Column: Oshun on the Altar of Pop Culture

Culture and CommunityWith the her announcement of twins and her recent Grammy performance, Beyoncé has become the center of media attention once again. Not only is Queen Bey trending this week, but she has been trending throughout the entire month of February. With her Instagram announcement of her pregnancy Feb 1, Beyoncé broke the record for the picture earning most likes on the social media platform with 2.4 million likes in one hour. As is usual, the fans and the haters are all over the interwebs weighing in on the topic.

Bey under water

“I have three hearts” [Beyoncé.com]

With all the hype about what’s next for Beyoncé and the loud group of people vocalizing how much they do not care, I couldn’t help but focus on the strong spiritual significance of the imagery on display. This isn’t the first time that Bey brought forward strong spiritual connections and images associated with Oshun and the spirit of the Orisha; we saw this in the visual album Lemonade released in 2016. Once again Beyoncé appears to be capturing overt messages and imagery that connects to the spirit of African Diaspora and peaking the interest of those in Orisha spirituality.

On her website Beyoncé posted the poem “I Have Three Hearts” from Warsan Shires specifically naming Oshun, Yemaya, and Nefertiti among the pictures of her pregnant belly.

Screenshot 2017-02-14 19.16.28

With Beyoncé wrapped in golden yellow materials, immersed in water, and showing the fullness of her belly pregnant with twins, the connections made within the photos show deep spiritual meaning beyond the glitz and glamour of this Queen. And just when we thought we were looking at this concept at it’s peak, Beyoncé graced the stage at Sunday’s 2017 Grammy Awards in a golden dress, adorned with a crown of gold, and her belly showing through. The stage flooded with flowers and beauty, and that moment she took the stage the internet exploded.

Video blog personality, and Ifa and Osun initiate Alafia posted online shortly after the Beyoncé performance on the Grammys.


So who is Oshun and why should it matter what Beyoncé is doing in her latest social media explosion?
Oshun is one of the most revered Orisha in the African Diasporic religions. She is known for her beauty and grace through many cultures and lands. Usually shown in her yellow clothing, golden jewelr,y and associated with the rivers and honey, Oshun is often a force to be reckoned with. She has many variations of her name within different regions and practices (e.g. Ochún, Oxúm, Ọṣun).

Folk stories say that as one of the wives of Chango, Oshun gave birth to the sacred and divine twins Ibeyi. It has been said that the Ibeji bless people with happiness, abundance, and joy. They are said to drive out the devil and uncover secrets.

While there are some that have hinted at the thought that Beyoncé is appropriating Oshun imagery, others firmly believe she is channeling Oshun in a very public way. Despite where people may fall on the spectrum of thoughts around the Queen Bey on stage, it is clear that she is placing Orisha in the minds of many people.

Reaching out into the community I gathered the thoughts and opinions from Oshun priestesses, priests, and followers of different stripes to see exactly what they thought about Beyoncé’s work and what stood out to them:

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Lilith Dorsey

“I am excited that Beyoncé’s recent birth announcement,accompanying photo shoot, and Grammy performance has brought attention to an ancient and powerful religion.This is the first time many people have even heard of Oshun or Yemaya, and they can see them rise from the waters with all the glory and beauty they command. I applaud her reverence for the ancestral mothers and her message of self-love. The fact that she is having twins draws the parallels between her and the Orisha Oshun (believed by many to be the mother of the sacred twins Ibeji,) even clearer.

“However, Beyoncé has opened a door here, and I’m not quite sure what will come through. How many people are taking the time and dedication to learn the true beauty and power of these religions ? You can’t play in the fields of the gods … they must be met with respect and honor. There is a Yoruba saying “you can’t get Awo (sacred knowledge) from a book.” You also can’t get it from watching a video. La Regla Lucumi (more commonly known as Santeria) is a religion of teachers and students, parents, and children. Proper devotion involves years, if not decades, of tribute and learning. There is still no clear word from the Beyoncé camp about her participation, or initiation in the religion. Her Grammy performance mimicked a certain initiation process in Santo, but without a clear message many were speculating and making painfully wrong generalizations about what she may be saying.

