Life is nothing more than a series of lessons. Our time here is a classroom. Like any classroom there are members/students who are very good at the lessons and others that are at the far opposite end of the spectrum. Some of us will cheat through life to get ahead without putting forth the work or effort or time to learn the lesson. Other students want to do as much studying as possible in order to be fully prepared for the inevitable pop quiz coming. Unfortunately, many of us choose to procrastinate, wait until the last minute, and are caught totally unprepared for our various tests, midterm exams, and finals that we know are coming.
The lessons in life happen in study groups we call family, friends, acquaintances, or whatever. Some of us who have learned lessons in life try to teach others in order to help them learn the lessons as well. Parents try to teach children. Elders try to teach youth. Professionals try to teach the novice. The ones with knowledge try to teach the ignorant. And in many cases, the teachings flow the other way where the neophyte actually helps the experienced to learn something new.
Recently I had to endure learning one of life’s difficult lessons from a dear friend of mine I wanted desperately to help. But alas, as Orunmila says, “You can’t save someone who refuses to reach out.” To many people this is a very simple and uncomplicated canon. Yet I find it difficult, akin to a parent standing by helpless while a child dives head long into troubles. Imagine watching a friend or sibling making the wrong choice to an issue that will have consequences throughout the remainder of his/her life and then some. Now imagine watching someone you love playing a sort of Russian roulette with their spirit and the consequences jump to the eternal.
There are truly talented, gifted people in the Ifa community who are doing their best to perform the work of Orisa. Unfortunately, for every person doing the real spiritual work, there are multitudes that are looking for and/or providing something that will be more appealing to the physical desires and wishes. Like moths to the flame we cannot help but be distracted by that which may destroy us. Spiritual substance takes a secondary status to physical illusion. That which is found to be attractive to the ego but otherwise perfectly useless is defended as appealing to the soul.
I have a case for my point. Many people obsess over finding the perfect pot for their Orisa. “I’m about to add another Orisa to my collection and I want them to know that I got them the absolute best pot I could find.” For many people, this is what their soul tells them. Now I know a lot of people simply go to one of the botanicals and buy one of the standard containers for their Orisa. But some people want to go that extra mile to show their devotion.
But let’s look at this for what it truly is. Somebody has the bright idea that the Orisa’s must be having a beautiful pot contest and devotees would do well to make sure that his or her Orisa pot is a contender. The idea of being judged by the pots we keep appeals to the devotee’s spirit. The question is why? Is it really the inner soul of this individual that needs the gaudiness of a gold-plated, costume jeweled, Orisa pot the size of a giant claw foot tub or is it a manifestation of the ego? How would the bling pot better serve the Orisa, the community, or the devotee? It doesn’t.
Contrary to what some of us have been taught and have internalized the purchase of pots is an ego thing that has nothing to do with an Orisa at all. It isn’t the Orisa we want to impress but the other people in our Ifa communities. Look at the pot I got for my Orisa is what we want to yell. We feel good when we hear other people admire our finds. An Orisa will appreciate a good pot. But a devotee will go into debt trying to obtain the most impressive pot, the most impressive shrine, the most impressive authentic clothing, and the most impressive anything that people can judge to be impressive.
I want to share this lesson with people I truly care about. I want to help people learn the lesson that the Orisa is more concerned about the integrity of the devotee’s character more so than the perfect combination of colors for their pot. A devotee with a plain terracotta pot and the most integrity possible will be in a better position than the devotee with the white gold plated, Faberge inspired container for their Orisa and a character that is more concerned with looking good than being good.
But I can’t even get these horses to come to the water let alone drink it. All I can do is supply them with directions to the trough. They’ll either come or they won’t. I have to learn to let it go. And all things considered, maybe this was just one of those instances of me learning another one of life’s lessons.
