I work on this website in my spare time, which is not much, and though the “About” page is always important, I have felt that what I am living, trying to achieve in life, is so broad and far reaching it cannot easily be put into words so have not written much here until now. What is important is to voice concerns here, and most importantly, concerns over what is happening in the diaspora in relation to the Ifa religious tradition. I am keenly aware of what is happening inside the various Yoruba based orisa traditions (such as Candomble, Santeria, Umbanda, Ifa etc.,) due to my residence in three Nations: Brasil, USA and Nigeria. With that comes a vision and understanding of people, place and time.
Increasingly, my thoughts are that it is time for the diaspora worshipers of orisa to ibale, to put their collective head on the ground to honor and respect the Mother Land, the Homeland of Ifa and the Orisa, the Yoruba Odua Nation in what is geographically known as modern day Nigeria in West Africa. Although I am the first to say do not throw the baby out with the bath water, I have lived through spiritual transformations and “sheddings”, coming from the “Xango” tradition in Brasil, and guided on by orisa and my ori to the Ifa tradition in Nigeria, Yorubaland. There are so many jumbled inconsistencies and outright nonsensical beliefs in both Brasil and the USA inside various offshoots of the Mother root tradition, that I simply call them “fairy tales”, now that I have been educated by Esu, the irunmole and my elders in Nigeria.
While I understand the love and sense of community and unity the diaspora traditions bring to their people-the glue that holds many communities together-I believe the time has come to put an end to inconsistencies, ignorance, and practices that have been accepted in the diaspora as gospel truth. The true message and worship of Ifa and the orisa has been diluted, mixed, and we are now in a strange period where the Old World and Mother Land that holds the true root practice, is having to compete with all the half-truths and inconsistencies that survived in the New World diaspora religious traditions, along with multiplying inaccuracies being disseminated there as to what is, and is not, the Ifa tradition.
While I give thanks to my spiritual upbringing, my Mae de Santo and her guidance, my elders and spirit guides, I have basically thrown out the jumbled nonsense, kept what is truth and does work, and have moved into the very refreshingly simple, unfussy and strictly traditional Ifa system. The hard line basics are that if you only have water and dirt to make an offering, along with a sincere heart and desire in prayer, you will be heard and your offering accepted.
Certain groups in the diaspora will make you believe that you must follow a very strict and rigid dogma; that women are excluded from most positions of power, that women cannot participate because of menstruation, that people who have sex are unclean for days and cannot handle ritual implements, do worship or many other things. All of this is untrue with just a few exceptions. The beauty of Ifa is that it streamlines your life and makes worshiping orisa and taking care of your ikin Ifa, your prayers etc., very easy, simple and accessible to everyone-man, woman and child. Spiritual practices were never meant to exclude or to be so top heavy and burdensome that only a celibate male priest could perform the duties of worship. They are not designed to make one go broke, interfere with one’s working day or interfere with a happy, normal sexual relationship with a partner!
We have come far enough along in time for people in the diaspora to start waking up to the fact that the root practice of all orisa worship in the diaspora comes from under the umbrella of Ifa in Yorubaland of Nigeria. Worshiping orisa is not about paying thousands upon thousands of dollars for initiations and using meters and meters of shiny cloth to sew up fantasy costumes for the orisa. It is not about lighting 7 red candles and 7 black candles on a certain day at a certain hour. I will be the first to say that if you are getting results doing work for others in the tradition you were raised in, than by all means, continue to do your work if it is work done for the BENEFIT of man. But too much of what I see in the diaspora is outright charlatanism, or, work done by a handful who actually do have some kind of power but use it for dark works to hurt others.
My work brings me many clients from many backgrounds, and I am at times shocked at what has befallen some at the hands of “Padrinhos”, “Paleiros”, “Pais”, “Ifa Babas”, any number of assorted individuals, both organized and unorganized, who have taken the client’s money and left them with unresolved problems and bitterness, spiritual agony, emotional, spiritual and even physical scars, and sometimes even taken their whole life’s savings.
