In most cultures and religions, female deities are associated with fertility, birth, life, beauty, love, and similar concepts. However, there are also female deities that bring destruction, upheaval, and turbulence.
One such deity is Oya, the orisha of winds, storms, lightning, death, and rebirth. She is fierce, powerful, and one of the warrior orishas in the Santeria religion. A force of nature and a bringer of change, Oya is a complex goddess with a sad background.
Oyá’s army is made up of the spirits of the dead called egun. Together with her army, Oya clears everything in front of her, and there is nothing that can stop her.
Oya’s Origins from West Africa
Just like other orishas, Oya originated from the religion of Yoruba people inhabiting West Africa. In the Yoruba language, the name Oya was coined from the phrase “O Ya”, which means “she tore.” Given her volatile nature, the name describes her perfectly.
During the transatlantic slave trade, the cult of Oya followed the enslaved Yoruba people. She established herself as a powerful deity in Latin America, where she was known as Iansa or Yansa. Nowadays, Oya is one of the most revered and powerful orishas in the Santeria religion.
Her orisha parents were Obatalá and Yemú, and her sister was one of the most popular orishas, Yemaya. Along with other orishas, Oya was sent to Earth by Olorun and thus was born as a human with superpowers.
According to the legend, Oya was married to Ogun first, but she captured the attention of another orisha, Changó (Sango)…
Chango was notorious for seducing other orisha’s wives, and he confirmed his reputation when he seduced Oya and took her to live with him. The two had a loving yet tumultuous relationship.
In one instance, Chango spent his night dancing at a party when his enemies managed to capture him, place him in jail, and throw away the key. Fortunately, Oya had a vision in which she saw what happened to her beloved.
She unleashed a terrible storm. One lightning struck the jail, breaking the cell bars and freeing Chango. Since that day, Chango learned to respect Oya as his equal and as a fierce warrior. And they were quite a power couple: Chango was the orisha of thunder, while Oya ruled over storms and winds.
Still, Oya wasn’t the only Chango’s wife, and she certainly wasn’t his only love interest, as his infidelities were public. This didn’t stand in between them, though, but something else did.
Chango had a powerful thunderbolt weapon called Edun Ara. Apart from him, Oya was the only one who had access to Edun Ara. That was the beginning of Chango’s fall.
After Chango’s two most powerful generals, Gbonka and Timi Olofa Ina, declined his orders to wage war against Owu, Oya suggested that he should get rid of them. To achieve that, Chango tried to pit the two generals against each other on three different occasions.
All three times, Gbonka was victorious, and that instigated Chango’s paranoia even more. He ordered Gbonka to be burned to ashes. However, Gbonka reappeared after three days, demanding Chango’s abdication.
Chango asked Oya to bring him his Edun Ara, which she did. But, there was one problem: Edun Ara was wet and stained with Oya’s menstrual blood. To get rid of the blood, Chango threw one “test” lightning with Edun Ara. Somehow, the lightning accidentally struck Chango’s palace and razed it to the ground.
Discouraged by this, Chango lost the will to fight and disappeared into the air. Another version of the story says that he hanged himself. Either way, saddened by her husband’s disappearance and probable death, Oya took her life.
The Mother of Nine
Unfortunately, Shango’s death wasn’t the only tragedy that Oya had to endure. Although she is a powerful deity, there was one thing she couldn’t do: give birth to and raise healthy children. She had nine pregnancies, each one ending in a stillbirth.
That’s why Oye is also known as Ọya-Ìyáńsàn-án, the “mother of nine.” In the remembrance of her children, Oye wears nine differently colored scarves around her waist.
As tragic as this is, Oye still found some solace and the possibility of being a motherly figure. When Oshun gave birth to twins Ibeji and later expelled them from their home, it was Oye who took them in and raised them as her own.
Oya and Yemaya – Enemies or Friends?
There is a common misconception that Oya and Yemaya are enemies because when Oya is consecrated, nothing related to Yemaya can be in the same room and vice versa. However, this isn’t due to their rivalry but for a completely different reason.
A long time ago, a ram was Oya’s best friend. However, the bounty was put on Oya’s head, and the ram wanted to collect it by killing her. However, Oya found out about his plan and felt betrayed.
As a punishment, Olorun wanted to kill the ram, but since she still deeply cared for him, Oya couldn’t bear seeing him killed. That’s why she decided to stay away from the rams in the future.