I was initiated into Ifa in January of 2005. The ritual was held on a five acre plot of land about forty five minutes outside of downtown Austin, Texas. After I was captured I spent seven days in the wilderness fasting in little more than a doghouse about a hundred feet from my godmother’s house. A squall came through the very night I went down. In the time span of a couple of hours the temperature in Austin dropped like thirty degrees into the mid twenties Fahrenheit. All I had was a blanket to keep me warm and it was pitifully cold.
I didn’t start having my dreams until the second night. My first dream was from one of my ancestors and Yemonja and seashells. My second dream was with Sango and me dancing with fire. The third dream I had on the fourth night and it was with Osun and a river that ran through a very thick jungle. One day I’ll go into more detail about those dreams but those dreams aren’t the subject of this essay. But on the fifth night I enjoyed no dream.
During my seven days of fast I was separated from everything and everyone. The only person I made contact with for those seven days was my godmother for about fifteen minutes every day. I spent a lot of time meditating, a lot of time sleeping, and a lot of time thinking. My doghouse was pretty cramped so I didn’t do any walking. I was barely able to rollover comfortably. On the fifth night I woke up in the middle of the night without a dream at all. Not really surprising considering how much sleeping I was doing throughout the day. I didn’t think much of the fact that I couldn’t recall having a dream.
In the middle of the fifth night there were dogs howling from far away. I heard them every night. In this rural area a lot of people had dogs that would roam around freely. There were a number of strays as well that would feed themselves by penetrating the weak defenses of a chicken coop in somebody’s backyard. So hearing the howls in the dark was no big deal, at least initially. Normally there were just a handful of dogs howling at the moon intermittently.
But on the fifth night something strange began to happen. The number of dogs participating in the howl began to grow. The difference in the sound was very subtle at first. But it quickly became more noticeable and very eerie. A dozen dogs participated in the howl. And then it sounded like a hundred dogs. And then it sounded like thousands of dogs. The howling became deafening but it couldn’t drown out the thumping of my heart in my ears. I wished I was dreaming. If I was dreaming then it would’ve ended as soon as I could wakeup. But consciousness wasn’t going to come to my rescue on the fifth night. Dogs were wailing right outside my little house and I was terrified.
But that wasn’t the worst of it. Suddenly, through the howling, there was the sound of giant wings flapping in the night. The wings landed right outside the doghouse. Shortly thereafter, something was knocking outside the house. By now my heart felt like it was hacking away at my chest trying to get the hell away from me. My blanket that proved so inept at keeping cold away became my only line of defense against something I didn’t understand or could hardly comprehend even though I was smack dab in the middle of experiencing it. The blanket was pulled tightly over my head and amazingly the cold suddenly became the least of my problems.
I started trying to calm myself down by taking deep breaths. The knocking wasn’t stopping or slowing down. I tried to think the situation through. Whatever I was going through it was not intended to hurt me. People have been initiated into the spirituality of Ifa for millennia. Why would I be the first to suffer from some supernatural phenomenon that I didn’t understand? Whatever it was, it was here to help me, and it was not going to hurt me. It was here to help me. It was not going to hurt me.
I recited those two sentences over and over again trying to build up my courage. I really don’t know how long it took. But abruptly I threw the blanket aside and reached for the flap of thick plastic sheeting that was hanging over the door. But then, just as abruptly, the howling of the dogs was gone. The knocking was gone. And I was alone in the woods.
The next day my godmother came to speak with me for my daily fifteen minutes. I tried to explain to her what had happened. She really didn’t have much to say about the entire experience. I have no clue if she actually believed my story or not. But whether she did or not, whether anybody did or not, I knew what happened to me on that fifth night of my seven day of fasting before my final initiation ceremony as a formal student of Ifa.
