Eledumare, Ori, Orisa: The Puzzle of Ifa in Western Society

Opon Ifa with Esu FaceIf you have not read any of my previous posts, my name is Iya Ekundayo. I was brought up in the Brazilian spiritual tradition of “Xango”, a diaspora offshoot of the Ifa tradition of the Yoruba people of Nigeria, and am a fully initiated Iyalorixa. I am also a Iyanifa, a priestess of Ifa of the same Yorubaland. My days are spent talking to people, divining with cowrie shells, pounding out soaps and medicines which are within the oral Ifa divination corpus, making offerings, writing emails with advice or just chatting keeping up, manifesting spirit or orisa into my body during consultations, and generally just living my life to best serve the people who come looking for advice and help. Some people know a bit about Ifa or orisa, some are initiated, some know nothing of the tradition and just need help.

Having lived in many different countries of the world and also still traveling and residing for periods of time inside of the US, I have come to note many marked differences in how different peoples inside different nations approach Ifa and this path of the orisa. This is the longest stretch that I have been in the US for some time and working with people here. I have made several observations and at times become a bit frustrated, even angry, at what is being put forth and touted as authentic “Ifa/orisa worship” in the US. But what frustrates and angers us also teaches us, and patience – “suuru” – is just as applicable when dealing with clients who “don’t get it”, as it is to waiting for a long prayed for blessing to finally arrive. It is my job to help the people “get it”. I can be quite outspoken in my opinions, but they come from experience and observation, and most importantly, come from the wisdom of Ifa, the orisa and spirit guides I have worked with for decades.

There are many and varied obstacles to achieving harmony in ones life on the path of Ifa and orisa out here in the US it seems, and I could probably address each one individually in long blog posts. But this past week I reached a sort of tipping point where all of these issues came together in a perfect storm of clients with their varied problems, attitudes, perceptions and needs.

There are two major issues to start with (and it’s hard to not name all of them at once, as major), the first being: Many people in the US do not bow down to Eledumare/God/Olorun/Olodumare. However you wish to name the Creator God, feel free, but there is a very apparent lack of understanding that:

      WE ARE NOT THE CENTER OF THE UNIVERSE, NOR DO WE CONTROL IT.

Of course I am not saying all people within the US present this, but yes, many. I see it over and over. I have come to the conclusion that many people have not been brought up in a home with a religious conviction or teaching, or, they have rejected the Christian model and are looking for all things “African”, yet somehow in their haste to embrace the “African” orisa, they have thrown God out of the equation.

Over the years I have tried to discover the root of this. I believe it is also partially due to not experiencing true lack, want and need. Most people are relatively well off in the US when compared to other nations like Nigeria and Brazil, actually, they are materially much better off. But until one has experienced fear and hunger in their belly, dealing also with day to day realities of perhaps washing clothes in a bucket, battling malaria, hustling to make ends meet and feed one’s self, many in the US don’t seem to see the need to pray to God or think much about God. And then there are the people who read books or articles online that parrot, “The Yoruba do not worship Eledumare”, that there are “no shrines to Eledumare/Olodumare/Olorun” to be found in Yorubaland. This is incorrect, and in no way, shape or form should one think that followers of Ifa do not put Eledumare front and center before all divination, all prayers, all sacrifice, and first thing in prayers of thanks upon waking. There is the English expression of putting “the fear of God” into someone, and there is some truth to that. Life in most places of the world is a tenuous existence, even protecting your life and arriving home safely is not a “given”, so I find that the mindset of people who live in countries with less stability and material comforts – such comforts as one finds in the US – is very cognizant of the place of God in their lives. Also, if it were not for the power of God, we would not be here, Orunmila would not have come as God’s emissary to give the Yoruba and the world the oral Ifa divination corpus, nor would there be orisa. All things come from God, but many people turn to, what is in their minds deemed, “the other God worship”, which is orisa, as if orisa are the “Gods” and the head and source of all, but I will come back to more of that subject later.

