Picturephoto: Tim D'Antonio
You know what annoygravates me?  
Planned obsolescence.
When I was a kid (Oh gosh, did I just write that?), things were built to last. A Lifetime Warranty was a thing. 
My clothes were hand-me-downs, and we actually outgrew our shoes long before they fell apart. In today's world, to maximize consumerism, everything is made to break. Everything, it seems, is considered disposable: from plastic wrap to relationships. Even the human body—the most amazing miracle—is treated like its expendable; as if we can just go in somewhere and have body parts fixed or replaced as needed. No biggie...

Last weekend marked the half point of our Inner Power Yoga® Teacher Training in Nederland, CO. And with it, our tribe brought their sweet imaginations and creative talents in the form of some awesome Upanishads projects. The Upanishads are Vedic texts, which offer poems, songs and stories regarding the individual soul and it's relationship to the universal spirit. Each project was a beautiful and unique response to the text. One yogini wrote her heartfelt and touching contemplations:

"What is it to die of self?...

“We are the lake people.
The lake people?
Yes, the lake people. We live on the lake.

We call the lake Uhamiri or Ogbuide.
We sometimes call her Mother.
She is the mother of us all.
~ from Flora Nwapaʼs novel: The Lake Goddess (Jell-Bahlsen 37).

Traditionally known as Uhammiri, Ogbuide is the goddess who presides over Oguta Lake in Southeastern Nigeria. Her name, Ogbuide, depending on pronunciation, means both “life giving beauty” and also stands for her destructive potential. To some she is but one manifestation of Mami Wata, but to the Oru-Igbo people she is the mother of all. Like all African water spirits, she is elusive, colorful, and dynamic. She is widely known as the one who gives, an attribute that could be translated towards generosity in distributing abundance, but also eludes to her flexible fluidity. In daily relationship with Ogbuide is Ani/Ala the earth goddess whose rigid code of conduct is enforced by the patrilineal priests of the Oru-Igbo culture. The townʼs male elders are the representatives of the ancestors and the custodians of the customs. In legend, to break tradition means to be eaten alive by Ani/Alaʼs soldier ants! On a spiritual level, the “giving” nature of the water goddess balances the stringency of the earth goddessʼ laws.

Oru people perceive their cultural identity around their knowledge of the water and commit their very lives to her service, observing her ways and honoring her for their very subsistence. They look to her for an abundant harvest, protection from enemies, financial blessing and most of all reproductive fertility.
Her fertility and resilience is empowerment of women. Although Oru-Igbo gender roles are clearly defined within their society, Ogbuide is much more forgiving. Women who break the norms of tradition can find refuge in her fluid grace. She harbors innovation, creativity and transformation and despite the male-biased social structure has cleared the path for women to hold positions of political power.

Woven through a rigid and complex system of lineal customs, threads of power are spiritually spun and maintained by merit, achievement, and ethical behavior. Social status is available to both men and women, who are considered compliments of one another. In this way female authority is a complicated movement, coursing like an undercurrent and following the path of least resistance. It transcends lineal boundaries and finds freedom under the surface of “male spacial limitations of power." Jell- Bahlsen writes: “Above all, womenʼs ritual leadership is an expression of their different but complimentary and decisive status, corresponding to the female powers of the universe” (166).

Totems, or messenger animals, for the Lake Goddess are the python, the crocodile and the turtle. These are symbols of the cycle between death and rebirth, procreation and ancestry. All three move freely between the water and land, bridging opposites. So too Ogbuide creates a passageway between the distinctly different attributes of male and female power.

CELEBRATE Ogbuide energy today by reaching out to someone with whom you have experienced "differences." Take time to share with them, exploring the flexibility and adaptability of your fluid nature. Seek to find the beauty and commonalities in those that oppose you.

Doumbia, Adama and Naomi Doumbia. The Way of the Elders: West African Spirituality and Tradition. St. Paul: Llewellyn Publications, 2004.

Drewal, Henry John and Margaret Thompson Drewal. Gelede, Art and Female Power among the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1990.

Drewal, Henry John. Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of UCLA, 2008.