“She is an icon and an inspiration for millions of women, and if these are truly her beliefs she needs to make them openly known. I say this both as a daughter of Oshun (with initiations in the tradition) and as a scholar and performer who has dedicated my life to promoting accurate and respectful information and practices about these religions. There is so much false information out there (many of it perpetrated by Pagans/Christians/Mainstream media who have no real knowledge of the practices). Beyoncé should be adding to the truth of the tradition. I know this probably isn’t a popular statement to make, but if anyone can come out about this in a positive and productive way it is this Queen Bey.”

Angie aka La Strega Bhramari Aisling

“I’m to this bad ass African water goddess for life. Not in a traditional way of a headwash. Because I didn’t choose her, she chose me. Before I dedicated myself to her when I became an Amazon priestess in the CAYA Coven now congregation. Of which I’m now distant affiliates, my dedication to my golden goddess of life waters remains, and so shall it be as I move through this lifetime, and who knows if not into the next. My relationship with her started when I was either 5 or six years old, back in the day when you could camp along coyote creek, all my family and friends were swimming in the water and I was looking for shiny stones in the water)

“Our water was a lot clearer back then as I was walking along the shallows I must have had been on a shelf because as I moved forward I slipped off into the water (I was unable to swim at the time). I saw a wall of bubbles (like those in a fish tank) and then blacked out, I remember waking up in pain as the water left my lungs, not sure how long I was in the water. If it wasn’t for the gold barrettes I was wearing, shining in the water I would have never been found. I’ve always had this kinship with water, I’m an air sign not a water sign but cancer is in my Venus so who knows. I’ve always held a vision of beauty and used to draw a woman standing in water/river water, her arms reaching up to the moon as it reflected upon the water around her.

“When I came to Caya, Oshun made herself known to me in many ways, in my dreams, my thoughts and in my sensuality. It was then that I “officially” dedicated myself to her. When I attempted suicide by overdose (this is when I was moving through a very dark time), it was she that saved me, my ex lit her candle on her altar and some one after that I woke up when I should have died. Her waters healed my liver when it should have been damaged beyond repair. She heals my heart on the daily, helped renew the value I hold in love and being loved. She lives within my temple her waters fuel my life force. I keep an altar to her and celebrate daily. There are many nuanced a reminders from her that I feel and see which shows she is always with me, my other Oshun sisters, bees, flowers, my partners reverence to her and the water, my tears, her strength, love and vulnerability, sexual power, wisdom, beauty, delight, sacredness, sweetness, fierceness. Beautiful Oshun! Ase!

“Beyoncé bringing Oshun into the spotlight within herself and in the public eye embracing all women as holy is honoring not only the gift of life within her womb but also all daughters and priestesses of our great goddess, a major and extraordinary LOVE fest. An in your face power blast of our honied hive. It feel so good in this time of turmoil and resistance, to have a powerful Black woman represent and embody a powerful black goddess of life. It’s amazing.”

Leni Hester

The first time i saw the video for Bugaboo, I was like, I must go to Texas, I must find that woman, and lay roses at her feet. Beyoncé carries her ashe so explicitly–her remarkable physical beauty, her talent, her drive to perform.

Oyeronke Olajubu writes, in Women in the Yoruba Religious Sphere,  “…the position of oshun is both symbolic literal: she is the female principle and women in the cosmic enterprise.” (p80, 2003)

Beyoncé, with Formation, the superbowl black panther moment, the operatic Butthurt re: the super bowl black panther moment, all the ways in which she and Jay Z have supported BLM — it does not feel like ‘celebrity activism’, it feels like a powerful woman using her resources and influence to create justice, peace, and plenty. And that is Oshun. She evoked oshun every damn minute in Lemonade.

And now she’s pregnant with twins????!!!!!! Twins are sacred in Yoruba (and Dahomey) spirituality, and the Yoruba have the highest rate of twinning in the world. Oshun fell in love with her own reflection in the mirror, made love to herself, and gave birth to the Marassa – the divine twins. So as a devotee of Oshun, I totally see that ashe coming forward in her, and of course, veiled Beyoncé on an altar of flowers. the fact that that photo evoked the visual shorthand of Afro Cuban altars, Cuban lithographs, magic realism.

Beverly Smith

Beyoncé’s performance at the Grammys mesmerized me. I was called into formation during her last year’s Super Bowl show, and drawn under her spell since her Lemonade album,  and my admiration for Beyoncé has grown.

