Throughout the slave trade, African religions rooted in the Ifá faith of the Yoruba people spread across the world. Ifá is a divination system practiced by the Yoruba people of West Africa for thousands of years.

The foundation of the Yoruba belief system includes the worship of deities called orishas with a supreme god called Olorun or Olodumare, orishas representing the elements, and ancestral spirits. Religions that worship the Yoruba Ifá pantheon involve spirit possession through trances induced by drumming, chanting, and dancing rituals. The energy believed to come from these spirits is called Àșe—pronounced “ah-shay”—and is described as “the power that makes things happen, the existence of all things depends on it,” according to the Yoruba faith.

In Brazil, my birthplace, I became a spiritist medium in the Umbanda sect at the age of fourteen. This Afro-Brazilian religion mixes the worship of the Yoruba Ifá orisha deities, Catholicism, and Kardecism—also known as spiritism and developed by Allan Kardec, a French educator in the late 1800s.

Similar to Umbanda, Candomblé, and Quimbanda in Brazil are religious practices that worship the same orisha deities of the Yoruba Ifá faith with different origins and rituals. Likewise, voodoo in Haiti and Santeria in Cuba, are among many other religions that worship the same orisha gods.

These spiritual practices may seem foreign to American culture, but they are openly embraced and proselytized by the entertainers today as well as in years past. During the 2017 Grammy Awards, Beyoncé, raised in the Christian faith, paid homage to the Yoruba goddess Oshun. Wearing a golden gown—Oshun’s sacred color—pregnant with twins, Beyoncé channeled the goddess of love, money, and waterways—or the goddess of water and fertility, as some headlines claimed.

In an interview with the Daily Mail, Dr. Jacob Olupona, a Nigerian professor of African Religious Traditions at Harvard Divinity School, stated, “She [Beyoncé] is speaking to the world, she is speaking to America. Beyoncé is educating the masses on Oshun. She is showing how indigenous spirituality can be a powerful tool for changing the world.”

According to a BuzzFeed community post, Beyoncé’s album Lemonade not only references Oshun but also other African deities.

Taylor Crumpton’s article on The Ringer website, “Glory B: Beyoncé, the African Diaspora, and the Baptism of ‘Black is King,’ “describes Beyoncé’s visual album released on Disney+. She explains how this music reinforces the ancestral lineage of black people as divine beings born from natural and spiritual forces. Beyoncé pays tribute to Yemayá [Yemanjá]—an orisha known as the mother of water and all living things in Ifá and other Yoruba-derived faiths.

Furthermore, Beyoncé’s husband, Jay-Z, references another Yoruba deity (or orisha)—Changó (also spelled Xangô or Shango)—in his rap lyrics, as noted in the same article. The feast day for Changó is December 4th,one of the most important Santeria festivals in Cuba. It also happens to be Jay-Z’s birthday—a connection often mentioned.

Ama McKinley, in her HuffPost article, titled “Beyoncé Serves African Spirituality in Lemonade,” was “awestruck” by the visual album. As a practitioner of Ifá, McKinley loves to point out pop culture references to this ancient tradition and its pantheon, the orisha, in Western contexts. Other examples listed in the article include Ricky Ricardo’s [Desi Arnaz] 1940s hit “Babalú” (a detailed ritual to the orisha Babaluaye), Gloria from Orange is the New Black (a Santeria practitioner who worked in a bodega), and Jay-Z’s rap referencing his orisha Changó [Xangô or Shango], the god of thunder, lighting and justice (considered the most powerful orisha in the Yoruba pantheon).

Beyoncé’s poem “Denial,” in Lemonade, evoked an emotional experience for McKinley. The poem describes the initiation process of an Ifá practitioner into the priesthood that she experienced in 2012. McKinley wrote that she spent 365 consecutive days wearing all white, three months of no sex, no looking in mirrors, and taking all meals on a mat on the floor. “And for one year, I could not cut my hair.” This is how she became an Iyawo, a Nigerian Yoruba word for bride or slave of the orisha.

Click here for the lyrics to the poem “Denial” (warning: sexually explicit and sacrilegious content):

In a Vox article, titled “Meet the African goddess at the Center of Beyoncé’s Black is King,” Constance Grady explains Beyoncé’s identification with the Yoruba deity Osun [Oshun]. Beyonce uses the likeness of Oshun in many photos and videos. “Oshun is a goddess of love and beauty. Beyonce’s been identifying with her for years.”

Valerie Mesa, a follower of Oshun, wrote in Vice, “How to Invoke Oshun, the Yoruba Goddess of Sensuality and Prosperity:”

“Oshun exudes sensuality and all the qualities associated with fresh, flowing river water. Her sparkling charisma can light up a room, and her lush womanly figure suggests fertility and eroticism. Oshun’s favorite thing to eat is honey, and her contagious laugh can either put you under her spell or send shivers down your spine. Despite her generosity and irresistible charm, this Orisha is also the most dangerous when crossed—Oshun is as sweet as honey, but her honey can also turn sour.” Beyonce’s nickname is “Queen Bey” and her fans identify as the “Bey Hive”.

Beyonce was raised as a Methodist in Texas where she was a member of the choir. Does this mean that she is a Christian? Should Christians pay attention to popular music lyrics children are exposed to regularly? How much cultural and, most importantly, spiritual influence, do entertainers have in the lives of those they impact through their art?

God warns us in His Word repeatedly to not be deceived or ensnared by “other gods” and to not practice the occult. Does listening to music that honors deities and ancestral spirits belong in a believer’s life?

In Joshua 24:15, it is stated, “But if you refuse to serve the LORD, then choose today whom you will serve.”

IMAGE: Oshun 01.png