There are several established Ifa foundations and organizations in the USA that are not much more than money mills churning out Western style Ifa tools, initiations and ebos, marketed with business modeled websites and marketing campaigns. I know, because the majority of people who come to me is after they have have passed through these organizations, disillusioned and thousands of dollars later. I am left to pick up the pieces, shine light, get their hands placed firmly on their own ori in prayer, and hand them back the real tools which they always had inside themselves before they handed over their money in exchange for a concrete head of Esu with cowries stuck in it bought off a website market ad, or some other worthless “tool” prepared with no true knowledge, right or power to do so.
While I am sure there are many people who believe they are receiving help, what bothers me is that these organizations are not offering true Ifa ritual and practice and they have adapted things to the point there is absolutely no Ase being transferred, no true work being done and it is strictly about the money. This is being done by so-called Ifa priests, other diaspora priests and priestesses who are only giving ALL the Yoruba root traditions a bad name. They may or may not operate under the name of Ifa, or Candomble, Santeria, Lucumi etc. It is also being done by some Nigerian Babalawos who know they can go the USA (or host initiates in their compounds) and use their knowledge to take people’s money, sexually abuse women and basically have their way, all in the name of Ifa. It is done also by people who know better but who feel pressured by the Western-Mind-Clients who are accustomed to things being done the “diaspora way”, who have a need for fluff items and excessive ritual and drama (learned through diaspora worship and “elders”), and it can be very difficult to try and convince someone that “Yes! This is really all that is needed”, when the client insists on “more”. People in positions of power can easily hand clients what the client thinks they “need” (due to ignorance and the need to grasp at “magical tools”), in return for money, with the justification that it is simply what the client seems to want. But most times the client is not properly prepared for this tool, or the tool really has no use or power and is a diaspora invention, or they have simply not made the proper ebos or initiations or been given the understanding of the path they are on (or should be on), and how to walk it.
There is a point where a line has to be drawn over how much to adapt to Western ways. Substituting a type of banana for an offering to Osun is one thing; hijacking a complete life-changing ritual such as Ifa initiation is another. It is time for people to stop this and be held accountable. It is time for all of the diaspora to understand that if they are worshiping Yoruba orisa, than they need to dial it back and return to the source to pay respect, be re-educated, transform and evolve. Sadly, I have even had clients who after making proper ebo, have received authentic tools straight from the Mother Land, straight from the hands of Yoruba Babalawo (who can recite their family oriki back for generation upon generation), and then angrily claim that what they received was not “correct” only because some “Padrinho” looked at the item for them and declared it “wrong”. It is a sad day when the true holders of the Ifa tradition from the Old World can deliver what is authentic to someone in the New World, and have it be rejected because of what some diaspora “priest” has declared. It is a very sad predicament for anyone who is truly searching for truth, or for all of us who work in authentic Isese, to deal with.
The easiest way to dilute and kill off a true authentic tradition is if enough people who think they know about that tradition start spreading disinformation (unknowingly and out of ignorance). If enough people say the sky is green, write that the sky is green, teach that the sky is green, why, the sky is green! There are not enough true voices of Ifa coming out of Nigeria to counter the non-stop 24-7 chatter of Western iphones, laptops, blog posts and websites sprouting up like mushrooms and the MBA marketers who love orisa and know how to sell them.
The true men and women of Ifa are out in the bush and in the shrines doing the work. Most Babalawo in Nigeria have a very rudimentary level of English, no computer skills or have ever even touched one. Electricity in Nigeria is as good as non-existent for most people, especially without a generator, and 99.9% of the Ifa people in Nigeria have no clue what is happening to their PURE, untouched spiritual tradition in the outside Western world.