It took a while, but Orisa finally clued me into what happened that night. It’s not often that people get a visit from Baba Osanyin the Orisa of the forest. Baba’s posse consists mostly of dogs. Baba is somewhat shy and reclusive and doesn’t make much in the way of manifestations. Baba Osanyin looks a lot like a dog with a muzzle. He has one normal looking ear and his other ear is smaller and gnarled. But that gnarled ear enables Baba to hear almost anything he chooses to focus on in or outside of olorun. Since his hearing is so intense, he is full of knowledge from happenings. It’s not Orunmila type of knowledge that enables him to know the fate of everything. But Osanyin’s knowledge is still pretty extensive.
Osanyin likes to work with all people and not just the ones who make ebos and follow him. Osanyin likes for his followers to visit the forests bringing an ebo, poking around, and spending some time in his domain. If you are lucky he will enlighten the visitor with some knowledge at that time. But exercise caution and come with a clean heart. Baba does not bestow his knowledge to the greedy, selfish or those out to abuse the teachings. He comes to the pure of intention as a shadow in the woods. But do not be frightened for the last thing Osanyin wants to do is frighten people. Baba will leave without bestowing anything to a cowering visitor. I just wish I knew this before I squandered my chance to be with Osanyin in the forest on that fifth night.
Why does this come up now? Last night I had a dream. I was playing tag with one of my brothers. I come from a family of six boys so I really don’t know which one I was playing tag with. We were playing in the alley way beside my mom’s house. I ran into an open garage and there was a man in the shadows with a bunch of dogs. I asked him not to be quiet and not give me away. The dogs ran to the opening and when my brother came they started barking at him and he ran away. The man in the shadows and I talked for a second when all of a sudden there was a voice emanating from a beam of light. I asked the man in the shadows did he hear that. He said yes and told me that it was Orunmila. I was excited and happy to hear that Orunmila was sending a message to the both of us. I woke up right after that. It was about two o’clock in the morning.
I didn’t realize that Osanyin was my companion in the dream until I had woke up. He scared me once and I regretted it. Orunmila told me that the night in the forest happened exactly the way it was supposed to happen. But I couldn’t help but think how different things would’ve been if I had known exactly what was going on and was prepared. I always told myself that if given another opportunity things would be much different. I look forward to the next time I run across my garage companion Osanyin.
With over twenty years of experience in developing database applications I cannot find a job where I choose to live at the moment. There are plenty of jobs on the east coast, Texas, and the west coast. I could pack up and leave my family, friends, and neighborhood. I have been unemployed for three months now. But I have yet to get so desperate to move across country. My mom will be an octogenarian in a handful of years and I don’t think now is a good time for her to be alone in this city. I actually enjoy my all black neighborhood and my black neighbors. I’m continuing to hold out hope that I’ll find the job I need to stay.
Maybe I need to bust out the big guns. Maybe I need to make an ebo so I can manipulate the Orisas to move on my behalf. It doesn’t take much. If I paid about seventy to a hundred bucks for a chicken sacrifice Orisas wouldn’t dare say no to whatever I ask. At least that’s the impression from some people who practice this spirituality.
But ebos aren’t about taking Orisas for granted and trying to bend them to our will. Besides, it just plain doesn’t work. If I could get those lottery numbers from Orunmila I’d sacrifice enough chickens to open my own chain of restaurants. I can see my commercials now, “Come on down to Sango’s Fried Chicken! The extra sharp double axe is the secret! Severs the neck before the chickens know what hits them. Absolutely no adrenaline in the meat! We’re quick as lightening on the service too!”
People have totally forgotten the purpose of ebos and offerings. We’re not supposed to use them to buy spiritual favors. Ebos and offerings are supposed to be used to thank Orisas for just being in our lives. Imagine how different our lives would be without the water of Yemonja’s ocean or Osun’s river, without Obatala’s mountains, without Osanyin’s forest, or without the winds of change from Oya. The fish from the water fed us. The forest provides us with trees for houses and fire. The wind propels boats, cleans our air and changes our weather. Orisas are important in our lives and provide a lot of services for our lives.
