Oshún is an orisha that manifests in many different traditions. Even within Santeria she has many paths, or different incarnations, where she shows herself beautifully. There is a path where she is seen as an old woman who sits at the bottom of the river knitting and complaining; there is one where she is always crying and hoping things were different; there is one where she is always laughing and seeing the truth in life (some say when she is laughing you should watch out).
Some paths are aligned with the orisha Chango, lord of fire; some are connected to Ogun, the orisha of smiths and war; and one is even seen as revolutionary and has a special connection to the orisha Ochosi, who wears his ceremonial arrow on her crown. There are many more. Each one delightfully mimics the exact character of Osh.n’s children. Through proper initiation and divination, the particular path that is guiding you will be revealed.
The Myth and the Reality of Oshún
In the tradition of La Regla Lucumi, one of the ways spiritual lessons are taught is through patakis, or sacred stories. They are told as part of one’s divinations, or just when elders feel that others in the religion need to hear them. There is simultaneously only one right way to tell these tales, and a million right ways to tell them. Such is the nature of the religion, which is richly based in oral history and legend that leaves itself open to personal interpretation. There are fortunately elaborate stories to illustrate almost every principle and message the orisha Oshún has set out to teach us. One of the most popular reminds us just how strong she is, and shows that strength is not always defined just in physical terms.
The strength and power of this warrior orisha lie not only in her physical strength, but in her intelligence and boundless powers of persuasion. The Ashe (sacred energy) of Oshún is that of the sweet river. It is both magnetic and irresistible. The following well-known story tells of how in many situations she is stronger, and more successful, than any of the other orishas.
It came to be, many years ago, that a group of very powerful witches hiding in the woods had the intent to take over the world. These were menstruating females, whose moon time had increased their strength and ability. This made them virtually unstoppable. The orishas all gathered and discussed how to best put an end to the witches’ plans. First the orisha Ogun, in charge of war and iron, was sent to discourage them. The witches, however, were too powerful, and despite his massive size and battle skills, he was unsuccessful.
Many of the other orishas tried too, but they had no luck. Finally, Oshún took charge. She mesmerized the witches with her sensual dances and sweet power. They immediately fell in love and began to follow her. She then took on an aspect as queen of witches, and they are still following her today. Oshún, as illustrated, has the ability to command and control almost any situation.
One area that is always of interest to Oshún is love and relationships. There are stories of her being romantically involved with other orishas, such as Chango, Orula, Ogun, Inle, and others. Her interactions with her suitors are legendary, and one story explains this part of her history beautifully.
Long ago, Oshún lived in her mother Yemaya’s house. Each day she would go deep into the woods and dance and sing. Even far removed from people, she still attracted them with her sheer sensual power and magnetism. Every time a hungry suitor got close enough to speak to her and ask her to marry him, she would turn her back and dance away. Soon, scores of admirers followed her all day and all night. They would even appear at her mother’s house, looking for attention.
Day after day, more and more appeared. They began to intrude on the space, trampling the garden, ruining the crops, and disturbing the household. Finally, Oshún’s mother could stand it no more, and she burst from the house yelling,
“Stop it! This is unacceptable. I know my daughter is captivating, but this must come to an end.”
Oshún’s mother decided to devise a clever contest. She told the desperate crowd, “All of you wish to have my daughter as your wife, but how can you do that if none of you even know her name? The one who learns her name will have my permission to truly be with her.” The potential lovers did everything in their power to discover her secret name. They asked everyone in the village, to no avail.
One of the suitors was Orunmila, the orisha of divination. Again and again he tried to use his psychic powers to learn her name but had no luck. In the end, he turned to his friend Eleggua to help him learn the secret. Eleggua is an orisha known for his ability to open doors, find lost things, and create clever solutions to any problem. He accepted the challenge to find the name of the most beautiful woman in the land.
Eleggua tried every trick he knew to learn the name. First he disguised himself as a young child and played beneath Oshún’s window, hoping to hear someone inside speak her name. When that tactic was unsuccessful, he turned himself into an old homeless man and slept all night on her doorstep, all in the hopes of learning her name. He did this for many nights. Just when he was about to give up hope, he heard a large crash and yelling coming from the house. He looked inside to find the two women yelling.
Oshún had been practicing a new dance move, and one of her turns had broken a soup pot. Her mother screamed, “Oshún! Be careful.” Eleggua quickly went back to his friend with this knowledge. Orunmila was so excited to hear the results. “Tell me, tell me!” He pleaded.
Eleggua described the hardships he had undergone to learn the name. “I had to be a child and run around under their window all day, and then I had to be an old beggar and sleep on their uncomfortable doorstep for many nights,” Eleggua said.
“Please, please, please I must know,” Orunmila responded. He was almost begging.
Finally, Eleggua said her name. Orunmila ran to Oshún’s house and told her mother the secret name. Shortly after, they were married. It is said that for a great number of years they were happy together.
Adapted, and reprinted with permission from Weiser Books, an imprint of Red Wheel/Weiser, Orishas, Goddesses, and Voodoo Queens by Lilith Dorsey is available wherever books and ebooks are sold or directly from the publisher at www.redwheelweiser.com or 800-423-7087