On February 16th, 2020, two of our members, Paco and Eva, presented a workshop on basic altar construction. The practical example for an altar they shared with the collective was an altar to the Yoruba Orisha Oya, Warrior-queen and Goddess of Storms. The workshop and ritual fittingly culminated at the end of a day of rain and storms.
Oya is one of the most powerful African (Yorùbá) Goddesses (Orishas). In Yoruba, the name Oya means “she tore.” Much of Oya’s power is rooted in the natural world; She is the Goddess of thunder, lightning, tornadoes, winds, rainstorms and hurricanes. A Fire Goddess, it is Oya who brings rapid change and aids us in both inner and outer transformation.
Oya is the guardian of the realm between life and death; as such, She is not only the Goddess of spirit communication, funerals, and cemeteries, but also the Goddess of clairvoyance, psychic abilities, intuition and rebirth. Although she is associated with cemeteries, in some traditions she does not reside in them. She is a guardian of the gates and is at home in the marketplace where she aids merchants, particularly femme merchants.
Oya is the powerful Orisha of the winds and tempests. She is considered either the sister of the Orisha of storms Shango, or one of His three wives, with Oshun and Oba. She can manifest as winds ranging from the gentlest breeze to the raging hurricane or cyclone. She goes forth with Her husband during His thunderstorms, destroying buildings, ripping up trees, and blowing things down. Oya is known as a fierce warrior and strong protector of women, who call on Her to settle disputes in their favor.
As the Orisha of change, She brings down the dead wood to make room for the new, and She uses Her machete or sword to clear a path for new growth. She is believed to watch over the newly dead and assist them as they make the transition from life.
Oya is a complex orisha who has endured much sadness in her life. She is known as the “mother of nine” for she gave birth to nine different stillborn children. She carries much sadness about her incapacity to give birth and she dresses with nine different colored scarves around her waist in memory of her lost children. When Oshún ejected her twins, the Ibeji (Ibeyi), out of her house it was Oyá who took in the Ibeji and raised them as her own.
Oya is the Orisha of the Niger River, and Her violent rainstorms are said to be its source. Like Oshun, She is worshipped not only in Africa but in Brazil, where the Amazon is said to be Her river, and where She is equated with the Virgin Mary as Our Lady of La Candelaria. Oya, who is an Orisha of a very fiery demeanor, also seems to have a far-flung connection with the Celtic Bride or Bridgit, both in Her Vodou counterpart Maman Brijit, and in Her associated Catholic saint, Our Lady of La Candelaria (Candlemas), or St. Theresa, whose feast day, February 2nd, is shared with Bride.
Oya’s attributes are the sword or machete and the flywhisk, and Her animal is the water buffalo, in Whom She sometimes manifests. Her mother is said to be Yemaya, the Great Sea Mother.
Oya loves shea butter, and you should always try to have some of this on your altar whenever working with her.
Colours: maroon, purple, deep dark red, oranges, browns, multi-colours, burgundy, copper.
Scents: patchouli, sandalwood, geranium.
Gemstones: red stones, particularly garnet, but also bloodstone, tourmaline, smoky quartz.
Foods: eggplant (nine eggplants or one sliced into 9 pieces), grape wine, grapes, gin, rum, kola nuts, rooster, hen, porridge, fruit, fish, anything spicy.
Herbs: comfrey, pleurisy roots, horehound, chickweed, peony, elecampane, royal poinciana, star apple, flamboyan, yucca, caimito, cypress, grains of paradise.
Icons: masks, swords, whips, pennies, brooms, camwood, wind instruments, anything associated with wind (e.g. pictures of hurricanes, tornadoes, etc), bright-coloured cloth, buffalo’s horns, anything copper.
Alternate names: Oya-ajere “Carrier of the Container of Fire,” Ayaba Nikua “Queen of Death,” Iya Yansan “Mother of Nine,” Ayi Lo Da “She Who Turns and Changes,” Oia, Yansa, Yansan.