Recently her photo announcement of her pregnancy dazzled me. I was taken with her beauty. I was also puzzled to read critique after critique of Beyoncé’s pregnancy announcement. It was apparent that mostly white women were leveling ridiculous criticisms, comments like Beyoncé is callous and guilty of perpetuating unrealistic images of pregnant women and indifferent to their feelings. Others called her photos “tacky” and “gaudy”. Others projected their own emotions of inadequacy or frustration about their fertility issues, as though Beyoncé should have considered *their* feelings before releasing her photos. In typical fashion, these white women want to dictate to a black woman. This time, it is about how this particular black woman should feel about her pregnancy and whether or not she should announce it. It was Beyoncé’s good news to share. But predictably some white women felt the need to center themselves.

And still others took issue with Beyoncé’s Grammy portrayal of the gorgeous, mysterious, and sensual Orisha Oshun, the Yoruban goddess of fresh water, sweet rain, fertility, love, and sexuality. Many had no clue of the cultural and religious significance of the portrayal of Oshun, and instead, attributed Bey’s inspiration to Hindu and Wiccan goddesses, almost as though nothing perceived as “beautiful” could have possibly come from African sensibilities.

Additionally, there are those who feel that only those formally initiated to Oshun have any right to express devotion or admiration for Her in any way. There are those who don’t seem to understand that our affinity and connection with Her is in our blood. There are those who criticize us when we sing Her praises. There are those who say that only the initiated may claim Her.

I disagree. We children of the African diaspora need no one’s permission to embrace our birthright. We the uninitiated may not know the proper sacrifices to make or proper prayers to recite, but our blood is our lifeline to our African deities. I have no idea whether Queen Bey is an initiated devotee of Oshun. But it matters not to me. I honor and celebrate our African Mother, Oshun. Maferefun Oshun.


Beyoncé’s Grammy performance practically shouted to the world that she is Oshun’s daughter. Bedecked in gold and yellow, flowing like the river. Pregnant with twins just as Oshun is the mother of Ibeji, the divine twins. Queen, mother, seductress; Oshun is all of these and more. She is the divine feminine. Beyoncé, as much as possible, captured many of Oshun’s attributes throughout her performance. The performance took on the same dreamlike quality as the Lemonade video; opening up the realm of the metaphysics of womanhood and magic

River Devora

Since Beyoncé’s studio album and conceptual video “Lemonade” was released, folks have been quick to point out the likelihood of Oricha inspiration behind some of Beyoncé’s look and imagery. With her most recent pregnancy photo shoot, and her stunning performance at the Grammy’s, I’ve heard folks talking even more about Beyoncé’s possible connections to the Oricha Ochun. In some cases, I have even heard folks saying they feel like they’re seeing a true face of that Oricha, or feeling that they understand Ochun’s mysteries better based on Beyoncé’s music and visual arts. Several folks I’ve heard talking about feeling a calling to Ochun thanks to Beyoncé’s recent work, and have been looking for resources and ways to connect with Ochun’s energy.

I have been sitting with my feelings about all of this for the past several months. I am a priest of Ochun, crowned in 2011 through a traditional Santeria lineage. All of the recent buzz about Oricha makes me smile – I am so proud of my Crown, of my elders, my lineage and my ancestors of both blood and initiation, and the love and attention Ochun herself is getting makes my heart really happy. My initiation changed *everything* in my life, and all the blessings in my life that have unfolded since my Santo have passed through my Mother’s hands. To me, she deserves every bit of love that finds its way to her.

But ultimately, I also feel some trepidation about the way folks have been overly associating Beyoncé with the Oricha herself. Oricha are not human, they are vast untamed forces of nature. They are the sacred intermediaries between humanity and the great unknowable Divine, who is called Olofi, Olorun, Olodumare in my lineage. And each Oricha governs many, complex things. So when I thought about what I wanted to say with regard to all of this Beyoncé/Ochun buzz, I thought it might be helpful for me, as a priest, to say more about who I understand my crowning Oricha to be. I must always caveat this by pointing out that there are many traditions that worship or honor Oricha, including Santeria, Lucumi, Ifa, Candomble, Umbanda and others. And each of these traditions understands Oricha in their own nuanced way, which may be similar but in some cases are not the same from tradition to tradition. Furthermore, I can only speak for my own understanding of what my own elders have taught me; different lineages even within the same tradition may have individual nuances in their understanding, and I am still a young priest. Any mistakes I make in my interpretations of what I have been taught are on me alone.

