is Yemaya, or Ymoja as she was
known to the Yoruban people of West Africa. She is the Mother of the Ogun River and
was also referred to as the "Mother of the Waters". This is because she is said to give
birth to the world's waters - that new springs would appear whenever she turned over in
her sleep, and that springs would also gush forth and turn into rivers wherever she
walked. Together with Oshun and Oya (the guardians of the River Niger), Yemaya was
said to be "supreme in the arts of mystic retribution", and protected her people "against
all evil".

Yemaya is a merciful Goddess who women called upon for aid during childbirth, and the Goddess to whom her people
prayed to for fertility, especially by women who have
trouble conceiving. According to legend, she birthed 14 of the Yoruban Gods and
Goddesses (also referred to as "orishas"). This came about through her being raped by
her own son. After this ordeal, Yemaya lay a curse upon him, causing him to die.
However, when this happened, the Goddess chose to die as well, and went upon a
mountain peak. As she died, the bursting of her uterine waters caused a great flood
which, in turn, created the oceans, and from her womb, the 14 orishas were born.

When the Yoruban people were enslaved, their Goddess went with them, sustaining
them with life even in the face of the darkest times, in the new world. When her people
were brought to the Americas, Ymoja became known as Yemaya, the "Mother of the
Ocean", for this was the first time that her people had came into contact with the ocean.
As the Yoruban people were not allowed to practice their beliefs in this new world, they
merged their deities with images of Catholic saints, and subsequently created a number
of new religions - Santeria in Cuba, Voudoun in Haiti, Macumba in Brazil, and Candomble in Bahia. Within all these differing
religions, Yemaya is still revered as a powerful deity.

To the Brazilian Macumba, she is known as Imanje, the Ocean Goddess of the Crescent Moon. In Cuba, there are many
variants to her name - while Yemaya Ataramagwa was the wealth Queen of the Sea, she was also the stern Yemaya
Achabba, the violent Yemaya Oqqutte (violent aspect), and the overpowering Yemaya Olokun, who could only be seen in
dreams. To the people of Haiti, the Goddess is known as Agwe, and as La Balianne to the people of New Orleans.

Being a Goddess of the Sea, Yemaya is often depicted as a beautiful mermaid, or
wearing seven skirts of blue and white. The cowrie shell is sacred to her and her places
of worship are the seashores, or large rivers that flow into the sea. In Brazil, where she is referred to as ""Our Lady of the
Immaculate Conception", crowds still gather today on
the beach of Bahia to celebrate Candalaria, a ceremony in which offerings of soap,
perfume, and jewellery are thrown into the sea in honour of Yemaya. Letters of requests to the Goddess are thrown also.
The people wait to see if their offerings are accepted by the Goddess, or returned to them upon the waves. It is believed that
the Goddess would wash away the troubles of her followers with her waters, the waters of the womb of creation and
dreams.

Colours attributed to Yemaya are blue, silver and white. Symbols are the six-pointed
star, an open shell, the Moon, and bodies of water. Stones are turquoise (and other light
blue crystals), pearl, mother-of-pearl and coral. The trout lily and sea lavender are her
flowers, while sandalwood, tea rose, lilac and frangipani are her fragrances. She is also
said to be fond of melons.
Yemeya
Painting by Sandra M. Stanton, Copyright ©
African American Wiccan Society Copyright © 2000 - 2017
Offering to Yemeya
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