The Orisha Oshun ~ African Venus ~ Sweetwater
Written and © by Ruth Shekwaga Idakula
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For the past four years of my life I have studied and been a student of the West African spiritual tradition of the orisha. The orisha might be best described as guardian angels. They are supernatural forces that are expressions of the Creator. They appear through nature and being that woman/man is a part of nature they manifest through us also. This article is the orisha that I manifest. When you are a student of the orisha, and this goes by many names: Ifa, Santeria, Lucumi and Vodoun through divination you can find out which orisha “has your head”. When I received this particular divination I had made up my mind who my orisha was. Now, there are literally hundreds of orisha but due to the dispersement of Africans throughout the New World after the slave trade, more than half of the orisha brought through the Middle Passage are only vaguely known, even though this is changing with time. Due to this, the three main female deities are Yemaya, the matriarch, Oya, the warrior goddess and Oshun, goddess of love and fertility, the African Venus and Aphrodite. I had decided that my orisha was Oya and after Oshun came into the room I was flabbergasted and ashamed to say...disappointed. In my mind Oshun was trite. She represented to me all that was weak in women and I could not understand what she had to do with me. Now, I have always been a lover of luxury, fine food and drink and I am a very sensual woman, which all represent Oshun but that’s all I understood her to be. There was much more to me than these things but I was about to understand that Oshun was exactly the same. I had only scratched her surface.
Oshun represents all fresh water including springs, streams and rivers. Her favorite thing to eat is honey. She is known for her laughter which can either be contagious or it can send a shiver down your spine. She adorns herself with gold and copper. Her colors are yellow, green, amber, blue and all colors with a golden or copper hue to them and her sacred number is five. In my research I have found that this corresponds to the magical pentacle which is a symbol of the path of the planet Venus in the heavens.
Birds represent Oshun particularly the vulture and the peacock (hmmm...completely different birds. I’ll explain later). She carries a small golden bell with her, to announce her presence and she carries a mirror. Many scholars and researchers insult me when they talk about the mirror being an indication of how vain she is because she carries it around to look at herself constantly. I would beg to differ. Based on my readings and what Spirit and Intuition has fed me about my Mother, I would say the mirror represents introspection. In order to look out into the world, one must look within oneself to find truth.
I struggled with being a child of Oshun until the day I was initiated into her mysteries. As I sat on the mat I was told a story or Pataki about Oshun. All the orisha have at least several which talk about their development on the days they walked the earth. Each story or Pataki reveals what particular path of that orisha you are being initiated to. Each path or avatar has specific principles one has to adhere to. My path of Oshun is called Ibu Kole, which in Yoruba means, Oshun, the Spirit of Transformation. It is said that there was a time, when all the orisha walked the earth, chaos, famine and destruction plagued the earth. Each orisha decided to make a journey to the heavens to ask Olodumare (God) if she/He had permission to try and solve the problems that festered on earth. As each orisha took their turn and failed, Oshun, who is the youngest of the pantheon, begged and pleaded to the other orisha to let her try. They either laughed at her or ignored her: “What could you possibly have to offer?” She heard over and over again.
When all had tried and failed they figured she might as well try. Oshun at that time took the form of a peacock and flew through the heavens in search of Olodumare. When she went past the Sun all of her beautiful feathers were scorched and turned black and it was then she was transformed into a vulture (in some stories a crow). When she found Olodumare, He was so pleased she had sacrificed her physical beauty to save the world he gave her a chance. She was able to report to Him victorious and that is why till this day Oshun is known as God’s Messenger. She is the only one of the Yoruba pantheon that always has direct communication with Olodumare. That moment of clarity changed my life. I understood why she had chosen me and I (though I didn’t understand this then) had chosen her. My life story had been and still is her life story.
I got extremely excited and dug up all I could about Oshun. Turns out she’s a warrior as well. Now, unlike Oya, she doesn’t fight physical battles besides her male counterparts but she is just as deadly if not more. She is the Queen of the Witches. She actually leads a different set of Spirits who are known in the Yoruba tradition as Iyami, the Witches. Oshun has cunning and a deviousness that gets things accomplished. She can be the sweetest thing but if you ignore her or ridicule her, they say she will cut your throat with the small knife she conceals and will laugh over your body. Oshun own the pumpkin which is symbol of her mystical knowledge and power. She can bring abundance, love, fertility and wealth or she can bring poverty, misery, disease and even death. It is said that Oshun is the only orisha that has permission to take your life before your time. She also will carry you across her river to the Other Side along with her ferryman, who is my father orisha, Aganyu, the Spirit of the Volcano. Oshun is the protector of women and children; she helps heal you from sexual and physical abuse which made sense to me because when I was introduced with her I had recently just left an abusive marriage. She is a trickster and will play on your weaknesses to get what she wants. She deceived her father, Obatala, into giving her the secrets of divination and it is said that Oshun later shared that information with the world. She is the ideal wife of Orunla, the Spirit of Destiny and the ultimate Diviner. She is Iwa Wundia, the Virgin, and she is also Pasanga Obinrin, the sacred Prostitute.
Oshun represents love. She is passionate, erotic love but I think what many miss is that those who propitiate her are supposed to bring love to its highest vibration which is unconditional love. Unconditional love is a difficult love to live because it is about action. It means sacrifice. It means faith and belief when you have absolutely nothing to show for it. It means loving even though you know you are not loved. It can be lonely which in turn causes pain. When you look at Oshun’s patakis it is ironic that though she is the love deity, somehow she always ends up alone. She gets kicked out of her husbands’ houses a couple of times. There are many stories about her living in poverty and having to dig through trash to find food. There is a period of time where she is cast out of society and she spends years in the swamps. They say that she had one dress and she had to wash it so much it turned yellow. This is where she truly understood her spiritual powers and became the ultimate witch. It is at this time she finally finds the love that she had been looking for all her life and there are two stories that speak of this. One says that Orunla, the Spirit of Destiny, finds her and asks for her hand in marriage and through him finds stability and finally placed on her throne. The other story says she marries Sango, God of Thunder and Lightening, whom she has loved almost obsessively for a long time and together they rule his kingdom and raise a family.
Being a child of Oshun has been the most empowering thing in my life. It amazes me that Spirit has given me a mirror of myself through a deity. This does not make me special because I believe we have all been given the same thing. Next time you take a trip to a stream or river take a pumpkin, honey, squash, oranges or cinnamon. Put them in the water or by the water and say a little prayer to Oshun. You might just hear her laughter in the wind.
Iba Se Oshun
Ruth Shekwaga Idakula