Anyone who claims to be a follower of the doctrines of Ifa should already know that heaven as defined by any other theology doesn’t exist, at least not for us. Heaven isn’t a realm of clouds where the inhabitants wear gossamer wings and ancient Greek styled costumes while playing harps of gold. For this discussion, and most Ifa practitioners, heaven is merely our existence after our death.
However, many Orisa worshippers who have migrated from other belief systems would be happy to transfer the concepts learned in other spiritual teachings to Ifa. I know from personal experience that it can be difficult to undo notions that are deeply entrenched into the psyche. Depending on how deeply previous concepts were taken to heart in the first place they can interfere with new teachings like a bad virus.
Case in point is the belief that we will be, or we are being, judged by a supreme being or supreme beings for the correctness of our lives. For most Christians it’s an all or nothing proposition. People who don’t necessarily live by someone else’s ideal of the golden rules are supposedly condemned to spend their ethereal existence in some form of damnation. However, hell itself is a foreign concept to Ifa. Our supreme being isn’t in the soul creating business to condemn people to eternal damnation. Our supreme being has a plan that requires all of us to advance to the next plane of existence free of the burden of pain and suffering. So if we are to be punished or rewarded when we past on how will it happen and who will dispense it?
I grew up oscillating between dad’s Pentecostal and mom’s Presbyterian faiths. Regardless of which one I was relegated to at any given time I can say that I grew up knee deep in some form of Christianity for the greater part of my life. Although I was always somewhat of a skeptic in Sunday school and asked plenty of questions that baffled my spiritual teachers, I was a fiercely devoted Christian and I always did my damnedest to apply the teachings to my life.
When I finally started my transition to Ifa I brought a lot of my Christian baggage with me. My spiritual past made me a prime candidate for manipulation. I actually believed that if I didn’t do what was necessary I would be punished. In my early days as an Orisa worshipper I was told that Sango, Yemonja, Obatala, Osun, etc., was dangerously upset with me and it was in my best interest to pay for an ebo to be performed as soon as it was possible. I thought my heart was in the right place. But, I was so stupid and being used so severely Orisas and ancestors had to manifest in order to put right what was wrong.
Life isn’t about doing right or wrong so we can be rewarded or punished. The Supreme Being isn’t, or Supreme Beings aren’t, as cruel and heartless as to create this world so harsh, leave us to our own devices, and then judge us for our failings when we die so we can spend all eternity burning in a river of fire. What in the world would have been the point? To show us mortals that he/they can do as he/they wishes? What would be the challenge to the all powerful(s)?
One of my skepticisms as a Christian has always been, “What’s the point?” Why in the world would I be created only to spend the rest of eternity burning in a lake of fire for my all too human indiscretions? No matter how my teachers packaged their presentations, my perception was that the foundation of Christianity was flawed and therefore could not be what is intended by the Christian God.
When I was introduced to Ifa it made sense to me. The overall feeling was that this was where I belonged. Unfortunately I was a middle aged adult without some very basic understandings of who the Orisa were or what an ile was. I made the decision to be a devoted Orisa worshipper and to learn as much as possible as quickly as possible. In many respects, the ile I joined was the perfect environment for someone to learn Ifa. But like me, many people in the ile brought their considerable, personal spiritual and social baggage with them.
I began to learn that in many respects, the Orisas of Ifa were no different than the God of Christianity. The interpretation of Orisas being taught through the tradition as explained by my ile was seriously flawed. Orisas had the same petty issues and insecurities of people. If someone turned their back to an Orisa pot within six feet of the shrine it was disrespectful and there would be hell to pay. If someone entered a room with an Orisa pot without bowing and touching the ground an ebo would have to be performed. The pettiness of the Orisas would rival the most narcissistic behavior of the campiest super criminal from any Batman episode.
But Orisas are anything but petty. These manifestations of nature are never quick to anger because they didn’t get they’re pomp and circumstance. An Orisa’s worth isn’t measured by the number of people who bow or salute their shrine. If anything they are the model of humility. So how would these epitomes of humility respond to us when we transition?
Instead of the wrath and pain that a lot of us fear I imagined it would be more like the parent welcoming a child back home that’s been away for a long time. Many people would look for the gaudy materialism that we’ve been programmed to admire. But, I don’t imagine any streets of gold. I don’t imagine any gold or streets at all. No pearly gates and no gossamer wings. Manifestations of nature probably live in a totally natural state. I can imagine a natural environment that would put to shame Yosemite National Park, the Grand Canyon, the Himalayas, and all the other natural wonders here on earth rolled into one. Leave your pomp and your circumstance with the bag of flesh that used to be your body.
So what is the reward or punishment for the way we live or lives? I don’t know. I think that’s a question for the people who claim we have to be judged? Personally I don’t think there’s a man/woman alive that can pass all the tenets of any established belief system throughout their lives. Everyone has indiscretions, faults, and weaknesses. But, one of the things that I learned as a Christian was that the Supreme Being was capable of love and compassion beyond my comprehension. This is one piece of baggage I’m more than happy to bring with me to Ifa.