A little while ago, I promised myself and my readers to have a look at fantasy art outside the—largely—European tradition. One danger of doing this is that I don’t know an awful lot about some of the traditions I hope to look at. Another danger is that unlike the unicorns and elves, the dragons, mermaids and witches which populate European fairy tales and fantasy literature, some of the entities I will be looking at are being venerated in a religious context to this day. The borders between fantasy art and religious art are very fluid, and it is quite possible that some of what I show and write—or the fact that I do it in this context—may offend some of my readers.
I ask pardon in advance: my aim is to broaden the spectrum of the art I look at in this blog, not to provoke or patronize. Anything that might offend you, please put it down to ignorance, rather than disrespect. And please feel free to enlighten me in the comments!
This is the second installment of my look at art inspired by the various Afro-American religions—Santería and Voodoo, as practiced in the Caribbean and the Bayou—and South American Candomblé and Umbanda, which I remember well from my teenage years spent in southern Brazil.
All these syncretic religions originate from African religious practices. African people were not only uprooted and forcefully resettled, they were also forcefully converted to Christianity — in most cases, Catholicism — and so they grafted their own deities on to Catholic saints.
The resulting religions and spiritual practices are alive and healthy to this day, and present a fascinating mixture of European and African influences. Although they are independent religious practices, they do share some of their main deities. The legacy of the Yoruba people is particularly prominent—a number of the main deities can be traced back to what is now Nigeria.
In my last blog, I introduced Yemanjá – also known as Yemoja, Janaína, the Mother of Waters – a deity venerated in most of these religions, and identified with the Holy Virgin. She is the said to be the mother of one of the main male deities, Xangó or Shango, the orixa of fire, storms, and thunder. One of his several wives is Oya, the orixa of storms and lightning – or it might be that they are a male and a female aspect of the same deity: they are both venerated in the guise of the Catholic saint St Barbara.
Male gods of storm and thunder exist in many pagan religions: from the Greek Zeus and Roman Jupiter to Germanic Thor, Indian Indra, or the Aztec Xolotl. It is more unusual to see the powers of sky and weather personified as a female deity, though. It is said that in battle, Oya always goes ahead of Xangó, just like lightning precedes thunder.
Xangó’s weapon is the double axe; he is a warrior and a king. He has also made it into the game universe of World of Warcraft! Oya, on the other hand, might easily have been the inspiration for the X-Men character Storm.
All images are copyright the respective artists, and may not be reproduced without permission.