Oya Orisha – The Powerful Yoruba Goddess of Storms

Oya Orisha, also known as Iansã, is one of the most powerful and violent Orishas in Yoruba Mythology. She’s known as the Yoruba Goddess of storms and thunderbolts. Although she’s violent, she also shows a motherly protective side and she’s a fierce protector of her children.

Her story features striking moments with other Orisha and also some inspirational ones.

In Neo-Paganism, Oya fits the Crone Face of the Triple Goddess.

Oya, as well as other Yoruba Goddesses, are in my free Goddess Oracle! Use the button below to access it, flip a card and receive a message from a Goddess!

Oya Orisha – The Powerful Yoruba Goddess of Storms

Oya Orisha story

Oya Orisha has many – maybe too many – different stories. I’ll write about the most popular ones and also the ones you need to know to get to know her better. These stories depict how she became so powerful, how and why she got the name Iansã, her relationship with Ogun and Shango, and more.

Oya Orisha becomes Iansã

I’d like to start writing about Oya Orisha this way. There’s so much confusion about whether she’s called Oya or Iansã. To make it clear, she has both names. Iansã can be considered a kind of “title” she earned. So you can call her by both names.

It all begins when Oya wanted to have a baby but for some reason, she wasn’t able to bear one. So she decided to seek advice from a Babalawo (a man capable of divination aided by the Orishas) and she was told to make an ebó (food offering) made of lamb, búzios (the shells used for divination too), and colorful clothes.

She did as she was told and in no time she was able to get pregnant. Not only once, but nine times actually! Yes, she had 9 children! Because of this, she earned the name “Iansã”, which means “mother of 9 children”. And, also because of this, she and her children – both these 9 ones and all the spiritual ones – are forbidden to eat lamb meat. This animal became a symbol of respect for her as it was an ingredient of the ebó that helped her to get pregnant for the first time.

So that’s it. Oya is her name. Iansã is also her name, but it indicates she had 9 children.

An alternative version of how she became Iansã

In another popular story, Oya and Ogun were married. Ogun forged a magic wand capable of splitting men into seven different parts and women into nine different parts. He gave this wand to Oya.

To make the story short, one day Oya abandoned Ogun and married Shango. Ogun was furious and looked for the couple everywhere he could until he finally found them. Ogun and Shango fought and Ogun won the battle. Right after the victory, he approached Oya and touched her with her own wand. Oya also touched Ogun with the wand.

And then we had this result:

  • Ogun was split into 7 different parts and earned the name Ogun Mejê;
  • Oya was split into 9 different parts and earned the name Iansã.

How did Oya Orisha become so powerful?

Oya is a wise one. She wanted to be as powerful as she could. So she had a great idea: she decided to acquire a specific power from different male Orishas. In order to do so, she started seducing them. One by one.

The first one was Ogun, the blacksmith Orisha. She married him and had 9 children with him. From Ogun, Oya acquired the skills to wield a sword. With this sword, she would protect those who needed it.

The second was Oxaguiã (he is Obatala in a younger form). From him, she acquired the skill to wield a shield and protect herself.

The third was Eshu, the trickster. Yes, she was even able to trick the trickster! From Eshu, Oya learned how to use magic and fire. This way, she was able to accomplish her own wishes. Oya was able to upgrade her magic skills and she learned how to shapeshift into a buffalo (more stories about this below).

The fourth was Ochossi, the hunter Orisha. From him, Oya learned how to use the bow and arrow to hunt and feed her children.

The fifth was Logum Edé, the Orisha of riches. Oya learned how to obtain food from rivers to feed her children.

The sixth was Omulu, the mysterious one. She tried to seduce him, but it was in vain. Omulu didn’t fall for Oya’s tricks so she couldn’t learn anything from him.

The seventh – and last – was Shango, the king. She really fell in love with him, so she divorced Ogun – his brother – and married Shango. From him, she learned how to act with justice by her side and also how to use thunderbolts.

This is how Oya became one of the most powerful Orisha of all.

Oya Orisha art by Andressa Meissner
Oya Orisha art by Andressa Meissner

Oya learns how to ward off the dead

Although she couldn’t seduce Omulu to acquire skills from him, he shared part of his power with her. It all started during a party involving all the Orishas. Omulu was there but refused to dance. He was always alone actually.

