The first humans built their settlements around the rivers. A large enough river could sustain many people, offering water, fish, fertile land, and transportation of goods. It makes no wonder that the earliest civilizations considered rivers as sacred and even represented them by certain deities.
Oshun is one of such deities, representing rivers, fertility, love, beauty, family, and life. She is the personification of feminine power. Nothing in this world couldn’t be created without feminine energy, and Yoruba people worshiping Oshun were perfectly aware of that.
Oshun and Christianity
The intermingling of two or more religions is more common than most people realize. Although Christianity was quite dominant in some countries, it often blended with other religious beliefs native to that specific region.
Such was the case with Yoruba traditions from West Africa and Roman Catholicism. When the Spanish conquistadors brought their religion with them, they also brought African slaves, and the Santeria religion that came out of it is quite fascinating.
Santeria is a unique mix between Catholicism, native myths, and the religion brought by the Yoruba slaves. Different saints and deities merge into archetypes that represent universal principles of human civilizations.
For example, Oshun was the goddess of fertility, motherhood, and life. As such, she was often compared to and associated with Virgin Mary and her numerous versions. Both Virgin Mary and Oshun are symbols of feminine power, each in her own way.
Cuba’s patron saint, Our Lady of Charity (another Marian title), is closely connected to Oshun. Both of them are attributed to similar characteristics, such as protecting the people and being related to bodies of water, etc.
It can be said that adopting Christian saints was an act of preservation at a time when worshiping African culture and its deities were frowned upon at best.
The Origin of Oshun
The Supreme God in the Santeria religion, Olorun (often called Olodumare), sent 17 spirits called orishas to Earth to build a world for humans. Orishas were also supposed to teach humans to thrive in the newly created world. Each orisha took a human identity but possessed immense wisdom and power to lead others.
However, out of 17 orishas, only one was female. After the numerous world-building attempts made by male orishas failed one after another, Oshun was the one that managed to create a world that didn’t fail.
She brought her waters that made Earth hospitable and fertile. Out of the water, all life came to be, including plants, animals, and humans. She continued to protect humans, provide them with rain, and share her wisdom.
Another version of the story of Oshun’s origin tells us that Oshun was a mere mortal once. She was married to Shango, a historical figure who once ruled the powerful Yoruba empire called Oyo Empire.
Just like Oshun, Shango was also considered a deity, particularly the orisha of thunder. With Oshun and Shango, the borders between historical figures and deities are a bit unclear. Still, that is understandable, given that orishas came to Earth in the form of powerful humans.
Shango had two other wives, Oba and Oya, but Oshun was his favorite one. Some sources claim that Oshun also had a second husband, Orunmila, the orisha of Wisdom and Divination.
Sister to Yemaya and Oya
The origin story of Oshun tells us that she was one of three sisters, the other two being Yemaya the orisha of the sea and Oya, the orisha of storms and lightning.
The Other Side of The Coin
Apart from bringing life and prosperity to humans, Oshun can become enraged, violent, and vengeful. She is sometimes portrayed as flooding the Earth and killing its inhabitants or as hindering the crop’s growth by withholding the waters.
However, once appeased by her devoted worshippers, Oshun calms down and becomes the goddess of life, beauty, and fertility once again.
Oshun’s Influence Across Borders
Oshun and other orishas originated among the Yoruba people in West Africa. However, the Transatlantic slave trade that forced so many Yoruba people into slavery also helped spread the stories and legends about these deities far beyond the African continent.
Being sold into slavery and taken far away from their homes, many of those people found solace in praying to Oshun. Her protection was the only thing that kept those slaves going and hoping for a better future.
As they arrived at their new “homes,” these slaves kept their tradition of worshipping Oshun. However, their traditions eventually mingled with the traditions of the people already living there and with their Catholiv faith. This is how the Santeria religion came to be. An inspired mix of the Yoruba religion carried over from Africa and the Catholic faith of European colonizers in Cuba.
As such, Oshun represents similar yet somewhat different concepts, depending on the place of worship.
Apart from making the land fertile, Oshun was often called to assist those who wanted children but struggled to conceive. She was seen as the protector of women and children, and she helped women unleash their femininity.
People also prayed to Oshun in times of poverty, famine, and drought. Oshun was their savior, their hope, and their guardian.
In Brazil, Oshun is also associated with water, rivers, and waterfalls. Called Ọṣun, she is associated with fertility, prosperity, good fortune, and abundance.
However, Oshun is also a protector of love and beauty; many of her worshipers pray to her to solve their romantic problems. As such, Oshun is also a protector of marriage and other relationships.
Additionally, Oshun is considered the orisha of finances. This is why she is sometimes called the “Lady of Gold.”
Just like in West Africa, Oshun in Brazil is also associated with pregnancy and conceiving. Her worshipers are women that want to conceive a child or those that are already pregnant but want to enjoy a healthy and safe pregnancy.
However, Oshun’s role doesn’t end when the child is finally born. She will protect that child until it grows up and starts to speak. This is why Oshun’s devotees call her “Mamae” too.
Cuba and the Santeria Religion
Oshun also became a prominent figure in the Santeria religion of the Caribbean (Cuba, Trinidad, and Puerto Rico). Her cult is especially developed in Cuba, where she is portrayed as a beautiful dark-skinned woman emerging from a river and wearing a yellow dress.
For Cubans, Oshun is a symbol of beauty, sensuality, and love. She protects not only mothers and pregnant women, she is the protector of all women. Notably, she is known to protect prostitutes.
