Unless you have been living under a rock, I am sure that in the past few weeks you have seen or heard of some reference to Beyonce and Oshun. Ever since the drop of her album Lemonade and the video for “Hold Up,” when Beyonce rocked a yellow dress and walked down a cascade of water before using her bat named “Hot Sauce” to smash windows and cars, folks have been wondering, speculating, and think-piecing about Beyonce’s relationship with Oshun.
The similarities are definitely there. Oshun, the orisha of fertility, love, beauty, and joy who is often wearing shades of yellow (in some parts of the Diaspora) is the owner of the river (hence the water reference). She is the orisha who is sweet until she is not, and when women are abused and misused her “not sweet” side (maybe in the form of swinging a bat while smiling triumphantly?) manifests with a fierceness that destroys everything and everyone in its path.
Since then, Beyonce announced her pregnancy in a photo shoot that made many refer back to the previous references to Oshun, while also adding Yemoja (orisha of the ocean) and Mami Wata (vodu of the ocean in Vodun tradition of Benin) in the mix. Then we had Beyonce wearing her golden dress at the Grammys and to many it seemed as though Oshun had come in the flesh to grace us with her presence.
I have spoken about this on social media already, namely Twitter. I like Beyonce but I am not a member of the Bey-hive. I don’t think Beyonce is “un-
critique-able.” While I certainly see the similarities between what Beyonce is giving us visually and how Oshun is often represented visually, I am not making the assumptions that others are making: Beyonce must be in Orisha tradition and she must be a child of Oshun. Beyonce is, first and foremost, an entertainer, and while she is an amazing singer and dancer, she is also amazing at giving us just a little something to make us talk, guess, and wonder. Remember all the “Is Beyonce really a feminist?” chatter after she featured pieces of Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie’s talk on feminism in “Flawless”? The think-pieces, Facebook notes, and panel discussions were numerous. I think writing about and discussing feminism and how it shows up in art is dope and much needed, but it is difficult for me to believe that Beyonce really thought that hard and long about feminism or intersectionality before including that speech on her song. It’s not because I think she isn’t intelligent, as some have posited. I do think it’s because, at the end of the day, Beyonce is and wants to continue to be the brightest star in the sky and will use whatever she can to maintain her shine. What women and girls don’t need a little female empowerment? So let’s take this speech, put it on a song telling bitches to bow down, ignore the obvious contradictions, and let’s move on because this shit is HAWT!!!…and will keep people talking about me. Yes, bow down bitches and maintain your orbit around me, your Sun.
Maybe Beyonce is in the orisha tradition but I would bet that she has been influenced by it, perhaps inspired by it, and wanted to capture the beauty of it, which I think is amazing. I don’t think she is making it a commodity. Artists take their knowledge, experience, and inspirations and use them to create and give their own inspiration to others. If Beyonce was inspired by Oshun and wanted to honor and/or represent her, dope. My critique isn’t for Beyonce. My critique is really about the followers of tradition who are positing that Beyonce must be in tradition and must be a child of Oshun and are giving a lot of misinformation about the orishas and how this tradition is really practiced. Now folks are thinking that, “Oh I like yellow and honey so I must be a child of Oshun too,” and I am not seeing too many folks who practice these traditions correct that line of thinking and help folks get a better and deeper understanding.
So enough about Beyonce and her golden dress. Let’s talk about Oshun and how the tradition is practiced.
- Oshun is a deity of the Yoruba people, who mainly reside in what we now call Nigeria and Benin, as well as the practitioners of Yoruba/Ifa tradition in the Diaspora. As mentioned above, Oshun is the orisha of fertility, beauty, love, and joy. She is the orisha who makes life sweet. In the Diaspora people liken her to a popular party girl because her energy is social in nature; she is the needle that weaves society together. However, in West Africa she is primarily known as a kind and generous mother. Oshun is popular because she was here in the beginning; she was the only female Irunmole (primordial energy) sent down by Olodumare (owner of the Universe) to begin shaping Earth and preparing it for life. Oshun is the pure essence of water so she is, quite literally, everywhere.
- No one can choose their orisha. Well, technically, you can but before you incarnate but that’s a topic for another day. In West Africa people generally have lineage orisha, where a whole family is an Obatala family or an Oshun family. In the Lukumi tradition in Cuba divination must be made to determine a head orisha. One’s personal likes, dislikes, favorite colors, or penchant to like lots of honey in your tea doesn’t make you a child of any orisha. You may discover your head orisha and notice that you have similar characteristics to that orisha, but your personality is not what makes the call. I am child of Oshun and not only do I dislike big parties and gatherings but I am not really supposed to go to them. And the most outgoing people I know who are in tradition are children of Shango and Oya, so who ’bout those apples. Really, though, the point is no one can just decide they are a child of an orisha and we can’t guess by what that person wears or likes.
- A person can be inspired by an orisha and maybe venerate an orisha and not be their child. Even IF Beyonce was in tradition and decided to honor Oshun, or was told to do an ebo/sacrfice for Oshun, that does not mean she is Oshun’s child. For instance, I can get a divination right now and be told I need to do an ebo for Obatala. Does that make me a child of Obatala? No. It doesn’t work that way. Different orishas show up for us at different points in our lives and for different reasons. Oshun is my mother and is all about love and romance but guess which orisha I need to go to if I have problems in my marriage? I’ll give you a hint: Not Oshun.
- The orishas are not vain, and that includes Oshun. Some of y’all who know me know it irks my soul to see and hear Oshun reduced to a party girl who wants all the attention. Not only because she just hasn’t shown up for me in that way, but as a daughter of Oshun I have been considered vain, lazy, and disliking of hard work by perfect strangers in the tradition because I am a child of Oshun. “Oh you must like to sit around and let others work,” one elder said to me within 2 minutes of meeting me for the first time and asking me if I had had my head marked. Oshun was sent by Olodumare because of the work she puts in, not because she sits around, bruh. Don’t get it twisted. And while Oshun indeed is a social energy I don’t believe she would sacrifice correct understandings of herself and the tradition for popularity. She’s not Beyonce; she would check her own politics before putting out a song featuring a speech on feminism (oops, did I say that?). I know Oshun as loving and kind, but also precise and exacting.
- If you find yourself trying to identify your head orisha, stop. If you feel the energy of an orisha walking with you and want to acknowledge that energy you should find a spiritual community. If you don’t have one near you and want to create an altar or go out into nature, that works too. But don’t make assumptions. Many people have found themselves disappointed to learn that they are not a child of an orisha they had, for years, assumed was their primary orisha.
I love the fact that folks see orishas in contemporary art; that says a lot about collective consciousness right now. However, I did want to bring some clarity and light and hopefully you found this helpful.
Please feel free to leave comments, critiques, and questions.