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Painting of Oshun by Francisco Santos


OSHUN, RIVER GODDESS OF HOPE




Oshun is the Orisha, or spirit deity, who rules over the rivers and streams of the world. She was also the Goddess of the Oshun River, in Yoruba Land, Nigeria, and she was brought to the New World, from Africa, on crowded slave ships, ending their journeys, when they landed at Cuba and Brazil.

Oshun is a Goddess, who encompasses a great variety things, including love, sensuality, sexuality, abundance, and diplomacy. She is also one of the Seven African Powers, and it is in that role, that she has a warrior aspect, which conquers by bringing people together, so they can discover the ability, within themselves, to form healing solutions. Oshun may, perhaps, be the smallest in the Orisha hierarchy, but she is also one of the most popular, and the most powerful, of them all. It is undisputed, as well, that Oshun might also be the most vain, of all the Orishas, yet she has an amazing strength within her, which has the ability to bind the people, and the Orishas, together as one.

Oshun is also the owner, of all the rivers and streams of the world, and it is said that she lives in those rivers’ currents and eddies. If you truly wish to learn about the Orishas named Oshun, you must first understand the journey that she, and the other Orishas undertook; evolving along the way, until they finally became the basis, for the religion that eventually became known as Santaria.

Santeria grew out of the Yoruba religion of Nigeria, Africa. It was in Nigeria, that slave traders captured hundreds of thousands of men, women and children, who they then brought to the New World, to be sold into slavery. In order for the African religion to survive, it became necessary, during the Great Passage to the New World, for it to undergo many transformations.

In 1517 C.E., the Yoruba slaves, in Cuba, were forced into the strict orthodoxy of Catholicism. Even so, they held their heads high, with dignity; and it was from this proud people, that the religion, which is now known as Santeria, was born.

Santeria and Voodoo are both unique, because their followers practice their religion, side by side, and jointly with Catholicism, even though the Catholic Church denies that to be true. However, this duality of religion does exist, and a Santero can be a devout Roman Catholic, while at the same time, he is in his kitchen, sacrificing a chicken to a Santeria God.

The history of these events was never set down into written form. Instead, it was handed down, from one generation to the next, in the ancient oral tradition. When the slaves were first baptized into the Catholic Church, they were told about Jesus, and about how he had been tortured and killed. That was a story, which the slaves could easily identify with. However, the white man’s God, was so completely different, from the Gods they had always known. The white man’s God was a very solemn God, who never did any of the things that his followers did. Nor did he ever show respect, for the amazing beauty of nature.

Even though they had been baptized into Catholocism, the Yoruba priests continued to teach their children how to practice the ancient rites. Then, when the Spanish Inquisition came, burning, killing, and forcing the people to admit that there was only one God, the slaves knew exactly what they had to do. There they stood, nodding their heads in complete agreement with whatever it was, that the Spanish inquisitors had said. Then they smiled, and then they lied.

In the religious duality of Santaria and Catholicism, the slaves worshipped Shango, Obatala or Oshun, at the same exact time that they were kneeling in the church, worshipping the white man’s God, and his multitude of saints. The Santeros had come to the conclusion, that worshipping the white man’s deities could not hurt them, and it might even do them some good. It was that simple. The more Gods that the Santeros worshipped, the greater they believed their protection would be. They were even creative in their worship, and they found a variety of new and unique ways, to assimilate a few of their Santaria Gods, into their Christian worship. They took Elegua, the Messenger God of Santatia, and turned him into the Holy Child of Atocha; and Oshpsi, the fierce God of War, became known as the extremely pure and holy, Saint Norbert.

No one actually believed any of this. Not for one single moment. But, when a religious festival was over, the slave owners were just extremely grateful, that their sugar plantations were filled with peace and harmony, rather then with hatred and violence. Interestingly, is that fact, that some of the white people actually began to go to the slaves, to ask them for their help. The white slave owners, would sometimes bring their sick, to the black herbalists, while a few young, white ladies, would also come, in the hope that the slaves might give them “love trinkets” or caste “spells,” to help them meet the man of their dreams. This duality of worship, worked out surprisingly well, for everyone concerned.

The Catholic priests just looked the other way. They were extremely grateful, that after the slave uprisings in Haiti, where many of the priests had been brutally tortured and killed, that whatever had happened there, was not happening to them. They decided to simply ignore, whatever it was, that the slaves happened to be doing, and they chose to believe, instead, that the sound of the drums, which they heard throughout the night, was nothing more then an innocent form of fun. It was there, that Santaria was born; inside the slave compound and around the fire, with the rhythmic beat of the drums, echoing, throughout the dark Caribbean night.

When the slave traders, first brought the African slaves to the New World, Oshun gained a variety of new names and titles. She became known as Oxum, in Brazil, Oshun in Cuba, and the aspect Erzulie-Freda-Dahomey in Haiti. She also took on the role, of the ancient Earth Mother Goddess, Imale.

