Yemaya is an orisha, or a deity and guardian spirit of the Yoruba people in Africa, specifically Nigeria, Benin, Togo, Ghana, Liberia, and the Ivory Coast. Originally the Orisha Goddess of the Ogun River in Nigeria, Yemaya’s worship and domain expanded to include the ocean when her people were transported to the New World via the Atlantic slave trade. The Yoruban religious beliefs and worship of the orishas spread from Africa all over the globe, and formed the foundation of the African diaspora, as well as 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 Afro-Caribbean spirituality to work with or pay honor to Yemaya. Over time, worship of the Mother of All and the other orishas has spread to multiple cultural and spiritual disciplines, including Goddess spirituality as a Divine Feminine deity and archetype.
As the personification of and the Mother of Water, Yemaya’s domain is in the life-giving portion of the ocean, as well as rivers, lagoons, and lakes. Specifically she dominates the upper, brighter part of the seas, which is considered the womb of the world – the space from which all life originates.
Yemaya’s name comes from the Yoruban phrase “Yeye omo eja” which means “Mother whose children are like fish”; this title implies that her children are numerous, as she is the Life Giver, and her influence continues to grow and multiply across the globe. She is the Mother of All Living Things, having given birth to the sun, the moon, the stars, and most of the other orishas. Her love for her divine and earthly children is unequaled, and unparalleled.
Yemaya is the personification of a mother’s love, and represents the ideal of divine motherhood. Gentle, nurturing, and protective, she is the unconditional, all-encompassing love that a parent has for their child. She appears in our lives as the loving, nurturing mother who listens to our troubles, soothes our sorrows, and guides us to becoming whole and complete. And like a true mother, when our choices steer us down the wrong path, she is the disciplinarian that corrects our behavior with a stern look and lecture.
“She protects her children in her skirt, feeds them, and raises them with absolute motherly rigor.”
She feeds, supports, and acts as a fierce guardian to those who call for her assistance. She guides you to that which supports your growth and happiness by providing the lessons and experiences necessary for you to reach your full potential. For those in need of mothering, Yemaya arrives with compassion and opportunity, helping you to cleanse any negative connotations of motherhood, and making space for you to experience a new beginning.
As a Mother Goddess, the Queen of Oceans offers the blessings of celestial love. However, this type of love is not solely exclusive to the mother/child relationship. A woman does not have to have biological children to embrace the role of Mother. Yemaya’s style of devotion can be to an idea, a project, an animal, or a cause. The root of this kind of love energy is creation, and fulfillment; this is the love we have for something we have created.
Just as Yemaya’s children span all colors and cultures, so does her visage. She is often depicted as a mermaid, or as sea creatures frolicking in the waves. In her human guise, she is most often seen as a beautiful dark skinned, full hipped woman dressed in white, silver, or blue. Due to the blending of world cultures, and the influence of Catholicism over Afro-Caribbean spiritualities, Yemaya is also seen as a light-skinned Hispanic or Caucasian woman (she is syncretized to Our Lady of Regla, and is the guardian of the Bay of Cuba in that form).
Whichever form Yemaya reveals herself to you is the correct one for your journey; there is no right or wrong way to see her. Your relationship with her is completely personal, and the Goddess will reveal herself to you in a variety of ways if you are open to receive.
Want to learn more about the Mother of Oceans? Sign up for FLOW: The Waters of Yemaya online workshop!