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Hurricane Season - the Orisha Oya in the Tarot

a selection of tarot cards representing the Orisha Oya
"In New Orleans, hurricane season is the time of Oya. All of these storms are named for her sons and daughters. Her family is closely watched." - The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

June generally marks the beginning of hurricane season in the United States, and in this season I can't help but think of the Orisha Oya!

The Orisha Oya

She is a grand deity of West African origin; the Mother of Storms, commanding hurricane, tornado, and lightning, and as well she is queen of witches and queen of the marketplace. Fighting with equal purpose, courage, and proficiency alongside male Orishas like Shango and Ogun, she is a fierce warrior, an empowering spirit to women. She is also strongly associated with death, the dead, cemetery gates, and rivers. Most people recognize her first for her ability to wreak havoc through the forces of wind and violent, abrupt change. Whether it is in her storms lashing the shore, or in her winds rearranging our lives, her power is formidable and undeniable.

There are several tarot decks in my collection that highlight Orishas, and in each of these the Orisha Oya features prominently. I'm going to start with my least favorite, actually, but it is still a deck with value...

The Tarot of the Orishas
Tarot of the Orishas: Oya
One of the earlier decks I bought many years ago that had an Orisha theme was the Tarot of the Orishas, by Zolrak, illustrated by Durkon. Although it was initially exciting to have a deck full of Orisha imagery, the deck and its accompanying book were actually quickly disappointing. I could list several significant criticisms about this set, some of them simply from the standpoint of a tarot enthusiast. But problematic is the cultural disconnect - there are too many figures and influences of European descent, for a set based on African Traditional Religions. Oya in this deck is shown as a fairer skinned woman, dressed in pink (pink is one of her colors). In this deck the card of Oya does not specifically correspond to any of the traditional cards of tarot. However, for the most part, this can be a meaningful card and is not without value. The book says of the Orisha Oya,
"She does not fit into a rigid classification and is not stereotyped, nor does she like limitations or parameters - exactly like the element she presides over. She is an untiring fighter (as if reinjecting her own energy, that of lightning, into herself), irrepressible like everything she represents, overflowing with merriment and sensuality." The Tarot of the Orishas: Oya; card artwork by Durkon

The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

A long-time favorite set of mine is the New Orleans Voodoo Tarot, by Louis Martinie and Sallie Ann Glassman, a deck that came to me rather surprisingly and meaningfully. It quite stands apart from all of my other tarot decks. In this deck, which has a dynamic, alive energy, Oya's main place among the cards is as the third card in the suit of Santeria. Let me briefly explain... The suits in the New Orleans Voodoo Tarot are named for three different paths of Voodoo (Petro, Congo, and Rada) as well as the separate path of Santeria. This might sound awkward, but it does work, and the cards do work quite smoothly. Petro cards correspond with Wands and Fire, Congo with Cups and Water, Rada with Swords and Air, and the Santeria suit with the suit of Disks or Pentacles and Earth.

Honestly, I tend to read these cards very much on their own - not generally employing the basic, more traditional meanings of the corresponding cards. More important in this deck are Kabbalistic aspects, and these receive solid introduction in the book. Of Oya in this placement, the book states, "The Power of Oya celebrated in these cards is the elemental might of earth acting through Binah. She shares the Earth's power, compacting and ever erupting under the tremendous pressure," and "She holds lightning to illustrate one of her manifestations, that of Mother of Storms." Oya is also referred to in the card of Santera of the suit Santeria, which would correspond to the traditional Queen of Disks. It is explained thusly, "The Santera (female Santeria adept) of earth is the watery part of Earth. She is the ruler of earth and its watery, life-giving forces. In that she controls the forces of life, she also has great knowledge and control of the forces of death." As the court cards can refer to people (or ourselves more directly), "the presence of Oya or Obatala should be considered in the makeup of such a personality." A finer point is made as the book further states,
"The swamp is filled with the forces of life and death, much like the Great Sea of Binah (The Four Threes). All potential is here. The snake may carry life or death."

The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot: Oya, Santera;
card artwork by Sallie Ann Glassman

The New Orleans Voodoo Tarot: Oya, Santera
card artwork by Sallie Ann Glassman

Afro-Brazilian Tarot

The Afro-Brazilian Tarot, by Alice Santana, illustrated by Giuseppe Palumbo, is a beautiful deck, stylish, vibrant, and very artfully done. I very much like the natural elements portrayed in this deck: many images of trees, plants, and birds. Oya is placed in the card of Strength in this deck, and is shown working the winds, holding a sword in one hand and a horsehair whip (one of her traditional tools) in the other. Of the card, the Little White Booklet simply says, "XI - Strength: Yansa. Orixa of the winds of storms. Courage, control of passions, constancy."

