Oya, Queen of the Cemetery
Oya is the Orisha Goddess of the Wind, Storms, and Change. An orisha is a deity of the Yoruba people of Africa, specifically Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. The Yoruban religious beliefs and worship of the orishas spread from Africa to the New World via the Atlantic slave trade, and formed the foundation of Santeria, Voudoun, and a host of other Afro-Caribbean and Creole spiritualities.
While many of these spiritual traditions require an in-depth initiation into the practice, you do not have to be an ordained practitioner of African/Caribbean spirituality in order to work with or pay honor to Oya. Over time, worship of the orishas has spread to multiple cultural and spiritual disciplines, including Goddess spirituality as a Divine Feminine deity and archetype.
O-ya means “she tore” in the Yoruban language, and she is the personification of the Niger River in Africa, as well as the Amazon in Brazil. She is an elemental Goddess, made from the power of Earth, Air, Fire and Water, and has the ability to shapeshift. Oya is referred to as the Mother of Nine, which in some mythology is attributed to her nine stillborn children; in other myths, nine is viewed as a sacred number, and her association with it is just another example of her all-encompassing divinity.
She is the power of lightning, thunder, and whirlwinds who dances wildly in her power, her skirts flowing and twirling as she spins. Her temperament changes like the weather; she can be fierce and formidable, or gentle and nourishing. The power of the storm represents the chaos of change and catalyst of transformation, which is the energy Oya carries into our lives as she rides the wind. Like the storm, she is unpredictable and destroys in order for new ground to be sowed, new seeds to be planted.
As Queen of the Cemetery, Oya guards the gate between the living and the dead. She does not live in the cemetery; think of her role here as a kind of ‘day job’. She stands at the gates, ensuring the boundaries between birth, death, and rebirth are respected, and that every soul is accounted for. It is at the gates of the cemetery that Oya receives offerings (ebbos) from her children and those seeking Her assistance.
Oya is the power of both life and death in this role, and the only orisha with power over both realms. In some traditions, it is said Oya not only accompanies the soul of the dead, but also the soul of the newborn child. As she is the Goddess of Wind, it is said the first breath of life we take and the last breath we give belong to Oya. As such, she is the mediator between the conscious and the unconscious mind.
As Guardian of the Dead, Oya can raise and command spirits, including our familial and creative ancestors. She acts as the psychopomp, governing over the dead and giving guidance and assistance to those who have passed from this mortal life. She provides safe passage from this world to the next, which also touches upon her powers of magick and witchcraft. She shows the spirit the path to the underworld/transformation, as well as calls the ghost back from the ether when their assistance or wisdom is needed on the mortal plane.
Oya’s power over death, and her ability to hold it off or call it forth also relates to metaphysical death, as in tarot card interpretations. Death is merely a transition, a transformation; what we no longer need is cast aside to make way for the rebirth into the new, into change. These are the necessary endings, the major and minor phases of your life that are ready to come to a close. Resisting the process only leads to emotional pain, mental confusion, and physical stagnation.
Oya also rules over funerals, mourning, and the grieving process in Her role as Mistress of the Cemetery. It is her wind that sweeps us forward into acceptance, and to heal the pain of separation from our loved ones. In the metaphysical/psychological sense, Oya guides you to ‘lay to rest’ the unhealthy attachments, limits, and beliefs that keep you from being rebirthed into new healthy circumstances.
Under her tutelage, we realize that it’s normal to mourn the things we’ve lost, but we cannot let the grief overwhelm us or keep us immobile. In both physical and spiritual death, Oya holds our hand, and ensures we have all that we need in order to begin our journey into our new realm of existence.
In Goddess spirituality, Oya can be associated with a Crone Goddess archetype: keeper of wisdom and secrets between this realm and the next. The Crone is the guide, the counselor, and the infinite teacher. She brings us to Death in all its terrible fury, then holds and nurtures us as we are reborn. She offers the lessons of autumn and winter, and teaches the power of intuition, and how to see what is unseen.
Rituals using the Crone, that can also relate to Oya:
* Ending relationships, jobs, friendships
* Menopause, or coming to terms with aging.
* A regrouping of energies needed at the end of a cycle of activity or problem.
* Rest and calmness before making new goals and plans.
* When the garden or plants are ready for winter.
* Harassment of any kind.
* Retribution on rapists, murderers, abusers.
* On the death of a person or pet; of any animal or human. Contemplation at the end of your own life cycle.
* When moving from a dwelling or job.
* When strong protection is needed for attacks on the physical or psychic levels, or even annoyance by spirits.
* To understand the deepest of mysteries.
* Developing trance or communication with the guides, ancestors, or other spirits.
Want to learn more about Oya? Sign up for the online workshop Transform: The Power of Oya at RED Priestess Temple.
Books and Articles
The Goddess Guide by Priestess Brandi Auset
African Narratives of Orishas, Spirits, and Other Deities by Alex Cuoco
Oya: In Praise of an African Goddess by Judith Gleason
The Mask of Oya : A Healer’s Journey into the Empowering Realm of Ancestors and Spirits by Flor Fernandez Barrios
Jambalaya: The Natural Woman’s Book of Personal Charms and Practical Rituals by Luisah Teish
Finding Soul on the Path of Orisa: A West African Spiritual Tradition by Tobe Melora Correal
The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts by Baba Ifa Karade
Voodoo and Afro-Caribbean Paganism by Lilith Dorsey
Creole Religions of the Caribbean by Margarite Fernandez Olmos
The Goddess and Orisha OYA an article by Kimberly Moore
Keys to Feminine Empowerment from the Yoruba West African Tradition