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PBP Friday: O is for Olukun/Yemonja

PBP Friday: O is for Olukun/Yemonja

I hesitate to write this post. It’s not because I am a Kemetic writing outside my pantheon, but because being a soft reconstructionist has taught me how to respectfully and thoroughly study and research something before (or at least while) I engage with it. And that means I can recognize when I lack that foundational knowledge; I feel like I’m on unsteady ground when so unread.

I have one book on Ifa: The Way of the Orisa by Philip Neimark, an American convert and practitioner of Ifa. This book has a wealth of differences between the singular book I have read on Haitian Vodou (Haitian Vodou by Mambo Chita Tann), which I know is a very well-sourced, academically-solid, and culturally-respectful treatise. Some of these are doubtlessly regional differences—there are several flavors of Yoruban religion, and dialects change the spellings of words and names—but what gives me such pause is that I haven’t read any other books to broaden my horizon on orisa or Ifa. I’ve also learned enough in the years since I bought this book to question the author’s privilege and potential Westernizing spin.

And yet. If I don’t write this post, how can I encourage other polytheists and pagans to write freely and earnestly about their experiences and the mythologies that they enjoy and study, no matter how new they are?

So I am writing, with the neon disclaimer that I’m very aware I have exactly one author’s viewpoint on the subject, and I have no idea how that author compares with others in his field in terms of accuracy versus modern re-interpretation. The reason I am writing is because, however objectively qualitative that author is or is not, his book impressed upon me Olukun/Yemonja, and that impression has lingered, full of seaspray and undertow.

Yemonja/Olukun is an ocean orisa of great might and dual, intertwined natures; some forms of Yoruba-based religions separate the one into two. However, Ifa treats it as one and emphasizes the importance of maintaining this balance of seemingly opposed natures. Yemonja is described as the feminine energy, full of a mother’s nurturing and generosity, the life-giving gifts of the waves, while Olukun is the masculine energy, powerful and volatile, the icy depths of the sea. Together, Yemonja/Olukun is referred to as a she (in the book) but is a dynamic balance between those two genders; I would interpret it as being a third gender as a result, but that’s me.

Being such a Water-child, being drawn to the ocean like a magnet to the north, and being genderqueer… needless to say, this simplified but imagery-rich idea of Yemonja/Olukun appealed to me deeply and viscerally. In fact, I wrote a song called From The Ocean, exploring the angles between this one orisa’s complementary natures. Even now, when I see the myopic weakness of my single-source understanding of this orisa, my emotional-spiritual reaction to it (and, yes, to how the author describes its “children” in the book, which is staggeringly accurate to my own nature) cannot be invalidated by my skeptical intellect.

As an additional point of interest, one aspect of my Mother Nebt-het (Nephthys) is Nit (Neith), a very old hunter-goddess, a creatrix… a Netjeru of the primordial ocean, and the Great He-She. The parallels I can draw between Nit’s epithets and Yemonja/Olukun’s description are… intriguing, to say the least, and bear further meditation.

In closing, I will say that the heart knows the love and the links from blood to brine, even when the brain cannot yet prove the pattern of the chains that bind them so tightly.

This post brought to you by the Pagan Blog Project.