Students Of Traditional Ifa
“I’ve observed in my travels how people, regardless of color, get involved in causes, become activists and leaders – and use their activism as a means to work out their inner pathology. Or better still: they use their work to escape having to deal with their pathology, their dis-ease. These unconscious people are oppressors of the very people they claim to love, because they refuse to look at the affect of their blind assertions and activity. They wrap themselves in kente cloth and animal hides, while behaving like the Great White Hunter.” – thefreeslave
The spirituality of Ifa as traditionally practiced by a large number of devotees follows its own structure of domination, control, and hierarchy among people who have and people who have not. As I was instructed to practice the tradition, people who have seniority and/or people who have more impressive titles in this supposedly spiritual tradition will have control over their juniors and/or people with less impressive titles. This type of leadership is based on an artificial construct that has little to do with a person’s ability to actually lead others in the community. Leadership qualities such as integrity, humility, spiritual honesty, and an honest consideration for the welfare of the community are tossed out the window in favor of such superficial characteristics such as priestly titles or position of influence or something as insignificant as the date that they happened to have been initiated.
Consequently, in order for many people in Ifa to get ahead they must win the favor of the people at the top of the traditional Ifa hierarchy. Too many people put emphasis on obtaining things that have little or absolutely nothing to do with spirituality. Emphasis is spent on learning how to recite elaborate prayers and conduct complex rituals that are primarily designed to impress other people in the community. Too often my experience has been that people think they will show the people at the top their talent and they’ll be rewarded with a chief title or a priestly position or something else that indicates status. Therefore, people spend more time dancing and singing and stroking other people’s egos than they do learning to communicate with Orisa and ancestors in meditation. As far as titles go they can be bought on the spiritual market. Just find a priest that has learned how to perform the right ritual on your behalf and make the required payment. There may have to be some prerequisites performed. Nobody is going to become the Ifa king of their community without first going through some kind of Orisa initiation. But make the required steps and you too can become a king of Ifa.
The spirituality of Ifa is encumbered with a number of people who have allowed themselves to be manipulated to follow the mandates set forth to assure strict adherence to tradition and order. The very survival of Ifa as many of us have been taught to recognize it would be at stake if we deviated from the traditional way of doing things. But rarely does anybody ever asks the question why does Ifa require such stagnation? Don’t get me wrong. I think our African ancestors did a magnificent job of working with Orisa and their ancestors to develop the foundation of this spiritual practice. But Ifa needs to continue to develop and grow with our culture. We now have technologies and processes that our ancestors never dreamed of. Why are we limiting ourselves to processes and procedures that are rooted in a far away time in a world much different than the one we know?
Because too many people spend too much time trying to develop superficial spirituality in order to maintain tradition, not enough people are developing spirituality with integrity and personal meaning. Our leaders are people who have learned to prove their mettle with superficial demonstrations of spirituality. Too many Ifa leaders mistake strength for hardness and indifference for others in the community as a focus on the big picture or for what leadership deems as truly important. But leadership requires vulnerability. Leadership of a community requires an example of what it means to be in a community. To be a rigid and uncaring leader may well lead to having that lack of compassion reciprocated when the leader finds him or herself no longer in the lead. As the saying goes the same people you meet on the way up will be the very same people you meet on the way down.
Ifa is supposed to be a community of conscious individuals. These people are supposed to be aware of what is happening in their community, in their immediate surroundings, the world, and aware of their place in the cosmos. But unfortunately, the way most people practice Ifa they are anything but conscious. Ifa is full of unconscious people who become the oppressors of the very people they claim to love, because they refuse to look at the affect of their blind assertions and activity. Priest, kings, chiefs, or whatever title you may wish to invoke, wrap themselves in kente cloth and animal hides, while behaving exactly like subjugators. The tight control of devotees is justified as tradition. But whose tradition are we following, the one rooted in spirituality where people live in harmony with each other and nature or the tradition of a people who make it a point to contain and restrain others?
The love of Ifa does not imbue anyone with the right to rule over others. In fact, the true meaning of an Ifa fueled spirituality would prevent us from seeking the status and hierarchy that would lead us to act so selfishly. The pursuit of status or wealth or favor or tradition is a big mistake for a community that wishes to grow together and prosper and hone its spirituality. Materialism and status run contrary to spirituality. A lot of people who have been initiated have surrendered to their addiction for status and importance in the community. But leadership isn’t about being served or admired. Not everyone in the community can reach such plateaus of significance in the traditional structure of things. And the jockeying for importance in the hierarchal ladder will very well pit people against each other just as they may need to come and work together. The true spirituality of Ifa would teach us better.