During the Cuban Revolution, there were attempts at erasing Oshun’s role from the identity of the Cuban people. Fortunately, these attempts were unsuccessful, and today, Oshun is one of the most revered deities in Cuba.
She is a symbol of resistance, strength, and beauty of black women that are descendants of African slaves. Oshun protects people and whole towns with her dance, beauty, and femininity.
Oshun Still Going Strong
While most goddesses lost their significance in the modern age, this is not the case with Oshun. She is venerated in place of her origin even today, hundreds and thousands of years later.
The first interaction between Oshun and people was believed to happen in today’s Nigeria, in the city named Osogbo. Oshun promised protection to the people of Osogbo if they worshipped her.
As people obliged her wishes, Oshun helped them further build the city and provided them with enough rainfall and water for their crops. Out of that initial encounter, the Oshun festival evolved, still being practiced by Yoruba people.
Each year, through various rituals and sacrifices, Yoruba people worship orishas, with the main emphasis on Oshun. Near Osogbo, there is Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove, a forest full of shrines and artwork honoring Oshun.
Fertility and birth are necessary for life to go on. A never-ending cycle of birth, life, and death makes everything and everyone connected. We all have to get born, live, give life, and die so that new life can thrive.
With her feminine power and strength, Oshun teaches us to embrace our femininity. She teaches us to be gentle towards people and things around us, even if we didn’t create them. Nourishing good things, protecting the weak, and sharing our wisdom are things we should all strive for.
Guiding mothers through pregnancy, childbirth, and motherhood, Oshun makes sure that humans continue to thrive and enjoy the fruits of the land. Since she first came to Earth to help build our world, Oshun has continued to keep her eye on us and be our protector and provider.
Apart from representing the actual birth, Oshun is also a symbol of the birth of new ideas, creativity, and imagination.
Oshun goddess symbols are often associated with rain, water, gold, the color yellow, and birth. Everything connected to femininity can represent Oshun, including dance, love, beauty, fertility, children, and romance.
Rain, rivers, and streams are all symbols of Oshun, as she was so strongly connected with water. Without water, there would be no life, and that’s why Oshun is a goddess of both water and fertility.
Abebe (a fan in a circular form), and canals.
Seashells habit water, and as such, they are commonly associated with the goddesses that rule over the bodies of water. Seashells also symbolize beauty, and this makes them a perfect symbol of Oshun.
Other animals that symbolize Oshun are vultures and peacocks.
Mint is a plant with powerful symbolism, as it represents virtue, strength, protection, and hospitality. It brings you health and tranquility, and it is closely associated with Oshun because she brought protection and peace to those that worshipped her.
Other plant symbols of Oshun are kalanchoe and pennywort.
Jasmine, sweet scents, citrine, and pumpkin spice are all feminine scents that symbolize love, beauty, and fertility, and for this reason, they are perfect symbols of this orisha.
Gems and Metals
Amber, gold, and copper are great choices for representing Oshun because she was often associated with the colors gold, yellow, and various shades of orange. These gems and metals have a certain level of warmth to them, and it makes perfect sense to use them to symbolize Oshun.
White, yellow, gold, and coral are all Oshun’s colors, and you can use them when you want to represent this orisha or when you want to surround yourself with her symbols.
Meditations to Invoke the Goddess Oshun
- Goddess of fertility, help me be a good and caring mother just like you are.
- Give me your power to shape my surroundings so that my creativity can roam free.
- Oshun, help me recognize and unlock the female powers to help me achieve my goals.
- Mother, protect me from a drought of ideas and the poverty of love: make my imagination flow like a river and my love shine like gold.
- Goddess, help me believe in myself and my power to make the world a better place and don’t let me lose hope even when I am surrounded by failure.
- Teach me how to ask for help when I need it and how to show my gratitude to those that helped me.
- Make me beautiful on both the inside and the outside, and let my appearance mirror my inner beauty.
- Oshun, make me rich: let the children be my fortune and bring prosperity to my family and loved ones.
Want To Bring More Oshun Qualities Into Your Life?
- Crying is often considered a sign of weakness, especially in a world where patriarchy still perpetuates principles of toxic masculinity. Learn to express your deepest emotions through tears without shame. Let those tears wash away all that’s been building inside of you.
- Plant a garden or buy a house plant. Learn more about their needs and make sure that you meet them. Watch the new life emerge from a tiny seed as you provide it with water, sunlight, warmth, and care.
- Take a long bath or go swimming. Clear your thoughts, and instead of analyzing and overthinking everything, just relax. Become one with the water and enjoy its pressure against your body.
- Spend more time with your children, telling them stories and sharing your experiences. If you don’t have children, offer to babysit your family member’s or friend’s child/ren. Be a good role model to those children, but don’t forget that you too can learn some things from them.
- If you are of African descent, honor your ancestors by researching more about their history. Be proud of their tradition and culture. Try to learn a bit of their language. Even if you are not of African descent, stay connected to your roots. Appreciate what you have today while remembering the struggles your ancestors had to go through.
- Surround yourself with Oshun’s symbol. Wear gold and amber jewelry and yellow clothes. Plant mint in your garden or get a kalanchoe houseplant. Spend a day by the river or lake.
If you enjoyed this post we are sure you will enjoy getting to know some of the other goddesses we also write about. You can find the complete list of goddesses sorted across regions and religions here.
Featured Image Credit: Yeniajayiii, CC BY-SA 4.0, via Wikimedia Commons