Oya - The Horned One and The Devil

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

The Horned One and The Devil

According to a Yoruba legend, Ogun, the sacred ironworker, witnessed a magnificently horned water buffalo emerge from the Niger River and transform into a beautiful woman. He surreptitiously followed this magical woman: she walked like a queen through the marketplace where she bargained intensely and successfully for fine cloth. Ogun was smitten; he approached her and begged to marry her. She first demurred but when he revealed that he knew her secret identity and threatened to expose her, Oya agreed—but only if he never told anyone about her true identity. He agreed and brought her home to his forest compound.

He loved her passionately but his other wives weren’t delighted and sensed that there was something different about this woman. One night Ogun and Oya had an argument; he lost his temper and shouted out something regarding her true bovine identity. The other wives, eavesdropping by the door, heard all. Oya knew her secret was revealed; she didn’t say another word but simply walked out of Ogun’s home, never to return. She transformed back into her buffalo shape and entered the Niger River, over which she still presides.

That’s one version of their divorce anyway; another suggests that Oya, the most intellectual of the orishas, was bored helping Ogun at the forge. When the opportunity arose, she eloped with his dashing brother, the warrior Chango, who made her his chief military advisor.

Oya is the woman warrior orisha of storms, winds, and hurricanes. She rules the marketplace, considered the magical domain of women. The cemetery is also under her domain; she is the only orisha willing to have contact with the dead. Oya presides over healing and necromantic divination.

Oya has become increasingly popular in the past few decades and is now among the most beloved of Santeria’s orishas. Her horned aspect is not as emphasized in the Western Hemisphere as it is in Africa, where she is intensely associated with antelopes as well as water buffaloes. In African Diaspora traditions Oya is more popularly visualized as a beautiful, regal woman, but horns are traditionally placed on her altars and used to represent and summon her.

See DICTIONARY: Orisha, Santeria; DIVINE WITCH: Ogun; MAGICAL ARTS: Necromancy; MAGICAL PROFESSIONS: Metalworkers; PLACES: Burial Grounds, Marketplace.