Getting Back To Traditional Ifa
Recently I was admonished by an Ifa devotee for suggesting a break from the so-called traditional interpretation of Ifa doctrine that requires the majority of people to give their spiritual guides or teachers full control of their spiritual development. The traditional interpretation of Ifa does not encourage everyone to learn the techniques necessary to develop the inner calm to communicate with our individual personal spiritual universe. Traditional Ifa keeps people dependent on their babalawos and iyanifas and every other person with a priestly title so that they can charge considerable amounts of money for spiritual development.
Who needs to take the time to establish a personal relationship with Orunmila and the other Orisas when you can just pay your local neighborhood Ifa priest for a reading every now and then? And an Ifa priest with an unhealthy craving for wealth and material goods, a very human condition, would never be tempted to manipulate a devotee’s reading for personal gain. Everything will always be honest and above board. Olodumare help the person who tries to encourage people to take control of their own spiritual development. Why, that’s like somebody getting in a car and doing their own driving instead of simply getting in a car and going for a ride while letting someone else choose the destination, the route, and the time of arrival for you. Surely the second option is much more appealing for most people. And it’s a very lucrative way for Ifa teachers to make a good living to boot!
From what I have been able to learn first hand of Orunmila, Baba does little to interfere with people’s personal development. Baba doesn’t tell people where they need to live, what they need to drive, who they should marry, or what profession people should pursue. But more often than not, people who go and get readings will be told that they have to be initiated and that they have to become some priestly title. And more often than not the priestly title requires outlays of cash that will run into the tens of thousands of dollars. The person conducting the reading will tell the devotee that Orunmila requires them to be initiated to a particular Orisa. By accepting the reading the devotee accepts the burden of finding the resources, the money, to be initiated. That is the tradition of our belief system. And it is rather interesting that Orunmila never tells the initiate that they need to be a doctor or an educator or a blacksmith or some other profession.
People like to say the traditional way of practicing Ifa has been around for thousands and thousands of years. The ancient African tradition of Ifa is older than most of the world’s more notable belief systems. Most Ifa practitioners know this and accept this without question. However, when this tradition was started, it was started without any knowledge of the concept of money. Money and economics are artificial concepts that have no root in nature. Our African ancestors knew nothing of money until they were introduced to economics by the European. The ancient Africans practiced the purest form of socialism and worked together for the benefit of the community at large without the slightest thought as to how much their bank account can be enriched.
Traditionally, an Ifa initiation wasn’t done for the individual. An initiation was done for the benefit of the whole community. The more spiritually developed the entire community was, the less likely the community would submit to the influence of wealth, materialism, status, and power. It was not until materialism and greed entered the picture that spiritual development required huge amounts of money. It is because of the introduction of money that many of us who grew up in this tradition believe that wealthy people can literally afford to be more spiritual than people who are impoverished. And as Ifa devotees, we allow ourselves to be manipulated into thinking that paying thousands of dollars for an initiation is the way this tradition has been practiced for years.
If we all exercised a better idea of what it means to be a student of Ifa, if we had a better idea of what it means to be spiritual, we would know that spiritual development does not depend on the size of our bank accounts or the amount of weighty status we have to throw around. Spiritual development requires little more than a sincere desire to be spiritual. It does take effort and a commitment and some financial resources. But spirituality does not require a devotee to spend tens of thousands of dollars. If a devotee has that kind of money to throw around then all I have to say is good for them.
But the more we allow others to control our spirituality and to connect the amount of spirituality we have to the size of our wallets then we lose sight of the tradition. Literally, our ancestors practiced this tradition without a dime to their name. That is the way this spiritual tradition was founded. That is the way it developed for thousands and thousands of years. It is only since we have been introduced to concepts of money and individual wealth have we confused the ability to pay large sums of money with conditions of spirituality. If we are to get back to being traditional practitioners of Ifa we will learn to do it the way our ancestors did it. We will learn to be spiritual without letting money get in the way.