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Finding Your Balance: Yemaya . The Wisdom of the Yoruba in Temperance

Updated: Mar 13, 2021

Yemaya is a goddess from the Yoruba pantheon of gods known as Orishas. The Yoruba Pantheon of Gods hail from Nigeria. Yemaya was the goddess of the Ogun River. When the slave trade spread, the goddess of the river became the goddess of the seas and began to be worshipped all the way up to New Orleans. The Orishas or the Yoruba gods all manifest a force of nature, and Yemaya was known as the gentle mother.

The ocean in Yoruba Mythology is the domain of two deities, Yemaya and Olukun. Olukun rules the deep and turbulent depths of the seas, which see no light. Yemaya the gentle, rules the lighted upper part of the ocean, where the water evaporates and is carried to land to rain down on it by her daughter, the goddess of the winds and storms Oya.

The tarot card Temperance asks you to find a middle path, so does Yemaya, as she ties the land and the seas together. Temperance is about synthesis and equilibrium.  Temperance is the card where life begins to balance, there is the adjusting and merging of two or more things to create a unified whole.  

Yemaya rules over the waters that evaporate, are carried to land by Oya her daughter the wind and the hurricane goddess, and then rains down on the land and flows back to sea. She forms the cycle that keeps things moving and balanced. Temperance is all about balance and she, therefore, is a great personification of the card. Like the water cycle, balance can be achieved but it cannot become status quo, it is a constant adjustment and series of motions to find the right balance and keep things flowing. That is the essence of Temperance in the tarot.

Yemaya is a goddess of the seas and has often been portrayed as a mermaid navigating the seas. One of her names is Ymoga which means Mother of the Fishes, and she is therefore known to be a very fertile goddess. However, despite all her association with water and her watery nature,  she is also considered an earth goddess, since it is her waters carried by Oya that allow the crops to grow. Yemaya is also portrayed as a beautiful woman standing in the midst of the waves. She has always been the great mother and a goddess of solace, and she is the one to turn to when life gets difficult as she teaches balance to help negotiate the waves which rise and fall in our lives. She is a fierce mother and protector, which she balances with her gentle nature. 

Yemaya is the Madonna of Africa, and most women wishing to conceive pray to her. She is said to be the goddess of fertility and the Ogun River was deemed to be fertile since it belonged to her. Yemaya is the goddess of the seas since the life-giving waters are responsible for all life on earth. 

Santeria is the religion of the synthesis of The Yoruba culture and of Roman Catholicism. It is followed in Brazil, Cuba and New Orleans. In Santeria, the belief is that Olukun was the father of Yemaya. Olukun is said to be androgynous.  There are many myths regarding Yemaya, and she has said be married to Babalu-Aye, Aganyu, Orunla, Inle, Oggt, Ogun and even had a sexual relationship with Olofi. These myths are important since they show a coming together of various natural forces, all of which are the building blocks of life. Yemaya’s quality to be able to adjust and find balance with another which is one of the main gifts of the card of Temperance is demonstrated by their unions. Yemaya managed to find balance with whoever it was that she has been said to be paired with.  

African Mythology holds that Yemaya is the queen of the universe and the rainbow is her crown which can be seen by all when she touches the earth in the form of Rain. Yemaya, therefore, manages to find a balance between heaven, earth and the seas. As a goddess of fertility and invoked in that form, she is taking on the role of an earth goddess, despite being of the seas. Yemaya thus personifies the qualities that the tarot card Temperance in its ideal states is presenting to you. 

The belief in Santeria religion is that Yemaya’s greatest gift to humanity is the seashell. Seashells were important since one could hold them to one’s ears and listen toYemaya.  Yemaya shows the quality of using communication to find a balance, which Temperance the tarot card mentions.  

Yemaya helped people find an inner balance too. The god of Santeria Sexuality Shango, was the son of the Orishas Obatala and Yemmu. Unhappy with his home, Shango ran away. Yemaya took in the wretched boy and brought him up with love. As Shango grew older, he would either be making war or love, being an incorrigible flirt and seducer. Once he saw Yemaya at a gathering and was so smitten by her that he decided to add her to his conquests. Yemaya played along with Shango and led him onto a boat and then to a secluded area in the middle of the ocean. She then jumped into the water and disappeared under it, shaking the boat, till Shango saw his life flash before his eyes. Then a wave hit him and half-drowned as he pulled himself back onto the boat, he saw Yemaya reappear riding another wave. When he begged her for help, she agreed if he would show respect to his mother. Shango then realized that he had two mothers, both the woman who birthed him and the one who nursed him and he let go of the anger towards his mother. While he still is the god of Sexuality and seduction Yemaya knocked some balance into him and while he seduces women still he does respect them. Yemaya, shows how by trying to find a balance between yourself and the other, it is not very hard to let go of resentment.

Invoking Yemaya will help the seeker find a balance within themselves too.  The balance that the water cycle aims to achieve is the balance that Yemaya wants us to invoke in our lives. Finding an equilibrium is a dynamic task since every moment something is going on. However, once we do find an equilibrium and habitually aim to achieve it, the practice becomes easier over time.

Temperance is a time of careful balancing and adjustment to integrate the new or just flow better with whatever is happening in your life. Some sort of compromise may be needed if you are dealing with another individual. Like Yemaya balances the water cycle, find your flow, using both your rationality and your emotions.

Work Cited:

Patricia Ann Lynch, Jeremy Roberts, African Mythology, A to Z ,Infobase Publishing, 2010.

Images Used on The Site. Illustrations from the Rider-Waite Tarot Deck, known also as the Rider Tarot and the Waite Tarot, reproduced by permission of U.S. Games Systems, Inc., Stamford, CT 06902. c. 1971 by U.S. Games Systems, Inc. All rights reserved. The Rider-Waite Tarot deck is a registered trademark of U.S. Games Systems, Inc.


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