Oshun, sometimes spelled Osun, is another Orisha of the Ifa tradition practiced in Yorubaland, Nigeria, and other parts of the world. Popularly known as the river goddess Oshun’s link to water, love, purity, fruitfulness, and fertility are vital to her essence. As one of the most potent Orishas, Oshun also embodies human traits like jealousy, sensuality, spite, and vanity.
Several stories exist concerning Oshun and her importance as a Yoruba deity. In most Yoruba stories, this river goddess is commonly portrayed as one who protects, saves, or nurtures human beings. She also maintains spiritual balance and is the source of sweet things.
Oshun and the Story of Creation
One myth reveals that Oshun is the central figure in the creation of humanity. According to the Yoruba people, the orishas are messengers from Olodumare, the Supreme God. One of their primary roles was to populate the earth at the beginning of creation. Oshun was a central deity in the Yoruba creation narrative, yet the only female energy sent to construct the earth.
The other Orishas failed to revitalize and increase the earth’s population during this initial voyage. They persuaded Oshun to assist them. She concurred and brought forth her sweet and mighty waters, which restored and renewed the earth with new life. According to Yoruba legend, living things would not exit without the blessings of Iya Oshun.
Also portrayed as a goddess of wrath, Oshun gives and takes life. When angered or annoyed, this powerful deity floods the earth or ruins crops by withholding her waters, leaving death and destruction in her path. In one creation narrative, Oshun is infuriated with her worshippers and sends down rain, almost flooding the earth. Yet when appeased, she saved the world from utter destruction by calling back the flood of her mighty rivers.
Osun Osogbo River
According to Yoruba beliefs, Oshun first communicated with humans at the Osun Osogbo river in Osun State, Nigeria. Osogbo city is believed to be sacred, and it is known to be strongly protected by the water goddess. She is the patron saint of the Osun Osogbo River in Nigeria, which bears her name.
Oshun granted permission to the people who went to her to build the city and vowed to provide for them, protect them, and answer their prayers as long as they worshiped her appropriately. Every year her worshippers and other people of the Yoruba religious tradition go to the Oshun River to celebrate, make sacrifices, and pray. Though other Orishas are honored during this time, the focus of the festival is this lustrous water energy.
Oshun is worshiped annually in August for two weeks in the sacred Osun-Osogbo groove along the banks of the Osun river. By drinking or bathing in the river, worshippers receive miracles and enjoy other fortunes.
Oshun in Popular Culture
Often represented in the colors yellow, gold, amber, or coral, Oshun’s association with this symbology is replete. Common food offerings given to this deity include honey, sunflowers, oranges, cinnamon, white wine, rum, hens, and fruits.
This Orisha is typically identified with other goddesses such as Oxum, Ochun, Ezili Freda, Venus, Aphrodite, and similar water deities. She is often depicted in pop culture, adorned in luxurious feminine apparel in glowing shades of gold and yellow.
Learn more about African deities in this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined: