Oya: Yoruban Spirit of the Wind

Oya: Spirit of the Wind [Hooping.org columnist Kim Burden (Kamala) presents this piece with deepest respect for the Yoruba people and the ancestors and devoted practitioners of Ifa, Santeria and other diaspora based traditions.]

We’ve all, at one time or maybe many times, been blown away by the stories of transformation shared by our hoop sisters and brothers – weight loss, healing from trauma and addiction, improved self esteem, improved health, increased connection to community, increased connection to self, a rebirth of fun and play… the list goes on and on. When hooping.org turned nine recently, I was inspired to share about Oya, Yoruban Spirit of the Wind, spiralic motion, fire and transformation. Her number is nine. She loves swirling multi-colored ribbons, and she spins – so it seemed fitting to weave some of her wisdom into our wonderful web here.

Take a moment and recall the first time you twirled that hoop around your body: the swirling, whirling spinning, feeling yourself centered at the eye of the tornado. Recall the “whoosh” sound the hoop made as you began to spin faster & learned to maneuver the hoop up & down your vertical axis in a “vortex”. It’s both centering and exhilarating, like dancing with the Wind itself. As a practitioner of earth-centered spiritual traditions that work with the movement of the forces of nature, the connection to the Yoruba Spirit of the Wind was crystal clear the moment that divine sparkly circlular hoop danced with me. 

Oya is one of many Orisha, or forces of nature, recognized by Ifa, Santeria and other diaspora traditions. Orisha embody human characteristics as well and humans are said to “walk with” two or three Orisha who emanate particular qualities of movement, rhythm, color, etc. Priests and Priestesses of Oya, a powerful female Orisha, traditionally spin in her dances – endlessly spinning, like whirling dervishes. Oya herself doesn’t just spin – she does so with two horsetail whisks, one in each hand – one overhead spinning clockwise, and the other in front of her spinning counterclockwise. With this movement she is both banishing and invoking, the purpose being to clear away that which is no longer serving the practitioner or the community, and to invite in that which will enhance the development of a practitioners’ authentic selves, or in Yoruba terms, spiritual elevation and the development of “good character.” It is an awe inspiring philosophy, and even better, it is heavily community based. When one person elevates spiritually, so does the entire community.

I’ve felt so much of Oya and the spirit of community and transformation she embodies coming alive in my hooping life and in the hooping community. Personally, I experience a profound opportunity for centering and transmutation during my time with the hoop. I may go into a hoop session “in a snit” and once I drop into the eye of my own personal tornado, that which I don’t need is banished – I allow “her” to banish it, and what I need is brought to me.

This is most apparent in how my post-hooping attitude has usually greatly improved from my pre-hooping attitude. However, I’ve made some pretty major transformations in my life since beginning to hoop. I’ve gotten my relationship with dance and movement back, established a wonderful network of dance & hooping friends, and I am currently in the process of radically transforming my work – not changing my career completely, but shifting my focus to working in a way that feels much more authentic for me. It doesn’t feel like hard work; the transformation is just happening. I’m not as fearful about what seems to be falling away. To me, this is Oya at work in my life, through the hoop, and her presence has grown strong since I first picked up one of our circles.

Oya has many paths, among them the path of the tornado, the cemetery, the marketplace, and the ancestral realm. She brings people together, making connections through rituals of transformation commerce, birth, death, remembrance and more. I’ve witnessed and read about so many people developing “good character” and “spiritual” elevation through hooping. People start businesses, donate hoops to good causes, start groups that bring others in, and otherwise transform their lives in radical ways. It isn’t always easy – sometimes comfortable (albeit “unhealthy”) patterns have to fall away or transform, leaving us both vulnerable and empowered. Hooping puts us at the center of our worlds – while connecting us to others. To me this is Oya in all her glory, spinning, sparkling, and regally fighting the good fight, to encourage us to be the most glorious whirling satellites of human joy that we can be.

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Kamala Dance Hooping.org columnist Kim Burden (Kamala) of the Hyacinth Center is a dance-movement therapist, drama therapist, practitioner of BodyMind Centering ™ and long time practitioner of authentic movement, contact improvisation and other contemplative forms of movement. She teaches dance/movement therapy in a graduate program and has a private practice in body centered psychotherapy. She lives in Gilsum, New Hampshire, USA.

5 thoughts on “Oya: Yoruban Spirit of the Wind

    1. Hi Dawn,
      Yes, I have heard of you & I was going to mention you in the article when I started it (months ago) – so sorry I left that out when I finished it just the other day. I’m so happy there is a troupe devoted to Oya! I hope I can see you perform one day!

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