Yemaya is the Yorùbá Orisha or Goddess of the living Ocean, considered the mother of all. She is the source of all the waters, including the rivers of western Africa, especially the River Ogun. Her name is a contraction of Yey Omo Eja, which means “Mother Whose Children are the Fish.” As all life is thought to have begun in the sea, all life is held to have begun with Yemaya.
She is motherly and strongly protective, and cares deeply for all Her children, comforting them and cleansing them of sorrow. She is said to be able to cure infertility in women, and cowrie shells represent Her wealth. She does not easily lose Her temper, but when angered She can be quite destructive and violent, as the sea in a storm.
Yemaya was brought to the New World with the African diaspora and She is now worshipped in many cultures besides Her original Africa. In Brazilian Candomblé, where She is known as Yemanja or Imanje, She is the Sea Mother who brings fish to the fishermen, and the crescent moon is Her sign. As Yemanja Afodo, also of Brazil, She protects boats travelling on the sea and grants safe passage.
In Haitian Vodou She is worshipped as a moon Goddess, and is believed to protect mothers and their children. She is associated with the mermaid-spirits of Lasirenn (Herself a form of Erzulie) Who brings seduction and wealth, and Labalenn, Her sister the whale.
Yemaya rules over the surface of the ocean, where life is concentrated. She is associated with the Orisha Olokin (Who is variously described as female, male, or hermaphrodite) Who represents the depths of the Ocean and the unconscious, and together They form a balance. She is the sister and wife of Aganju, the God of the soil, and the mother of Oya, Goddess of the winds.
Our Lady of Regla in Brazil may be linked to Her, and She is equated elsewhere in the Americas with the Virgin Mary as the Great Mother. In parts of Brazil She is honored as the ocean Goddess at the summer solstice, while in the north east of the country Her festival is held on February 2nd (a day that is also associated with Her daughter Oya, as well as being the feast day of the Celtic Bride), with offerings of blue and white flowers cast into the Sea.
Yemaya’s colors are blue and white, and She is said to wear a dress with seven skirts that represent the seven seas. Sacred to Her are peacocks, with their beautiful blue-green iridescence, and ducks. The number seven is Hers, also for the seven seas.
Alternate spellings: Yemanja, Yemojá, Yemonja, Yemalla, Yemana, Ymoja, Iamanje, Iemonja, Imanje
Epithets: Achabba, in Her strict aspect; Oqqutte in Her violent aspect: Atarmagwa, the wealthy queen of the sea; Olokun or Olokum as Goddess of dreams
Also called: Mama Watta, “Mother of the Waters”