I was reminded recently of the sacrifice a student of Ifa needs to make in his or her life when they make the decision to be initiated into tradition. An initiation is a ritual that is intended to recognize the spiritual entity that is supposedly the greatest influence on an individual’s life. It is believed that everyone has at least one Orisa that influences his or her life, whether that Orisa is ever acknowledged through an initiation ritual or not. The initiation ritual, for all practical purposes, is like a wedding ceremony. A marriage actually takes place in a state office. People sign documents and the marriage will be recognized by the state government. The wedding ceremony is a ritual intended for the most part to celebrate the marriage. Like the wedding ritual, the initiation ritual is intended to celebrate a relationship that already exists.
When I went through my initiation five years ago, my elders required me to sacrifice my hair. At the time, I did it gladly. I was all caught up in the ancient African pomp and circumstance of ritual and tradition and didn’t even see me losing my hair as a sacrifice. It was just part of the procedure. But after I became a little older and a little wiser with my spiritual development, I realized, among a great many things, that the sacrifice of hair isn’t really necessary for the initiation process. It is merely tradition enforced by elders with a blind adherence for tradition for the sake of tradition.
Now I’ve heard a log of theories from a lot of people. Somebody tried to explain that the hair is a receptor of negative energies and it is helpful for positive character development to get rid of the hair. But if the hair is a negative energy receptor before the initiation, would it not be a negative receptor after the initiation process as well? For this theory to hold water, wouldn’t we require everybody who is working for spiritual development to keep their body hair to the bare minimum regardless of where they are in their spiritual development? But we don’t. Why? Because just saying that hair picks up negative energy doesn’t make it so. Hair picks up on negative energy about as well as fingernails. And yet, you don’t see anyone yanking somebody’s fingernails during a ritual.
The shaving of the head is a symbol of spiritual rebirth. The bald head is a quickly recognized symbol selected for its ability to help the recently spiritually initiated standout in a crowd. But like a lot of symbols, the shaving of the head has no real impact on people’s lives other than being an easy confirmation of some kind of sacrifice to appease our teachers and other elders in our spiritual community.
But what if the spiritual sacrifice that initiates are supposed to make during the initiation ceremony was something real? What if initiates could make a sacrifice that could actually lead to a better understanding of their own individual spiritual development?
Five years ago, when I was initiated and walking around with a bald head, for whatever reason, I lost contact with my spiritual community. Without the influence of my elders, without the traditional spiritual persuasion from elders that could have made me just another devotee toeing the traditional line that adheres strongly to hierarchy and ritual and ceremony and materialism and a lot of things that actually have very little to do spirituality, my spiritual result would have been something much different and much closer to what passes for orthodox thinking in this ancient African tradition. And if the elders are able to control my spiritual development, could it really be my own spiritual development?
What if the spiritual sacrifice we are supposed to make is the relationship we have with our spiritual elders? Our elders might mean well. More often than not, I’m sure our elders want the next generation of teachers to learn the ways of spiritual development the way they learned spiritual development. But all too often the spiritual development that is being taught these days is the type of spirituality that is more concerned with the spiritual chain of command and tight control of what is and isn’t considered spiritual. And when someone has control of other people’s spirituality, there is the potential for abuse with elders who prey on devotees with rather silly and self serving superstitions.
If somebody tells me that people who are about to go through the initiation process should cut their hair for fear of picking up negative energy, I’d have to ask based on what. What evidence is there that our hair picks up negative energy other than somebody, more than likely someone with hair, saying so? I’m pretty sure the answer is nothing.
Hair is no threat to people developing a sense of spirituality. Having a person shave his or her head for his or her initiation is a sacrifice without much meaning other than giving the initiate the ability to say, “Hey look what I did!” If a sacrifice needs to be made for a spiritual initiation, if we want to make sure our spiritual development is truly our own and not the product of elder’s interpretation of what spirituality means, then maybe we ought to be telling people to kick that elder relationship to the curb and go out on a limb and let the spirituality grow without the contamination of somebody else’s interpretation of what it means to be spiritual.