This is not a religious tradition that has circled the globe for thousands of years. It is still relatively pure and unbroken from the past-and it is in danger-so much so that UNESCO put the Ifa divination system on its endangered Intangible Cultural Heritage treasures of the world list for protection and funding programs. This is what is happening now with Ifa. People are loving it to death with the repeated blogs and posts which grow exponentially each time the cut and paste authors publish again. They do not know what they are talking about and have no authority to be teaching Ifa to the world. There are blogs, books and posts on “how to throw cowries”, how to this, how to that. You do not learn to throw cowries from a book or blog post! You do not learn to make ebo from a book or blog post! You must DO YOUR WORK and enter a religious community, put your head on the ground and start from the bottom, develop spiritually, and do your initiations before you can even come close to thinking of having the right to throw cowries or make ebo, let alone have the gift of vision and hearing necessary to divine! Diviners and healers are BORN with this power! You do not acquire it through book learning or even initiation! We have a saying in brasil: “Quem tem, tem; quem nao tem, quer”, meaning “Who has it, has it; who does not have it, wants it”, and “it” is Vision, Divine Understanding, Power and ASE.
Many Westerners believe they are owed just about everything and that they are the center of the Universe, that somehow they are special, and that spiritual traditions and the long years of growth and development involved in those traditions do not apply to them. They want everything NOW-including power and wisdom. If they have no patience and no destiny with such, than they simply order $100.00 dollars worth of books off of Amazon and then try to teach themselves ebo, buy some cowries or ikin and then proceed to set up shop throwing and divining for others. Or they spend thousands upon thousands of dollars for initiations from questionable leaders with questionable motives.
The problem is that the religious traditions have evolved into a moneymaking lifestyle which forgets that people must get on with the daily business of living out their destiny and true path in life. Ifa is about setting our feet firmly on our life path and giving us the good things of life: health, long life, money, children, happiness, love, meaningful work. The means seems to have become the end in the diaspora, when it should be the other way around. The spiritual practices are meant to be the water that frees up the sticky parts of life; that unblocks the impediments to happiness. It is not meant to become rote ritual that must be followed to the letter-or else-and become the focus in life. Life is meant to be lived, freely, not to become a slave to exaggerated spiritual rituals and practices, nor drain your savings and make you lose your house because you are paying exaggerated fees for initiations and offerings deemed necessary. “Western Mind” is a sickness that afflicts many; it does not matter the color of the skin. It can be very hard for people to break free of it, to see things in a new light, outside of the limitations of their social, cultural and national boundaries or prejudices.
Seek out a mentor and teacher with caution, just as you would a medical doctor for a serious illness. Don’t be taken by someone who promises you the world without alerting you that you must work on your Self, must take a cold hard look at your strengths and weaknesses, your own responsibility in your life failures. Understand that this path can be difficult-spiritual seekers are always tested-and there are pathways to the left and right. Along with charlatans there is the chance of finding people who truly do have power but who have no morals or character and no qualms about using that power against you to clean out your pocket and keep you coming back for more. Sadly, these things can and do happen. If a “Baba, Pai, Iya, Mae”, or any figure of authority asks you to do something you are not comfortable with, if they raise their voice for no reason with you (and you know deep inside if you deserve a tongue lashing), if they keep you awake for long hours and keep you and others from sleeping (unless it is an initiation), if they hint or say that sexual favors or a “spiritual marriage” are “needed”, LEAVE. If you are feeling something is not quite as it should be, your ori is trying to tell you that these people are not true spiritual elders. It is better to remove yourself gracefully, thank them, and go on your way.
My one true wish is for everyone to live in peace, to find ways to grow and evolve working together towards a better present and future for all. I don’t claim to have all the answers, and I don’t claim that all diaspora traditions are worthless or useless. If so, I would be pointing the finger at myself also, as I use parts of my brasilian tradition to help others. What I believe needs to happen is that anyone who says they worship and follow orisa, must seek the source of the sweet water and drink from it. Education, contemplation, and an understanding of how the religious traditions transformed over the centuries is needed so we can look ahead to a better and more united future as elesin ibile, as traditional believers. Though some people will assuredly be annoyed and angered by what I have written here, it is simply the truth and they know it, and as I am fond of saying: “The truth, like water, cannot be held back”. May Olodumare, Ifa and all the orisa guide us perfectly into a better understanding of how to Serve both God and our Fellow Brothers and Sisters here on earth, Ase Ase ase O!