The traditional Yorùbá religions, which originated in Africa and later populated areas such as Brazil, Trinidad, Cuba, and parts of North America, have many òrìsà (also known as orichá, orisha, or orixá, a collective term for deities and spirits). Of these, Ọ̀ṣun is perhaps one of the best known, though Her name can be found in variations such as Ochún, Oshun, or Oxúm. A complex deity, Oshun’s worship appears in Yorùbá, Lucumí/Santería, Candomblé, Trinidad Orisha, Umbanda, Voudoun, Oyotunji, Macumba, and others. Given Her diverse nature and multiple faces within the religions and spiritualities which worship Her, for this spotlight post I’ve decided to concentrate on Ọ̀ṣun in Her role within the Yorùbá pantheon, and will attempt to give a brief introduction to this many-faceted Lady.
As Ọ̀ṣun shares Her name with one of the rivers of Nigeria, one of Her titles is “òrìsà of rivers”. As such, She is associated with fresh water, and can be as calm or as tempestuous as the waters which She rules over. An òrìsà concerned with love and beauty, Ọ̀ṣun can give freely of blessings and abundance, or She can be unpredictable and spiteful, depending on Her wont. Her name can be translated as “source” or “that which runs”, and She is considered to be the infinite source of life in the Yorùbá tradition. Extremely beautiful, Ọ̀ṣun can be petitioned with pretty objects, particularly mirrors and gold/brass, along with fresh water and honey. Customarily depicted wearing yellow, Ọ̀ṣun is the òrìsà of beauty, sensuality and femininity.
Ọ̀ṣun portrays both the positive and negative aspects of love. Deeply enamoured with Her husband, Ṣàngó (also known as Changó, Xang, or Jakuta), She also has to share Him with His other wives, Her sister, Ọya, and Ọba. This means that Ọ̀ṣun’s moods can vary according to where Her husband’s attractions are focused: if She is His current wife of choice, She can be bright and happy and generous; if not, then She can be vindictive and jealous. As She shows both aspects of love, Ọ̀ṣun can be petitioned for both finding love and removing love, and She does not view liars or oath-breakers lightly.
In Ọ̀ṣun’s waters, many can find healing — particularly for babies — and also prophecy, for She obtained the powers of divination from the òrìsà Obatala. She is also the Lady to Whom couples turn for help with fertility, for conception, pregnancy, and childbirth also fall within Her rulership, and She also governs money, though She can be frivolous with this — Her preference for pretty items can be Her downfall. Ruler of “sweet waters”, Ọ̀ṣun is not an òrìsà to be trifled with; She has power and prestige in Her own right, and can be either loving and kind or terrible and destructive.
For the contemporary seeker, Ọ̀ṣun offers much: She is particularly protective of pregnant women and those trying for a family, as well as babies. In Her role of òrìsà of beauty, She can bring empowerment and self-esteem in matters of self-acceptance, self-love, beauty, and related areas. She accentuates the sensuous, and shines a light on all that is beautiful and precious. She will consider petitions from those who seek love, and those who wish to remove themselves from the same, as well as those requiring assistance in financial matters. Exuberant and passionate, Ọ̀ṣun adores worship in which She is adored, can be sweetened with honey, and can be found wherever fresh water runs.
Ann, M., and Imel, D. M. (1993). Goddesses in World Mythology. Oxford: Oxford University Press, p.16.
Murphy, J. M., and Sanford, M-M. (2001). Ọ̀ṣun across the Waters: A Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. Bloomington: Indiana University Press.
Monaghan, P. (1999). The Goddess Path. St Paul: Llewellyn, pp.189-196.
Note: On a fairly regular basis, I’ll randomly select a Goddess to talk about here on the blog. Want to know more? I’ll share some of my personal thoughts and experiences with this aspect of the Divine Feminine in the next instalment of my monthly newsletter, Reflections. You can sign up below (and when you do, you’ll get a link to my eBook, “My Personal Favourite Vibrational Essences”, straight to your inbox.)