Inhabiting the southwestern part of modern-day Nigeria and the southernmost part of Benin, lie the Yoruba people. People who practice the traditional Yoruba religion believe in 401 gods, who are in charge of governing various aspects of the world and human life, known as orisha. Oshun, or Osun, is an orisha (deity) of the Yoruba people of southwestern Nigeria. She is typically associated with purity, water, fertility, love, and sensuality. She is most commonly called the river orisha, or goddess, in the Yoruba religion. She is also considered to be one of the most powerful orishas.
Oshun is especially attentive to women and creates very meaningful relationships with those pregnant or wanting to become pregnant. She is still drawn on by many modern women who are pregnant or want to become pregnant. She is a humanized goddess that teaches people self-forgiveness and love.
Overview of Oshun
Oshun is seen as a protector, savior, and nurturer of humanity. She has also been seen as the maintainer of spiritual balance or the mother of sweet things. Oshun plays an important role as the goddess of sweet waters and the protective deity of the River Oshun in Nigeria. Oshun is a creative and very destructive force. Her floods or droughts are seen as people failing to pay Oshun the proper respect.
With the impact of the transatlantic slave trade and the wide area of Yoruba culture, Oshun has made herself an important figure outside of Africa. She is known in other places as different names, such as Ochun in Cuba and Oxum in Brazil.
- Goddess of Love
- Goddess of Fertility
- Goddess of Abundance
- Goddess of Sweet Waters
Oshun is said to be the protector of the poor and the mother of all orphans. It is she who fulfills their necessary needs in this life. She is able to bring or withhold water from the earth.
Oshun is seen as someone who can heal the sick, bring music, dance, and song, as well as prosperity and fertility. She is depicted as a teacher, who teaches Yoruba agriculture, culture, and mysticism.
She has some human characteristics such as vanity, jealousy, and spite. With her flowing river waters, she is also known for her sparkling charisma. Oshun’s favorite thing to eat is honey. She also has a contagious laugh that can either light up the room or send shivers up your spine. She is generous, charming, but very dangerous when crossed. Since she does have many personality traits similar to humans, she is seen as being very relatable. She is humanized in many of her stories to show that even the best can behave badly sometimes, so as to encourage those to forgive themselves for their failings.
It is also said that Oshun is often depicted as being very sad and lonely. She is often heartbroken because she loves with every fiber of her being and cannot find someone who can love her in the same way back.
Oshun often carries a mirror with her so that she can admire her own beauty. She loves honey, sunflowers, oranges, cinnamon, and pumpkin. She is also associated with peacocks and vultures as the legend below will explain.
Festivals and Rituals
The city of Osogbo, Nigeria is where tradition holds the first interaction between Oshun and human beings. The city is considered sacred and is believed to be extremely protected by the water goddess. It is said that Oshun gave the people who went to her river permission to build the city with promises to provide for them and protect them, while also answering their prayers if they worshiped her dutifully. This means making obligatory offerings, prayers, and other rituals.
There is a two-week annual festival hosted in Nigeria’s southwestern Osun state. It is considered the biggest annual traditional religious event of the Yoruba people. It brings in thousands of worshippers and spectators from around the world.
Legends Associated With Oshun
Oshun is known for many things but is most widely known for her fertility. She is said to have been the one to populate the earth and has helped women far and wide with their own fertility. Oshun is known as the goddess who can give life, but also take it. When she is angered, Oshun might flood Earth or destroy crops by withholding water, causing major droughts. In one particular myth, Oshun is incensed by her devotees and sends down rain, nearly flooding the entire world. Once things are made right, she saves the Earth from destruction by calling back the waters.
Oshun was one of the 17 deities that were sent by the Supreme or lead god, Olodumare to earth. She was the only female deity, and the only one that was able to populate the earth. When they were sent down to earth, the deities were tasked with creating humankind.
Legend of the Creation of Humankind
Oshun has been seen as the central figure in the creation of human beings. While trying to populate the Earth, the other orishas were constantly failing. The males ignored Oshun’s suggestions on how to make a beautiful and meaningful life. She soon became frustrated that she was not getting the reverence that she deserved, she left the earth for the moon, where she lounged and admired herself in the mirror. She did not even try to convince the male gods of her value in their task or demand that they understood her worth, she just left. She knew that they would not get very far without her help.