The ebos are supposed to be an offering of thanks. Thank you for doing what you’ve done for us and nothing more. The person who feels that he or she deserves more or is entitled to more really has an over inflated sense of self worth. Why do you need more? What makes you so special?
Here is a hypothetical situation for you. A woman has a few young children. There all pretty young. Let’s say they range in age from four to ten. Now the woman give the kids food to eat, a place to sleep, makes sure they get their education, makes sure all their needs are met. But one of the kids decides that they are entitled to a little more than the others. One of the kids decides that if he gets mom that macaroni necklace for Mother’s Day she’s going to be so thankful that she’ll have no choice but to get him that PlayStation3.
Now, I don’t know how things work in the household that other people grew up in but my mom couldn’t be paid to favor one of her children over another. And who the hell needed a PlayStation anyway? My mom would be more likely to slap the taste out of our mouths for even thinking of such a proposition. So now why would someone think that Orisa would be so open to such manipulation?
The original concept of ebos was just a way of saying thank you. In the beginning ebos were a community thing and it didn’t involve individual priests getting paid by individual clients to express their individual thanks. The expression of thanks was done as a collective. No one was left out. No one was more important than another. The community moved as one for the benefit of all.
Sometimes it would be nice to be wrong about this. Trust me, if I thought it would work I would happily spend a million dollars sacrificing the most exotic chickens, goats, rabbits, hell, I’d sacrifice a dancing albino African elephant from Cirque Du Soleil if I thought it would help me out of my predicaments. But the bottom line is that Orisas aren’t open to such trivial manipulation. It is actually an insult to think that they can be open to such maneuvering. It’s a wonder that more people don’t get the taste slapped out their mouth for even thinking about trying to buy favors.
And now a word from our sponsor.
Hey folks! I’m Craaaazzzzyyyyy Baba and I’m having a sale! Are you having troubles? Do your sorry finances got you down? Do you have medical problems? Do you have girl troubles? Does your boyfriend don’t know he’s your boyfriend? Well come on down to Crazy Baba’s for our end of the month Ifa blowout sale!
Need your warriors? Need an Esu? Or how about an Elegba? What’s the difference? I don’t know! I’m craaaazzzzyyyyy! We have a complete line of Esus and Elegbas ready to open any door you need. Garage doors, barn doors, glass doors, kitchen doors, doggie doors, car doors, you name it! Now how much would you pay? Wait! We got pocket Esus! Take the little guy with you wherever you go. Order one now and he’ll come with his own bottle opener. He’ll open your doors and your bottles.
And who doesn’t need an Ogun pot? We’ve got cast iron pots from just a few inches to cauldrons big enough to bathe in! If you’re like me you know that the bigger the pot the bigger you got. That’s right! You want Ogun to help you get a house? Then you’d better get an Ogun pot the size of a house! And you’d better get your implements too! We got shovels, hammers, knives, rakes, axes! Most people get just the railroad spikes. But we got entire railroad tracks for your Ogun pot! No expense spared!
And who needs an Olokun pot? We’ve got your little winky dinky pots that would choke a goldfish for those who don’t think much of Olokun to pots so big you could drown in it! And with each and every Olokun pot you get these lead goggles to protect your eyes from looking inside it! You know what they say! Look into an Olokun pot and you’ll go blind! These goggles will keep you from saying something stupid like, oh my gosh where am I?
Why I’m at Craaaazzzzyyyyy Baba’s down here at the corner of Cross Road and Market.
Got your ilekes? We’ve got ilekes from Orisas you’ve never even heard of before! In fact, we’ve got ilekes for Orisas I’ve never heard of before. We got your Obatala ilekes in white so bright they hurt my eyes! Oh my goodness! Get those Olokun goggles for me! We got Sango ilekes that’ll make your blood boil! We got Yemonja ilekes so blue you’d think you were in an Olokun pot! And our Oya ilekes are so charged they’ll blow your weave off your head! I won’t be demonstrating this one today. Why? Because I’m Craaaazzzzyyyyy Baba and not No Weave Baba! He’s my brother!