During the party, Oya Orisha danced with all her might and she produced a strong wind that lifted Omulu’s clothes. To the surprise of all, Omulu was not ugly as they used to think! All the Orishas were amazed by this!

Omulu thanked Oya for this “revelation” and offered her the power to rule over the dead ones.

Now, Oya was able to ward off spirits! In order to do so, all she has to do is to dance and swing her irukere – that instrument she holds in her hand which is used to ward off mosquitoes.

Oya is capable of shapeshifting into a buffalo

This story is about how Oya Orisha used the powers she acquired from Eshu, the trickster, to shapeshift into a buffalo and how Ogun, her first husband, tried to tame her.

It is said Oya was capable to shapeshift into a buffalo and back to a woman whenever she wanted. And when she would transform herself back into a woman, she would get buffalo “clothes”. Just by wearing these clothes, she would become a buffalo again.

One day, Ogun saw a buffalo close to a river. He started observing the animal as it was really strong. Out of the blue, from the buffalo skin, a beautiful woman emerged. It was Oya. She entered the river to bathe herself and left the buffalo clothes on a tree. Ogun took the chance and stole the buffalo clothes and hid in his house.

Later, Ogun met Oya in the market and seduced her. He immediately asked her to become one of his wives. She didn’t show any kind of intent to marry him. However, she remembered she left the buffalo clothes on a tree and went back there to get them only to find they had disappeared.

Oya felt powerless. When she met Ogun again, he asked her to marry him one more time. This time she accepted. They got married and she started living in his house with the other wives.

Ogun instructed all the others never to mention anything related to the buffalo clothes. This way, the ferocious Oya would always be tamed by him.

Time passed, she had 9 children – and earned the name Iansã. Oya was completely tamed by Ogun, but she never forgot her “animal side” and would always search for her buffalo clothes everywhere. As Oya gave 9 children to Ogun, the other wives became jealous of her. They decided to end Ogun and Oya’s marriage. In order to do so, they plotted to discover where the buffalo clothes were and tell Oya.

They made Ogun get drunk and he revealed where he was keeping Oya’s buffalo clothes. Now, every day when Ogun was out, his wives started to talk and sing about the buffalo clothes making Oya really curious. They were mistreating her. Almos like torturing her. One day she finally found her buffalo clothes and shapeshifted into a buffalo once again after a really long time.

Oya became ferocious again! Untamed. Free. Violent.

Immediately after transforming into a buffalo, she attacked all Ogun’s wives who mistreated her. With her horns, she tore them all apart. There was blood everywhere! Only her 9 kids were spared! Before running away, Oya gave each of the 9 a pair of horns. Now, whenever they felt in danger, they should only rub one of the horns and Iansã would come, as fast as the wind, to protect them.

Oya Orisha can shape-shift into a buffalo
Oya Orisha can shape-shift into a buffalo

Oya and Oshun’s relationship

There are many stories that feature Oya and Oshun together. Some others also feature Yemaya. In some versions, Yemaya is the mother of the other two while other versions state that they are all sisters.

An interesting thing to notice is that the three of them, alongside Nana Buruku Orisha, are related to water somehow. For example:

  • Yemaya is the Orisha of salty waters;
  • Oshun is the Orisha of fresh waters;
  • Oya is the Orisha of storms;
  • Nana Buruku is the Orisha of swamps.

In a story, Oya discovers Shango is dead so she commits suicide and floods the land becoming a river. This river is Niger River today.

Oya Orisha colors and symbols

Oya Orisha’s main colors are:

  • Red;
  • Yellow;
  • Brown.

Oya Orisha’s main symbols are:

  • A sword;
  • The irukere;
  • A buffalo.
Oya Orisha Symbols
Oya Orisha Symbols

The archetype of Oya Orisha and her children

Oya Orisha is the storm. She is the thunderbolt that cracks the sky. She’s also the fire that burns everything down. On the other hand, she’s a loving and protective mother. Her archetype fits the Crone Face of the Triple Goddess with some extra addition of violence and fury.

And this mixture of attributes reflects upon her children too. The children of Oya – or the children of Iansã – are people who are known for being short-fused. They speak their mind and they don’t usually care about what others are going to think about them. They are also attractive people and wherever they go they become the center of attention, the eye of the storm!

In terms of work, they are all leaders. Like the winds carrying clouds to form a storm, they carry other people with their attitudes. They are also great protectors of those in need – friends, members of the family, and of course their own children.

Photo of author

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