Angry Black Goddesses
I practice a West African religious tradition known as Ifa or Orisha. It’s very closely related to Vodun, Santeria, Lucumi, and similar traditions in the Western Hemisphere.
Among the Ifa pantheon are many goddesses. One could say they are black, as they originate in black Africa. And at times one could say that they are angry.
Oya is the owner of the whirlwind. A rushing river. A copper current. She is electricity in the air, the crackle of tension as it builds, the sizzle as it releases. Her name means “she tore.” Oya cleans away dirt and decay with her powerful broom. To quote my godmother, Luisah Teish, she is “a warrior against stagnation.”
Yemaya is the mother of fishes. She dances on the surface of the ocean, silver and blue and pearly white in the sun and moon. But in a storm–watch out! And like any mother she is ready to defend her children to the death, stashing a kitchen knife in the pocket of that June Cleaver (!) apron. Don’t make her pull it out.
Oshun is sweetness personified. She owns erotic love, money, culture, and the finer things in life. Oshun is honey and oranges, cool spring water and trilling birdsong. She is also the vulture soaring high, casting her shadow over what is spoiled and needs work, over all that must be changed. From her I learned that engaging others with my anger is a blessing, a precious gift I give them.
Some divinities in the Ifa pantheon are asexual, and appear not to have sexual characteristics. Others seem to embody both sexes, either simultaneously or via different “faces” or “roads.” I’ve written here about three of the Orisha who are primarily seen as female, but there are others.
Even the briefest discussion of Angry Black Goddesses would be incomplete without mention of the Iyami. This is a word in the West African Yoruba language meaning “our mothers.” The Iyami of any community are that community’s witches. They act in secret to further women’s interests. They are able to disguise themselves as birds when going about their business. They are very dangerous to oppose.
Those who follow my tradition believe that each of us is closest to one Orisha in particular, and that Orisha is said to rule one’s head. Men may be ruled by female Orisha, and women by male Orisha. In fact, each of us has a father and a mother; the Orisha who rules our head and another of the complementary gender.
This is true of all people, no matter one’s race, origin, or religion.
Do you know who your Angry Black Goddess is? If you want to find out, you can ask a diviner.