Exploring the Yorùbá Goddess Yemaya
Yemaya - Mother of All
Yemaya or Yemoja is the Yorùbá Orisha or Goddess, of the Living Ocean. The name Yemoja is a shortened version of Yey Omo Eja, which means "Mother Whose Children are Fish" meaning that she has too many children to be able to count. She is considered the mother of all and while She originated in Africa, due to slavery Her worship has spread to many New World countries including: Argentia, Brazil, Cuba, Dominican Republic, Puerto Rico, Tabago, Trinidad, Uruguay, and the U.S.
Yemoja lives in and rules over the Seven Seas, lakes, and rivers. Often depicted as a mermaid, She is the source of all the waters. She is the ocean itself as well as the waters of lakes and rivers especially the River Ogun. She is both profound and unknowable as well as caring, nurturing, and protective.
Her number is 7 and Her colors are blue and white. She wears seven skirts of blue and white to represent the seven seas. She is associated with the moon, water, & feminine mysteries. She is prayed to in matters of fertility, pregnancy and motherhood.
There are 177 Yemaya paths or caminos (avatars or aspects). In Her path of Okutti she is the queen of witches carrying within her deep dark secrets.
She is also associated with the Orisha Olokun or Olokin (Who is variously described as female, male, hermaphrodite, or androgynous). Yemaya rules over the surface of the ocean, where life is concentrated. And Olokun represents the depths of the Ocean and the unconscious. Together They form a balance.
Various Spellings of Yemaya by Locale
Spellings of Yemaya
Mami wata, Yemaya, Yemoja, Ymoja, Yemowo
Iemanja, Janaina (Mestra Jana/Ms. Jana)
Yemaya, Yemayah, Iemanya
Yemalla, La Diosa Del Mar, Sirena
Yemaya, Yemalla, Yemana, Yemoja
Working With Other Cultures
Perhaps the Yoruba region in Africa or the New World Yoruba practices that formed, are already a part of your culture or heritage.
However, if they aren’t and you still feel a strong pull to Yemaya, I believe that connection would be made deeper by further understanding the cultures, traditions, people, and religions She comes from. This is not only respectful, it will also aid you in connecting more fully with Her energy.
In the case of Yemaya it is beneficial to learn about the various religions that have come from the Yoruba region. The Yoruba region is present-day Southwestern Nigeria and the adjoining parts of Benin and Togo, commonly known as Yorubaland. The religions in the New World that were the result of the slave trade and therefore have roots in the Yoruba religions include a wide array of traditions still practiced today. I highly recommend getting familiar with these faiths if you wish to develop a serious working relationship with Yemaya, as they are current, living religions.
Like many traditions the true practices and secrets are revealed only to the initiated. If you truly wish to work with Yemaya it would be a good idea to become trained and initiated within one of the religions that work with Her. Not doing so could result in an ineffective connection or spell at best and offend or insult the deity you’re attempting to connect with at worst. Not to mention it’s disrespectful to the practitioners of these faiths. In most if not all cases, these are not white light, ‘harm none’ faiths. Insulting them or their practitioners is not only considered bad form it can be potentially dangerous. Always approach these faiths, their deities and traditions with honor and respect. Being properly trained within one of these traditions is the best way to achieve this.
Some Examples of New World Religions with Yoruba Roots
Where It's Practiced
Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay
Cuba, Puerto Rico, Dominican Republic
St. Vincent & The Grenadines
Trinidad and Tobago
Brazil, Argentina, Uruguay
Sometimes spelled Orixa, Òrìṣà, or Orisa, the word orisha is related to many other Yoruba words that refer to or imply the head. It is commonly translated as unique/special/selected head (as in Divinely selected to rule).The Yoruba use the word head as a metaphor for supremacy and ruleship. It refers to the most important and influential person or official and means the first in rank and status. Depending on the tradition, Orisa has also been defined as “streams of consciousness” (as in the currents of consciousness or ashé that emanate from the head of Olodumare – the main deity or spirit).
An oversimplified way to describe the Orishas is that they are any of the deities of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. However they are often more similar to raw primordial energy, forces of nature and ancestral powers. They are the eldest children of Olodumare. Olodumare is the Yoruba Supreme Divine Creator.