Grillo, Laura. “African Religions.” Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion. 2 vols. Macmillan Reference USA, 1999.

Jell-Bahlsen. The Water Goddess In Igbo Cosmology: Ogbuide of Oguta Lake. Trenton:     Africa World P, Inc, 2008.

Neimark, Philip John. The Way of the Orisa: Empowering Your Life Through the Ancient African Religion of Ifa. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco, 1993.

artwork: Laura James http://www.aviscafineart.com
“I am cold, I am wet I have just come from the cold sea
I cannot stand up because half of my body is a fish
Bring me my comb
Bring me my mirror” ~ A Voudoun Lasirèn Song. (Houlberg 143).

Originating from the Nigerian delta, Mami Wata (Mother or Mistress Water) permeates all boarders as her fame is spread cross-culturally throughout Africa. She is found as the mermaid, the snake-charmer, the fearsome and beautiful mother. Like Ọṣun she is both the invoker of transformation and the exemplar of transmutation. In the preface to Drewelʼs book on the goddess, museum director, Marla C. Berns, writes:

Mami Wata is the product of both transaction and localization. She came in on a wave, yet she emerged from the depths of the waters. She is both foreign and indigenous, and somewhat paradoxically, she is a singular being of multiple incarnations and manifestations. (10)

Drewel, himself, calls her an “ʻin your faceʼ spiritual presence,” as her story is found everywhere one might look, once she is recognized. To the Afro- Catholic, she is Santa Marta la Dominadora who tames the great serpent, or dragon. Influenced by Indian material culture, she can assume the forms of Hindu deities without sacrificing her identity. She may even be found wearing a bindu. It is possible to find her among Christian iconography, as one who punishes those who skip church. In Haitian Voudoun, she may be spotted as Lasirèn (the mermaid incarnation of Erzulie).

In Sierra Leone and Liberia, she is known as Tingoi/Njaloi and presides over female initiation rites, epitomizing ideal beauty and goodness. In eastern Ghana a mural depicts her as Mami Titi who carries the same attributes as Hindu Lakshmi.

Depicted as a buxomly fashionista in Côte dʼIvoire, particularly during the economic development of the 1970ʼs and 80ʼs, Mami Wata bestows money and prestige to those who love her. Like Ọṣun, she is sought for economic blessing as well as reproductive issues—fecundity, conception and birth.

Akin to Erzulie of Voudoun and mermaids of European lore, the mirror is her prized possession. Reflective like the surface of calm water, it symbolizes the permeable threshold of duality. Mami Wata is often associated with Danbala the Benin rainbow python who, like the Kundalini Shakti of Hindu Tantra, psycho-spiritually links the earthly realm to the spiritual. Mami Wata is generally pictured with flowing hair, which for the Mende people is a sign of fertility. She also sports a fish tail. Her half aquatic quality allows her to traverse earth and water, symbolically bridging nature and supernatural, present and future. Twentieth century colonialism elaborated her myriad forms, casting her from molds of Christian, Muslim, and Hindu iconography.

It is difficult to ascertain the exact origins of Mami Wata as she is truly an amalgamation of religious symbolism and secular folklore. Based on the accounts of explorers, like Christopher Columbus and artwork found around the globe, Mermaid spirits seem to have evolved simultaneously throughout the world. Depictions of water beings have been discovered from as early as twenty-eight thousand years ago. Early African water deities who presided over female initiation rites, such as Nnem Mmo of southeast Nigeria, may have adopted this hybrid mermaid form before becoming Mami Wata. Berns tells us that such an epic history of global communication is rarely found among the extant African expressions. Perhaps Mami Wata is truly the mother of all water gods.

Celebrate Mami Wata TODAY by meditating on the invaluable beauty, resource and spirit of water today. Donate to an organization that helps support water efforts in Africa like WATER.ORG
Also by honoring the Natural Mystic—the beauty, art and movement— that is intrinsic within you!
Gaze in a mirror, as you recognize: Just as the water is the bridge between the EARTH and the SKY, You are the bridge between SPIRIT and NATURE. Both are pulsing, radiating, emanating from your eyes and in your unique dance! LOVE YOURSELF TODAY.
Beier, Ulli. Yoruba Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970.

