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Summer is the time of year that many of us who live in temperate zones flock to the water. For some it is a seasonal rite that almost occurs perfunctorily, while for others it is a spiritual pilgrimage. This article is devoted to those who see the presence of divinity in water and for those who would like to engage the sacred nature of water but are unsure how. As is the focus of most of my work, such as my book, Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones: Hoodoo, Mojo and Conjuring with Herbs spiritual engagement in this article involves African deities, our stories, traditions, and herbs.
Let us consider two orisha—angelic beings of the Yoruba pantheon—Yemaya-Ologun and Oshun, and their Afro-Brazilian counterpart Iemanja. One of the trends I have noticed with some dismay over the past few years is that far too often these deities are treated like one-dimensional goddesses. They are seen as water deities, which is a fact. Yet they are often portrayed as all-good, sexy black mermaids. Once you delve into the lore of Africa's Yoruba people and begin to examine each orisha's character in other faiths of the African pantheon such as Umbanda and Candomble, a more complex picture develops. Most deities, from whatever culture they hail, have complexities. To ignore that fact is to whitewash their story. My advice in all of my work is to honor and recognize the complexity of deities as you seek out the divine.
In the case of Yemaya-Ologun, this is a male/female dual figure. Yemaya is the mother of all orishas and she lives in the sea. She can be punitive since she is the ultimate lawgiver. Ologun is lord of the depths of the sea. One of my main spiritual influences was a Santeria priest. Under his mentorship I grew up honoring the Santeria vision of the two deities as being infinitely linked. Thus I usually refer to them as one orisha, Yemaya-Ologun. Oshun is a sister to Yemaya-Ologun. Both are members of a powerful family of orisha. These water deities are equally adept at using their sexuality as a weapon or tool as they are at using it to bestow sacred gifts. Yemaya-Ologun—as sea mother, owner of the sea, and tender of the depths—gives and takes life. Much in the same manner as Kali-Ma, there is most definitely a dark side to this deity. Oshun has tricked commanding orisha—such as the powerful warrior orisha Ogun—to meet her goals, luring him into the river and mesmerizing him with a honey dance. In short, as you go to your favorite watering holes this summer seeking to praise or honor these and other water deities, do so with sincerity, respect, and some trepidation; the sisters don't play.
May the Ashe of the Universe Imbue Your Life with The Cleansing Spray of Yemaya-Ologun.
Before beginning say an invocation/praise chant:
Onibo to ile (One who nourishes and protects the house)
Next, boil a cup and a half of water in a teakettle. Put 1 teaspoon dried peppermint leaves and the same amount of passionflowers in a strainer or a muslin tea bag. Run a bath; add 1/8 cup ground sea kelp and crumble and add 2 to 3 eucalyptus leaves. Add the moonstone. Fix the tea; place it near the bathtub. Light a blue candle and a white candle. Place them on a fireproof silver colored candleholder.
Repeat the invocation again softly:
Onibo to ile (One who nourishes and protects the house)
Get in the tub. Hold your head under the water briefly, as you contemplate the divinity of Yemaya-Ologun. Sit up slowly. Inhale the sensua aroma of the herbal bath and tea, realizing that these are the ewe of Yemaya-Ologun. Exhale. Repeat this action slowly, seven times. Place the moonstone on your belly. Recite: "Praise be to Yemaya-Ologun, sustainer of life, keeper of the law, lord and mistress of the sea." Relax and enjoy your peppermint/passionflower tea.
Midnight Iemanja Invocation
Begin this work just before midnight on a waxing moon. Go to the seaside carrying talcum powder, a light blue candle, a white candle, rum, fragrant flowers (lily, gardenia, rose stock, or jasmine), a cigar or pure tobacco (with a charcoal block to heat it), a large seashell, and matches in a basket or bag. Light the charcoal block and place it inside the seashell (if using tobacco) atop a mound of sand. Quietly make your plea to Iemanja as you light the cigar or tobacco and candles. Arrange these items on the sand. Sprinkle some of the talcum powder in a protective white circle around the seashell, candles, and smoldering cigar (or tobacco). Pour some of the rum on the ground inside the circle. Take a sip of the rum yourself and pass it around if others are participating in the Iemanja Invocation. Cast the flowers out to sea. Sprinkle the talcum powder on the foam of the sea as well—all the while imagining that you are powdering the spirit of Iemanja. Sit down, gaze upon the fire and smoke, listen and look hard, as you breath deeply; see what messages Iemanja has for you.
Reflecting on Oshun
Begin by setting out a brass or ceramic candleholder. Place a few cinnamon, honey, or orange scented candles in the candleholder. Light the candles. Gaze into the fire and reflect on the beauty and mystery of Oshun.
In unison, say the praise poem:
Barewa lele (The beautiful one emerges)
Repeat until you are both relaxed and comfortable.
Spread honey on each one another lips and elsewhere if you'd like. Share the honey between you. See where this leads. Afterwards, look around you and see which of Oshun's gifts appeal to you. Collect a few items such as tumbled glass, driftwood, or river rocks. Bring these back to your altar at home. Gaze on these items and remember Oshun is not only goddess of love, sensuality, and sexuality, she is also protectress of women and children. She has been known to alleviate menstrual disorders; help us heal from physical, sexual or psychological abuse; and help us increase our fertility.
Priestess Stephanie Rose Bird is a painter and the author of several bestselling books on earth spirituality, Hoodoo, and anthropology, including Sticks, Stones, Roots and Bones, 365 Days of Hoodoo, Light, Bright and Damned ...