It is a common feature of the many Afro-Caribbean religions born as a result of colonization and the slave trade (Vodou, Candomblé, Santería, Obeah etc.) that each element of nature and of the human condition is represented by a spiritual force. In Santería and Candomblé these spiritual manifestations of the natural world are called Orishas or Orixas and in Vodou they are known as “lwa.” The Orisha that is the embodiment of the ocean is Yemaya, known is Brazil as Iemanja. In Haitian Vodou, an equivalent lwa is Madame La Sirene who is depicted as a mermaid. La Sirene is similar to Yemaya especially in her role as Queen of the Ocean, but there are marked differences in terms of the energies and attributes of these respective entities. In this post we will concern ourselves with Yemaya. In addition to being the spiritual manifestation of the ocean, Yemaya can also be called up for help in matters of health, money and to bring stability into one’s life. She is associated with Our Lady of Regla in Cuba and with Our Lady of the Sea in Brazil. She is especially venerated on the 2nd of February, the 8th of December which are the Feasts of the Presentation and the Immaculate Conception respectively. Devotees of Yemaya, especially in Brazil, also seek her blessings on New Year’s Eve to ensure good luck in the coming year.
There are many ways to seek the blessings of Yemaya, the simplest of which is to make an offering directly into the ocean. Devotees of Yemaya will often cover their bodies with molasses and walk into the ocean carrying white or blue flowers in one hand and 7 pennies in the other. They will release the flowers and pennies into the water and submerge themselves until the salt water washes their bodies clean of the molasses. Not only does this serve as a spiritual cleansing but it also confers the blessing of Yemaya in all general areas of life. If you do not have the advantage of living near the ocean, you can make offerings at your home altar to Yemaya by lighting blue and white candles and lying down one or two of her favorite foods. As you do so, request her blessing and assistance in specific personal matters or that she place you under her general guidance and protection. Her favorite offerings include flour dumplings covered with molasses, caramel popcorn, blue and white flowers or simply a small amount of molasses drizzled onto a plate. It is customary to leave her offerings out for 24 hours and dispose of them somewhere in nature if making the offerings directly into the ocean is not possible.
As mentioned above, it is a common practice in Brazil for devotees of Yemaya (or Iemanjá in Portuguese) to make offerings directly into the ocean sometime during the last week of December to ensure good luck, health and prosperity in the New Year. These offerings can be made individually in a solitary fashion or as part of collective processions that can be quite elaborate with hundreds of people dressed in blue and white in honor of Yemaya. The most traditional way to make an offering to Yemaya is to create a papier-maché float and decorate it with colors and images representative of Yemaya and then fill it with her favorite offerings before placing it directly into the ocean. Oftentimes people will light candles to her directly in the beach sand after placing the float in the water. For the past several years I have made offerings to Yemaya at the ocean before the New Year while visiting relatives on Cape Cod as can be seen in the photos above. My yearly offering consists of popcorn and flour dumplings covered in molasses. Every year without fail a massive wave rises up and swallows the float even in previously calm waters. If you decide to make an offering to Yemaya either at home or at the ocean, do so with kindness and respect and ask that she bless you with good luck and prosperity. Remember to thank Yemaya the following year if you have been blessed with good fortune.
I thank you for taking the time to read this post. I wish you much luck and happiness in the New Year and always!