Yemanja is the Yoruban Orisha (spirit of Nature) of the living Ocean, considered the Mother of All. In Brasil, her festival day is February 2. She is the source of all life. Her name is a contraction of Yey Omo Eja, which means “Mother Whose Children are the Fish”. As all life is thought to have begun in the Sea, all life is held to have begun with Yemanja. She is motherly and strongly protective, and cares deeply for all Her children, comforting them and cleansing them of sorrow. She is said to be able to cure infertility in women, and cowrie shells represent Her wealth. She does not easily lose Her temper, but when angered She can be quite destructive and violent, as the Sea in a storm.
As modern science has theorized and ancient cultures have known, all life on this planet started in the Ocean. As an embryo, we all spend the first moments of our lives swimming in a warm sea of amniotic fluid inside our mother’s womb. We must transform and evolve through the form much as a fish before becoming a human baby. In this way Yemanja displays herself as truly the Mother of All, since she is the seed of all manifestations.
Yemanja dresses herself in seven skirts of blue and white and like the seas and profound lakes she is deep and unknowable, but also caring and nurturing. Yemanja embodies all the characteristics of motherhood, caring and love. This maternal source of divine, human, animal, and plant life is most widely symbolized by the Ocean.
However, in Yoruba, Yemanja is the deity of the Ogun river, which is the largest river within the territory of the ancient Yoruba. In the new world Yemanja is the deity of the Ocean. She represents the birthplace of all life on Earth. In ancient Yoruba, the river was the largest, most powerful body of water; therefore belief held that in the rivers was life spawned. As Africans came into contact with the Ocean during their forced migration to the New World, Yemanja evolved with greater proportions, and consequently, the Ocean became her symbol, the womb of the world. As a result of the middle passage, Yemanja became one of the most prominent African deities in the New World. For instance in Brazil, Yemanja is considered a national deity and savior for protecting their ancestors during the middle passage.
In Brazil, they hold a huge festival to her every year. On February 2nd, everyone dresses in white and goes down to the ocean. They put gifts into boats for her and then sail them out into the ocean. She is the Sea Mother who brings fish to the fishermen, and the crescent moon is Her sign. As Yemanja Afodo, also of Brazil, She protects boats traveling on the Sea and grants safe passage.
In Haiti, She is worshipped as a Moon-goddess, and is believed to protect mothers and their children. She is associated with the mermaid-spirits of Lasirenn who brings seduction and wealth, and Labalenn, Her sister the whale. Yemanja rules over the surface of the Ocean, where life is concentrated. She is equated elsewhere in the Americas with the Virgin Mary as the Great Mother. Yemanja’s colors are blue and white. Sacred to Her are peacocks, with their beautiful blue/green iridescence, and ducks. The number seven is Hers for the seven seas. Help out a charity devoted to families or children specifically or just help out that single mom who lives across the street. Volunteer to baby-sit your friend’s kids for no reason! Call your mother (biological or other) and thank her.
Remember Yemanja on Mother’s day. Her symbols are the Ocean, rivers, mermaids, the virgin Mary, New Year’s Eve, February 2, the North Star, half moon, rivers, dreams, pound cake, boats and ships, fans, sacred dance, and the Number 7, Fish, ducks, doves, peacocks, feathers, chickens, snakes, and all sea creatures, Oranges, tropical flowers, yams, grain, seaweed and other plants that grow in the ocean, scented soaps, raspberry, cinnamon, balsam, silver, pearls, mother of pearl, coral, moonstone, crystal quartz, turquoise, and any blue gem or bead, sky blue, silver, white, green, and especially a blue dress with full skirts.
In dancing for the Mother of the Ocean, connect to your fluid body and receptivity. Alternate spellings of Her name are: Yemaya, Yemojá, Yemonja, Yemalla, Yemana, Ymoja, Iamanje, Iemonja, Imanje Everything I know about Yemanja has been gleaned from study and contact with members of the Afro-Brazilian culture. I offer my respect to them.