You need spells? Voodoo smoodoo! We got spells for every occasion! Look at this one! BAAM!! Ha, ha, ha! Now you know you can’t resist coming down to Craaaazzzzyyyyy Baba’s at the corner of Cross Road and Market. We got spells to make your mother-in-law go away! I haven’t seen my mother-in-law in years! Took her Esu away to keep him from unlocking the door to her room. I’m just kidding! It was her pocket Esu!
We got perfume for your Osun! Here smell this! Ewww! That’s awful, what the hell is this stuff? Oh! We got Ifa bug spray for any plants around your pots!
We got animals for you! Need lottery numbers? Well give a chicken to Orunmila! Give him a whole heard…or a flock…or a gaggle…or whatever a bunch of birds is called! Only Orunmila knows! Need to give Ochosi a goat? At these prices give him a…a…a bunch of goats! Our Ifa chickens get only certified grade A plus Ifa bird feeds and our goats get certified grade A plus whatever they eat too! How? Who knows? I’m Craaaazzzzyyyyy Baba! Don’t take my word for it!
And if you need a reading we got certified grade A plus diviners standing by to help you with whatever you need! Our diviners only eat certified grade A plus Ifa chickens and certified grade A plus Ifa goats! They would call you, but hey, they’re too busy calling and helping other people! So if you need help you’d better call us before we call somebody else! Makes sense? Who cares? I’m Craaaazzzzyyyyy Baba!
The only thing that matters to us is that you’re happy! Because if you’re happy you’ll trust us to make your friends happy. At Crazy Baba’s your life path comes second to your satisfaction. Our single minded focus on your satisfaction is guaranteed. So hurry on down to Crazy Baba’s on the corner of Cross Road and Market during our Ifa blowout sale where our prices for your spiritual development are insane! You’d be craaaazzzzyyyyy not to!
The other day I found a blog touting the magic of Ifa. It was written in Spanish I think and when I translated the page the resulting text from the article gave me a serious headache with its incomplete sentences and lack of grammer. But there was a comment of three words written below the article that was completely understandable and precise, “I need mojo.”
One can buy or earn spiritual magic from a number of different individuals and spiritual houses. I’m personally familiar with a variety of horror stories of how people without so much as a lick of spiritual integrity will prey upon people who are desperately looking for some kind of spiritual guidance for whatever issue they face in their life. However, when someone is desperate and is frantically looking for a quick solution to an immediate problem there really isn’t a worse time for these people to make spiritual decisions.
Desperation on one’s conscience can be like alcohol in one’s bloodstream. The more desperate an individual the chances are good that they will be less likely to think straight and make the best choices for themselves or for their family. And a lot of people, with more concern for personal gain than with helping someone else, are more than happy to jump at the opportunity to help desperate people learn the foolishness of their ways.
But it would be far better for a person to do nothing than to desperately grab at straws in an effort to correct a pressing problem. One example of straw grabbing while deep in the throes of desperation is the throw of a dice on a craps table in a game so stacked against the player in an effort to satisfy an immediate financial need. “The Orisas will take care of me because I trust them and it’s all in their hands.” But if the devotee truly trusted the Orisas chances are more than likely that he or she would have never been in their dilemma in the first place. In reality, for a lot of devotees and initiates, the Orisas have been reduced to be nothing more than the fire alarm switch that’s to be pulled in case of emergency.
Rumor has it even an atheist finds religion when they are in the foxhole and bullets are flying over their head. Otherwise people have the luxury to neglect their spiritual development. Most people opt to do only the bare minimum. As long as we attend the fellowship meetings on a regular basis and participate in the occasional ritual or ceremony we can leave the responsibility of our soul or spirituality at somebody else’s feet. Anything out of the ordinary can wait until the next meeting. And when things get truly anxious we can pull that proverbial fire alarm switch.
