“The Mother Whose Children Are The Fish.”
Iyemonja is motherly and strongly protective, and cares deeply for all her children, comforting them and cleansing them of sorrow. She is said to be able to cure infertility in women, and cowrie shells represent her wealth. She does not easily lose her temper, but when angered she can be quite destructive and violent, as the flood waters of turbulent rivers. Iyemonja is often depicted as a mermaid, and is associated with the moon, water, and feminine mysteries. She is the protector of women. She governs everything pertaining women; childbirth, conception, parenting, child safety, love, and healing. She oversees deep secrets, ancient wisdom, the moon, sea shells, and the collective unconscious. According to myth, when her waters broke, it caused a great flood creating rivers and streams and the first mortal humans were created from her womb.
In traditional Yoruba culture and spirituality, Iyemonja is a mother spirit; patron spirit of women, especially pregnant women; She is the patron deity of the Ogun river but she is also worshiped at streams, creeks, springs in addition to wells and run-offs. This represents the vastness of her motherhood, her fecundity, and her reign over all living things. In West Africa, Iyemonja is worshiped as a high-ranking river deity, but in Brazil and Cuba she is worshiped mainly as a sea/ocean goddess. River deities in Yoruba land include Iyemonja, Oshun, Erinle, Ọbà, Yewa, etc. It is Olókun that fills the role of sea deity in Yoruba land, while Iyemonjais a leader of the other river deities. The river deity Iyemonja is often portrayed as a mermaid, even in West Africa, and she can visit all other bodies of water, including lakes, lagoons, and the sea, but her home and the realm she owns are the rivers and streams, especially the Ogun River in Nigeria.
In mythology, the West African and Caribbean Goddess of creation, the sea, moon, ocean and healing is Iyemonja. She is considered to be a guardian of women and keeper of our mysteries. She is said to wear a dress with seven skirts that represent the seven seas. Sacred to Her are peacocks, with their beautiful blue-green iridescence, and ducks. The number seven is Hers, also for the seven seas.
Iyemonja = Yemaya is one of the most powerful Orishas in Santeria. She is the mother of all living things, rules over motherhood and owns all the waters of the Earth. She gave birth to the stars, the moon, the sun and most of the Orishas. Yemaya makes her residence in life-giving portion of the ocean – although some of her roads can be found in lagoons or lakes in the forest. Yemaya’s Ashé is nurturing, protective and fruitful. Yemaya is just as much a loving mother Orisha as she is a fierce warrior that kills anyone who threatens her children.
Iyemonja can be found in all the waters of the world, and because of this she has many aspects of roads, each reflecting the nature of different bodies of water. Contrary to popular belief she is not just a loving mother. Some of Iyemonja’s roads are fierce warriors who fight with sabers or machetes and bathe in the blood of fallen enemies. Other roads are masterful diviners that have been through marriage, divorce and back again. Some roads of Iyemonja have been rape survivors, while other roads betrayed her sisters out of jealousy and spite. No matter what road of Iyemonja, all are powerful female Orishas and fiercely protective mothers.
Some followers of Santeria say Yemaya is Shango’s mother. The two of them eat together and Shango shares his wealth with Yemaya. She is one of the four pillars of the Santeria religion along with Obatala, Oshun and Shango. Therefore every initiated Olorisha will receive her mysteries at initiation. Yemaya energy is most present in people who are warm, giving, sensitive and kind. However, the Orisha also exudes a strong sense of mystery, as all of its secrets cannot be comprehended.
Goddess Iyemonja domain is water, rivers, and what is often considered the birthplace of all of life on earth – the oceans and the seas. She is specifically associated with the upper part of the ocean, which contains the most life. Her first gift was a shell so that her people would always be able to hear her voice. Her name Mother Whose Children are the Fish, denotes that her children are countless and further relates her infinite and all encompassing life giving aspect. Iyemonja also lovingly assists and supports the rebirth process, cleansing and purifying the old energy, releasing that which has served its purpose, allowing for renewal and new beginnings.
Most Yoruba myths of origin can be found in the divination narratives knows at Odu Ifa which contains a number of poems called Ese Ifa. An Ese Ifa explains the origins of Gelede as beginning with Iyemonja , “The Mother of all the Deities and all living things.” Yewajobi – Iyemonja could not have children and consulted an Ifa oracle, who advised her to offer sacrifices and to dance with wooden images on her head and metal anklets on her feet. After performing this ritual, she became pregnant. Her first child was a boy, nicknamed “Efe” (the humorist); the Efe mask emphasizes song and jests because of the personality of its namesake. Yewajobi – Iyemonja ‘s second child was a girl, nicknamed “Gelede” because she was obese like her mother. Also like her mother, Gelede loved dancing.
After getting married themselves, neither Gelede or Efe’s partner could have children. The Ifa oracle suggested they try the same ritual that had worked for their mother. No sooner than Efe and Gelede performed these rituals- dancing with wooden images on their heads and metal anklets on their feet- they started having children. These rituals developed into the Gelede masked dance and was perpetuated by the descendants of Efe and Gelede.
The commonality between them all is relatively brief. She rules the waters and oceans. She takes the form of a woman with long, black hair, and appears either wearing a flowing blue dress, a flowing white dress, or a flowing blue and white dress. She wears a type of veil with beaded fringes that hide her face, and holds a mirror in one hand representing her beauty. Her colors are, as you might imagine, blue and white. She’s always represented as one of the superior divinities, and associated with femininity and fertility, but her exact station changes with the person talking about her.
At the same time though, she is seen as the loving and protective mother of mankind. She cares deeply for all her children, comforting them and cleansing them of sorrow. She does not easily lose her temper, but when angry she can be like the Sea in a storm—wildly and indiscriminately violent and destructive. However, this aspect of strength that she possesses is as much a part of her character as her role as a mother. In total, she is the main Feminine Principle of Candomblé, Yòrúbá, and Santería, and all that that entails.
Her dance movements represent the sea’s tumbling waves, these moves resemble the art of sewing nets, but also commonly represent a story line. Her ocean dancing represents the salty water cleansing the distressed soul, or a newborn. She usually dances with a silver blue dress and something which resembles a fishing net, so as to represent herself as both fetus and fish. Her metals are lead and silver, and her colors are blue hues and whites.
Reference Sources: Iya Ifabunmi Omo Yemi Akinyele Aworeni =