Child of the Sea: Journey Into the Arms of Iemaya
by Amber Fisher, Sibylline Initiate and founder of Blessed
Driving down the highway toward the California coast, I felt an overwhelming
sense of coming home. The weeks preceding this much needed vacation had
been haphazard and filled with frenzy, leaving me a little off center
and very out of touch. It had been years since I'd seen the ocean, and
my three year old daughter who pressed her face excitedly against the
backseat window had never seen it. I rolled down the window and smelled
the salt in the air, and felt the wind lash at my face. Any tensions that
I might have carried with me evaporated into the salt scented air.
Although I had grown up being afraid of the water, I had never been afraid
of the ocean. Perhaps it was a childish notion on my part, that something
as beautiful and enticing as the deep blue sea would never hurt me. Or
perhaps it was more of a mutual understanding between us-I would respect
her power and her strength, and she would carry me with gentle arms as
I lay upon my back and stared into the sky. Nestled into the waters of
the Pacific Ocean, I was as safe and sound as a baby curled snuggly in
her mother's womb.
The harbor was very quiet that afternoon, most people not willing to
brave the high winds and the blowing sand. My daughter could not be dissuaded,
however. She wanted to see the whales, and I had promised to take her
But when we arrived at the dock, we realized there would be no whale
watching trip that day. The winds were too strong for the small boats,
and all the trips had been cancelled. Just my luck, I thought as
I gripped my daughter's hand, dragging her away from the dock and down
out to the beach. I just wanted to show her something beautiful. Why
did it have to be like this today?
We walked down to the beach, me with my head bent low against the raging
sands, my daughter skipping happily down to the waves that crashed upon
the shore. The wind bit at me; the ocean sprayed me with icy cold mist.
I turned my back to the water in disgust. I had traveled so far to see
the whales, to share something special with my daughter, and I was angry
that nature hadn't been kind enough to behave. I heard the rippling laughter
as my daughter waded into the water, her laughter carried on the winds
that tore at me.
Just as I was about to tell her to come back, that we were going to make
the long drive back inland, I heard her little voice shout, "Look,
Mommy! It's the Goddess! Look at the Goddess, Mommy, she's playing with
Halfheartedly I turned toward her, and saw that she was pointing to
the sky at the full moon that darted in and out from behind billowing
white clouds. She had always called the moon the Goddess--I figured they
must have shared the same special relationship that I shared with the
ocean when I was not much older than she.
At the moment that I looked up and saw the moon, my daughter's Goddess,
I realized the moon was not the only one playing with us. Opening myself
up to the roar of the surf, I realized that Iemaja, the Lady of the Sea,
was speaking to me through the shrill voice of my daughter. Look, Mommy!
It's the Goddess! She's playing with us!
I didn't grow up with Goddesses or any kind of feminine divinity. I certainly
hadn't known the name "Iemaja" when as a young girl I floated
on my back against the soft undulation of the vast blue waters. Like many
people growing up in our predominantly Abrahamic culture, the Divine of
my childhood was a transcendent, masculine deity, and never had it occurred
to me that perhaps there was something ethereal about my closeness with
the ocean, that perhaps the Divine was nurturing me as I frolicked in
the amniotic fluids in the belly of the Earth. The sea had simply been,
and I had taken its beauty for granted.
But the words my daughter spoke echoed loudly in my head, even after
she had run away from me, back into the water that rushed around her feet.
I opened my eyes then, really opened them, and saw perhaps for the first
time my Goddess stretched out before me, beckoning for me to return to
Treading slowly out toward the waves, I found myself walking into the
embrace of the same mother that rocked me gently and cared for me so tenderly
as a young girl spending her free time on the water. Years had passed,
and though I seemed to have forgotten her, or perhaps never even really
known her, Iemaja had not forgotten me. The wind that raged and the waves
that crashed onto the shore were suddenly transformed from a serious inconvenience
to the exuberant celebration of a mother whose child has finally come
home after a long journey. The salt that stung at my nostrils was suddenly
the sweet perfume of a mother's breast, the sea spray the joyful tears
I had written essays about her, the Yoruba Goddess I had been drawn to
since I first learned of her. I had always assumed that my attraction
to her was due in large part to my African ancestry, and never did I give
much thought to her role as the ocean Goddess. After all, much of my adult
life was spent inland with no large bodies of water around for many, many
miles. I had prayed silently to her, even written poetry to her, but it
occurred to me at that very moment that I had never spoken her name out
I felt the name inside me more than I heard it. I felt the word vibrating
against my ribs, almost daring me to speak it. I felt suddenly both excited
and foolish, slightly embarrassed by this bubbling desire forming inside
to speak the name "Iemaja", to chant it, to sing it, to shout
it above the roar of wind and wave. The beach was almost empty; nobody
would have heard me. Still, as familiar as the name was, saying aloud
was too foreign, too-sacrosanct.
The taunting continued.
Every person who practices the magical arts knows that words have power
and names even more so. To give a thing a name is to have power over it;
to share your name with another is to give them power over you. Did I
dare speak the name of Iemaja, the Mistress of the Sea, the Lady who commanded
the high waves that could swallow me whole? Did I dare presume that she
wanted me to share in her power, to celebrate her name, to actually speak
such a powerful name aloud?
Speak it, the wind seemed to say.
I gathered my nerves and clenched my fists. The water lapped at my feet,
chiding me. Blushing furiously, I let the name fall from my lips in a
mere whisper. "Iemaja," I said quietly, almost under my breath.
My daughter came running up to me then, round face upturned, eyes sparkling.
"What did you say, Mommy? Maya?"
I smiled at her then, brushing her wind-blown hair away from her forehead.
"Iemaja," I repeated. "Iemaja, the Ocean Goddess. My Goddess."
My daughter clapped her hands together and ran back out to the water,
screaming and jumping as she did so. "Iemaja!" She shouted,
splashing her way back into the water. "Iemaja! Iemaja!"
Her exuberance was catching. I followed her out into the water, laughing
and bouncing right behind her. Spreading my arms and throwing back my
head I shouted, "Iemaja!" The wind howled its approval; the
waves crashed in wild delight. The Goddess swirled around ankles, my knees,
welcoming me, and at that moment I knew that the ocean had reclaimed me.
No whales today, no boating trip, no dolphins darting playfully under
and around us. No one but me, my child, and the ocean. Though the winds
screamed in my ears and the water was numbingly cold as I waded in up
to my knees, my sense of center had returned. A blanket of calm enveloped
me, and within and around me, all was silent. The ocean and Iemaja had
set me free. Never again would time or space separate me from the unknown
Goddess of my childhood, for this very moment would burn in my heart forever.
Many thanks to Amber for letting the Sibylline website reprint her
personal story. To read more of Amber's work please visit her website
at www.mothersmagic.com. Originally
published online May 28, 2002, originally written for Sagewoman Magazine.