So, number one, people seem to believe that they hold the strings to life, that their desires, their wants and needs are paramount, that life revolves around their waking and sleeping, all else be damned, and the idea seems to be that the orisa are to be squeezed and manipulated, to be demanded from. The idea is that (in a very Western material fashion), ” I bought this ota of Oya online in a shop, I paid good money, now Oya is mine and works for me!” Well, that’s an interesting concept, but you do not “buy” otas willy nilly offered for sale with the click of a button online (unless from a charlatan), you do not order your knowledge, understanding and wisdom from an online market, and you do not “control” or “possess” orisa. An online purchased ota for sale outright in a shop (or any other “magical bean” purchased online), no correspondence/divination/sacrifice needed,  has no ase, no power. Unless you are dealing with someone who is qualified, has the authority and true ase, does divination for you, finds you have a reason to pay for something involving Ifa/orisa and it is confirmed by Ifa, unless they make the proper blood sacrifices or any other sacrifices needed, you are being fleeced. And you also do not hand over money to unqualified (or qualified), “Babas and Iyas” whether in person or online, and then demand that you receive exactly what you asked for in your prayers, and most especially if you have no idea what you are doing and what the Ifa/orisa spiritual path is all about, and/or if you are not willing to look at your own fault in your current miseries/predicament. There are many moving parts to this problem: Lack of knowledge-a softer word for ignorance; a lack of respect and humbleness towards God; a lack of respect and humbleness towards authentic spiritual elders; rubbing shoulders and putting faith in people who are not qualified and authentic in Ifa and orisa worship; a completely wrong understanding of what Ifa is, what orisa do and don’t do, can or can’t do, and what the person’s own role and responsibility is in reaching harmony/resolution in their life. Which brings me to the second issue: not understanding Ori.

In the headlong rush to adore, worship, lavish money on orisa in a quest to find peace, power and happiness, many people do not understand that there is ONE orisa who is the KING of all orisa and is to be worshiped first: ORI. So what is ori? Ori is our destiny. Ori is our beacon and guiding light. Ah! So does that mean ori is outside of us? NO. Ori is within us. It is the guiding voice, the higher self, the spark of divinity that has within it the secret to our life and how it should unfold. There is an inner and outer ori. Think of it as two heads: One, the willful negative and “unenlightened” head, meaning us: our daily actions, thoughts, spoken words, the second and true head is our perfect and aligned with God ori/destiny, the one we are meant to pray to, sacrifice to, enrich, follow and merge with. It is an investment and alignment with our true self and path.

There is a type of schizophrenia in the US, in my opinion, where people have become so disjointed and cut off from God and their own ori, their own true self, that they have great difficulty in pulling together the threads of their life or even their thoughts in everyday life. They don’t realize that the key to their happiness lies within themselves. And it is important to understand the order of things. God first. And our ori is not “outside” of us in some kind of planetary orbit of orisa that seems to be circling just out of reach of the people, and that if they buy just “one more tool”, “one more initiation”, “one more sacrifice”, than somehow the orisa and a perfect life will be theirs. No. There is no orisa who can help you more than your own ori. Granted, it helps to be born in a culture and nation where you are aided in that knowledge, and the naming ceremony of a newborn baby (Akosejaye), is done by Ifa priests precisely to find out the odu/path/destiny of that child, make the necessary sacrifices, and point out the positive and negative aspects of their character and destiny, and which orisa are to be appeased throughout life. Ah HAH! Those orisa are the ones I need to appease! Yes, they need to be appeased and worshiped-by qualified and authentic Babalawo and Iyanifa- but if you do not first open your ori, open your head, align with your head, get your sight, follow the steps of proper Ifa initiation and then subsequent possible proper orisa initiation, you will be walking blindly, groping in the dark and burbling in tears in front of a home shrine (one you spent thousands of dollars to acquire, have no authority whatsoever to have, one that contains no “ase” or “authentic tools”),  you will be crying to a Baba, an Iya, and never go from the stage of using training wheels, like learning to ride on a child’s bicycle, to one of mastering your direction in life and riding freely.

ORI is first and foremost, and each morning after giving thanks to Eledumare, one should hold their head in their hands, address their Ori, pray to be made small and humble so one can hear, pray so that your actions, voice, deeds that day will enable and be worthy of supporting  and merging with your true destiny, to bring the inner and outer destiny into alignment. We can behave a certain way that is contrary to our ori, contrary to how we are to behave and conduct our life. Certainly, we are given this information from a (hopefully) trusted and qualified Babalawo at our initiation into Ifa, but what we DO with that information is up to us.  You must humble yourself before God, be willing to do what you know is right and wrong, be striving to become more of a spiritual manifestation of divinity on earth. You can make all the initiations in the world, make all the ebo, etutu you want, spend all the money in your bank account, and it will not bring your good destiny into your hands if you do not align with your ori, do your work, straighten out your character, thoughts, words, actions and deeds.There is a seeming lack of will and fortitude in many people, where their minds race, they have no control over their self-negative chatter, and most importantly, they refuse to bow down, be thankful, make themselves small and go before God as a humble spiritual being, asking to be remade, reformed, asking to change their character into one of lack of ego, lack of violence, lack of negativity towards one’s self or others.

