I’m sure regular readers already know Aspasia, who is not only a regular reader and frequenter commenter, but a blogger whom I’ve linked on several occasions. In a recent correspondence she told me about Oshún; since I’m very interested in the subject of whore goddesses, I was immediately intrigued and asked if she would do this essay, and she graciously consented without any arm-twisting.
Like so many other young women these days, I began to research the old myths of ancient goddesses from all around the world during my early to mid twenties. I was always drawn to sex goddesses like Oshún, Aphrodite, Inanna, etc. We’re all kindred spirits, if you please. Their personality traits, especially those of Oshún and Aphrodite, are very similar: graciousness and generosity (and you’d do well not to anger them), unabashed femininity, sexuality, and sensuality. They display absolute authority over the power of sexuality, which was understood to be the complex thing it is and certainly not a frivolity as our anti-sexuality culture deems it to be. In the pantheon of ori (divine beings) in which Oshún is a member, she is the third most powerful after the Father God Obatalá and Mother Goddess Yemayá. Like them Oshún has a sacred color, yellow, all her own; all other orisha (spirits or gods) must share colors. Oshún isn’t known to many people outside of the Caribbean, Brazil or the Yoruba people found primarily in Nigeria and Benin (though they can also be found in Ghana and among the Krio of Sierra Leone); however, she is known and revered everywhere in the Latin Caribbean and South America where the Yoruban people were taken during the slave trade. In Cuba, where Oshún has been syncretized with Santa Cecilia (patroness of music) and La Virgin de La Caridad del Cobre, she is known as Our Lady of the Caridad del Cobre with a feast day of September 8th. Cobre means copper in Spanish, and the precious metal figures prominently in the representation of Oshun.
Besides copper, Oshún also favors gold and all things shiny and yellow; this is similar to Aphrodite, who also favors gold and is often (though not always) depicted with golden hair. Tied around Oshún’s hips is a gourd filled with her honey, which she smears on the mouths of men whom she is trying (and always succeeding) to win over; she also smears it upon her own naked body, a frank reference to lovemaking. Similarly, there are stories concerning Aphrodite sharing her goldenness with lucky men she has chosen to be hers…for a time. Both goddesses are sea-born in some fashion with names that reflect those origins: Aphrodite (Greek for “foam-born”) rose from the sea and Oshún was named after the deep “O” sound the Earth made causing a boulder to fall into the water, which made the “shun” sound…or so one patakí (parable) of her naming tells us. She is the goddess of the “sweet” waters and indeed has a river named after her. Oshún is most revered as a goddess of sexuality, sensuality, beauty, love, money, joy, music… la dolce vita. She is the “Divine Epitome” of all that is wonderful about women and femininity, and is renowned for her beauty; in Cuba she is known as La Bella Mulata (“The Beautiful Mulatto Woman”). A patakí explaining the change in Oshún’s physical appearance in Cuba tells us that she changed her appearance to better blend in with the diverse racial mixture found there; her skin color changes from dark brown to golden honey-brown, the latter being another symbol in the representation of Oshún.
But I always noticed something missing from the typical feminist writings on sex goddesses: their whore aspect. All of the sex goddesses, with their consummate love-making skills, also have a connection to money or money-like objects or symbols and yet somehow, following the feminist mindset, never the twain shall meet. Not even within the same goddess! The PC revisions of these goddesses are a disservice to them and to any who want to know about them, even if they don’t feel the same strong pull to their service that I do. Oshún Panchagara is the whore aspect of Oshún. As with Aphrodite, modern-day revisionists avert their eyes from her frankly sexual and overtly whorish aspects and give it a gloss and polish that is absolutely misplaced. I only found out about Panchagara through a book I recently acquired in which a Cuban santero (a male practitioner of Santería; female santera) priest and “son of Oshún” (all followers of Oshún are considered her children) not only mentions this aspect but celebrates it. Baba Raul Canizares writes in Oshún: Santería and the Orisha of Love, Rivers and Sensuality:
In one of her avatars, Oshún Panchagara, she is depicted as a Holy Whore, “La Santa Puta”. This is a controversial aspect of the orisha, rejected as a New World fabrication by modern-day Yoruba revisionists and African-American feminists who feel their goddess is being degraded by depictions of her as a prostitute. These people are actually projecting their own prejudices and morality into the equation. In reality, prostitution has not always been viewed as degrading or immoral. In fact, temple prostitutes, including the famous “vestal virgins” [sic] of ancient Rome, have featured prominently in the history of ancient religions. On and off, prostitution has been legal in Cuba until the late 1960’s. It is only natural that, just as every other profession has a patron saint, prostitutes also enjoy this privilege. In her aspect as Panchagara, Oshún is at her most rambunctious, coquettish, and wild. Panchagara is La Bella Mulata on Steroids, a woman very much in control who chooses who she’ll bless with her sexual favors. Panchagara is in no way a victim, as those who object to her claim, but an empowered female who has chosen prostitution on her own terms and for her gain. Oshún Panchagara has been an inspiration to women who for whatever reason have had to engage in prostitution; she demonstrates that a human being’s sense of self-worth need not be affected by what he or she does for a living.
There is little about Panchagara online, at least nothing as honest as Canizares’ statement. The PC aversion to her frank sexuality, which Canizares also hits upon, can be found here in this article where a modern-day African-American female follower of Oshún seems to have a bad reaction to the “wrong” expression of sexuality as shown by other daughters of Oshún.
Panchagara completes the totality of Oshún. Unabashedly sexual and sensual, a love for money (she was impoverished at one time, resulting in an aversion to being poor), confident in her beauty and allure…that is Panchagara and most every other sex worker I know! As una bella mulata myself, I have a strong kinship with Panchagara. While I am not a santera, I worship Oshún in my own way. She is an endlessly fascinating goddess and saint. Baba Raul Canizares and Migene Gonzalez Wippler are both Cuban and have a wealth of knowledge of Oshún in the Santería/La Religion Lucumi tradition, which is the one that has influenced my worship of Oshun the most. Panchagara is an aspect of Oshún that must not be left out.