Recently I received a question asking what my lineage in Yorubaland was. Although I had assumed that eventually someone would ask for my credentials, I was nevertheless taken aback by the question. When I was with my former ile my godmother spent a great deal of time teaching of the importance of status and heritage in the Yoruba community. She would talk at length of the significance placed on our priestly lineage and how important it was for us to learn and memorize it. Like any good student of Ifa I spent a number of hours studying and memorizing the list of people who were initiated before me. Every morning I had about forty or fifty priest to recite as ancestors and another dozen or so to recite as elders.
But one day I woke up and realized that I had no idea of who these people were and I had no idea of why I was calling these people’s name other than the fact that the senior initiates in the ile I attended told me to do so. As I began to develop spiritual clarity I began to see what I was being taught as tradition for what it truly was. The traditional practice of Ifa is stuck on credentials, status, lineage, and ritual. Every now and then we learn about Orisa, ancestors, and the true value of community. Consequently, way too many people put too much emphasis on lineage and such nonsense if they devote any attention to these subjects.
The question posed to me came with no introduction, no reference to a point of mutual interest, nothing to inspire a dialogue other than the very direct question regarding my lineage. I replied with several direct questions of my own. Why does this matter? Who are you? Where are you? What is your lineage? I probably need to relax. But I felt and feel strongly that questions of heritage from strangers are to be suspect.
The more traditional version of Ifa teaches that the people who were initiated before us are directly responsible for our spiritual legitimacy. It’s not too different from someone thinking that the children of Dr. Martin Luther King Jr. are more spiritual and community minded than anyone else simply because they have the benefit of having a father who was community oriented. If I have a great priest in my lineage then I will enjoy some status from my association.
But the fact of the matter is that the truth someone speaks on behalf of the Orisas and the ancestors, combined with the integrity not to embellish the word of Ifa for personal benefit, is its own legitimacy. While people can quickly verify the authenticity of a lineage list, words attributed to divine or spiritual inspiration can be a little trickier to authenticate, especially when we are confronted with a truth that is contrary to traditional thinking, or may require the surrender of personal benefits, or even worse, requires personal sacrifice.
But the point isn’t for me to rely on my lineage for a reputation. My reputation isn’t even close to being the issue at all. The issue is for the students of Ifa and children of Orisa who are conscious and who are capable of discerning the truth, who operate with a modicum of integrity, to step up to the plate and spread truth. Adhering to traditions simply because that’s the way we have been taught is no longer acceptable. The conscientious children of Orisa must reintroduce the concepts of spirituality, community, and awareness that have been mutated over generations into a mere shadow of itself.
My lineage is very important to me. It is part of who I am. I appreciate the sacrifice and commitment of all the initiates who have come before me. If you would like to get to know who I am and learn my history as part of who I am then that’s cool and consider yourself welcome. But if my pedigree is supposed to authenticate what I am saying then I would respectfully ask that you not waste your time or mine.
The perpetual quest for balance is a beautiful fact of nature. No offense, but not even the best blind quadriplegic juggling tight-rope walker could hope to match nature’s juggling act if even for an instant. On this planet, nature has produced an ecological system that can perpetually sustain a wide variety of plant and animal life. If our very limited perspective of the planets and moons within our solar system and the other heavenly bodies in our galaxy is any indication Earth is a remarkable achievement of balance.
Although balance does not necessarily mean consistent, we experience day and night, hot and cold, water and land, rain and sun, and a number of other things within a relatively tight range of variance. There are virtually an unlimited number of factors and variables for each and every component of nature’s formula.
Within this ecosystem, and without exception, nothing natural is allowed to work out of balance with respect to its environment. While a forest fire may look like nature is out of balance, at least temporarily, it has been determined that the forest fire is actually a very natural and vital piece of the forest’s natural cycle. While obviously destructive, the fire gives the forest an opportunity to reset and rejuvenate. Anything that may have been out of synch with its surroundings has been destroyed and given a new opportunity to stake out its piece of the ecological landscape. While we may see the charred, blackened results of a forest fire as disparaging, it is vital for keeping the forest healthy and in balance.
Our African and Native American ancestors knew that the key to life was balance. They lived in harmony with their environment. Significant inequalities were not allowed to exist within the community. Our ancestors knew that a strong and healthy community was only as strong as its individual members. Any significant weaknesses in the community threatened the survival of the whole. Everything and everyone were kept in balance with each other, with the environment, and with nature.
Unfortunately, there is little in the development of the western culture that allows people to live in balance with our environment or with each other. As the model of a culture run amok the United States consist of nothing if not imbalance. By far the richest country in the world people in the United States enjoy the highest standard of living ever dreamed while others suffer the nightmare of some of the worst poverty on the planet. With the significant imbalances in our economic system come significant imbalances in other systems such as education, housing, justice, employment, medical care, government representation, or whatever you may wish to consider.
What is sad is the fact that the United States spends more money on maintaining these woefully inequitable systems than other countries spend for theirs with far more superior results. Countries like Venezuela and Cuba have made commitments to universal healthcare for all of its citizens and they spend a tiny fraction of the money the United States spend. In America many enjoy medical coverage as a benefit of their employment. But for too many people are living without adequate medical coverage. And the numbers continue to grow each and every year as more and more companies seek to improve their profitability by minimizing or even eliminating their healthcare cost through various means. The imbalance in our healthcare continues to grow.
Chief executive officers in American conglomerates have some seriously steep pay salaries. It is nothing to hear the head of a multinational is being paid an eleven figure a year salary while they run their company into the ground and layoff hourly workers by the thousands. According to a labor study conducted by the AFL-CIO, in the United States the ratio between executive pay and hourly pay was about $42 to $1 in the year 1980. In 1990 the ratio had swelled to $85 to $1. In the year 2000 the number had increased to $531 to $1. By comparison, the average ratio for an executive to labor payout in countries like Japan and Germany is more like $20 to $1. The imbalance in financial systems continues to grow.
Today it has become natural for the haves and the have nots to mutually exist. While one continues to thrive in comfort the other continues to thrive in numbers. Like a cancer the inequalities of western culture will continue to grow. And like a cancer the inequalities of a social system running out of control will eventually effect and pervert other social system that appear to be in healthy balance. And like a cancer inequalities must be aggressively attacked in order to restore balance. Unfortunately it may be far too late for balance to return to western culture. Nothing short of a cataclysm on the scale of the forest fire may restore our equilibrium.
Without an equivalent of the forest fire to completely destroy the current arrangement the inequalities of our social systems will continue to grow. History backs this supposition. When people were starving in France while they king ate cake the French revolution became a fire that swept over the country and caused change. When the inequalities of corruption were rampant in Cuba the fire of the 26th of July Movement swept through the country and made change. Who knows what degree of utopia would have been the result if the United States had not enacted an embargo around the island country to exact some fiscal revenge. Japan suffered serious change at the end of World War II. The United States made sure Japan enacted change that benefited the entire Japanese people. Germany and the rest of Europe went through change in the World War II.
Change came for it could not be stopped. Change will come, it cannot be stopped. The perpetual existence of imbalance cannot be tolerated. Nature demands harmony.