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How I Met Oya and Became the Wind

I recently celebrated my 33rd birthday. I am excited about my Jesus year and about all the miracles I fully intend to perform. Last year on my birthday, I was gifted with a positive COVID test. The next day I lost the ability to breathe on my own and was hospitalized soon after. It looked bad. I can’t say that my particular Near Death Experience was all that dramatic. I didn’t see the face of God, a great white light or colors as many have described, but scenes from my life did flash and I began to experience lucid dreaming as my lung capacity decreased. I wasn’t certain that what I was experiencing was what dying felt like but I was pretty sure that I better figure something out if I was going to live. Because you have to breathe to live and I wasn’t.

While laying on an emergency room gurney (because there were no beds left in the hospital), I gave thanks for the air that I did have left and I set my intention to survive. I wasn’t sure I was going to make it and many around me did not, but I felt like the least I could do was plan on it. And here I am. It is important for me to say that I didn’t just get better, I was healed. I was running out of breath and someone gave it all back to me.

I am convinced that I was healed by a collaborative power. For me, God is always the first and obvious one to thank. I so appreciate the breath of life and the way that it sustains me. I must also express my gratitude to you, my community. I felt your energy, well wishes, and all of your prayers even virtually. I still do. Your love has given me a second wind and I love you too. While I was in the hospital, I was given Remdesivir, an antiviral injection, for five consecutive days. I assume it played some part in the miracle so I give thanks for it too. Finally, I must give thanks to Oya for blowing her winds into my life. Who is Oya, you ask?

I should rewind a bit. A few years ago, I had an incarnation reading done by an Ifa Priestess. Yes, I did grow up in the Christian tradition, but if you know me, then you know that this kind of activity is absolutely on brand. I enjoy engagement with the spirit world very much. I was seeking guidance about something specific at the time and I hoped that this priestess could provide some clarity and direction beyond the “pray about it” rhetoric I had come to expect from some of the traditional communities I was connected to. I gave her my birthday and the time that I was born and she spoke to me about every aspect of my life and about what I came into this world to accomplish. I had expressed my interest in and curiosity about African traditional religions and she told me that based on my birth chart I was probably a daughter of Oya. I had never heard of Oya. I had only heard of Oshun, who I was introduced to via Beyonce’s “Hold Up” video in which she danced in the now iconized yellow dress. The little I did know about Oshun was that she was associated with things like beauty and femininity-literal opposites of what I understood myself to be at the time, so I was glad to know there might be another spirit being or energy that I could relate to. The priestess told me that Oya was the goddess of winds, lightning, and storms. She told me to start reading stories about Oya but I was disappointed in what resounded as a weather report in comparison with the sensuality and majesty of Oshun. My obedience was long delayed.

I now know that in Yoruba, Santería, Vodun, and Candomblé traditions, the Orisha are figures and forces of nature who mediate between Olodumare (God) and humanity. While I was home recovering from the virus, I would read stories about the Orisha wherever I could find them and let YouTube videos about them play through the night. I heard in the stories that the winds of Oya might feel wild and disorienting, but ultimately they come to help people with change. COVID certainly did change my life and in retrospect, my season tripping over oxygen tanks, tangled in chords, and sorting through an assortment of vitamins was as clearing as it was chaotic.

Thankfully that season has passed and I have returned to some form of normalcy and daily work. I am currently in the funeral business and many days I work in a cemetery. When people ask me how I landed in this industry, I always tell them I saw a job posting on Indeed. And that is true. I had had some years of experience doing hospice volunteer work and I thought the job might be a good fit. But it is also true that according to the tradition, Oya guards the gates of the cemetery and escorts the spirits of the dead through the threshold of the graveyard.

Then I read somewhere that Oya is a healer of lung diseases. Seemed a bit too timely considering my circumstance. My intrigue deepened immensely and the stories that I heard about Oya began to help me order and make sense of my life. If nothing else, I enjoyed them.

