Yemaya is the great mother who lives and rules over the seas. Water is essential to life, so without Yemaya, life on earth wouldn’t be possible. Although she’s maternal and nurturing, she’s also fierce. Her punishments can be terrible when she’s outraged, but she’s fair minded and forgiving when proper remorse is shown. Yemaya is clever and brave. When she goes to war on behalf of her children, she wields a machete with expertise and no one can defeat her. Her eleke is made out of transparent crystal beads alternating with royal blue ones, in a pattern of seven, which is her number. Her day of the week is Saturday, and her colors are blue and white. Traditionally she wears a long flowing dress, cinched by a wide belt, with a full skirt made of blue and white ruffles, which represent the waves in the ocean. She likes verbena perfume. As a mother, she’s wise and virtuous, but she likes to have a good time and she enjoys dancing. When she dances, she begins slowly and gracefully but as she swirls and moves her skirts to reflect the rhythm of the waves, she builds up speed and intensity, showing her immense power.
Yemaya’s children tend to be strong willed, independent women who know what they want and how to get it. They sincerely care for other people and can see different perspectives. Yemaya’s daughters are domestic and protective of their children. Generally, they’re calm and don’t lose their temper easily, but their temper is terrible when it erupts. At times they can seem a little arrogant, but only because they take their role in life seriously. They’re maternal by nature and are devoted to their children, but friendship is sometimes difficult for them. They put their friends to the test, to see how loyal they are. They’re also easily offended by anyone who lacks proper respect toward them. They never forget a slight, although they will forgive it. They love luxury and beautiful surroundings, and money usually comes easily to them. They are sensual, but in a quiet fashion. Emotional well being is what’s most important to them. Yemaya’s children are always fair, but they tend to go strictly by the book, doing what’s expected. They have a deep regard for social hierarchies, and like everyone to know their place. In the Catholic religion, Yemaya is syncretized with the Virgin of Regla, a natural fit for her since the Virgin Mary is also a mother figure. Her feast day is September 7.
Yemaya is traditionally kept in a blue flowered porcelain sopera (soup tureen) filled with water. She likes sea shells, fish, nets, sea horses, anchors, and everything related with the sea. She’s also associated with stars and the full moon, ducks and peacocks. Yemaya controls the part of the sea that humans can know, but the most profound depths of the oceans belong to another Oricha, Olokun. Olokun is unfathomable and potentially dangerous, because no living thing can return from Olokun’s realm. Yemaya’s realm is the part of the ocean where there are plants, fish and other marine life that humans can use for food. She’s associated with the creative and nurturing forces of the sea.
Yemaya is very good at divination and, in fact, she learned how to do consultas by hiding behind the door and spying on her husband, Orula, as he did consultas for clients with the epuele (divination chain used by babalawos). Women weren’t supposed to use the epuele or do divinations, but Yemaya was so good at it, Orula made a pact with her and told her that she could use the dilogún (cowrie shells) to divine. This is where the custom of using the dilogún shells comes from. Santeros and Santeras do consultas with the cowries, whereas Babalawos (priests of Orula) use the epuele chain. Patakis tell us that Yemaya is the daughter of Olokun, she was the wife at different times of Obatalá, Orula, Agayú, Babalú Aye, Orisha Oko, and in some stories, Ogún. She’s generally regarded as the elder sister of Ochún, and she’s the mother (or foster mother) of almost all the major Orichas. Yemaya is the patron of pregnant women. She also acts as a spiritual mother to all those who feel lost and lonely. She’ll always listen and offer maternal love to anyone who needs a mother.