|Virgin of Regla, by Miguel Alfaro|
Today, September 7th, is the Catholic feast of the Virgin of Regla, a Cuban Black Madonna who is the masque for the lucumí orishá Yemojá. Much is said of the orishás, but apart from their specific cultural-religious specificities as divinities that have incarnated as humans on earth, they are so much more than the common conception of 'god', 'spirit', or 'ancestor'. They are all this, but I remember my godmother describing orishá one day, as "the feeling I get when I hear the drums" and "the way I feel when I remember my mother singing". Yes! This came so much closer. Obatalá is the flash of insight or the spark of creativity, and the peace of cool shade on a hot day. Yemojá is the floodings of emotion and the rising above anger, she is the lapping waves and the undertow, she is the glow of a pregnant woman and the fierceness of a parent defending their child. Orishá are in our bodies, in the world around us, not just in a remote Orún/Heaven waiting to come to possess their devotees at a tambór. I can hear my godmother in my head asking Yemojá to "calm the turbulent waters of life and carry us safely where we need to go." But olorishas are of course always speaking the praises of orishás (well, if it works....)
Yemojá's name is a contraction of Yeyé omó ejá, (or Iyá omó ejá), "Mother of the Fishes"; her ritual number is seven, her colors are blue, white, crystal with accents of other colors depending on the specific road; she is owner of the Ogún River, and in the New World, she owns the ocean as well. She gave birth to many of the other orishás, and is associated with nurture and maternity. She can be found in lakes, rivers, seas, marshes, wells, springs - in truth, she is water itself!
I believe it is in one of Matory's books (perhaps Black Atlantic Religion?), where there is an interview with a priestess of Yemojá in Trinidad, and she mentions how orishá is not about worship. She was mopping the floor - and was adamant to point out that as she was mopping, and water was being placed on the floor, she was interacting with Yemojá - for as oloshas and aborishas we make orishá, we do orishá. Hacer santo is most difficult to translate to English for this reason - it is not just the act of crowning a priest in our initiation ritual - orishá is a process we engage in. I really thank my godmother for putting that in my head. (She is a daughter of Yemojá, after all....)
This year I put elekes on my first godchild, a daughter of Yemojá. I am born from Yemojá, as is my godmother, and her godmother before her. She rules my religious house, and although I am a child of Obatalá and my mother en santo is Oyá, Yemojá will always and forever be that great ocean that gave me birth, and therefore always "Mom". Maferefun Yemojá!
Yemoja olodo, yeye mi Yemojá ore yeye o.
Emiti ìbí gbogbo Imólè, yeye mi Awayo, Yemojá jo iya.
Iyanla, Iyanla, Iyanla, Yemojá gbe a le. Ashé.
Yemojá, owner of the river,
My mother Yemojá, Most Gracious Mother.
You who gave birth to all the divinities, my Mother whose crown is the rainbow,
Yemojá who calms all suffering.
Great Mother, Great Mother, Great Mother,
Yemojá sustains us. Ashé.