The comment that followed read; " She doesn't look very West African. :( "
I felt that this person was a bit insulted by the image I had chosen to represent Yemaya. Although everyone is entitled to their opinions and feelings, there is a bit more to this picture than that.
This is not a "white-washed" photo of a black model, to make her appear lighter in color and, therefore, more "acceptable" and profitable for the media and fashion industry.
This is a vintage image from a prayer card. It is Brazilian depiction of Yemaya or Yemanja, as she is called in South America. South America is comprised of African, European, Amerindian, and the indigeous population. Much like the Caribbean islands, and of course the USA, you will find many ethnicities, cultures, religions, traditions and shades of skin. This is someone's beautiful interpretation of the divine.
While Yemaya is a Yoruban deity (originating in southwestern Nigeria and southern Benin) her spirit, traditions and stories were carried in the hearts and minds of the slaves brought on the Middle Passage. Her spirit then took root in Brazil, where European powers enslaved her people.
Below, is a Yoruban depiction of Yemaya.
Here is one story of a deity changing to suit her new people; Our Lady of Charity of Cobre
This is a photo of a group of Brazilian people. Most native, some who have acquired citizenship-
You see the incredible and beautiful varience of shades and features? As religions and folk lore spread, mesh and meld throughout the world, new images of those deities will be imagined. These images will be painted, drawn, visualized, dreamed of and experienced in different ways. As humans we are most comfortable, and are more likely, to envision a deity who looks similar to ourselves. It is an almost unescapable act of the ego. This influences religious art, and depictions of deity, heavily. We want to belong with our deity. Feel comfortable, feel like an extension of them.
Humans have changed the image of deities for 100,000's of years as our tribes traveled for trade, reproduction, food, water, or were forcably relocated. These stories and images were taught in a new places, to new people with new voices and ideas. A changing deity is a means of adaptation, of survival. Our gods are all related and one is no better than another.
Deities and spirits will be conveyed in as many ways as there are people. No two people will view them the same way. Nor will they experience them the same way.
Here is a photo of me. What "color" am I? Do I look "white"? What is/are my ethnicities and cultural background? Can you tell?
I will tell you, that is NOT my natural hair color, in case you didn't know...
Everyone, except maybe 3 people, in my whole life have guessed incorrectly.
The point of this post is to say that one person's interpretation of how a spirit looks is not any more valid than another's. You may think you know about something from the first glance, but we are all rich tapestries woven from colors, cultures and traditions and so are our deities.
We all have different brains, imaginations, experiences and body chemistry which causes us to interpret things differently. You can not be angry at another person's interpretation anymore than you can be angry at the color of their skin-it's genetic and can not be helped.
Many of us found this path due to the need to escape the narrow view of monotheism and it's one image of God. So why pigeonhole any other deity, expression or interpretation of it?
This doesn't just go for physical representation. It goes for traditions and practices as well. YOUR heart, brain and genetic make up will tell you what is right for YOU to practice. Not a book, not a guru, not a teacher, houngan, reverend or priest.
You are the right color.
You are the right size.
You are the right gender.
You are the right sexuality.
You are the right religion.
Because you are the divine in human form.