This is the hundredth post on Ferrebeekeeper! Hooray! Thank you so much for reading! In celebration, today’s topic features a twist: instead of dwelling on the underworld deities who personify evil, death, mystery, and the world beyond (although, admittedly, they have the best stories), I’m going to highlight a deity devoted to joy, happiness, love, and success. Don’t worry though, “deities of the underworld” and all things gothic will be heavily featured here in the run-up to Halloween.
To the uninitiated (i.e. our writers and editorial staff) it has been difficult to make sense of the subtle and not-so-subtle differences between the various Afro-Brazilian religions. The Orisha-based faiths of the Yoruba blend together with South American religions like Candomblé, Santería, Lukumi, and Umbanda to such an extent that only a devout practitioner could separate them all apart correctly. One figure however seems to be universally worshiped–although she goes by many names. Naturally that figure is the goddess of love and sex. She is known variously as Oshun, Laketi, Oxum, and Ọṣhun. In addition to fertility, romance and marriage, Oshun is the goddess of wealth, harmony, ecstasy, and fresh water (particularly rivers–which have a special place in Brazilian and Yoruban culture). Oshun’s favorite day is Saturday (my favorite as well!) and her sacred color is yellow. Oshun is portrayed as a beautiful black woman wearing gorgeous golden raiment and jewelry…or nothing at all.
In Yoruba myth Oshun was one of the 16 spirits sent by the enigmatic genderless supreme-being, Olodumare, to create the earth. Of the 16, only she was female (Yoruba culture seems to have had some gender issues). Predictably, the 15 male demiurges proclaimed superior status and placed undue demands upon Oshun, who thereupon withdrew her support from the whole “building the world” project. Creation became impossible. Everything the male orishas tried to make fell away into dust. They had to petition Olodumare and then fervently apologize to Oshun herself before she agreed to bequeath life to plants and animals. A different version of this myth (occurring after the world was populated by men and women) reads like the Lysistrata or the tale of Eros and Psyche: Oshun withdrew desire from the world–and hence the impetus for all rebirth and renewal–until her chauvinistic fellow-deities apologized.
According to various myths and differing faiths, Oshun has many husbands and lovers. Most often however her spouse is Shango, the sky god of thunder and drumming, or Ogun, the god of smithing and warfare. While this seems like a recipe for epic disaster, the Afro-Brazilian religions are not canonical and frequently overlap and contradict each other, so there is not necessarily an insoluble marital problem (also the ways of love goddesses exceed human understanding!).
Although possessed of a temper and vanity, Oshun is renowned for her great kindness. Her alternate name “Laketi” means “she who has ears” for, unlike the other figures of the Afro-Brazilian pantheon, she is portrayed as a compassionate deity who regularly answers prayers. Oshun’s endowments (other than her beauty and obvious womanhood) are peacock feathers, gold ornaments, a mirror, a fan, the color yellow, honey, and water. She is said to be partial to chamomille tea and white chickens. When her followers are taken by trance they dance, flirt, and laugh but then grow solemn–for Oshun knows that the world is not as beautiful as it could be.