According to Yoruba legend, Ogun, sacred ironworker, saw a magnificently horned water buffalo emerge from the Niger River and transform into a beautiful woman. He surreptitiously followed this magical woman: she walked like a queen through the marketplace where she bargained intensely and successfully for fine cloth. Ogun was smitten; he approached her and begged to marry her. She first demurred but when he revealed that he knew her secret identity and threatened to expose her, Oya agreed to marry him but only if he never told anyone about her true identity. He agreed and brought her home to his forest compound.

He loved her passionately, but his other wives weren’t delighted and sensed that there was something different about her. One night Ogun and Oya argued; he lost his temper and shouted out something about her true bovine identity. The other wives, eavesdropping by the door, heard all. Oya knew her secret was revealed; she didn’t say another word but simply walked out of Ogun’s home—never to return—transformed back into her buffalo shape, and entered the Niger River, over which she presides.

That’s one version of their divorce, anyway; another suggests that Oya, the most intellectual of the orishas, was bored sick helping Ogun at the forge. When opportunity arose, she eloped with Shango, his dashing brother who made her his chief adviser.

Oya is the woman warrior orisha of storms, winds, and hurricanes. The winds she raises in West Africa manifest as hurricanes in the Caribbean. Oya presides over healing and necromantic divination. In Venezuelan Espiritismo, she has dominion over justice and memory. She is invoked for fertility, especially after chronic miscarriages. Oya may be the true mother of the Abiku, the child born to die.

Oya has become increasingly popular in the past few decades and is now among the most beloved of Santeria’s orishas. Oya’s devotees traditionally refrain from eating mutton. Never sacrifice to Oshun and Oya simultaneously (except when invoked as members of the Seven African Powers). Both are married to Shango, and theirs is a long enmity. Oya is Shango’s trusted adviser who rides to battle by his side. Oshun, however, is reputedly Shango’s favourite wife. She modestly attributes this to her culinary skills. Oya may be venerated alongside Ogun or Shango but not both simultaneously on the same altar.

Oya protects against lightning, electrocution, hurricanes, tornadoes, and storms. She heals lung diseases. Oya is syncretized to Saint Barbara, Saint Barbara Africana, and Saint Teresa of Avila.

Also known as:

Iansa; Yansa



Favored people:

Librarians, spirit mediums, female merchants, entrepreneurs and shop keepers, women warriors, equestriennes, meteorologists, cemetery workers, morticians


Oya manifests as a woman, an antelope, or a water buffalo. She wears nine copper bracelets.


Black horsetail switch, lightning bolt


Fire (lightning), air (wind), water (river), and earth (graveyard)










Antelope, Water Buffalo, Sheep, Locust


Akoko (Newboldia laevis), Camwood


Camphor, Cypress, Flamboyant, Marigold, Mimosa


Uranus, Dark Moon, Shooting Stars

Sacred sites:

Oya is the spirit of the Niger River. The island of Jebba in the river is sacred to her.


Place a pair of horns on her altar to represent her. Strike them together to call her. Place two swords on her altar as well as smooth river pebbles.


• Oya rules the marketplace, considered the magical domain of women.

• She rules the cemetery and is the only orisha willing to have contact with the dead.


Oya likes starfruit, black-eyed peas, purple plums, and black or purple grapes. Her favorite food is eggplant. Nine eggplants are a traditional offering, but if this is not affordable, slice one eggplant into nine pieces. Special ritual meals include eggplant with rice or nine-bean soup. In Brazil, her ritual offerings include bean fritters called acaraje. She drinks red wine. Offerings may be given at a home altar or brought to the cemetery gates for her.

Allegedly Oya can prevent hauntings by the recently dead or protect against them. Signal that you need her help via a piecework banner in nine distinct colors.

See Also:

  • Abiku
  • Ayao
  • Ibeji
  • Muso Koroni
  • Oba
  • Ogun
  • Oshun
  • Orisha
  • Seven African Powers
  • Shango
  • Yemaya
  • Yewá


Encyclopedia of Spirits: The Ultimate Guide to the Magic of Fairies, Genies, Demons, Ghosts, Gods & Goddesses – Written by Judika Illes Copyright © 2009 by Judika Illes.


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