Her departure caused the earth to completely dry up. Without water, there was no way for even the plants or animals to survive. The gods did not know what was going on, and it took them a while to figure out that the lack of water and the missing goddess were connected.
They realized that by themselves they were unable to complete the task that was given to them by Olodumare, and asked their supreme god for help. When Olodumare came and realized that Oshun was missing, he explained that she was essential to create the world and life on it. The gods then apologized to Oshun and begged her to come back and help them. She agreed and then brought her sweet and powerful waters to help. This brought back life to Earth and created humanity and other species into their existence. Without Oshun, the goddess of life and fertility, humanity would not exist as the Yoruba myth suggests.
It is said in many stories that Oshun is the only deity that is able to approach Olodumare directly and carry the prayers of humanity to Olodumare’s ears.
In the early days of the world, the orishas became tired of serving Olodumare. They began to resist their Supreme god and were even planning on overthrowing Olodumare’s kingdom in heaven and earth. They did not feel like Olodumare was a good fit to rule and that he was too distant.
Olodumare soon became aware of their plots and he acted simply and rashly, withholding the rain from the earth. Before long, the world was faced with a terrible drought. The ground and people were becoming parched and cracked, the plants were becoming withered, and before long, orishas and their children began to starve.
Pride was soon pushed aside as they slowly began to stave, and they unanimously decided to go to Olodumare and beg for forgiveness. But, none of them were able to reach the home of Olodumare, and they began to lose hope.
Then, a peacock, who was Oshun herself, came to offer her services to save the world from drought. The orishas laughed at the thought of this pampered bird taking flight on this large journey. But, the peacock persisted and flew off towards the sun and Olodumare’s palace. She soon became very tired on this journey, but she kept going.
Then she finally came into sight of the palace. At this point, she had lost most of her feathers, and the ones that she still had were now black, she had become a vulture. To get to heaven she had to sacrifice her feathers and beauty. Olodumare asked why she made such a long and hard journey. She explained the state of humanity and explained how she risked herself so that humanity might live. Olodumare could see the love she had for humankind, and when Oshun returned she brought rains from the heavens, saving humanity.
Influences of Other Religions/Cultures on Oshun
She was exported to the New World during the African Diaspora where she is now known by many different names. When the Yoruba people were sold as slaves, Oshun came to be known in the Caribbean, South, Central, and North America. The Yoruba religion had continued to be practiced with Christianity, and she still remains an important figure in the various systems of Santeria, Vodou, and Candomble. She is considered globally as one of the great fertility goddesses of world culture.
Oshun is still one of the most highly worshipped goddesses around the world. She is highly thought of for her abilities in love and fertility.
From the first encounter between with people of Osogbo and Oshun came the Oshun festival, which is still practiced today by the Yoruba people. Every year, Oshun devotees and other people of the Yoruba religious tradition go to the Oshun River to pay homage, make their sacrifices, and ask for a variety of things. Although there are other orishas honored during the festival, the majority of the festival is based on honoring Oshun.
Osogbo also has a forest that contains several shrines and artwork in honour of Oshun, called the Osun-Osogbo Sacred Grove. It was designed as a UNESCO World Heritage site in 2005.
Influence on Modern Women
Oshun is very important to women in West African cultures. Those who suffer from infertility often call on Oshun for her help, since she is associated with femininity and the power of women. She more widely sought after in times of drought and floods.
Many women in our modern day still adopt Oshun as their personal deity. Many seek empowerment from Oshun and draw from her energies in their personal lives. The artist Beyoncé drew on Oshun for the 2016 film and album Lemonade. The title of both refers to the saying, “When life gives you lemons, make lemonade,” which encourages people to make the best of any situation. This also reflects Oshun’s color yellow, which Beyonce makes clear in an amber-yellow dress and gold bracelets.
Overall, Oshun is one of the most influential and longstanding goddesses, not only in Yoruba religion, but around the world. She is a lush womanly figure who protects the sweet and fertile waters. Oshun is seen as a beautiful goddess that is very powerful. She protects the Yoruba people and ensures that they do not suffer any droughts or floods. Pregnant women from all over make sure to pray to Oshun for their fertility and well-being. Oshun has human-like qualities that make it easy to relate with and teach her people that it is okay to forgive yourself for your own actions as well as forgive others.