My Mother Was the Sea


I’m running a bit low on myths and deities I had previously heard about, but occasionally I’ll come across one on the Internet who looks interesting. This was the case with Yemoja, sometimes called Yemaya, a goddess from the Nigerian Yoruba religion whose worship was brought to the Americas. She’s sometimes depicted as a mermaid, so how could I not find her intriguing?

Yemoja is considered the mother of all, and is associated with the sea, as well as with fertility and childbirth.

Some sources indicate that, before the Yoruba became aware of the ocean, she was associated with the Ogun River. It’s interesting that religion and mythology often connect new life to the seas. I guess it could be because birth is a pretty watery experience, but it’s worth noting that many ancient cultures seem to think life began in the seas. Even the Bible has sea creatures created the day before land ones. And modern scientific theories confirm the fact that, yes, the ocean was inhabited before the land was.


Yemoja, whose name means “mother whose children are like fish,” is considered the mother of most of the Yoruba gods, called Orishas. She is usually quite beneficial and protective, but as befits a sea goddess she can also be angry and destructive at times. Her husband is Obatala, a sky deity who is credited with creating the land, and sometimes humanity as well. According to some accounts, he was drunk when doing a lot of his creating, which I can certainly buy. His younger brother Oduduwa ended up doing a lot of the work involved in creation, and reportedly did a much better job. Obatala wears bright white clothing, and has dominion over the heads of mortals.

He and Yemoja (or possibly Yemoja and Obatala’s son Aganju, depending on whom you ask) had a son named Orungan, who for some reason decided to rape his mother. Yemoja fled to the top of a mountain and tried to commit suicide by jumping off. When her stomach burst open, it created a flood of water, as well as both gods and mortals. Whether that means we’re all descended from a disgusting act of incest isn’t entirely clear.

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