Oriki Oya – Praising the Spirit of the Wind
Ajalaiye, Ajalorun, fun mi ni ire, The Winds of Earth and Heaven bring me good fortune,
Iba Yansan, Praise to the Mother of Nine,
Ajalaiye, Ajalorun, fun mi ni alaafia, The Winds of Earth and Heaven bring me well-being,
Iba Oya, Praise to the Spirit of the Wind,
Ajalaiye, Ajalorun, winiwini, The Winds of Earth and Heaven are wondrous,
Mbe mbe ma Yansan, May there always be a Mother of Nine, Ase. So be it.
OYA is the Ruler of the Wind and Ruler of Tornadoes and She claims lightning as one of Her powers as well. O-ya means “she tore” in Yoruba. An elemental Goddess – Air, Fire Water – She incorporates all of them into Her. She is the personification of the Niger River and has the power to shapeshift into a water buffalo (and in some stories, other animals in the wilderness). As a Female Warrior, She fights ferociously and is fearless in Her protection of Her children and mates. Hunters and Chieftains seek OYA’s good graces for abundant hunting and in selecting strong leaders. OYA is also the Owner of the Marketplace.
As Queen of the Dead, She safeguards the spirits of those who have passed and keeps the Ancestral connections, reminding future generations from where they came. She is the only Orisha that has a foot in Life and a foot in Death. OYA governs the gates of cemeteries and it is there that She receives offerings from Her children who those seeking Her assistance.
In all that She does, She is independent, unpredictable, fierce and beautiful.
To Her, I turn for transformation, purification, blowing out energy that no longer serves me. She gives voice and movement to the wild bits of my soul and when I dance and whirl with OYA, I am out of my head and intellect, fully inhabiting the elemental power of SHE. As a storm begins to gather, I feel Her energies … toiling, spinning, bubbling. I taste Her promise of rain and see Her in the streaking release of each lightning flash. She is the voice of Independent Women as well – the courage to speak our minds and the authenticity that allows us to live beholden to no man. And when She chooses, as Shakti empowers and enlivens Shiva, so does OYA empower Her mate, Chango. Reflecting the duality of Her nature (and relationship with the male Orishas), the solitary part of my nature that is very comfortable without a relationship with a man is a part that I truly identify with OYA.
This article gives me an opportunity to share some of the story that led me to honoring the Orishas and developing a relationship with OYA and the Orishas. Orisha is the generic Yoruban word for “god”. Many of the Orishas were regional deities who traveled with the slaves to the Caribbean and sparked the variations of Afro-Caribbean worship. Yoruba tradition says that before souls are born, they choose an Orisha for their human life. A portion of that Orisha’s cosmic essence lives in the human’s head and that is where the phrase “owning a head” comes from. Sons and Daughters of particular Orishas also tend to embody some of the characteristics of the Orisha.
For those who are interested in approaching the Orishas and/or are attracted to the African Yoruba practices, I encourage you to do your research. We all carry within us ties to areas of the world and connections to deity that transcend our current place, time, genetic roots and outer rationale. These urges, spiritual “wonderings” or instincts of connection do not always seem explainable to the outsider but they could be a missing piece to your spiritual puzzle.
As a blonde-haired, green-eyed woman of Irish and German heritage, it seems completely unlikely that I would have a strong connection with the African Orishas. But I do and it is one that has been confirmed repeatedly, even to my own surprise in many cases. I love the Orishas, their energies and their stories. I have several altars in my home to them – Eleggua sits right by the front door on his favorite red trunk surrounded by toys, candy, rum and cigar. Obatala likes to be on top of the bookshelf – a serene presence that I reach out to like a touchstone. And, of course, there is OYA … copper coins, Her beaded weapons, skull and other offerings that She has claimed through the years.
As a non-Initiate, I approach the Orishas a bit differently than can be called traditional or accepted practice. I have considered initiation but it is a commitment that requires thoughtfulness and guidance from the Orishas. For now, I offer the Orishas a devotional relationship because I felt the deep ties and want to honor them.
My journey to the Orishas began in my early 20s when I moved to South Florida. I was so blessed to connect with a vibrant spiritual community that included practitioners from various magickal and spiritual traditions and lineages. The Afro-Caribbean current is strong here in South Florida with the incredible communities of immigrants from Cuba, Haiti, Brazil – all hotspots for Santeria, Vodoun, Lucumi and Candomble and Orisha worship. Botanicas (stores for spiritual supplies and consultation) are very present and have survived Internet buying where many brick and mortar metaphysical stores have not.
From the moment that I arrived in Florida, there was always a low drumbeat on the edges of my perception. I did not fully identify what it was until I had an opportunity to attend an Egungun Ceremony. A local business owner and friend had suffered a tragic loss of both of his parents in a car accident. His elevation to formal head of the family was being marked by the Egungun ceremony to which I was invited with some of my spiritual teachers. A Priest, drummers, dancers, and ritualists were all flown in from Nigeria to perform the ritual.
When the drums began to beat, I was mesmerized. The only thing that I can compare it to is the rising of the kundalini. Each beat seemed to resonate with something in my body … spirit … soul. I struggled to stay fully seated in my body when all I wanted to do was get into that ritual space and dance, and allow my body to express the internal and external rhythms of the drums. Swaying, rocking, I was fixated on the colorful, wild ceremony unfolding before me … I found myself on the edge of the ritual area without even realizing it. Names that meant nothing to me at the time filled my brain – Damballah … Oya … the intensely beautiful singing of the orikis filled me. I was “home” without even realizing where “home” was.
At one point, the Priest rose and began reading all the names of the Ancestors on both sides of the family as far back as they had been traced. There were prayers, invocations and sacrifices. It was one of the most fascinating days of my life, and I can still see the whirling colors vividly and feel the evoked energies even though it has been twenty years.
The Egungun ceremonies commemorate and recognize the ancestral spirits – they are OYA in all Her wild, beautiful power in masquerade and as the Orisha of the Dead and the Ancestors. The drummers, dancers and singers tell stories of praise and names (orikis) through movement and rhythm and through their costumes. Elaborate masks and fabrics of every color imaginable are on display by the ritual participants and the attendees.
That Egungun ceremony was my first introduction to the Orishas and to OYA in particular. I have had a strong connection to the dead since childhood, and my most powerful Goddess connections have always been with the Dark Mothers that hold sway over the dead and liminal areas. Looking back, it was almost inevitable I would be so drawn t0 OYA . With a flash of Her colorful skirts, She had whirled into my life.
In the years since the Egungun ceremony, OYA has made Her presence known in multiple synchronicities. I have been so lucky to have access to Santeros and Santeras who have encouraged me in my devotion, consulted for me on how to approach the Orishas and guided me in a very non-traditional practice. My devotional approach to the Orishas works for me and for them – we have come to an understanding of our Worship Bargain.
One synchronicity came out of the blue. While working for a hospital, one of the women I worked with happened to overhear me say that I was going to meet a friend at a Botanica after work. She approached me and asked if I was initiated. I replied that I was not. She told me about her mother who had passed the year before and had been a Santera in the community. As we spoke, the energy between us began to increase until it was electric. The hairs on both of our arms were standing straight up. She asked me if I knew who the Orisha of my head was, and I told her I thought it was OYA but had not had it confirmed. She broke out in a huge smile and said that her mom was also a Daughter of OYA. The next day, she brought me a ring that had belonged to her Mom. I was so shocked and delighted. She had kept the ring because she always felt like it was supposed to go to someone. For the next several weeks, I dreamt of the Santera and she gave me messages to give to her daughter. It was incredible. OYA – the Goddess who mediates between the world of the living and the dead had brought about a connection to deliver an important message from one world to the next. How amazing are the Goddesses??
A few years ago, I connected with a female Priest of Chango. She came to visit me and over several days, we walked the swampy areas near my home as she pointed out the plants sacred to OYA. She also taught me some of the beginning steps of beading. Before her visit was over, I gathered herbs and other offerings to create an Osain for OYA, and then beaded it myself. I was delighted to be able to create this sacred vessel as a symbol of my love and respect for OYA, and it still sits on Her altar. Below is my completed Osain.
OYA and all of the Orishas are strongly with me always, even when I have not lived in South Florida. When I was in Utah and a storm would gather over the Wasatch, I could see Her dancing the winds down the mountains and hear Her big belly laughs of delight in the pure, raw energy.
There are so many more layers to OYA. Her sacred number is 9 – nine skirts – Yansan. Some of Her favorite foods that are also good for offerings are eggplants, yams, red wine, chocolate pudding, black grapes, figs and star fruit. She syncretizes to La Candelaria (Our Lady of Candlemas) and Santa Teresita in Catholicism. Friday is Her day of the week and Her colors are burgundy and purple. Copper is Her favorite metal.
The Orishas are available to all who wish to connect with them, but it is also wise to remember that with all deities, you should do your research as well as follow your instincts. Read about them, meditate with them, dream with them!
As I was working on this article, I had several nights of dreamtime with OYA and some of the other Orishas. Whizzing through the air, the sound of wind rushing my ears, I tasted and joined with the power of OYA. We mirrored warrior stances and were delighted at the prospect of battle. I saw our connection that had been forged over multiple lifetimes.
**in the time since the writing of this article, I have completed several initiations in Lukumi. Imagine my surprise when it was confirmed that OSHUN was the Guardian Orisha of my head. I will say surprise and delight since Oya and Oshun share a strong bond and I am blessed by all of the Orishas. Maferefun Oya! Maferefun Oshun! Ashe!
Resources for OYA:
OYA: In Praise of an African Goddess by Judith Gleason. This is a magnificent treatise on Oya.
OYA: Santeria and the Orisha of the Winds by Raul Canizares
OYA: Ifa and the Spirit of the Wind by Awo Fa’lokun Fatunmbi
Keys to Feminine Empowerment from the Yoruba West African Tradition
Art Sources for OYA:
Join my online course on the Orishas …