Years after I went through Kariosha, the initiation into the ranks of orisha priestesshood, I found myself without a house where to grow and flourish. The reasons that came to drive a wedge between my godfather and I were few, but one was truly a strong factor. For him women in orisha worship belonged in the kitchen, in front of a sewing machine and as collaborators in some rituals, but certainly not as diviners or in roles that went deeper than aesthetics. My point of view is that women in the orisha ranks are precious and should not be limited but cherished. Female counsel should be coveted and respected for its instinctual and survivalist nature, the unique powers of creation, nourishing, and tradition keeping should be as appreciated as the talent many women have as diviners, be it with the diloggun or the obí.
After all, do we not revere Yemayá, Oshún and Oyá and many other female orishas for some of those same traits? Are they not our mothers, our models?
Some of the first and most powerful iyaloshas in Cuba were women who knew their oddú and who were able to cast the 16 cowries with confidence and power. After long meditations and heartache, I came to one same result time and time again: Why would I turn my heart away from what I knew was my legacy? Sometimes, when we start on a road towards knowledge, devotion and the search to follow our individual destiny, we part ways from the godparents we chose with love and devotion. But all is as it should be.
I met José Merced, Yegedé, nearly 10 years ago, through his mother Sylvia, Igbaye bayen ntonu. I was not looking to abandon my orisha house, but the rift between my godfather and I was growing. I was invited to participate in a kariosha at José’s house and I met quite a bit of people there. It was a happy time. Helping to initiate a priest is filled with excitement, expectation and a sense of community which uplifts the soul. Time went by and I had the opportunity to interact with José Merced under various circumstances both social and religious. I listened to the people talk about him. I observed his dedication to the orisha, the growth of his orisha household and the time he dedicated to teach them and help them achieve as much as they wanted.
Eventually, my husband initiated under José Merced and I was very supportive of his decision on leaving the house where I made kariosha in San Antonio, TX. Shortly after that, my son initiated into Yegedé’s house, thus my presence around there was natural. But for children of Yemayá there are certain fine lines we must not cross, for once I could have never gone back in time and have chosen Yegedé as mi godfather for he is an Baloyá and children of Oyá are forbidden to be godparents to oní Yemayás like me. However, my initiation was done, thus, I was free to ask Oyá to grant me assylum in her house and him to represent me as my godfather.
There is a natural vibe and connection organic to being born from one’s godparents orisha, as loved and accepted as I am at godfather Yegedé’s house, I still miss that nexus. I did not try to wave my years of initiation over other brothers and sisters born in the house to take coveted assignments at rituals or any such behaviour. I was just happy to do what I could to contribute to the machinery of a busy orisha household.
One day, I was sweeping the room where the orishas are kept in preparation for an upcoming wemilere (large consecrated drumming party), and I felt touched by Oyá. I thank her from the bottom of my heart for having extended her protection, guidance and love to me. I felt happy to be able to made a dancing costume for my new godfather and for just being in a place where I felt appreciated. The day went on as usual, the party was gorgeous and the house was packed with people. My godfather was mounted by Oyá and he looked regal and wonderful in my creation. I was beaming with joy because both dancers were wearing clothes I had made with great love for this mighty Orisha.
The party was coming to an end and the orisha were about to leave, then I heard my name. Oyá was shouting out for me by name, I was scared and thrilled as I quickly made my way into a ceremony reserved for children of the house, one I stayed away from on purpose because even if I am a child of the house, I felt my place was that of a stepchild.
Godfather was still mounted by Oyá, thus for me it is natural to say that she was sitting in that chair, a bowl of water at her feet, everyone around her. She waved her hand to me and asked me to wash her feet. I almost fainted from happiness. You may wonder, washing someone’s feet is demeaning…for me this was a great honor. I was being asked by Oyá to aid into her transition back to Olodumare, to heaven. I quickly got to my task and while I was doing it, she petted my head and spoke words that branded my heart the same way Yemayá branded my head many years before.
“See this one here, she is not born from me but she is mine. She is older than most of you, but she makes way to let you through instead of boasting. She was happy to sweep my room and thanked me today in silence. I heard you as loud as if you would have spoken. She has a place in this house just like anyone else born from me does. Because of her devotion, for having brought to me a son (my husband) and for having birthed another one for me to crown (my son).”
Some prayers have no audible words, some answers to those prayers are like thunderbolts. Thank you Oyá for in providing me a great godfather to nourish and respect me you are being as great as my mother Yemayá. Maferefún Yemayá for having guided me to Oyá’s door.
Born out of water, of waters, salty oceans, sweet rivers… and reared by the winds. Maferefún Orisha.
Oní Yemayá Achagbá