People simply refuse to understand that Orisas are not our personal slaves, hit men, servants, butlers, maids, concierge, janitor, or any other occupation that describes someone who is in humble service to others. But if there was a job description for the Orisas it would run along the lines of spiritual guidance councilor or life coach. While Orisas will do what they can to keep us on the straight and narrow along our spiritual paths, they’re not about to start bending over backwards to help those who won’t help themselves. Orisas cannot want it more for us than we want it for ourselves. Orisas won’t do for us what we refuse to do for ouselves.
But there are a ton of people in the tradition who want to push the idea that Orisas are standing ready to answer our call for help for the low, low price of just an animal sacrifice or two. If that’s not a deal then I really don’t know what is. Just imagine your fate has been set to die at a specific place and time. Not happy with that arrangement? A high priest within the tradition can perform a ritual that can fix it so that your card won’t come up on the angel of death’s to do list anytime soon. Having financial problems? Drink an herbal potion and money will start flowing out your pockets. About to fly on a plane? Perform a ritual and if the Orisas are satisfied with your payment then the plane won’t crash.
But if such preposterous notions were true then why aren’t the high priest and priestesses in the tradition living life long and large. In fact, I know of some high priests in the tradition who struggle just to get the rent paid and the money for their daily medication. Even more curious would be why don’t these priests and priestesses who can manipulate Orisas so well get Babalu-Aye to arrange it so that they don’t have to use any of those medications at all? That should be an interesting point for some people.
Maybe the manipulation isn’t being applied to the Orisas but to the devotee. Someone who is desperate for change in their life would make a ripe target for exploitation. A priest of integrity will do whatever they can to help a devotee in their community to get through their problems. But compounding those problems with wasteful rituals that do little more than line a high priest’s pockets isn’t really very helpful. And when the miracle the devotee was looking for doesn’t come to past the priest will exclaim how the ways of the Orisas are just too mysterious to understand.
Priests of integrity would never stoop to creating mojo for devotees. Even when everything looks lost the real deal is that the situation is very different from appearances. Hopefully, a devotee in the throes of desperation would simply sit still and learn to be calm while the storm passes. It takes a lot more than an animal sacrifice and a handling charge to the priest to change the course of human fate.
A lot of people who preach the Ifa gospel speak from a fire and brimstone point of view. Orisas are always on the lookout and standing ready to use their powers over nature to wreak wrath and havoc on the minions whenever we collectively step out of line. It was the Orisas punishing us that causes the winds from the tornado to blow our house away or the water from the torrential rain to wash our car off the road. Do an ebo and Orisas will keep you safe. Get a reading and Orisas will warn you when disaster is approaching. It’s time to put things in perspective.
Earth is often referred to as a rock. But a rock implies a complete solid structure from the surface to the core and the Earth is anything but. If anything, we exist on the surface of a bubble filled with a liquid core of metal hot enough to vaporize human flesh. The bubble itself exists in a cold vacuum of space without the ability to hold even the teensiest bit of anything resembling heat. In between these two extremes is a very thin layer of rock and atmosphere that supports our ability to exist.
We may perceive the Earth bubble as a very durable and virtually indestructible relative to humans and in many respects that is very true. But it is the very narrow environmental conditions of climate, geography, and atmosphere that allows humans to exist that is the most fragile component of this setup. How fragile is it?
By some estimates the Earth is believed to be over four and a half billion years old. Homo sapiens (modern man) have existed for the past two hundred thousand of those years. The earliest civilizations on record appeared in Egypt and Mesopotamia about six thousand years ago. The trade of the fossil fuel coal started approximately five thousand years ago. But human existence started to negatively impact our environment on a global scale with the birth of the industrial revolution just three hundred years ago when we started to poison our water with our industrial and human waste. But with the invention of the mass marketed automobile and coal fired electrical plants in the past three hundred years that we as a global community really started our inadvertent attack on the Earth’s ability to sustain human life.