Other terms: Akara/Acaraje-black eyed pea fritters, Eggun-spirits of the dead
Eleke/Ilekes-An eleke is basically a string of beads. It can be in the form of a necklace, a bracelet, an anklet, a kneelet, an armlet, waist beads or breast beads. In the context of Vodun and derivative systems, it is a string of beads that represents Vodun itself or a Spirit or Deity within or syncretized with the system. Oya’s is made up of nine black beads followed by nine white beads. Then a black bead alternates with a white bead nine times. The pattern is repeated to the desired length. A variant is a collar made of brown beads striped in a variety of colors or lilac or maroon beads striped with colors.
Iruke -a whip made out of a horse’s tail, which Oya swings rapidly over her head to represent the wind.
Thunder-Woman (prayer to Oya)
Your name calls the winds
Your name weighs the truth
Your name comforts the dead:
May your strength and grace
Shelter me always
May your storms and winds
Bless me with positive change
And may I always know
Your thundering, divine love.
Think of the East. Oya arrives as a tempest East wind, a rapid transformation of your belief systems. Your ideas, plans and memories, and the way you communicate may be scattered far and wide by the force of her raging storm. Once this upheaval subsides, stillness will settle in. This is a time to be patient and watchful, as new possibilities are projected onto the horizon of your mind.
Resisting change is a fruitless endeavor when Oya appears in the contrary position. Surrendering, and allowing Oya to “Clear the air” of old habits and rigid forms that stand in the way of your progress will reveal new possibilities.
Think of South. Without the invigorating breath of wind, stagnation sets in and death is sure to follow. Oya appears as a purifying rainstorm to saturate and nourish your arid emotional landscape. As a mother she understands that while you cannot always protect your children from the storm, your love can provide a safe haven where healing can take place. Call upon Oya to guide you to a place of serenity so that you can nurture yourself or a loved one.
Are you stuck in an unhealthy situation or relationship? If Oya appears as a south wind, hang on, and prepare yourself. Shango is never far away, and together they will ignite your inner fire. Oya is here to protect you in a loving manner as she nudges you toward a place of calm and security.
Think of West. A change of season is in the air when Oya appears from the West. As a gatekeeper of life, Oya can guide you through transitions at home or within your dimensional Self. If you are experiencing a loss, keep in mind that the cycle you are presently in is quickly waning. The fruits of your harvest will become evident after the next growing season.
If you are unwilling to plow your fields of negative thoughts and feelings, Oya appears in the contrary position. You may be feeling pains in your body that may indicate feeling a lack of support. Oya manifests as a violent rainstorm to wash all obstacles standing before you, so that you can embark on a new journey with self-love, confidence, and enthusiasm.
Think of North. Inner transformations unfold at a subconscious level before they become apparent. The presence of Oya in the North suggests that you may be on the verge of a great change. A change that will appear to destabilize and crumble the earth below your feet. Even though your coordinates may not give a clear indication of your present or future path, you can be sure that Oya is aligning you to your magnetic north.The appearance of Oya in the contrary position signifies that deep spiritual forces are at work. Every change has a tipping point, where old forms and ideas are cast aside, as a new higher state of consciousness rises to the surface. Be patient and know that all is well; feeling unstable is part of this transformational process.
Oya Altar Building
- Play list: Ibeyi’s Oya, Penya
- Place tablecloths/handkerchiefs on surfaces
- Add in Oya Candle(s). These could be rainbow, reds, burgundy, purples, white, orange, or yellow in color.
- Anoint candle(s) with Pennyroyal oil.
- Rain water in chalice/cup
- Statue /Laminated card/Framed Image of Oya
- Place Oya’s Crown with tools & Copper bracelets on the altar
- Offering plate & offerings
Oya enjoys dark colored, sweet foods as offerings. She is a fan of chocolate, eggplant (sliced into 9), beets, purple grapes, plums, and wine. She also likes sesame seed candy, chickpeas, black beans and rice, akara, tobacco. Be sure and have some of these foods on hand to bestow upon the Orisha.
- Once you have presented your offerings to Oya, place them on the altar, light your candle and recite the following words:
We give honor to Oya, the Mother of Nine.
May the winds of earth and the winds of heaven
Bring us blessings and long lives.