Many stories exist, which describe how Oshun saved the world. This is simply one, out of many of those stories, but it is a rather important one, at that. I hope that it will help you gain some insight, into the Orisha known as Oshun.

When the world was still very young, the Orishas became tired of serving Olodumare, the Lord of Heaven, so they began to resist his wishes, until pretty soon, they actually reached the point where they were discussing insurrection. The Orishas all agreed, that since Heaven, which was the place where Olodumare lived, was so very far away, they could share their powers among them, and that way, things would be done in a more efficient manner.

Olodumare, however, learned about their plans, and in one single action, he showed them the immense force of his power, by simply refusing to allow, even one single drop of rain, to fall upon the Earth. Without any rain, a great draught began to spread across the Earth, and the ground, which had always provided sustenance and life, quickly began to dry up. The various forms of life, which the rain had always brought forth, soon began to die, and the Orishas quickly began to realize, that without the gift of rain, the people and the Orishas, all would starve.

Olodurmare's curse had worked well, and hunger and thirst quickly overcame the rebellious nature of the Orishas. It was then that they decided, that in order for them to convince Olodumare, to give them back the rain, they would have to go to him, high in Heaven, and beg for his forgiveness. Unfortunately, there existed one major problem. None of the Orishas were able to travel, as far away as Heaven, so there was no one, who was able to go, and beg Olodurmare for his forgiveness.

The Orishas did attempt to reach Heaven, by sending the birds of Earth; but each of them, one by one, unsuccessfully returned. They simply did not have the strength, to undertake such a long and arduous journey. It was then, that the Orishas became despondent, when they finally realized that all was apparently lost.

Then, one day, Oshun appeared before them, in the form of a little peacock, and she advised the Orishas, that she would go to the Palace of Olodumare, so that the world could be saved from the terrible draught. The Orishas, however, were extremely vain, and in their vanity, they refused to believe that Oshun could do, what they apparently could not. How could this little peacock succeed, where all of them had failed? Oshun, however, kept insisting that she would succeed; so finally, out of desperation, the Orishas agreed to let her go.

Oshun, as the little peacock, began to fly upward, towards the sun, and towards the Palace of Olodumare, high in Heaven. The journey was an extremely long and tiring one, and it was extremely difficult for Oshun to fly there, as well.

Oshun, however, was determined to keep on going, so she continued to fly higher and higher, so that she could save the world from the terrible draught. As she continued to fly closer to the sun, her feathers began to grow weathered and dark, and her beautiful head, became almost bare. Nothing, however, could stop the little Peacock, from continuing on her journey. She was completely determined, to reach the Palace of Olodumare, and save the world from the terrible draught. It was truly amazing, but this severely burned, once beautiful little peacock, actually did reach Heaven, and the palace of Olodumare, solely through the amazing strength of her own determination, and sheer will.

Finally, Oshun arrived at Olodumare’s palace gate. When Olodumare heard her arrive, he immediately went down, to see what was going on. There, at his palace gate, he found Oshun, who had once been the beautiful little peacock. When he found her, she was completely black and burned, from her long and dangerous journey. Her once beautiful body, had become hunchbacked, and her beautiful head, had become completely bald. The rest of her body, was covered with the burns, she had sustained, from flying so close to the sun.

It was then that Olodumare looked down at Oshun, and realized, what a totally sad sight she happened to be, so he decided to take pity on her, and he brought her into his palace. Once inside, Olodumare made sure that Oshun received all the food, water and medical attention that she needed.

Once Oshun’s well being had been taken care of, Olodumare asked her, why she had made such a long and perilous journey. That was when Oshun explained to him, that by his withholding the rain, from falling upon the Earth, he was causing all of her children to die. That was how Oshun looked upon humanity; she saw them as her children. She also told Olodumare, how she had risked her own life, to make this dangerous journey, so that the people of the Earth might be saved.

The Lord of Heaven, looked down upon the Earth, and saw that everything, which Oshun had told him, was true. It was then that he turned to Oshun, the once beautiful peacock, who now looked much more like a vulture, then a peacock, and he withdrew his curse, thereby allowing the rain to fall upon the Earth, once again. It was then, as well, that Olodumare looked deeply within Oshun’s heart, and he saw the great purity and goodness within her. In fact, he actually became so moved, by what he had seen in her heart, that he made a very important announcement. Olodumare then announced, that from then on, Oshun would be the Messenger of the House of Olodumare, and he told everyone, that they must show her great respect.

