I wish I could say I always write with joy, but the truth is, I usually come to my desk with dour determination. There is always this stuff lurking around—disappointments, aborted projects, unkind comments, the fear that it’s all going south. I envy writers who feel an overflowing of energy when they write because I often have to wring it out drop by drop. So when I started exploring the use of mythic archetypes in the writing life, I was immediately drawn to Oshun.
If you were to travel to the little Nigerian city of Oshogbo in August, you would find the streets alive with dancing and singing. During the annual festival to Oshun, worshippers from miles around flock to the river that shares her name. Men and boys scare off evil spirits with drums, and a specially chosen girl carries sacred objects to the river. Women bathe in the flowing water and toss bits of food into it as an offering. The people pray for fertility, healthy children, successful crops, abundance. Everything is movement and energy.
Oshun is a river goddess, a fertility goddess, a goddess of love and sexuality, a divine mother. She was born among the Yoruba people, was brought to the New World with slavery, and took root in the mix of African, Native American, and Roman Catholic spiritually that is Santeria. But today, her renown is spreading beyond Africa and the Caribbean to North America, Europe, and Asia. Her worshippers can be found in New York and Los Angeles, Miami, and Cleveland—and in Philadelphia, where the Odunde festival in her honor draws over 600,000 people annually.
Oshun embodies creativity, renewal, and growth. She is the energy that enables all things to come into being, the “ever-renewing source below the surface of the visible.” Without her, the land can’t grow crops, societies can’t govern themselves, healers have no power, artisans lose their skills. Only she can “maintain the universe, sustain humanity, and uphold life progression.”
Yoruba myth holds that, when the gods descended from heaven to earth, they initially neglected Oshun—the only female among them. As a result, everything they tried to do failed. The rain wouldn’t fall, so crops withered and died. Healing could not take place, so disease ran rampant. When they finally appealed to the great god who ruled above them all, he told them that, without Oshun, nothing they did would succeed. It was only she who could cause things to grow, develop, heal, and reproduce. After that, they begged the goddess’s forgiveness and asked for her help. From then on, she has been worshipped as the source of all creation and growth. Everything that has been or will be created draws on the power of Oshun.
That includes art, of course. Many Yoruba and Caribbean artists look to Oshun as the divine source from which their creativity springs. Iyalosha Osunguunwa, an artist who works with gourds, beads, and fiber, says, “[Oshun] represents artists and the imagination. She’s your writer, your creative person.”
Yes, that’s what she said: Oshun is a writer. No wonder I fell in love with her. She is beautiful, sexy, full of life, and joyful. She is associated with brass and peacock feathers, honey mirrors, and the color yellow—everything bright and colorful. Her worshippers dance and sing, and her altars are laden with flowers. No grim resolve there, no regrets and worries. Just vibrant energy and vitality.
I try to think about Oshun whenever I feel the cold breath of fear on the back of my neck, or when I start imagining myself as a starving artist holed up in some garrett clutching a quill in my shivering hands. She helps me remember that I'm neither starving nor shivering (or, for that matter, writing with a quill). She cracks through my dourness and perfectionism. She reminds me that writing is something that makes me happy.
Causes Jill Jepson Supports
Humane Society of the United States, Defenders of Wildlife, Interational Society for the Protection of Burros and Mustangs, National Wildlife Federation,...