Coming to the River: An Ode to Oshun

By Maya Angelique. Photography By Deun Ivory. 

I have come to find that many Black women have been longing for images of The Divine -- images that look like us in all of our glory and soulfulness. We’ve been yearning and seeking those who are doused in melanin, with wombs full of stories and secrets of the true Source, who don’t view us in the same colonialistic, sexist paradigm that has been forced upon our existence.

You may have heard of her, and you may have seen her clad in a yellow dress that adores her curves, as she indulges in her own femininity. You’ve seen Beyonce channel her at the Grammy’s, drenched in fertility, grace and beauty. If you have ever sat near a river, you have engaged in her presence, yourself.

I’m talking about Oshun, the angelic force of the Yoruba pantheon who rules over love, womahood, fertility, wealth, sexuality, and all freshwater. Her spirit is found in the lakes, rivers, and all other freshwater sources in the world. Oshun is the force who found and embraced me me as a fragile, insecure girl in my high school days, who has been scorned from a difficult upbringing.There was something about her, something about connecting to a spirit from Mother Africa that felt so much more fulfilling than what I received in the Christian church growing up. I felt hopeful, and closer to who I was meant to be outside of a Eurocentric reality that many of us have not chosen to partake in, but were taught to adapt since birth.

I was a bit skeptical about stepping outside of my current faith at the time in any capacity, hesitant due to stories of “juju” and shocking rituals, but I have come to realize that much of the world views anything African-centered as grotesque or demonic. When I researched and eventually explored my roots for myself, I didn’t find the spooky narrative that White Hollywood constructed so long ago anywhere in sight. I didn’t find horror or evil, but the opposite. Peace! I was at peace before The Divine in everything that I am and will be, instead of fearing a huge man in the sky, ready to strike judgement upon me at any given moment. For once, I felt empowered in my spirituality instead of complying with what I have been taught out of fear. I have heard the same exact narrative from every Black person I have met that has adapted African spiritualities like Haitian Vodou or the Yoruba tradition.

Today as a devotee in the Yoruba tradition, I realize that the more I learn about myself as a woman, specifically a woman of color, the more I get to know who Oshun truly is, a deity who is just as sweet as she is fierce. The more I get to know who she truly is, the closer I feel that I become towards her. Here are five lessons surrounding womanhood that I have learned from Oshun thus far:

1. Manifest the love you desire, starting from within.

Common offerings to Oshun can include but are not limited to five dimes or quarters, honey, cinnamon, oranges, and sunflowers. Those can be used in an effort to establish a relationship with the goddess, or petition her for a favor. Since Oshun deals with the matters of the heart, many pray to her for romantic partnership along with their offerings. However, many fail to realize that Oshun is still apart of the Universe, and will only bring you the energy that you reflect at the time. I’m gonna be real here, I used to beg her for months at one time for a partner, but until I learned to love and cherish myself, and become an energy match for what I wanted, she held that blessing until she saw fit. Trust me, it was well worth the wait, and the precious time that I took to affirm who I was and enjoy the fruitfulness of my own existence. By the time I met my special one, I knew what I wanted, have already achieved goals that I have set for myself including writing my poetry collection, in addition to determining which direction I wanted my life to go. Oshun is depicted as a confident woman who is comfortable in her own skin and real good with herself, thereby being very sought after in the sacred Yoruba stories by many strong male divinities who wanted to court her.

2. Salute your sexuality as a gift from The Divine Source.

Oshun truly stands for the ladies embracing their femininity in the fullness thereof. We are taught from youth that our sexuality is something meant to remain taboo, from getting our periods to our own basic anatomy as a whole. Oshun counteracts that narrative by encouraging us that our bodies and sexual selves are meant to be cherished and celebrated as a blessing from The Creator. Without eroticism, without sex, and without the female body, how would humanity be a thing?! We are called to celebrate this aspect of being woman in the ways that we see fit and find comfort outside of the euro-patriarchal reality. And of course, each method varies from woman to woman depending on what is comfortable to her. Ideas may include but are not limited to dancing for yourself or someone else. Finding an awesome-smelling soap to honor your body. Freeing yourself from your own judgments. The possibilities are endless!

3. Center yourself in nature.

If you should ever find yourself feeling unbalanced, a quick (or prolonged) stay in nature can help you to find grounding again. When was the last time that you placed your bare feet on grass and tuned everything out but the natural manifestations around you? Or dipped your feet in a river or creek? Time in nature can reduce anxiety and depression significantly by staying present in the knowing that you are a reflection of the vast, full and abundant beauty that surrounds you.

4. Tap into the feminine creative power within.

Oshun rules over fertility and manifestations of the womb. In our wombs, we hold our deepest feelings, desires, and all things that we would like to manifest on the outside. One of my favorite ways to connect to my wombniverse is through yoga, a practice that heightens awareness to the body through rhythmic, gentle movement. Another tactic I utilize is a simple meditation by burning sage, and letting the smoke caress my body. I’d then lie on my back, close my eyes and take deep, intentional breaths. Silently, I ask myself the following:

What ideas are you waiting to give birth to?

Is there anything blocking abundant and creative energy from flowing?

What are you holding on to that must be released?

How will you be gentle with yourself in doing so?

5. Allow softness to be your strength.

One of the most well-known sacred stories highlighting Oshun’s power is as follows:

Ogun, deity of technology, iron, and truth had just returned from war, only to find that the town did not congratulate him for his victory. In turn, he retreated to the forest in a slump, resulting in any and all technology and machines to shut down. Each orisha (deity or angelic force) had attempted to retrieve him from the forest to restore technology, all but Oshun. At the time of Oshun’s turn, everyone put their faith in her as their last hope. Upon entering the forest, Oshun bathed herself in the river, laughing, singing and enjoying her own company, not even setting out to search for Ogun. Watching from a distance, and enthralled by her beauty, Ogun finally stepped forward to the beautiful woman in awe. As he drew near and the two made eye contact, Oshun dipped into the pot sitting on her waist and smeared delicious honey on Ogun’s lips. Seductively walking towards the forest’s exit to the town, she successful lured Ogun out of the forest and his depression, and technology was restored.

What we can learn from this impactful story, is that the most powerful weapon in the world is to be yourself, and we find that many of the things that we want in this age of “going hard” do not require harsh force. We will find at times that we can conquer the toughest situations by standing in our soft power and energy to create a sweeter outcome.

As we conclude this month surrounding in Afro-futurism, it is my prayer that our people if not from a devotional standpoint, start to find our own ancestral traditions as a source of inspiration to defy oppression and find healing from centuries of pain and genocide in what is rightfully ours. I believe that as we come to embrace our roots, we find the strength to see ourselves through the eyes of the Divine source, and move forward for a better future for ourselves.

Maya Angelique is a 21-year-old poetess, essayist and creative based in Philadelphia, PA. Her work specializes in self-love, healing, mental wellness, and spirituality. You can find her on instagram @mayaisangelique and on her website, www.mayaangelique.com. Her debut poetry collection "Water Comes First can be found here."