From that point forward, Oshun became known as Ikole, the Messenger of the House of Olodumare. It was from then, as well, that Oshun, who was now known as Ibu Ikole, not only became revered; she also became associated with the vulture, which had become “her” bird. Oshun, as the vulture, traveled back to the Earth, and with her, she brought the gift of rain, and the whole planet rejoiced, at what she had done. Oshun, however, remained humble. She refrained from reminding the other Orishas, that they had refused to believe in her, because she saw the great regret and shame within their hearts, and it was from that time forward, that whenever a person becomes a priest, before he is able to gain the possession of an Orisha, within him, he must first travel up the river, to receive the blessings of Oshun.

A multitude of stories exist regarding Oshun, so I will only tell you one more, in the hope that you will better understand the Oshira named Oshun. In the Yoruba region of West Africa, there lived an Oshira named Obatala, who had always been considered, one of the greatest Oshiras of them all. Although Obatala was known as the "Father of Wisdom," he had also become known as the "Lord of the White Cloth," since he always wore a beautiful white cloth, draped around his body. Oshun desperately desired to know the Art of Divining, which Obatala was extremely accomplished at, but he had continuously refused to teach it to her. His excuses had ranged the gamut, from the fact that she was too young, to the fact that she was too beautiful; but the reason which upset Oshun the most, was that Obatala refused to believe that she was capable of learning such an important power as Divining.

Obatala always bathed in a certain pool. One day, while he happened to be bathing in that pool, Eleggua, the fun loving God of the Crossroads, just happened to be passing by, and when he saw Obatala in the water, he decided to have some fun. Eleggua quickly grabbed Obatala's neatly folded white cloth, and then continued along his merry way.

Obatala remained in the pool, for what seemed to be an eternity, since there was nothing there, with which he could cover himself, once he got out of the water. Luckily for him, Oshun was walking by. Right away, she noticed that Obatala appeared to be extremely uncomfortable, so she went over to him, and asked him if everything was all right.

Once Obatala explained to Oshun, exactly what had happened, she knew, immediately, who the culprit had been. She then told Obatala, that she would guarantee the return of his white cloth, but that he would have to pay a price for its return. The price that Oshun quoted him was very steep. In exchange for her returning his white cloth to him, he would have to teach to her the Art of Divining. At that point, Obatala was so desperate, that he would have agreed to anything, that Oshun might have asked of him.

Oshun immediately went home, to prepare herself to retrieve the white cloth. First, she absorbed the river into herself. Then, when she began to feel its rhythm and flow, deep within her body, she kept them, both on her hips, and in her walk. She also took the sweet honey, which she was so famous for, and applied it on her lips, upon her breasts, and in her voice. It was then, and only then, that Oshun was ready to go to the house of Eleggua, to retrieve the white cloth.

When Oshun arrived at Eleggua’s house, he was just about to put the white cloth away, but when he saw her, standing there in the doorway, looking like a golden angel, he began to feel a burning desire for honey. Eleggua went over to Oshun, and began to beg her, to please give him some of her honey. Oshun, however, replied to Eleggua, saying, “I will never give you my honey, unless you give me the white cloth.”

Eleggua pleaded with Oshun, over and over again, to give him some of her honey, and each time, she refused to do so, telling him that she never would give him her honey, unless he gave her the white cloth. Once again, Oshun said to Eleggua, “You will never get my honey, unless you give me the white cloth.” This verbal exchange went on and on, over and over, until Oshun finally gave Eleggua the sweetness of her honey. Once that act had been consummated, Eleugga gave Oshun, that which she desired, and he handed the white cloth over to her. With the white cloth in hand, Oshun then returned it to Obatala.

Obatala was honorable, and he kept his part of the agreement. Indeed, he spent sixteen days, and sixteen nights, teaching the Art and Power of Divining to Oshun. Then, when Oshun had learned everything, there possibly was to know, she taught the Art and Power of Divining to the entire village, at no cost, whatsoever, to them. It is for that reason that the Orisha named Oshun, whose name, among other things, means sweet water, is also sometimes referred to, with only the greatest of respect, as the sacred whore.

While Oshun may have been known for both her beauty and her charm, there existed so much more to her, then just those things. Oshun was also an enchantress, and she enchanted everyone, who was lucky enough, to have the honor of crossing her path. Oshun is a truly amazing Goddess, because she represents every possible emotion that can possibly exists. Everyone who sees her, sees her as something different; ranging the gamut from an old woman, who is looking whistfully back at her lost youth, to an intelligent, thin young, woman, who has the sensuality of a prostitute, and the eyes of a saint.

There is a saying, which states: “You must listen with your heart, if you wish to hear Oshun’s true worth.” That is very true, indeed, because Oshun has a truly amazing gift; she has the ability to provide renewal, when it is believed that none exists. When it comes right down to it, there is one thing, which makes Oshun stand out, above all the rest; that is because, most of all, Oshun represents hope.





Painting by Francisco Santos
Used With Permission




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