Yemayá (also spelled Yemoja, Iemoja, or Yemaya) is one of the most powerful orishas in Santeria. She is the mother of all living things, rules over motherhood and owns all the waters of the Earth. She gave birth to the stars, the moon, the sun and most of the orishas. Yemaya makes her residence in life-giving portion of the ocean (although some of her roads can be found in lagoons or lakes in the forest). Yemaya’s aché is nurturing, protective and fruitful. Yemaya is just as much a loving mother orisha as she is a fierce warrior that kills anyone who threatens her children.
Yemaya can be found in all the waters of the world, and because of this she has many aspects of “caminos” (roads), each reflecting the nature of different bodies of water. She, like Oshún, carries all of the experiences of womanhood within her caminos. Contrary to popular belief she is not just a loving mother. Some of Yemaya’s caminos are fierce warriors who fight with sabers or machetes and bathe in the blood of fallen enemies. Other roads are masterful diviners that have been through marriage, divorce and back again. Some roads of Yemaya have been rape survivors, while other roads betrayed her sisters out of jealousy and spite. No matter what camino of Yemaya, all are powerful female orishas and fiercely protective mothers.
Yemaya has a very special relationship with two orishas in particular: Oshún andChango. Oshún is often depicted as Yemaya’s sister, and Yemaya allows Oshún to take residence in her rivers. Yemaya and Oshun relate to one another like typical sisters; they love each other and also have a bit of sibling rivalry. Chango and Yemaya are inseparable. Some followers of Santeria say Yemaya is Chango’s mother. The two of them eat together and Changoshares his wealth with Yemaya. Yemaya helped mold Chango into the wise leader he was meant to be from birth (although he initially lacked the skill to rule with grace).
Different roads of Yemaya have had relationships with many of the male orishas including: Orunmila, Ogun, Inle, Orisha Oko, Obatalaand Aggayu. She is one of the four pillars of the Santeria religion along with Obatala, Oshun and Chango. Therefore every initiate dolorisha will receive her pot with her mysteries at his kariocha initiation.