Oshun is part of the Yoruba pantheon of gods and goddesses known as Orishas. The Yoruba traditions began in Western Africa within the lands of Nigeria, Benin and Togo. The religion then travelled into the Americas and the Caribbean with the African diaspora created through slavery.
As I was researching Oshun I not only discovered her story but some amazing traditions that are still being practised to invoke her blessings. Women perform dances in bright yellow dresses to call upon her to bless the rivers and allow the waters to flow. Beyonce even pays homage to Oshun in her Lemonade video album- where we see her burst through a doorway in a flowing yellow dress with water surging around her.
It is no wonder she is still so loved as her energy is full of vibrancy, dynamism and sensuality. Oshun is also the reminder that the love and majesty of our beginning can still be with us.
Oshun -the Yoruba Goddess of Sweet Water, Love and Sensuality
Her story begins within the dreams of a grand creator.
Olodumare- the Great One from who all things began, sat within his palace in the heavens and looked down upon the world below him. It had once been nothing but a huge ocean, overseen by the Goddess Olokun.
That though changed when the god Obatala had asked if he might be allowed to create land and then place creatures to live within this new world. Olodumare gave his permission and Obatala descended to the ocean surface by climbing down a golden chain.
When he reached the waters he took from his robes a shell filled with sand, which he now poured out creating the first island. Upon this island he then placed a chicken, who began to scratch madly scattering and spreading the sand so that soon there were more islands which began to join and become continents. Obatala then planted the seed of a palm tree which grew quickly, making fruit and dropping its seeds. These seeds then grew into more trees that made more seeds and more trees, filling the lands.
Soon there was more land than water and this enraged Olokun who had not been consulted about her ocean being reduced so. Olokun in her anger summoned the waters to rise and they crashed over the lands wiping away the trees and burying much of the land until her ocean reclaimed its grandeur.
Olodumare understood why Olokun had acted so and saw that her rage had created a new balance between the land and the water. This was now in perfect relationship to be filled with a myriad of creatures that would live both in the sea and upon the land, as well as the plants and vegetation to nourish and protect them.
However the Great One knew this would be an enormous task that he alone could not do. So he created his offspring; the Orishas. Each Orisha was given a role to make Olodumare’s vision for the world become a reality.
Though there would eventually be four hundred plus one Orishas to oversee the world, Olodumare sent seventeen of them to begin this incredible responsibility.
Of the seventeen there was but one female, Oshun, who was also the youngest. While the male gods were given such duties as creating the people and building their villages, Oshun would take care of the sweet waters that flowed within the rivers, as well as holding the energies of love and sensuality.
Oshun arrived upon the Earth with so much excitement for the undertaking that lay ahead. She dipped her hands into the sweet water that streamed within her rivers, sending her love to flow within their currents.
Then she joined the other Orishas as they began to plan how this new world would look and what it would take to make this vision a reality. Oshun joined in the conversation, offering her insights and desires for the project, but each time she did it was as though she had not spoken. So Oshun spoke louder, thinking the men just hadn’t heard her but it was obvious now that she was being ignored. Then she pulled upon the arm of one of her brothers.
“Why will you not hear me and my ideas?” she said as this Orisha glared at her.
The other Orishas now looked to her and laughed.
“Oh little sister, this is work that requires wisdom and strength beyond your years or capabilities. Leave us to take care of things. You can run along and paddle your feet within your sweet waters,” one of the other Orishas said through his laughter.
Oshun was wounded beyond any words she knew. This dismissal by her brothers gave birth to an offence that was so deep she could not bear to stay upon the Earth any longer. Oshun now made way to sit upon the Moon. Far away from the taunts of the male Orishas, Oshun now indulged herself; brushing her hair and checking on her looks within a small hand mirror. She was at peace with no responsibility nor the judgement of her siblings.
However upon the Earth the loss of her presence began to take effect. The rivers began to mourn for their mother Oshun. Their waters slowed and lessened, until they all but dried up.
The plants suffered without their nourishment so there was no wood to build huts, or cotton to weave cloths. The people grew thirsty and began to perish. The work that the Orishas had already done was coming undone, and they could not continue with any progress.
The sixteen Orishas gathered and shared their woes, before deciding that they must return to Olodumare and seek his counsel. So they returned to the grand creator’s heavenly palace and told Olodumare of all that was going wrong.
Olodumare listened to the Orishas and his heart grew heavy to hear of how his plan was facing such challenges. He was looking upon each of his offspring when he realised that one of them was missing.
“Where is my daughter Oshun?” he asked.
The male Orishas looked to each other and then one finally spoke. He explained that she wasn’t needed and that the practical duties assigned to the male gods were what was important for creating the world.
Olodumare shook his head. It was not the role of an Orisha to decide to who was necessary and who was not. Olodumare had sent his daughter because he knew the world needed her sweetness and love. These things did not build houses but a house built without love does not become a home.
The sweet waters didn’t just flow to be taken up by plants and animals. These waters also carried Oshun’s nurturing so that all was connected to the love that Olodumare had for this world born of his creation, born of his breath. The great creator scolded the male gods for dismissing their sister and demanded they call her back to take her rightful place.
When Oshun returned to Earth her brothers gathered and offered her their apologies. They explained that they simply had not understood her importance within the world.