Wanting to avoid an obsession with this mystical topic, I thought I would take a break from the world of the Orisha and read one of the books on my shelf that I hadn’t gotten to yet. I struggled toward my bookshelf, closed my eyes, and rubbed my fingers along the spines of my collection to select one at random. My right hand chose Monica Coleman’s Making a Way Out of No Way. In the introduction, Coleman details participating in a Sunday morning of ritual worship for members of an Ifa community. Her friend had invited her on the day that they were honoring Oya. With maroon sashes tied around their waists, participants danced in a circle moving their bodies to the beat of the drum. I had heard of such dances before. Later in her book, Colemen said even more about the things I was drawn to. She talked about spirit possession and how ritual song and dance are forms of communication with the divine. It is not at all strange for devotees of African traditional religions to engage in meditations or construct altars to better position themselves to hear from their ancestors. They may attend festivals, go to sweat lodges, dance, drum, consume sacred herbs, or anything that might open their spirit and get the attention of the other world. Coming from the Black Church, I was no stranger to ritual or spirit possession. I understood well and had seen for myself how the Spirt could make a body run or dance or send a preacher into frenzy. But I had not yet witnessed this form of ancestral or Orisha spirit possession. I wanted to. I thought, how wonderful it must be to have that in your life. I can say now, how wonderful it is. Wonderful indeed.

In short, things aligned for me, and I was invited to participate in such a ritual. It would be a ceremony during which I and four other Black women led by a shaman would meditate, move our bodies, hear music, and consume plant medicine for healing and communion with the Spirit world. At the start of the ceremony, the priestess burned sacred herbs lifting an aroma that none of us had ever smelled in this lifetime. The five of us set our individual intentions and then consumed a small, mushroom-infused piece of sacred cacao. Traditionally used in ceremonies, this ancient combination is believed to both elevate the mind and open the heart. I enjoyed the unfamiliar sweetness of the chocolate.

I invited stillness to come over me and just sat a while. I closed my eyes, freed my mind from any post-ritual responsibility, and entered into a quiet space. I soon found myself in bliss and between worlds. When I opened my eyes, I turned to face a tree outside the window and I saw the Spirit, or ruach as the Bible names it, blowing. I began to notice the character of each leaf individually. I closed my eyes again knowing the Spirit was present with me then I felt the sun go down. Somehow I knew in my flesh that evening had arrived. Later, at the invitation of another sister journeying with me, I stepped outside to join the rest of the group. On the way to take my seat on a bench, I happened to look up.

I had not seen a sky like that in my entire life. In fact, “sky” is too frail of a word, this was a firmament. The clouds were painted orange and sprinting across a purple heaven. I was arrested by the majesty of it all so I opened my arms in submission and surrender. The shades of purple deepened and danced between wine and navy blue. The stars were so busy, it was as if they were talking to each other. If they could talk to each other then maybe they could talk to me. I didn’t understand what they were saying but something inside of me called out to them without words and asked them what my place in the world was and what I came here to do. I heard no audible answer as I had asked a silent question. Then I started to blow. I blew out of my mouth as if into a balloon. I blew at the stars and they flickered at the command of my air. I couldn’t believe what I was experiencing but it was delightful so I blew some more at the lights above me. Before I knew it, my breaths were turbulent and no longer my own. This was wind coming out of my body. Out of the lungs that barely functioned months ago. I blew at the nearby trees and they seemed to bow to me as if they recognized a divinity in me. Partnering with the external breeze and enjoying my newly-discovered power, I blew again and all of the trees yielded into a choreographed and dramatic sway. I was using my hands and moving my arms in ways that I did not recognize. I was possessed and I knew exactly who had possessed me.

I had read that the winds of Oya usher in a change in practice or an elevation in consciousness. She appears when there is a call for growth or evolution. I believe there is a call for all of us to grow and evolve as a collective. I do not share all of this with you because I want you to know how I came to be healed from COVID or because I want you to know about what happened to me during a spiritual ceremony. I am not an expert or teacher of African traditional religions nor am I formally initiated into Ifa. I am only telling you my truth and I tell you this because I want you to know there is more. There is more to experience than what many of us were taught in church or elsewhere. There are ancestors and other spirits who are alive, active, and here to guide us. The veil between this world and the next is so very thin and I was transformed at the threshold.

When I returned to my home, I could barely stay inside. I wanted to be in nature and for days to come, I would go out, look up, and rekindle my love affair with the night sky. I had a stronger desire to eat green vegetables and wanted sugar and meat much less than before. I have noticed a heightened spiritual sensitivity while I am awake and a profound difference in the way that I dream at night. I still have a growing sense of self-love and worth. I feel seen and known and kept by what is beyond me. Everything is richer now.

Again I say there is more. There is more of God. And that means there is more of you. There is more and there is magic.

Cover image of Oya by @diogodolila



photo by @jazzellamckeel

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