And many people make the mistake of initiation/crowning under an orisa before they have even received Ifa initiation. That is putting the cart before the horse. There are far too many opportunities for people in the US with curiosity about Ifa and orisa worship to be railroaded quickly into initiations, receiving “Warriors”, receiving “beads”. This is not how it is done. You must first have a good base understanding of what you are getting into. In Brazil, we spend years developing inside the ile-Ifa, attending sacrifices, “giras” where the orisa come down, developing as spiritual mediums who can be possessed by orisa and egun, and we bow down to not only the deities, but humble ourselves in love and respect for our Baba or Iya who are sheltering us in their nest! It is only after years of praying, using special preparations and baths, observing, learning, partaking, and developing as physical mediums for the orisa and spirit guides, that we take initiation. NO ONE HANDS YOU YOUR SPIRITUAL KNOWLEDGE-YOU LIVE IT AND EARN IT! 

Somehow the idea of initiation has become like a “diploma mill” in the US, and sometimes in Nigeria, where hungry people are facing American dollars being offered. There will always be someone willing to take your money, unless they are the real deal. There is an order to learning and spiritual growth, and it is just too common to see people being initiated left and right, only to then think they have somehow received the “right” to open up shop, set up their own shrine, buy some cowries or ikin Ifa to divine with, and start playing the game of marketing. It is a very sad reality, very wrong, and makes a mockery of the tradition. It is only the Ifa priesthood who can pave the way for your future initiations into orisa worship (if you want to TRULY follow the authentic IFA root tradition), not the other way around, and don’t even think that because one has received a hand of Ifa, that you are now a fully fledged priest of Ifa!  You must be ready for initiation when Orunmila says you are meant to, and you must trust the mouthpiece. You must make your way to the gateway through your own humble spiritual striving-not because some priest conveniently says you “need” initiation when they have a large bill coming due, and not because you yourself are in a mad quest for “power” or inflation of ego.

I have seen over and over where people have been “crowned” with orisa ahead of Ifa/Orunmila-sometimes in the diaspora, sometimes in Nigeria- and been crowned incorrectly, with very bad consequences for the person’s life. This is what can happen when YOU DO NOT TAKE CARE WITH YOUR ORI. Be very careful who you listen to, allow to initiate you, allow to touch your head and life. ASK YOUR ORI FIRST. Your inner ori knows many things which your busy and under-developed outer “you” does not know! It is the small voice inside, the pit in the stomach, the hunch, the inner self that knows right from wrong, good from bad. The trick is to listen, pay attention, bolster your ori, align with your ori, call on your ori to guide you. Do not entertain negative thoughts/self hatred of your life or of others lives. Do not speak negative things/self hatred of your life or others lives. You must keep your mind together and strong-not divided. You can ruin and destroy your own life much better than any enemy can, and the power is all there in your ori to guide and bless you.

There are plenty of people looking to make money off the ignorant and star struck: those who are more than willing to enter orisa worship without understanding that the doorway is the IGBODU OF IFA. You enter through Ifa initiation, whether as a baby or as an adult, but the correct order is Ifa first, learn your orisa influences, and then seek out orisa initiation. To not do so is possibly courting disaster. This is not to take away from the priests and priestesses in the diaspora who have no true knowledge of Ifa, but who have carried on as their ancestors did solely within orisa worship and that of eguns; the ones who are truly gifted and capable of divining and seeing what is what. But the truth is the truth, and the diaspora traditions that use any Yoruba orisa name-their origin is IFA. Think about that. And choose wisely where to put your trust in Ifa priests and priestesses in the US, or anywhere.