Oshun accepted their apology then proudly said “Don’t let it happen again.”
She then went to the nearest riverbank and looked upon the slow trickle that remained. Oshun placed a hand upon her aching heart and lifted the other to sky. She called upon the waters to flow once more, summoning the rain to help fill the empty channels and lakes until the sweet waters surged in abundance once more.
Soon the work creating the world progressed. The people and creatures now flourished while the plants and trees thrived. Olodumare was most pleased and left his children to continue overseeing his wondrous creation.
Each one had a special role to watch over the various aspects of humanity. These included Shango; the god of lightning and fire who watched over wars. Ogun; the god of metal work; who embraced the energies of transformation and healing. Obatala; the god who created humans and was now the protector of the disabled and vulnerable. Oya; the goddess who guided the dead to the afterlife and oversaw the energies of birth and rebirth.
The Orishas became so proficient with their duties that after some time that they began to believe they were more powerful than they actually were. They started to resent Olodumare’s rule over their domain and that they still needed to consult with him before they acted or changed anything. They began plans to usurp his rule, even hoping that he would die, so that they could gain complete control over the world.
Their first attempt to do so was undone by the Orisha called Esu. Esu had been left out of their plan and his anger at this led him to rescue Olodumare. Their plan had been to scare him to death with mice, of which the great creator was deeply afraid. When the great father arrived at the place this would happen Esu distracted Olodumare and ate the mice, saving his father and undoing his sibling’s plot. When Olodumare realised what Esu had done, he granted this Orisha the powers to do anything he chose. This led Esu to become known as the trickster as he often created turmoil and obstacles within people lives. However Esu always did this with divine intention that his pranks would compel humans to seek transformation. So when Esu heard the Orishas once more planning to overthrow Olodumare, he ran to his father to share this.
Olodumare could barely contain his anger to hear that his children had planned yet another rebellion. He looked down upon the Earth and chose the quickest and most powerful way to punish them. From his place within the heavens he called to the skies and demanded that no more rains should fall upon the Earth.
Just as when Oshun’s absence had seen the rivers dry, so too they did now. Just as before this caused devastation and suffering across the globe.
The Orishas cried out in agony. Their beautiful world and all the wonders they had created were suffering before their eyes and there was nothing they could do to stop it. Oshun called to the sweet waters but they could not hear her voice or feel her pain.
Realising they were being punished for their arrogance and disrespect the Orishas now called to their father. Each offered their repentance and submission to Olodumare but nothing changed. The father could not and would not hear them
Oshun’s agony at seeing her rivers dry up before her eyes tore at her heart. She could not allow this to continue and she knew the prayers as they were being offered were never going to work. Oshun knew that she needed to return to Olodumare’s palace and speak with him directly.
Oshun decided she would transform into a bird and fly back to the heavens so she could reach him as fast as possible. So she chose the only bird that she felt was grand enough to carry her spirit back to Olodumare’s palace; she became a peacock.
Oshun soared through the skies, so happy to know that she would soon fix this mess created by her siblings. However, in her haste to reach her father she forgot how powerful the sun was. That great ball of heat that the Orishas had created to light and warm the Earth was too much for the delicate feathers on her peacock form. Many of them singed away as she flew past but Oshun pushed on, desperate to get to Olodumare before the Earth perished without rain.
When Oshun finally arrived after her arduous journey, she looked more like a vulture than she did a majestic peacock. However as tired and injured as she was, she gathered her strength and returning to her Orisha form she stood before Olodumare and offered the contrition of all her siblings.
She begged for forgiveness with every fibre of her ‘ashe’, the life force breathed into her by the great creator at her birth. Oshun promised the father that the Orishas now understood and remembered their place within the universe and that such a waywardness would never happen again.
Olodumare felt the apology as much as he heard the words. Seeing the pain in his daughter’s eyes was too much. With a gesture of his hand, the skies of Earth released their rains so the waterways were again filled. Harmony once more returned to the world.
Olodumare now made Oshun rest, not letting her leave the palace until she was fully recovered from her journey to see him.
Before Oshun left the palace Olodumare took her hands and let her know that she was always welcome to carry any messages the Orisha needed to share with him. For now he would transfer her back to Earth with his powers so that she would not suffer as the peacock had. All she had to do was call to her father and he would hear.
The Orishas in submitting to Olodumare did not become any less divine. In fact in embracing their roles as the representation of the great creator upon the Earth they allowed themselves to serve humanity in an even grander way.
The Orishas became the bridge to the source of all that is. In connecting with the Orishas, they reminded one of the grandness from which all beings are born. For as humans were created by the Orisha Obatala, he in turn was created by Olodumare. Their divine creator had his own divine creator, and that breath of Olodumare carried through Obatala and into each person, weaving them all together.
Oshun’s sweetness is the reminder of joy and sensuality that is our birthright and can be part of every aspect of life. She is strong and kind, flamboyant and graceful. Women dance in dedication to her, to summon her to bless the waters and make them flow with her love. The dancers wear bright yellow dresses, gold beads and copper bracelets; the sparkling colours honour Oshun and remind us of the vibrancy of the Goddess who loves us all and wishes us a life of harmony.
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©2022 Marisa Calvi
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