Ochun is the Oricha of love, beauty, abundance, female sexuality and fertility. She is the sweet waters, the flowing river, the sweetness of honey. She is the pumpkin, swelling plump and rich with seeds. She is the flow of blood through our veins, the waters in our own bodies, our tears and sweat and fluids of arousal and completion. Ochun is the flow of love between people, all different kinds of love. She is the web of love that holds relationships together, that binds communities. Because of this, she is also the respect that must be present between people for relationships and communities to stay peaceful and loving. That respect includes social rules and norms, the ritualized protocols that keep people in harmony with one another. Ochun is the untamed drive to survive, and that especially includes self love that expresses itself as self preservation (sometimes by any means necessary).

Ochun is the Oricha who was so unwilling to tolerate disrespect that when the children of Ile Ife refused to honor their pacts with Obatala and began to treat him with disrespect, she turned herself into a vulture and consumed them. She is also the Oricha who gave up her beauty to save humanity when no other Oricha was able to effectively intercede on our behalf, in this she teaches us the true nature of her compassion and her all encompassing love. Ochun’s color is yellow. There are many versions of the story of how yellow came to be her color, but one version says she came upon hard times and only owned one dress, which was white. She was proud and would wash her dress every day. Eventually the dress turned yellow through repeated washings. This story shows also that she is an Oricha who understands how to maintain one’s dignity and self respect even through adversity and deprivation.

As you can see, Ochun is an Oricha with many layers of nuance and depth. To simply look at a pop singer and see gold and yellow clothes, to hear songs of romantic love, and to assume that Ochun is simply an archetype of modern day beauty, love and wealth is to miss so many important aspects of the Oricha. Ultimately, Oricha are not human, and it’s important to not overly ascribe human qualities to a vast and otherworldly force of nature. I am delighted that folks are finding their way to Oricha, and I hope that as folks find Ochun they can find the rest of the richness and diversity of the Oricha herself, all the other Oricha with whom she exists relationally, and the beautiful and ancient lineage that holds and shapes Oricha’s mysteries and blessings.

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Listening to the words of the Priests, priestesses and followers of Oshun bring us a lot of insight into the many different ways and understandings around the impact of Beyoncé’s recent display. Of course it is never as simple as some may think, and rarely is that the case with the Gods, Orishas, ancestors or spirits. Yet there are a lot of things that the recent pictures, performances, associations and correlations have done.

>Initiating the discussion of the Orisha and of Oshun in the wider society invokes a conversation that has too often been silenced. It would be remiss for me not to mention that it is also reigniting discussions of Orisha within the Black community which is culturally significant due to the layers of historical oppression around our roots.

Is there a downside to more people being aware of the power and reverence of Oshun, the Orisha, and African spirituality? Opinions might vary about the many ways that our communities are impacted by this buzz but it might have just unlocked an interest for a new generation of people making them curious about the path of the African Diaspora.

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The views and opinions expressed by our diverse panel of columnists and guest writers represent the many diverging perspectives held within the global Pagan, Heathen and polytheist communities, but do not necessarily reflect the views of The Wild Hunt Inc. or its management.

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3 thoughts on “Column: Oshun on the Altar of Pop Culture

  1. I was blown away by her performance. She is presenting true African woman beauty and power. When has there EVER been a pregnant woman shown in the entertainment business as gorgeous, powerful, and desirable (other than that photo of Demi Moore which drove everyone crazy)? Although I am not a practitioner, I say ashe’ and all blessings to Beyonce’ and her children.

  2. Fake Bey continues to be Fake Bey. You don’t use the Orishas as a way to grab attention. You come correct. I hope her sincerity is real and that she is learning to heal.

  3. My ancestors were European. I am a child of the European diaspora. I neither like nor dislike Bey. I have purchased some of her catchy songs from iTunes. She is good at what she does.
    I notice that Bey seems to stir up intense emotions from women. When she was pregnant with her first baby, many black women seemed to have an unhealthy obsession with her. I remember this from browsing social media sites and reading comments.
    I enjoyed this article. It conveyed a flavor of African spirituality and I found it interesting and sincere. I don’t know if Bey is being authentic or if she is just larping to get attention. I will leave it to people of African heritage to discuss that. I do know that Bey looked beautiful and bountiful in her yellow garments, and the beauty of pregnancy is universal.