So, we have a lack of acknowledgement/reverence/respect towards God. We have a lack of knowledge of Ori. We have a lack of respect towards true spiritual elders. We have multiples of websites, foundations, organizations, ile Ifa, centros, botanicas, tiendas, Ifa Babas and Iyas, all kinds of New Age diviners, half breeds and cross pollination people claiming – with NO authority or standing in Ifa – that they can “infuse” a statue/ota/shell/etc., etc., etc., bought online, with ase/sacred energy for the client to “invoke” orisa or egun, simply by “bathing” it with certain herbs etc.,. Rubbish.

If one is not dealing with a fully initiated priest or priestess from a country where the root religion is practiced or at least with having spent years in learning with correct authentic elders from those countries, in good standing, with sound mind and motives, a seeking person is courting danger, courting a fleecing of the pocket, and worse.

There are some simple items which can be purchased online without consulting and working with a true Babalawo or Iyanifa, as long as they are not meant to represent authentic initiation into or the ability to “invoke” or “use” an orisa or spirit guide. A true representative of Ifa will guide you, help you understand how you can (and need), to help yourself, will make your needed sacrifices along the way until it (possibly) is divined that you need to enter the Igbodu or be initiated under an orisa for any reason (and not everyone is called to be initiated), but, they will not do the work that you and only you are meant to do: with your own head and prayers, your own hands, your own two legs.

What I see all too often as the motivation for seeking out Ifa/orisa is a hunger for power or a fascination with something “new”, “ethnic”, “different”. A hunger for money and material things. A hunger for puffing up of the ego, with no respect for the tradition, no respect for the true elders of the tradition, no practice or even knowledge of authentic tradition, no willingness to make ones self small and pay the dues one must pay in order to learn what orisa is, what Ifa is, or even the role of spirit guides. And it is simply amazing to me what many people in the US are marketing and getting rich off of-meeting these power hungry needs- when they themselves have no authentic knowledge, are basically charlatans, and they get away with it because the majority of people here are simply ignorant of the facts.

There is the need for the quick fix, and people in the US have the power and custom of acquisition of goods to “better” their life-instantly. They treat spiritual issues the same way. They believe with a click of the mouse and a credit card that they can avail themselves of the world of orisa, of Ifa, or whichever tradition is being marketed. On the one hand, it is not their fault, not knowing any better, but again, you must treat your precious life as gold, it is your future, your destiny, your money that you are entrusting and putting into the hands of others. And frankly, many people have no business getting involved with the Ifa tradition nor the offshoots in the diaspora. Whether it is because they enter for all the wrong reasons, or they enter and have come away bitter, spiritually broken, financially drained, some even raped, taken advantage of, and it is suffered at the hands of unscrupulous supposed Ifa and orisa “elders”  and “leaders” who will market even their own mother if it means making a dollar. USE YOUR HEAD IN DISCERNING WHAT YOU ARE SEEING WITH YOUR EYES AND HEARING WITH YOUR EARS.

I have said it before in other places and will say it again here: Do not hand over your money to people simply because they have a “title”, have a following, have charisma, have a large “foundation”. Run, and don’t look back, if a so-called “priest” says that you must give sexual favors to them. Run, if they divine and say,”Ifa says, Orisa says” that you must do something which will cut into your savings, deeply, beyond comfort, that you must do a work which will harm another or yourself, that in any way will reduce you or put you in a position of lack or possible bodily harm,  or if they demand that you stay up all hours of the night in “rituals” (outside of an authentic Ifa initiation which takes several days, with authentic and trusted Babalawo and Iyanifa). And conversely, don’t seek out Ifa/orisa if you are not willing to HUMBLE YOURSELF DOWN IN FRONT OF GOD, ESU, THE IRUNMOLE/ORISA AND YOUR ELDERS!

And now we come to orisa. The trend in the US seems to be that either the person becomes a slave to orisa (over-ritualized and long ceremonies with no basis in Ifa or true orisa root tradition, $$$$$$ needed for unneeded offerings/rituals, clothing, implements that have no purpose or reason in true Ifa etc., etc.,) or, that some people view orisa as nothing more than Gods to be manipulated, whined at, cried to, demanded from, exactly when they need them and how they need them, for whatever whim they have on earth. Which brings us back to the point of no respect for God, no respect for Ori, no respect for the tradition, and no understanding of the spiritual nature required of us to fulfill our part of the bargain.