On the other hand, Yemaya’s favorite food is ram meat, and Yemaya carries a ram scent. As a result, Oya and her items can’t be in the same room as Yemaya’s, and vice versa.
Oya’s Relationship to Other Orishas
Oya’s first husband was Ogun, the orisha of metalwork and rum-making. As a sign of his love, Ogun forged Oya’s favorite weapon – a machete. However, Oya would soon leave him for someone else – Chango.
Apart from being shortly married to Ogun and leaving him for Chango, Oya has close relationships with a few other orishas. For example, Oya is a close friend of Oshun, and she even saved Oshun’s life once.
Oshun’s life was fading as people no longer worshipped her as much as they used to. Oya asked her husband Chango to dedicate the next sacrifice to Oshun, which saved Oshun’s life. Since then, Oya and Oshun have been best friends.
Various Roles of Oya in Santeria Religion
As a religion, Santeria is pretty much female-oriented, so it makes no wonder that one of its most popular deities is Oya. Oya is a powerful deity with a complex set of roles in the Santeria religion.
As already mentioned, Oya is the orisha of wind, storms, and death. Wherever she arrives, she brings disturbance and change. The changes she brings are sometimes good and sometimes bad, but in either case, they are a necessary part of our lives.
Oya is a fierce warrior that knows how to protect those who she cares about. With her powerful machete and the army of the dead, Oya is a force that shouldn’t be ignored. She is a formidable ally and a frightening enemy.
The Cemetery Guardian
One of the roles that Oya has is guarding the cemetery gates. She escorts the souls of the dead into the cemetery and makes sure they reach the afterlife. By doing this, Oya ensures that the borders between the living and dead are respected. She is often in the company of Oba and Yewa, the Santeria goddess of death, another two orishas that live in the cemetery.
Due to their connections to the cemetery, Oya is often considered the goddess of death. However, although she can be violent and destructive and is responsible for separating the dead from the living, Oya isn’t the bringer of death or the goddess of death in a classical sense.
After all, by taking the dead souls through the cemetery gates, Oya makes the lives of the living souls more pleasant. Imagine how frightening it would be if Oya failed to do her task and the souls of the deceased suddenly started roaming among us!
Additionally, as the orisha of wind, Oya has power over air, and we all need that same air to live. So, it can be said that Oya is slightly misunderstood. She is not just the bringer of death and destruction, but she also helps sustain life.
Governing The Marketplace
Surprisingly enough, Oya also governs the marketplace and trading activities. However, when you think more about it, this actually makes sense. Money brings power to those that have it, but it can also be extremely volatile and ruin your life, just like Oya.
Such a powerful and frightening orisha must look intimidating, right? Well, for an orisha that can bring turbulence and destruction, Oya looks quite cheerful. She wears a skirt made of dried palm leaves. On top of her skirt, Oya wears nine differently colored scarves.
The colors of her clothes are usually bright, and Oya never wears black clothes. However, don’t let these bright clothes fool you. When Oya enters her frantic state and starts dancing, her skirt and scarves whirl around her, causing tornadoes and destructive winds.
Oya dances with a black iruke, which is a whip made of a horse’s tail. She swings iruke above her head, representing the wind. Her moves are fast, frantic, and berserk. While she dances, she looks like a tornado or a whirlwind.
When she’s happy, Oya’s dance brings gentle winds and a light breeze, but when she is angry, her dance becomes destructive and violent.
Oya And Her Christian Renditions
Just like other Santeria deities, Oya is syncretized with some Catholic saints. One of them is Saint Barbara, an early Christian martyr. Saint Barbara is also often syncretized with Oya’s second husband, Chango.
Some other saints are often syncretized with Oya, including the Virgin of Candelaria, the Virgin of Carmen, and in some parts of Cuba, Santa Teresa de Jesús.
Foods For Oya
If you wonder how to get Oya in a good mood so that she grants you protection, you need to offer her favorite foods. Oya likes dark foods such as plums and eggplant. Preparing recipes with these foods will certainly appease Oya.
Some other foods that Oya likes and you could use as an offering to her are black female goat meat, red wine, black hen meat, pigeon meat, and guinea hen meat. Oya also has a sweet tooth, so you can never go wrong with offering her dark chocolate!
Oya is a complex deity that can teach us so much, but only if we pay enough attention to her lessons. She teaches us to be fierce and brave and that we don’t have to be meek and weak to embrace our femininity.
