The Orishas: Orunla, Osain, Oshun, Oya, and Yemaya

Gods of Santeria

Cuba - Religion - Santeria syncretic Afro Cuban religion
The Cabildo (shrine) pictured is one of the oldest in Cuba, located in Palmira, which is widely regarded as the birthplace of Santeria. Corbis via Getty Images / Getty Images

The orishas are the gods of Santeria, the beings that believers interact with on a regular basis. The number of orishas varies among believers. In the original African belief system from which Santeria originates, there are hundreds of orishas. New World Santeria believers, on the other hand, generally only work with a handful of them.


Orunla, or Orunmila, is the wise orisha of divination and human destiny. While other orishas have different "paths," or aspects to them, Orunla has only one. He is also the only orisha to not manifest through possession in the New World (although it does sometimes happen in Africa). Instead, he is consulted through various divination methods.

Orunla was present at the creation of humanity and the forging of souls. Thus Orunla has the knowledge of the ultimate destiny of each soul, which is an important facet of Santeria practice. Working toward one's destiny is to promote harmony. To move contrary to it creates discord, so believers look for insight as to their destiny and what they might currently be doing that runs contrary to that.

Orunla is most commonly associated with St. Francis of Assisi, although the reasons are not obvious. It may have to do with Francis's common depiction of holding rosary beads, which resembles Orunla's divination chain. St. Philip and St. Joseph are also sometimes equated with Orunla.

The table of Ifa, the most complex of divination methods used by trained Santeria priests represents him. His colors are green and yellow


Osain is a nature orisha, ruling over forests and other wild areas as well as herbalism and healing. He is the patron of hunters even though Osain himself has given up the hunt. He also looks out for the home. Contrary to many mythologies showing nature gods and wild and untamed, Osain is a distinctly rational figure.

Although formerly having a human appearance (as other orishas have), Osain has lost an arm, leg, ear and eye, with the remaining eye centered in the middle of his head like a Cyclops.

He is forced to use a twisted tree branch as a crutch, which is a common symbol for him. A pipe might also represent him. His colors are green, red, white and yellow.

He is most often associated with Pope St. Sylvester I, but he is also sometimes associated with St. John, St. Ambrose, St Anthony Abad, St. Joseph, and St. Benito.


Oshun is the seductive orisha of love and marriage and fertility, and she rules the genitals and the lower abdomen. She is particularly associated with feminine beauty, as well as relationships between people in general. She is also associated with rivers and other sources of fresh water.

In one tale, the orishas decided that they no longer needed Olodumare. Olodumare, in response, created a great drought that none of the orishas could reverse. To save the parched world Oshun transformed into a peacock and ascended to Olodumare's realm to beg his forgiveness. Olodumare relented and returned the water to the world, and the peacock transformed into a vulture.

Oshun is associated with Our Lady of Charity, an aspect of the Virgin Mary focused on hope and survival, particularly in relation to the sea. Our Lady of Charity is also the patron saint of Cuba, where Santeria originates.

A peacock feather, fan, mirror, or boat may represent her, and her colors are red, green, yellow, coral, amber, and violet.


Oya rules the dead and is involved with the ancestors, cemeteries, and the wind. She is a rather tempestuous, commanding orisha, responsible for windstorms and electrocution. She is a goddess of transitions and change. Some say she is the ultimate ruler of fire but allows Chango to use it. She is also a warrior, sometimes depicted as putting on pants or even a beard to go to war, particularly at Chango's side.

She is associated with Our Lady of Candlemas, St. Teresa and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.

Fire, a lance, a black horsetail, or a copper crown with nine points all represent Oya, who is also associated with copper in general. Her color is maroon.


Yemaya is the orisha of lakes and seas and the patron of women and of motherhood. She is associated with Our Lady of Regla, the protector of sailors. Fans, seashells, canoes, coral, and the moon all represent her. Her colors are white and blue. Yemaya is maternal, dignified and nurturing, the spiritual mother of all. She is also an orisha of mystery, reflected in the depths of her waters. She is also often understood to be the older sister of Oshun, who oversees the rivers. She is also associated with tuberculosis and intestinal disorders.

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Your Citation
Beyer, Catherine. "The Orishas: Orunla, Osain, Oshun, Oya, and Yemaya." Learn Religions, Aug. 27, 2020, Beyer, Catherine. (2020, August 27). The Orishas: Orunla, Osain, Oshun, Oya, and Yemaya. Retrieved from Beyer, Catherine. "The Orishas: Orunla, Osain, Oshun, Oya, and Yemaya." Learn Religions. (accessed March 20, 2023).