The orisa are not a vending machine; they are not some kind of cosmic ATM machine where one can withdraw material goods and needs at will and as one pleases. The orisa are not meant to be “sent” to “destroy” people just because one doesn’t “like them”. The worst, most petty and ugliest nature inside humans comes out when the issue is power- how they can get it, how they can keep it and how they can use it for their own gain and against others. And jealousy of those who have true power, jealousy of those who are doing their work and progressing, jealousy and simple lack of good character is exhibited by many people who yearn to “control” orisa, “command” a shrine, yet they cannot even take the first step and stand naked and transparent before God and admit their bad character and being, in order to grow in spiritual understanding.

The orisa deities are not “Gods” in the sense of the Creator God Eledumare, though they are frequently called that. And this is where people who are not familiar with the Yoruba spiritual cosmology can go astray thinking that the orisa are the end all and be all, little gods in their own right. No. Orisa are under God. And for every good side and trait of orisa there is a corresponding negative, and as human beings we are meant to look within and see how best we can align ourselves with the positive traits, be calling the positive into our lives, with sound reasons and motives, and heeding the examples of the negative traits shown by the odu verses narrating the lives of orisa, and avoiding those. Orisa is not going to hold you up as you whine and puff about your horrible life (when it has come partially or fully through your own hand), though they do support at times when one is completely spent and weak (but transparent, honest and willing), but I am talking of taking responsibility for ones life. You can make ebo after ebo to orisa, but if you continue to do things which are against your birth odu taboos, or simply just full of  bad character, you will not get far in life nor in your understanding of life. You will not reach the cherished and lofty goal of becoming a revered ancestor; an example that your children and children’s children would be proud of. If you cheat others, lie, steal, back stab, gossip, speak negatively to yourself or others, create trouble, break both spiritual and man’s laws, you can make all the ebo you want to try and “fix” things, but your character and bad actions will catch up to you, and you have missed the point entirely of being involved in the tradition. It is not about power, not about acquiring wealth at all costs, not about rising up above others in a peacock fashion, not about getting the money for a new car simply because you want it-not that you need it. You do your work. You go within, you humble down. You work with your ori, with your thoughts, actions, you wake up and pray, you make your offerings and prayers to orisa that they become your right hand in all you do. You ask that while you move your legs down the path, that they make sure to keep those legs in the correct stride and on the right path. When you are moving forward with Eledumare above, your inner and outer ori working in tandem, Esu below Eledumare, Ifa as the guiding eyes, and orisa as the energies which can each assist in bringing us what we specifically truly need, AND is part of our destiny, then we are right with Heaven and Earth.

Sometimes what one “needs” is to face difficulty, take a good look at it, experience it, look within, summon our inner strength and innate guidance, and GO TO WORK ON THE PROBLEM! Perhaps divination and an ebo is needed, as that is part of the functioning tradition, but one does not sit back, reluctantly put money down for the Baba or Iya to perform a “miracle” through Ifa (though we can and do), and then expect that everything is going to be blue skies, milk and honey, while one continues down the same incorrect path, not heeding the words of Ifa, not heeding the advice of the Babas and Iyas, not changing one’s own rotten, selfish, puffed up egotistical self centered importance, one’s stubborn and ignorant ways of carrying on as a little human god.

We do not sit back and wait for orisa to help us as if we are helpless spoiled infants. No! We are spiritual beings, we are meant to grow and learn in life. Each hardship creates an opportunity to overcome, learn and attain wisdom. With time and adjustments to our character and habits, we become stable, enlightened, life’s trials are seen for what they are-temporary roadblocks that can be removed or avoided and gone around. Once we understand our true position in the order of the spiritual universe, we enter the stream of life and consciousness where happiness comes, peace comes, even in the midst of temporary trouble. We become more and more like orisa in action, and that is the puzzle and riddle of Ifa.

© 2016 by Farin da Silva, All Rights Reserved. Pursuant to the Copyright Act of 1976 and subsequent amendments, codified as 17 U.S.C. §§ 101-810, the works contained within are protected by United States laws and by international treaties. This includes the literary and pictorial works created by Farin da Silva contained herein, as well as any other original works of authorship fixed in any tangible medium of expression. The unauthorized copying, distributing, displaying, or production of derivative works is strictly prohibited by Farin da Silva. Copyright infringement may subject you to civil liability of a minimum of $750 per infringement for statutory damages, as well as the costs incurred to enforce these rights. 17 U.S.C. § 504. A court may award up to $150,000 per infringement. This copyright holder takes copyright infringement seriously and does enforce their rights.

 

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