Now add nuclear pollution. And on top of that we now have pollution from developing nations like China and India that are trying hard to catch up to western culture in energy expenditure per capita. While some people will deny the correlation others will find it easy to connect the dots to where we are headed. What took nature four billion years to create, it is quite possible for us to completely destroy Earth’s ability to sustain us in just a few thousand years of our existence. That’s how fragile it is.
With all that said, Orisas, as manifestations of nature on a global scale, move through the environment doing exactly what they do. Winds blow. Rains fall. Earthquakes rumble. Lightening strikes hit. Inevitably, some of us will be affected by nature going about its business on this planet. Instead of being in tuned to our environment and possibly being aware of nature’s movements, as Orisa worshippers, we allow ourselves the false luxury of thinking that if we’re good and obedient we will be immune to the wrath of the earthquake god or the hurricane god or whomever. Just throw another virgin on the fire and we’ll avoid nature moving against us.
Some Orisa worshippers believe they’re so down with Olokun he would never wash their home away when the tidal wave hit. People believe they’ve given Osun so much honey that she would be too grateful to let the river’s water spill over its banks and damage their property. People have performed so many dances for Sango that he wouldn’t dare strike their person and stop all that good high stepping mojo performed for his behalf. People think we can poor so much molasses over our Yemonja pot that the Orisa of the ocean would never dream of doing anything to harm us. But people can’t pay or bribe the Orisas not to do what they exist to do.
There is a region in the North American continent known for its tornadoes. Many people move into the tornado alley unaware of the fact that they are increasing their chances to be affected by a tornado. When the tornado strikes they are devastated and wonder how in the world Oya could punish them when Orunmila didn’t even tell them about Oya’s pending anger. And this is a prime example of how people in the tradition take Orisas for granted. It isn’t Orisa’s responsibility to watch over us when we ignore nature. When the lightening storm comes and I make the conscious choice to go outside it’s as if I’m begging Sango to hit me.
Technology shows us exactly where the fault lines are and the areas with the highest possibility of severe earthquakes. Satellites and forecasting can predict areas most susceptible for flooding. And who the hell doesn’t know that the Gulf States and the east cost are areas with a high probability if impact from a hurricane. Yet, everyday we make the choice to move to and live in these areas and then hang our head and cry why me when we reap the fruit of our choices.
If affected by a natural disaster just remember, an Orisa’s got to do what an Orisa’s got to do. It’s nothing personal. It’s just Orisa business.
Baba Orunmila refuses to give me the winning lottery numbers! No matter how often I ask or how often I plead his answer is always a plain no. One time I thought I had a very logical and irrefutable argument for getting the next numbers. In a remarkably true impersonation of a Johnnie Cochrane interrogation style, I started my leading logic with a statement confirming that Baba was the repository of all knowledge and he would know how to get anything. But before I could ask my question, how would Baba get the Baba to give me the lottery numbers, he cut me off at the pass and told me he always has a choice of whether he wants to answer the question or not. Baba may know everything but he thinks he’s funny.
The reason he chooses not to give me, or anyone else, lottery numbers is pretty simple, how would that help me on my path? If anything winning the lottery would probably be such a diversion off one’s spiritual path it wouldn’t be funny. I’ve heard too many people tell too many stories about how the lottery destroyed their lives. One story is about a guy who used his money to do stupid things like buy his seventeen year old granddaughter a fleet of cars (a Corvette, a Hummer, a Mustang, and two I couldn’t recognize) and her own three thousand square foot house (not her parents but her), and whatever and then he cried when the girl’s highly materialistic lifestyle ended tragically with her death from a drug overdose. The man blames the lottery for his granddaughter’s death. But he absolves himself of any contribution.
