The Mother’s Mercy: Yemaya, Queen of the Seven Seas
I have long suspected that George R. R. Martin based his concept of the fictional religion “The Seven,” at least in part, on the Seven African Powers of Santeria. After all, other religions in his fiction are based both on real religions and those concocted by other fiction writers. But that’s a topic for someone else’s thesis. What I’m here to do is to discuss Yemaya, because right now a lot of us yearn for the Mother’s mercy; the Mother’s mercy is one of the aspects of the Seven, as well as of one of the Seven African Powers named Yemaya.
Not everyone is fortunate enough to grow up with a loving, compassionate mother. And even if you have done so, chances are that your mother may be suffering right now as well, considering how things are going since the election, so appealing to your own mother for help may just be adding another burden. Fortunately, there is Yemaya, also known as Yemoja, Yemalia, Ienmanja, and many other versions of her original name: Ye ye mo oja, “Mother of Fishes.” She is the great mother goddess of Santeria, and according to Baba Raul Canizares (1955-2002) she may be even more than one of the Seven African Powers and Queen of the Seven Seas.
Women (and men) appeal to her for fertility if a child is wanted, and she is thought to protect pregnant women and children. She is much, much more as well. She rules women’s lives, and can therefore help in any aspect of a girl or woman’s life. She has compassion for all, regardless of race, ethnicity, gender, or gender preference. She is depicted as a woman wearing blue and white, emerging from the sea, one hand holding pearls and the other holding white roses, a starfish in the shape of a five-pointed star on her diadem. So let’s access her mercy, and then I’ll talk a little bit more about who she is.
Accessing the Mother’s Mercy: Before an image of Yemaya as a statue, an image on a candle, or even as just a picture in a book or from the “Interwebs,” place a glass of water with a little sea salt in it. Light a blue candle for her if you can. Greet her with “Omio, Yemaya.” Now don’t worry about a prayer, although you could listen to Deva Premal’s “Yemaya Assessu” which is an authentic praise song sung in Yoruban. Now pour out your heart to her. Say whatever you need to say. Cry if you want to (have a blue box of Kleenex nearby!) Yell or scream if you need to. Get on your knees, lie on the floor, do what you need to do as long as you do not hurt yourself or others or destroy property. (The morning after the election I very nearly smashed my computer and TV. I’m glad I didn’t, but it was very cathartic to see Neil deGrasse Tyson throw a telescope off the roof on Stephen Colbert’s show after the election; try to catch it On Demand.) Now close your eyes and imagine Yemaya—in any form you choose—embracing you in a nurturing way. Imagine her rocking you as a mother rocks a baby. Is she whispering to you? If so, listen. Whether she does or not, let her hold you as long as you feel the need. Now once you are calm, ask her for whatever it is you need: Surcease of sorrow? Hope? Protection? Understanding? Compassion? Healing? Maybe just someone to listen?
When you are feeling that you have said everything you need to say and have cried your last tear, thank her and burn the candle a little each day until it burns down (don’t leave a candle burning when you’re not at home.)
I have a permanent altar for Yemaya on my kitchen table. I have black, brown, and white Yemayas. I even have a lead statue of Yemaya’s counterpart Olokun—but that’s another story for another time. My brown Yemaya, which I got in Mexico, has tentacles instead of a fishtail; Yemaya is often portrayed as a mermaid, but sometimes she has twin tails—think the Starbucks logo. Hmmm. It’s probably Olokun who has the tentacles, come to think of it…
Any book on Santeria will have information about Yemaya, and some of it may be correct and some may not. I strongly recommend Baba Raul Canizares’ Yemaya: Santeria and the Queen of the Seven Seas, in which he updates and rethinks information from his earlier book, Cuban Santeria. Give it a try. I think it will astonish you. Yemaya may not be only an orisha who is one of the Seven African Powers; she may be a co-equal with the Creator of the Yoruba pantheon. But then you knew that, now didn’t you?