I have never been to Nigeria and I have only ever lived in one place in sub-Saharan Africa--Zimbabwe--on the other side of the continent. But when researching goddesses around the world for our lunar celebrations, I was drawn to the strong and comforting goddesses of Nigera and I found a need for them in this moon during the waning of the year.
So many Pagan women today claim their motto as "Do no harm and take no rubbish" and this could easily be the words of the NIgerian goddesses. Maidens, mothers and crones--they are staunch in their care for the vulnerable and the clear limits they set on injustice or violence. This combination of strength and clear boundaries, as well as their connection to the honoring of ancestors, make these goddesses a good fit for the Harvest Moon.
So, this month I will honor the goddesses Aja, Yemaya and Ala. A Maiden, a Mother and a Crone to mark the moon's changes.
The Waxing Crescent
Aja is the Nigerian goddess of the forest and medicinal herbs. It’s unclear whether or not she is specifically considered to be a maiden, but she has few attachments among other gods and goddesses, and she is clearly independent. She is a wild forest wind and she brings the secrets of healing with African herbs to her followers. (Auset 2009) Given how western medicine is struggling with systemic and chronic illnesses and with antibiotic-resistant bacteria, attention is increasingly turning to tropical plants for hope.
Aja provides a potent symbol around the world, bringing renewed hope and a sense of the interconnectedness of our living system on the global scale. We can connect with Aja by taking a stand on issues effecting ecosystems in vulnerable parts of the world and by focusing on healing others and the earth. Remember Aja is the wild wind and the healer. She’s no simpering, quiet flower maiden. She can be fierce when her treasures are threatened. Her symbols are trees and herbal medicines.
The Full Moon
Yemaya is one of the great goddesses of the Nigerian Yoruba and she is also known in Brazil. She presides over the ocean and motherhood. She is the inner ocean of the womb and the flowing forces at the height of the creative process, which often feels out-of-control and utterly fluid, like a flash flood carving out canyons.
She has been venerated for centuries as a protectress during the middle passage to slavery. She is a mother to carry people through injustice, suffering and confusion. She is also honored at streams and springs, wherever water is flowing. Her most common symbol is a sea shell and it is said that by listening at the opening of the shell you can hear the sound of the universe. She wears a string of alternating crystal and blue beads. She is nurturing and life-giving but also destructive. She is a Great Witch at the height of female power. (González-Wippler 2004)
You can connect with Yemaya by decorating an altar with sea shells and other water-related items. Clean up some litter near a stream, lake or seashore and leave a seashell as an offering. Play drums in a deep ocean rhythm or listen to music about freedom and breaking free. Make a necklace of blue and clear or crystal beads. And dance to joyful music.
Place a few of the beads in an egg shell and plant it in the garden or in a wild place in hopes that there will be neither drought nor flood to harm the year’s crops, goals or whatever projects you are anxious about.
The Dark of the Moon
Ala is the Nigerian goddess of death and earth in whom the dead find comfort and rest. She accepts the souls of the dead back into her womb. She is a dark mother—both mother of all creation and ruler of the Underworld. Though unlike most dark goddesses she is more comforting than frightening. She certainly holds out the idea of death but there is hope that the souls of the dead will be comforted and cherished. Her temples are built in the center of villages and she is usually pictured holding a small child. The one thing that can rouse her wrath is murder, which disrupts the natural order of life and death. (Auset 2009)
I was glad to find a kinder goddess of the dead for the time near Samhain. We often get caught up in the titillation from gruesome Halloween imagery and it is easy to lose sight of connecting with ancestors and coming to grips with death in its natural stillness. Ala doesn’t soften death itself but she does give a kinder view of the darkness. Honoring the dead and providing a mute supper is one way to connect to Ala.
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