Cohen, Peter F. “The Orisha Atlantic: Historicizing the Roots of a Global Religion” Transnational                  Transcendence: Essays on Religion and Globalization. Ed. Thomas J. Csordas. Berkeley: U of CA P, 2009.

Deren, Maya. Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. New York: McPherson & Co, 1953

Drewal, Henry John and Margaret Thompson Drewal. Gelede, Art and Female Power among the Yoruba. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 1990.

Drewal, Henry John. Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas. Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of UCLA, 2008.

Grillo, Laura. “African Religions.” Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion. 2 vols. Macmillan Reference USA, 1999.

Houlberg, Marilyn. “Water sprits of Haitian vodou: Lasirèn, Queen of Mermaids” Mami Wata: Arts for Water Spirits in Africa and Its Diasporas. Ed. Henry John Drewal. ! Los Angeles: Fowler Museum of UCLA, 2008.

Murphy, Joseph. Santeria: African Spirits in America. Boston: Beacon P, 1988.

“She is the wisdom of the forest
She is the wisdom of the river
Where the doctor failed
She cures with fresh water
Where medicine is impotent
She cures with cool water.” ~ Oríkì Ọṣun (Beier 33).

The word Ọṣun (Oshun) means Source. It refers to the “source of a river, a people, or of children*”
Ọṣun is the mysterious presence of potentiality, the possibility of life which springs forth from the waters of creation. She is the flow of universal wisdom expressing the secrets and mysteries of the Universe.

The geographical origin of Ọṣun traditions—Nigeria—lies in the country of the Ijesa in West Africa. Ọṣun is the living energy of the river that runs through the settlement of Osogbo, where each year the largest Ijesa festival is dedicated to her worship. This river, however, is not her only river. Springs flow wherever she is revered and her essence is considered the sacred vitality of each one.

Ọṣun communicates and is communicated through multifarious stories, symbols, and rites. Her nature is as fluid and amorphous as the water through which she travels. Associated with sensuality, love, abundance, motherhood and conception, Ọṣun overflows with beauty and dynamism.

For the Yoruba communities of Bahia, Brazil, Ọṣunʼs compassion and motherly love bloomed incarnate in the sweet social servant, Mãe Nenininha (1849-1986)*. In Cuba, she is found in the face of La Caridad del Cobre, the copper-colored virgin of charity who protects all Cuban people, regardless of ancestral origination*. She may be found in the South Bronx of New York City or in a Santería community in Miami, Florida as a living expression of universal dichotomy: mother and prostitute, vengeance and compassion, beauty and crone. For Ọṣun, like all òrìṣà (African deities), morphs and evolves to assist the devotees who honor her, developing a complexity of character along the way. In Cuba, she is Yéyé Sorodo, “mother bubbling with the sweet waters of life. But she is also Yéyé Kari, “a raging flood that overwhelms those who donʼt respect her” (Murphy and Sanford 96).

For the tradition of Santería, Ọṣun (there, transcribed as Ochún) is a multifaceted being with five distinct caminos, or paths of personality.
  1. Ochún Ibú-Akuaro is a young and beautiful dancer, joy-filled and scandalous within a love triangle. She is found at the percolating point where the rivers meet the ocean.
  2. Ochún Ololodí is the serious, divining homemaker; ruler of waterfalls and wife to Orúnmila, the god of divination.
  3. Ochún Ibú-Kolé the ugly, yet powerful, sorceress waits for the buzzards to nurture her powers.
  4. Ochún Yumú is the blind crone, living at the depths of the rivers rippling currents.
  5. Ochún Ibú-Dokó is the goddess of sexuality.

Other, less common, caminos are expressed throughout Afro-Cuban art and ritual. The myriad forms of her nature encompass lifeʼs complex experiences of love, erotica and material abundance. For her devotees she retains wholeness within her complexity, as the governess of all sweet waters who celebrates the sensual joys of life (Castellanos 35-37).

The àṣẹ (or energy) of Ọṣun is often a metaphor for the concealed female power.