Another lesson that Oya teaches us is that we need to be loyal to our loved ones. When possible, we should try and protect our beloved from any harm. We also need to accept that there will be situations in which our loved ones will get hurt, and we won’t be able to do anything to protect them.
Even when we are the ones that get hurt, we need to find a way to carry on and keep fighting. Helping others might heal our own wounds.
Oya is also a symbol of hope for women that struggle with fertility, miscarriages, or stillbirths. Even though she didn’t succeed in becoming a mother, she was still a motherly figure to those in need.
Oya is a warrior orisha that governs over winds and storms but is also closely connected to death and the marketplace. That’s why her symbols represent these concepts or some parts of Oya’s appearance.
Oya’s name literally means “she tore,” and this goddess is known for her ability to destroy everything that comes into her path, so it makes no wonder that she is often represented with a tornado.
Number 9, Niger river, wind, the thunderbolt, fire, cemetery, marketplace, machete, and iruke.
Oya had a falling out with a black ram, who was her best friend until he betrayed her and tried to kill her. Since then, Oya has vowed to stay away from rams in the future, but the black female goat became one of her main symbols.
Other animals that smybolize Oya are a buffalo and a guinea hen.
Plums symbolize perseverance in the face of adversity, hope, and beauty, thriving even in the most difficult circumstances, Oya suffered from so many losses, but she still managed to rise above all of that and still show her power and compassion. This makes plums a perfect plant symbol of Oya.
Amber, dark chocolate, musk, and violet are all scents that are appealing and feminine, yet there is something dark and heavy about them. Many would describe Oya with the same words, which makes these perfumes perfect fragrances for her.
Gems and Metals
Brown and yellow minerals, amber, moonstone, and ruby are all great choices when it comes to Oya’s gem/precious metal symbols.
Brown, purple, burgundy, and nine different colors except for black. Oya wore a skirt made of 9 scarves, each scarf being of a different color and each scarf representing one of the 9 children she lost.
- The Goddess of wind, help me accept and adapt to all changes that come into my life.
- Oya, help me control my anger and learn to unleash it only when it is right to do so.
- Teach me how to deal with loss and turn it into a chance to grow as a person.
- Give me the strength to stay loyal to my loved ones even in hard times.
- Give me the courage to protect the weak and the wisdom to stay away when it is the best decision.
- Give me the strength to change my life and get rid of everything that keeps me miserable and prevents me from living my life to the full.
- Teach me how to work on myself and become a better version of myself without losing my good qualities.
- Oya, help me take better care of my finances and help me make wise decisions that will increase my wealth.
- Powerful orisha, help me accept death as a natural part of life and don’t let the fear of dying to prevent me from enjoying life.
- Oya, allow me to connect to my ancestors, learn from their wisdom, and appreciate their struggles and achievements.
- Mother of nine, help me be a good and caring mother that will protect and love her children even in times of great adversity.
- Oya, help me find a partner that will be my equal, who will love and respect me with the utmost passion.
Want To Bring More Oya Qualities Into Your Life?
- Avoid routine. Try to change some things in your life every now and then. That could be something trivial, such as hair color or wall art in your home. It can also be more significant, such as changing jobs, partners, or moving to another country.
- Meditate. Try to visualize the winds that are blowing in your soul. Are they making you feel restless and anxious? Try to take control of them and turn them into pleasant breezes.
- Dance like no one is watching. Turn the music up, forget about everything, and just let your body lead you. Release your anger, stress, and energy through your moves. Jump, spin around, everything is allowed!
- Explore the symbolism behind the number 9. Pay homage to Oya by having nine plants in your home, nine pictures on your walls, or nine beads on your necklace/bracelet. If you want to take it one step further, you can tattoo this number somewhere on your body.
- Analyze your relationships with people around you. Are any of those relationships smothering you and preventing you from being happy and achieving your full potential? Remove yourself from such relationships and situations.
- Do you have children? If the answer is yes, try to spend more time with them. Become someone they trust and help them if they are experiencing some problems. As their parent, you should be their protector and their biggest supporter.
- If you are childless, do you have anyone in your life who is younger than you and could use a good role model or your help in any other way? Try to be there for them and provide them with solid advice when they need it.
- Enjoy dark chocolate and desserts that contain it. Spoil yourself with cakes and puddings made with dark chocolate. When eaten in moderation, dark chocolate has several health benefits, and it will certainly make you feel happier when you eat it.
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: victorspieles