Beyonce, Oshun, and Behavior Befitting A Queen

Beyoncé photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.
Beyoncé photo courtesy of wikimedia commons.

The world is buzzing with Beyonce’s latest performance at the Grammys this week. I’ve heard her called everything from a Demon to a Goddess to a Crazy person. I even saw one article who just called her “Mammy.” In case you are out of the loop here’s what the commotion was all about- during her performance she donned herself in gold, a rosy crown, and spoke of the ancient mothers and women’s power. Many thought she was putting on the guise of the Virgin Mary, others thought it just looked religious, others… those familiar with Afro-Caribbean Religion, knew she was dressing as Oshun. Again for those who may not know Oshun also spelled Osun, Ochun, Oxun, or Oxum (depending on which tradition she is appearing in) is the Orisha of Love, Beauty, Money, Fertility, Gold, Dance, and much more.

Back in April I wrote about her Oshun imagery in the video Lemonade, you can read that post here : #Beyonce Pours Out Oshun’s Honey and Lemonade. As a native Brooklyn girl, I was proud to hear she and Jay-Z are expecting twins (we have to have pride in Brooklyn, many of us don’t have much else.)  The Grammy performance and the latest video have brought Oshun, and the other Orisha into the spotlight. This is the first time many people have even heard of Oshun or Yemaya. I applaud her reverence for the ancestral mothers, and obviously support her powerful 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.

Oshun shrine candle photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.
Oshun shrine candle photo by Lilith Dorsey. All rights reserved.

However, Beyonce 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 always 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 or a grammy performance.
La Regla Lucumi (more commonly known as Santeria) is a religion of teachers and students that operate as parents and children. Proper devotion involves years, if not a lifetime, of tribute and learning. There is still no clear word from the Beyonce camp about her participation, or initiation in the religion. No one in the community is claiming her, and many are not happy.

Statement about Beyonce from Babalawo Ogbe Di

My initial response was that I didn’t understand the need to see a manifestation of pop culture in terms of the Orishas, especially when it was divorced from any religious context. Beyonce is an entertainer, and a very good one; she is a specialist in creating a spectacle, and as she has aged her talents (and budgets) in this regard have only grown. What she isn’t, at least as far as I and the rest of the internet have been able to determine, is any form of Orisha worshipper whatsoever. My first reaction was to ask, sarcastically but (I think) reasonably, where does this trend end? If entertainers can be identified as Orisha, is the greengrocer now Osain? Is every scuba diver Olokun, every nursery school teacher Yemaya, every fireman Shango?

The responses startled me a bit, and I appreciated them because they made me sit back and think. The general response was mostly twofold: first, “why shouldn’t I celebrate an image of an Orisha when I see it in daily life?”, and second “this will draw people to the religion”. Both of these are perfectly legitimate (the first more than the second to my mind) but I think both responses missed what I was saying to a certain degree with my original thoughts and posting. I will address these two in order.

“Why shouldn’t I celebrate an image of an Orisha when I see it in daily life?” Short answer, you should. When I see a vulture I salute if I can, to honor ibu Kole. I always ask permission symbolically before crossing a river. I don’t eat certain foods, not because they were specifically taken from me in Ita, but because they belong to Oshun, and so do I (Oshun passed me to Orunmila, but all of my signs made it clear that She gets the final say, as anyone who knows Odu Ogbe Di will already recognize). I honor Oshun every day… but I don’t see the automatic connection with a woman just because she wears a gold crown, or a yellow dress. This connection only seems apparent to Orisha worshippers who are desperate to find some representation of our beliefs in the public square, and will clutch onto anything that seems even somewhat appropriate.

Second, as to drawing people into the religion… I don’t see that American consumer culture is ever going to lead anyone to anything that isn’t American consumer culture. If our deities and culture are being used to sell music, or products, it should be fought, not celebrated. We are already suffering the consequences of consumer culture in our religion – all our sacred ceremonies are being whored out for money, the media and movies represent us as witches and worse to get viewers and ad revenue, and everything the elders of our religion fought to keep sacred and secret is being filmed and thrown out on Youtube to get a few Likes, Follows and Google Ad dollars. Beyonce isn’t celebrating anything but Beyonce; she is doing her job, advancing her brand, and promoting her product. What she isn’t doing is any form of open devotional work to Oshun or anyone else.

At the end of the day, I think the issue is cultural in nature. If we were in Nigeria, Brazil or Cuba, where everyone knows fully who Oshun is and what the Orishas are and aren’t. In America, because that awareness isn’t present in the general culture, the boundaries are far too permeable. My concern is that soon enough we will see Beyonce merchandise being marketed in botanicas because there isn’t that cultural awareness of what is appropriate and what is not. Celia Cruz sang about the Orisha constantly, but people didn’t proclaim her one no matter what she wore on stage. Virginia Rodrigues is a mae de Santo in addition to being a phenomenal singer, but people don’t assume she is a manifestation of Iemonja when she wears a blue dress. I would love to see more celebrations of the Orisha in popular culture; I think that Ifa, Orisha and iwa pele are much needed in this country, in this culture, and in the world. I think we would all be better off finding ways to make those celebrations a reality, so we don’t have to go looking to the Grammys to find an illusion of Oshun.

While I may not agree with exactly everything he expressed, I wanted to present his opinion along with mine. I believe Beyonce is a true icon, and as such is an inspiration for millions of women. Many of these are women of color, like myself, who are seriously desirous of positive images that echo our reality. If these are truly Beyonce’s beliefs I pray that she makes 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 has been a lot, a damn lot, of misinformation circulating about the Orisha Oshun. Naturally as a child of Oshun, I have written about her, and proper ways of honoring her in your life if you are just beginning in the tradition. Nothing however replaces the proper guidance and teaching of your godparents. My godparents are a support and inspiration to me every moment of my life. It is a very important relationship that is the foundation of the religion. If you are unsure how to go about finding godparents, see my post 6 Questions You Need to Ask Before finding Godparents.

Please refer to and share the following posts about Oshun if possible, and explore the rest of the content here on Voodoo Universe.

Sensuous and Sacred: Oshun’s Feast Table How To

An Orisha Oshun Herbal

Oshun Orisha of Love Recipes

Oshun Butternut Squash Soup Recipe

Santeria Etiquette 101: Can’t Touch This

 

 

 

 

 

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