When the Supreme god, Olódùmarè, sent the òrìṣà to Earth to complete the mission of creation, he sent sixteen male spirits and one female—Ọṣun, “the keeper of all good things." In their efforts to organize the world, the sixteen male òrìṣà ignored Ọṣun's presence among them. As a result, their endeavors failed, epidemic plagued the earth and healing rains refused to fall.

The Creator admonished them. They would never succeed without that one who cures with cooling water. This story is a reflection of the complex relationship between men and women in African myth and society, particularly the deep indispensability of the discrete feminine power. For no matter what her countenance or demeanor, her potent undercurrent cannot be denied.

Ọṣun is infinite in her àṣẹ, balanced in her character and able to represent the comprehensive and incomprehensible depth of feminine life force. Her energy and expression within a society cultivates a sisterhood—a female legacy—of “successful reproduction, business acumen, and social responsibility” (Badejo 138). She is the portal between birth and ancestry, securing the rights (and rites) of women within a communityʼs politic: economically, socially and spiritually.

Celebrate Ọṣun today by celebrating the many facets of your own being: your sensuality, beauty, joy, power, and fluid adaptability. Enjoy the flow of a River. Get involved with local river projects, such as the preservation of the Colorado. Learn more at
: http://www.crwcd.org/

Ọṣun across the
Waters: A Yoruba Goddess in Africa and #the Americas. Ed. Joseph Murphy and Mei-Mei Sanford. Bloomington: Indiana U P, 2001.
“The four essential elements—air, fire, water, and earth—are the most basic forms of Divine
manifestation and serve as important intermediaries between us and Spirit” (Doumbia 69)

Traditional religions of Africa are primarily mythical, symbolic and dramatic in nature. They are celebrated orally, visually and through ritual. They are not predominantly conceptional or philosophical; yet, they have much to teach regarding the relationship of humankind to the resources of the Earth. In African societies, such as the western Yorùbá of Nigeria and Benin, deities, called òrìṣà (orisha), remained intimately connected to their people, controlling the elements: assisting with abundant harvest, or providing deliverance through natural disasters. Adama Doumbia grew up with the language of West African spirituality. He writes,

"Everything that has life speaks; everything that speaks tells the story of Spirit. This is the language of our ancestors, the language that teaches us how to live in harmony with our surroundings and with one another. Many of us have lost this language, though everything around us continues to speak. When we listen carefully to the whistle of the wind and the cries of the bush, we hear this language. When we observe closely the blossoms of the earth and the colors of the seasons, we connect to this sacred language that brings us closer to Spirit

As the slave trade brought African culture into the Western world, spanning north to south from the United States to Argentina, these òrìṣà retained their earthy foundation while gaining attributes applicable and meaningful for slaves surviving their new life in the New World. Arriving in Spanish and Portuguese settlements, many Yorùbá were forced to embrace the Catholic faith. Merging with Catholic folk culture seems to have been a factor in the preservation of òrìṣà worship in the Americas. Catholicism provided a place for the African deities to “hide” from religious opposition, deep within its ritual and its pantheon of saints.

Osanyin, for example, is the lord of the forest; an òrìṣà worshiped for his genius with herbs and plant medicine. He is associated with Saint Joseph and to those who practice Santeria, the Afro-Cuban religion, his art is essential for healing and protection from evil influence.

In Haitian Voudoun mythology, where òrìṣà are called loa, Ogoun is not only the hero warrior, but also the god of fire, governing the forging of weapons from metal. Maya Deren, who became a Voudoun initiate while filming in Haiti, writes: “The Nigerian Ogoun who crossed the ocean from Africa was [...] a sky divinity, Lord of the Thunderbolt, of fire and of might." To serve the Voudoun communities, Ogounʼs character has broadened to numerous incarnations, all of which bear the essence of conflict and power; a force almost inevitably linked to fire and heat. Ogoun is invoked through the flames of rum poured on the ground and ignited.

Shango is another African-derived deity. Also a sky god, representing thunder and lightning, he possesses a power of his own. For those who practice Santeria, Shango is a warrior king whose weapons and tools are made exclusively of wood—no metal—on account of a mythic feud with Ogoun.

