Yemaya - The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

The Element Encyclopedia of Witchcraft: The Complete A-Z for the Entire Magical World - Judika Illes 2005

The Divine Witch: Goddesses and Gods

Yemaya is the Great Mother of Yoruba tradition, the ultimate expression of female power. The translation of her name, “The Mother Whose Children are Fish,” indicates that Yemaya’s children are innumerable. She is the mother of most of the Yoruba spirits, the orishas. She represents the epitome of motherhood and manifests all aspects of maternity to their fullest degree. Yemaya is among the most beloved of the orishas.

Yemaya is associated with the sea and salt water. She resides in the sea, she is the spirit of the sea, and she is the sea, specifically the upper portion of the ocean, all simultaneously. (Another orisha, Olokun, rules the oceans depths and floor.)

Her name also indicates that all humans begin their life in their mother’s amniotic sea. Although most typically manifesting as benevolent and nurturing, Yemaya also has a destructive aspect: oceans have riptides, tidal waves, and whirlpools.

Despite her modern associations, in Yemaya’s earliest incarnation, she was the spirit of Nigeria’s Ogun River. According to one legend, Yemaya was once the Queen of the Cemetery until she tricked the orisha Oya into taking her place.

Yemaya wears seven skirts. Her attributes include a silver mask and a snake. Amongst her various “paths” or manifestations is Yemaya Mayalewo (also Mayaleo). In this path she is identified as a witch who lives a solitary existence in wooded lagoons, such as mangrove swamps where salt water merges with fresh. In her witch path, Yemaya works closely with Ogun and is powerfully associated with the production and magic powers of indigo, her sacred color and substance.

See MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers; PLACES: Swamps.