There are 401 orishas total. The Nigerian scholar J. Omosade Awolalu divided the orishas into three categories: primordial divinities, deified ancestors, and personified natural forces and/or phenomena. These categories are not firm and often overlap.
Some Commonly Known Orishas & Their Traits
Mother goddess; patron deity of women, and the Ogun river
Presides over love, intimacy, beauty, wealth and diplomacy
Oyá, Yansa, Yansan
Orisha of the Niger River; associated with wind, lightning, fertility, fire, and magic
Orisha of the deep ocean and riches, patron of the descendants of Africans who were taken as slaves
Shangó, Changó, Sango
Orisha of thunder and lightning
Aggayú, Agajú, Aganyu, Aggayu Sola
Father (or sometimes Brother) of Shangó; Orisha of volcanoes, the wilderness and rivers
First wife of Shango and orisha of domesticity, marriage, and the River Oba
Creator of the human body; orisha of light, spiritual purity, and good moral standing
Presides over iron, fire, hunting, politics and war
The Seven African Powers
There is a lot of misunderstanding surrounding the concept of the 7 African powers. The 7 African powers are often mistakenly referred to as the 7 Orishas. The 7 African powers are not Orishas nor are they an Orisa concept.
The Seven African Powers are however used in some traditions such as Santeria and Santerismo. They are actually more like spirit guides. They are the spirits of the dead or citizens of heaven. They are not usually ancestor spirits, but instead are spirits guides, from each of the seven different African tribes that were brought to the New World and forced into slavery. Those 7 tribes are: Yoruba, Congo, Takua, Kissi, Calabari, Arará, and Mandika.
There are a variety of factors that led to this confusion. But it can be argued that one reason is due to the connecting of Orishas to Catholic saints by slaves in the New World in order to be able to continue their worship; a process known as syncretism. This is a practice that can be found in both Santeria and Santerismo.
“Santerismo is NOT Santeria (Lucumí/Lukumi). Santerismo is a spiritualist tradition open to personal revelation while Santeria is an initiatory religion with strict rules.” – Santeria Church of the Orishas.
Some Orisha and Saint Correspondences
Our Lady of Regla
Our Lady of Charity of Cobre
Oyá, Yansa, Yansan
Our Lady of Candelmas or Saint Theresa
Saint Catherine of Siena
Our Lady of Mercy
Working With Yemaya
Here are a few ideas on how to incorporate the magick of Yemoja into your daily life and rituals:
- Wear blue and white.
- If you like wearing skirts, try some full skirts or those with 7 layers.
- Wear 7 silver bracelets – something Yemoja devotees are known to do.
- Take a trip to the ocean and perform some mermaid or ocean magick.
- Write your spells, wishes, or prayers on a paper boat and send it out into the sea.
- Drink more water.
- Spend time gazing at fish as a form of meditation – your own, friends, an aquarium or public pond.
- Go boating, sailing, or on a cruise and connect with the expansive power of the ocean and Yemaya.
- If you desire to have children, call on Yemoja in your fertility rites.
- Do a protection spell for your children.
Symbols, Magickal Attributes, and Offerings
Use these items with intention on your altar or in your daily rituals to welcome the energy of Yemaya:
- Shells, mermaid money (silver dollars), pearls, star fish, sea horses, river rocks
- Sand from a favorite beach
- Water from a favorite river, lake, or sea
- Fish nets
- Small boats
- Fish, doves, frogs
- Mirror, veil, duck feathered fan
- White flowers
- Peacock feathers
- Gourd rattle – She is summoned with the gourd rattle
- Blue or blue-and-white crockery vessels that contain her sacred stones and ocean or river water.
- The number 7
- Colors: Blue and white
- Beach offerings: 7 white roses or other white flower, 7 copper pennies, or 7 cowrie shells
- Food offerings: Coconut & coconut cakes, molasses, watermelon, chicken, guinea hens, ram, sweet pastries, all delicious foods, white wine
As you can see, Yemaya is a beloved Goddess with a rich tapestry of lore. Respectfully working with Her is sure to bring rewards and to enhance your overall practice. I hope the above suggestions inspire you to connect with Yemoja in a deeper way.
References and Resources
© 2019 Jennifer Jorgenson