Monday, 17 January 2022

January Full Moon Altar: Yemaya


This month's full moon altar honours Yemaya, Goddess of the New Year.  Originally an oceanic creator goddess of the Yoruba people in West Africa, the slave trade resulted in Yemaya's transformation into a Caribbean and Brazilian deity. Because her enslaved people were punished for practising their own culture or spirituality, Yemaya's worship became "coded" in the New World for people's own protection. In the secretly-practised Santeria and Voudou religions, Yemaya was always presented as a mermaid, a familiar European symbol which raised no suspicions among the white overlords. Yemaya's name became simply "The Mermaid" in English-speaking colonies or "La Sirène" in French-speaking ones. She was an undercover goddess operating beneath the radar of an oppressive and racist colonial system.

Yemaya's connection to the New Year stems from a ritual still practised today in Brazil. On New Year's Eve, people build altars of sand on the seashore at night, on which they place small candles, shells, flowers, food offerings and a paper scroll asking the Goddess for a special blessing or favour in the upcoming year. The tide on New Year's Day comes in and then goes out again, carrying all their offerings and requests to The Mermaid.

My altar represents Yemaya the Mermaid lounging on a sandy beach, surrounded by a blue ocean altar cloth, a plumeria blossom, goddess stones, a large mother-of-pearl seashell and two martini glasses full of small seashells, sea glass and tea light candles.


My handcrafted terra cotta Mermaid comes from the island of Cozumel off the coast of the Mexican Riviera near Cancun, which we visited about 20 years ago. The plumeria blossom is a wooden hair barrette from Maui. I found the large mother-of-pearl seashell in a Winnipeg curio shop about 30 years ago. I loved it then and I love it now! You can see how the iridescent mother-of-pearl was laid down by the mollusk in small circular increments from the centre of the spiral outwards. Over the years as the mollusk and its shell grew larger, the spaces became filled in as one solid swirl.


[Photos © Debra She Who Seeks, January 2022]

36 comments:

Boud said...

This post is filled with new information to me, thank you. You never fail. Abd it's so meaningful now to look at your altar setup understanding something about the history.

Marie Smith said...

That is a beautiful tradition in Brazil! Love that mermaid!

NanaDiana said...

That is amazing. I have never heard this story before! Love that you have the sweet goddess and have been able to use things that are special to you around her. I hope you have a really great week, Debra! xo Diana

DVArtist said...

I love your alter. It is a good representation. Have a great day today.

Mistress Maddie said...

I love this one and the story behind her. I love mermaids too! Your alters are always so intresting.

bobbie said...

Being an ocean lover m'self, all I can say is "Well done!"

mxtodis123 said...

Yemaya is truly a beautiful goddess and your altar is special. I love that mermaid. Such a treasure.

Mike said...

I would tell you what I know about Yemaya but Olokun said I can't.

Leanna said...

Awesome! I love the mother-of-pearl shell. It's so beautiful.

Moving with Mitchell said...

What a fascinating post. Thanks for the education. I love your Yemaya mermaid and the altar. And the origins of all, especially, “The Mermaid.”

This N That said...

Your shell is beautiful!!
Love your altar..What did you use for sand?
Interesting story..
Cute mermaid...enjoy your week..

Debra She Who Seeks said...

@ This N That -- My Rare One had playground quality sand out in her garage, so I used some of that.

Parnassus said...

Hello Debra, The archaeologist Ivor Noel Hume collected mermaids, and showed one engraved on a powder horn from 1820's Jamaica, together with other mystical symbols. He didn't mention Yemaya,, but your post adds an interesting new slant to his discovery.
--Jim

e said...

What a beautiful altar! It is a warm breath of the ocean in your frozen northern prairie. I love it all. Thank you for the education about the beautiful Yemaya. May the Goddess keep you warm and content.

Rawknrobyn.blogspot.com said...

Nice. I like all the swirling action Yemaya has going for her, along with the blessed new year she's undoubtedly bringing to you, Debra.

Tundra Bunny said...

Well, this explains the Starbucks logo too!

Adam said...

Nice altar

Susan Kane said...

The altar is lovely. Your ocean items make me happy.

Guillaume said...

Oh I had forgotten it was a full moon today! Better beware of werewolves! You think this Goddess can protect us from them?

Polly said...

Really interesting history. I like your atar, and the shell. I learnt about the Santeria religion in Cuba.

Joanne Noragon said...

That is such a beautiful shell.

Kirk said...

When I saw your title, and then saw the mermaid, I assumed you were going to say that the Goddess was the origin of the mermaid legend. But you say it's the other way around, an act of subversiveness on part of the colonized. I love it!

Sixpence Notthewiser said...

Oh, LOVE!
If I were to make an altar, it would be to her. And I love mermaids, so yes!
One man I dated many years ago practiced Santeria and it all was fascinating to me.


XOXO

John M said...

Interesting, Thank you

River said...

The Mother-of-Pearl (nacre) shell is beautiful, your Altar is lovely.

Bill Lisleman said...

now I have Starbucks on my mind

Richard said...

Nice. I didn't know about this one. I was looking at the moon this evening and it was beautiful shining through the clouds. It was very calm. Sometimes the Moon brings a weather forecast or other news. This time it was just being beautiful.

The Blog Fodder said...

That shell is absolutely lovely.

Martha said...

This is just gorgeous! I always love how you set up your altars!

Linda said...

This is again a beautiful altar Debra! It has such interesting artifacts, and the story of how this Goddess became pictured as a mermaid is interesting and also sad. Thanks so much for sharing this, I learn so much from you!

Katrina said...

Such a fascinating post. And the shell is beautiful!

Miss Val's Creations said...

Interesting history. I wonder if the Gullah culture where I am disguised this goddess too.

Rommy said...

It's always so cool to me to find interesting items repurposed for an altar.

Fundy Blue said...

I didn't know about Yemaya or her story. I love that she was an undercover goddess, but the hate the reason she was. Your altar is beautiful, Debra, and unique.

Laura Morrigan said...

I enjoyed learning this, thanks!

Magic Love Crow said...

Beautiful Debra! Big Hugs!