Our Goddess Beyoncé: Yoruba Goddesses in Lemonade

Annie Earnshaw
Jan 22, 2019 · 4 min read

Pop culture may refer to Beyoncé as a goddess, but her visual album “Lemonade” takes that sentiment to heart. “Lemonade” is heavily influenced by New Orleans culture and the several Afro-Caribbean religions that take residence in Louisiana, most notably the Yoruba religion. Yoruba practitioners believe in twelve goddesses, which I argue correspond with the twelve chapters of her visual album. Here’s how Queen B becomes Goddess B throughout “Lemonade.”

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Intuition (“Pray You Catch Me”): Oba is a goddess of the home who was scorned by her husband for offering him her ear to eat during a time of famine. Like Oba, Beyoncé was scorned by her husband after he had an affair with another woman.

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Denial (“Hold Up”): Oshun is the goddess of love, intimacy, and marriage who is kind to her followers but brutal to her enemies. This spectrum of reaction can be seen in “Hold Up”: Beyoncé smiles at the children and people who line the street but angrily swings her bat at empty cars. In the words of bell hooks, this song is a “celebration of rage” that represents how Oshun might act.

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Anger (“Don’t Hurt Yourself”): Oya is the goddess of fire and magic, which she stole from her husband, who uses destruction to bring change to the cosmos. Like Oya, Beyoncé is using her anger as a tool to bring change to her relationship, clearing out the ugliness of her husband’s affair with rage and anger.

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Apathy (“Sorry”): Ayao is an air goddess who can be a gentle breeze or a fierce tornado. In “Sorry,” Beyoncé represents Ayao because her demeanor is light and breezy and she tells off her cheating man, but she sings in such a way that the audience believes she could get angry at any moment.

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Emptiness (“6 Inch”): Odudua is a battle maiden and goddess of fertility who fiercely protects those she loves. Like Odudua, Beyoncé’s portrayal of a fierce sex worker is interested in defending herself, considering she is the only person she seems to care about during the song due to the loss of her husband.

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Accountability (“Daddy Lessons”): Yemaja is the goddess of motherhood, pregnancy, and children who was raped by her son. In her grief, Yemaja exploded, creating fifteen more gods and goddesses. Beyoncé references Yemaja during “Daddy Lessons” through Warsan Shire’s poetry, which describes domestic abuse, and through Beyoncé’s discussion of the relationships between parent and child.

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Reformation (“Love Drought”): Olokun is a goddess of oceans, dreams, and healing who guides followers from the land of the living to the land of the dead. Beyoncé portrays Olokun in “Love Drought” by leading a line of women into the water, referencing the story of Igbo Landing as seen in Daughters of the Dust when slaves committed mass suicide to avoid enslavement. By drawing up images of this legend, we see Beyoncé as a guide and healer like Olokun.

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Forgiveness (“Sandcastles”): Aja is the goddess of the forest and animals who uses herbs and botany for healing. Beyoncé represents Aja in “Sandcastles” by finally reconciling with her husband and beginning the process of healing.

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Resurrection (“Forward”): Egungun-Oya is the goddess of divination. In “Forward,” Beyoncé is telling of a time in the future when racial injustice is nonexistent, looking forward to see what the future holds like Egungun-Oya.

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Hope (“Freedom”): Nana Buluku is a creator goddess who is believed to have created the first man and woman as well as the cosmos. Beyoncé emulates Nana Buluku in “Freedom” by using her power to create a conversation about the racial injustice that people of color face.

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Redemption (“All Night”): Aje is the goddess of wealth, prosperity, dyes, and colors. In “All Night,” the guest stars who’ve been in either white or black the entire visual album now appear in colorful clothing, alluding to a forthcoming time of joy and light.

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“Formation”: Mawu is also a creative goddess who shaped living creatures out of clay. Mawu is represented in this song because Beyoncé is taking a culture that in our history has been seen as inferior, like clay, and shaping it into a celebration of black people.

Beyoncé: Lit and Lemonade

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