Although deities, originating from the African cast, manifest through the forces of nature; they cannot be limited to the realm of gross matter. Their attributes explode beyond the classical confines of animistic religions to display a multidimensionality of power and principle. They are not bound within the phenomenal world, but instead use it as a vehicle. As energies that activate the elements, the òrìṣà become perceptible and relatable through manifestation. They are the animating àṣẹ (ashé), energy or vital life force, of the cosmos.

Òrìṣà are not constricted by the elements, yet certain universal and primordial principles certainly tend to follow them as they manifest throughout time and on both sides of the Atlantic Ocean. Fluidity, fertility, sensuality, and abundance grace the identities of those female òrìṣà who reside among the waters.
I will share about these dynamic goddess energies over the next few days as we observe AFRICA DAY all week long.

FOR TODAY: Celebrate the Òrìṣà by awakening the Earth Elements within you.
In meditation, use your breath to feel grounded. Concentrate on the exhalation, allowing yourself to settle into the Earth. Let go of any uneasy feelings and allow your heart-mind to feel embodied, connected to the strength of the earth element.

Then, use your breath to experience water in your body. Notice that even when you are still, there is a dynamism remaining in each limb of your body. Your blood is circulating. Your breath is fluid. Your internal organs are pulsating to the rhythm of your internal vibration. Enjoy the fluidity within.

Now embrace your inner fire. Feel the heat of your vital flame. The spark that illuminates your intentions and empowers your endeavors. Find gratitude for the radiance that sustains you.

Feel spaciousness in your being. The breath that breathes you creates opening in your consciousness. You are free. You are expansive. You are infinite potential.

Enjoy the elements, the àṣẹ as vital life force that animates YOU!

In Love and Radiant Light,
R.R. Shakti

Beier, Ulli. Yoruba Poetry. Cambridge: Cambridge UP, 1970.

Cohen, Peter F. “The Orisha Atlantic: Historicizing the Roots of a Global Religion” Transnational Transcendence: Essays
    on Religion and Globalization. Ed. Thomas J. Csordas. Berkeley: U of CA P, 2009.

Deren, Maya. Divine Horsemen: The Living Gods of Haiti. New York: McPherson & Co, 1953

Doumbia, Adama and Naomi Doumbia. The Way of the Elders: West African Spirituality and Tradition. St. Paul: Llewellyn
    Publications, 2004.

Grillo, Laura. “African Religions.” Encyclopedia of Women and World Religion. 2 vols. Macmillan Reference USA, 1999.

Murphy, Joseph. Santeria: African Spirits in America. Boston: Beacon P, 1988.
Water is the new gold. The necessity to cherish and preserve this invaluable reserve has become evident throughout the world. Organizations such as the World Water Council champion widespread awareness of our ecological vulnerability. Human existence depends on H2O, and that same life-sustaining compound depends on human responsibility. Climate shifts, pollution and industrial consumption have contributed to the alarm. According to data gathered from the United Nations, this year the world will use one quadrillion liters of the substance. Each year, the demand increases by 64 trillion liters!*

Most people give very little thought to the source of this resource. The tap is a long way from the sea, a distance that gaps the relationship between the consumer and the consumed. Past peoples revered water for nourishment, healing, and life. New world civilizations forgot the primal intelligence of water worship; and so doing have endangered her integrity.

African religions retain the wisdom of Earth communion in their oral traditions, mythic expressions and sacred rituals. For Africa and the African Diaspora, water is a goddess. She manifests in various forms of sensuality, motherhood, and abundance. Whether she is called Ọṣun, Yemaya, Ogbuide, or Mami Wata, she is worshiped as a vital force of female power coursing through the current of our greatest terrene treasure.

Learn more about African deities and water goddesses.
In celebration of Africa Day, May 25, I will be offering seven days of posts that illuminate African myth for personal empowerment and inspiration to support the natural resources of our planet.
Follow me right here...

In Love and Radiant Light,
R.R. Shakti

* Worldometers - real time world statistics. 28 Nov. 2011. Worldometers.info. 28 Nov. ! 2011 <http://www.worldometers.info>.