Afro-Brazilian Tarot: XI Strength - Oya;
card artwork by Giuseppe Palumbo

Afro-Brazilian Tarot: XI - Strength - Oya
card artwork by Giuseppe Palumbo

Tarot Lukumi

Tarot Lukumi, by Tata Emanuele Coltro Guidi, illustrated by Luigi Scapini, is the most recent Orisha themed deck I have bought. I love it for its creative depictions, its colors, and its great energy. It stands apart from other decks in a rather unabashed way. Oya is distinctly featured on three cards in this deck. Prominent in this deck's depiction of Oya are lightning bolts, a skirt of many colors, and her sexually confident nature. She is first shown on the card of Strength - La Fuerza. The Little White Booklet describes her as "the Goddess of the Dead, the storms, the hurricanes and the bad wind." She is shown demonstrating her strength by opening the mouth of a buffalo, which is one of her animals. In the Eight of Wands - Ocho de Bastos - she is shown with the Orisha Chango. As Amazon queen and warrior goddess, "full of dreadful strength and sensuality," she also holds the place of Queen of Wands - Reina de Bastos.

Tarot Lukumi: 11 - La Fuerza (Strength) - Oya,
Reina de Bastos (Queen of Wands), Ocho de Bastos (Eight of Wands); card artwork by Luigi Scapini

Tarot Lukumi: 11 - La Fuerza (Strength) - Oya,
Reina de Bastos (Queen of Wands), Ocho de Bastos (Eight of Wands)
card artwork by Luigi Scapini

Beyond reading the cards...

With each of these decks there is potentially a purpose that goes a bit beyond reading tarot cards. In religious traditions (such as Candomble, Lukumi, and Voodoo) that do not always have easy access or participation, decks like these can help to deepen one's connection to spirit, and they can serve as tools not just for discovery and learning, but for ritual and offering as well. In this way, they can be important, enriching elements of solitary work. None of these decks are perfect, but I would generally recommend all of them - even hesitantly the Tarot of the Orishas (for some of the card symbolism alone). There are other Orisha themed decks available that I do not own. One that looks compelling is The Orisha Tarot by Andrew McGregor.

Working with Oya

Oya is not all storm and battle. She can also be fiercely feminine, loving, sexual, and humorous. If you would like to work with her, there are some basic offerings you can begin with: cloths of many colors (you could try colorful scarves and ribbons, or torn pieces of fabric in many colors - particularly nine colors; or her favorite colors of purple or burgundy), copper jewelry or tools, buffalo horns or simply images of buffalo, strong coffee or dark ale, red wine, eggplant, and graveyard dirt. Place offerings to her on a dedicated altar, or where you yourself do your work or study, or perhaps by a river or a tree that has been struck by lightning. Before offering anything to Oya, it is respectful to offer something to Esu - like rum, chile peppers, candy, or a small toy. He guards the crossroads, and it is said opens the door to the spirits in ritual work. If you have not worked with these spirits before, be aware that a strong and long-lasting relationship can be formed, and of course, please be respectful and always mindful of the cultural history of these traditions*.

Praying for those in the paths of hurricanes
Each hurricane season brings devastation and loss to the regions struck by these mighty storms. I join with others who keep these areas in their thoughts and prayers.

You might also be interested in my reviews of the New Orleans Voodoo Tarot, or the Afro-Brazilian Tarot.

To learn more, read user reviews, or purchase any of the above decks at Amazon, visit:

Tarot of the Orishas - you may need to acquire book and cards separately.

New Orleans Voodoo Tarot

Afro-Brazilian Tarot

The Orisha Tarot

by Nellie Levine

* This should go without saying but, when using cards that represent the Orishas I suggest approaching them with a deep recognition and respect for the cultures from which they derive, especially if you do not share the same heritage. Those of us who cannot trace our personal lineages to these traditions might reconsider our engagement with them; though, I will add that I am not going to argue with or judge anyone's deep, individual spiritual callings.

Publishing tarot deck reviews, original tarot spreads, articles, and personal reflections for tarot enthusiasts, practitioners of the intuitive arts, and followers of alternative spirituality since 1999. Woman owned.
All writing, reviews, and photography © Nellie Levine, unless otherwise noted. 1999-2022