Be that as it may, the point is Baba isn’t in the business of fate to help some people get rich while others struggle. Come to think of it, Baba probably wouldn’t tell you how to survive minimally. It isn’t his job to run our lives. His job is to guide us spiritually and not financially. And one thing I’m pretty sure about is that immense financial accumulation is directly disproportionate to one’s ability to achieve truly spiritual health. For where your treasure is, there will your heart be also, Matthew 6:21. It’s not often that I pull New Testament scripture, but this text is just too appropriate.
For a lot of people, money is the be all and end all of our existence. He who dies with the most materialism wins. Wins what though? The seventeen year old granddaughter of the lottery winner pretty much had access to anything material she wanted and yet it doesn’t sound like she won anything. Anna Nicole Smith lived a life full of money and yet couldn’t find happiness if it walked up to her and body slammed her into the ground. Financial success shouldn’t be our focus.
Members of the black community should seriously take this message to heart. Too many black people are chasing the white community looking for crumbs of wealth to satisfy our need for identity, respect, acceptance, whatever. But our individual achievement of economic success comes at the expense of our racial integrity. Name any successful and famous black person and they are successful not because they maintain their African heritage or even the heritage of their true African American history. Black people are successful because they maintain their blackness comfortably within the confines prescribed by white Americans. The person of obvious African heritage who chooses to wear their African legacy on their sleeve will find themselves operating outside the wealth exchanging environment of corporate structure. Not necessarily a problem it itself. But if one chooses to be a proud African as defined by black people don’t expect a huge bank account full of wonderful zeroes behind other digits and in front of the decimal point.
Besides, it’ll be hard to focus on developing an African based spirituality when one’s attention begins to focus on developing secular bank accounts. Most financially wealthy people didn’t get that way by being generous with their purse string. A couple of characteristics of spirituality that are absolutely contradictory to the accumulation of wealth is a healthy sense of community combined with an impulse to share with those less fortunate. As Matthew 6:24 says, No once can serve two masters for either he will hate the one and love the other or he will be devoted to one and despise the other. And if I may paraphrase a bit you cannot serve spirituality and money.
Baba isn’t going to help me win the lottery. I honestly don’t expect him to. The lottery number thing is like a running joke between us. Believe it or not but an Orisa can manifest a very good senses of humor. But what’s even more impressive is their ability to holdfast to a decision once they make one. If I win the lottery it’ll be because of dumb happenstance and not because I have any inside information. Although I may think it would be nice if he did it may be the worse thing to ever happen to me. I really need to be more careful with what I wish for. I just might get it.
In my earliest days of learning the traditional principles of Ifa, I was taught to fear the Orisas. Often it was with dread that I experienced having a reading performed on my behalf. Ogun would be on the war path because he was dissatisfied with me. Sango was ready to swing his double headed axe because I was constantly making him angry. Oya would be ready to blow trouble on my path. Osun or Yemonja was ready to drown me and it would be prudent to make a sacrifice if I ever found it necessary to venture anywhere near the river or ocean. Maybe other people were able to dismiss being told that Orisas and ancestors were displeased with them. But me being the naïve, devoted moron that I was, I trusted the word of my spiritual elders and took what I was told to the very deepest core of my heart.
Traditionally, we are taught that Orisas are spiritual entities who feel entitled to rule over humans with all the fire and fury of an emperor too insecure in themselves to tolerate any behavior that can be perceived as the slightest manifestation of disrespect. So therefore it would be a natural progression of logic to assume that the highly strung and easy to offend Orisa is upset. A devotee with a serious sense of humility and an overzealous nature to help can be effortlessly manipulated.
For example, for a devotee to expect Orunmila to keep an appointment for a reading is ridiculous in the traditional interpretation of Ifa. If colored people time is a euphemism for having a reputation for being a few minutes late, then, according to traditional African concepts, Orisa time must be synonymous with being as much as a week late if it happens at all. Devotees would do well to remember that they are lucky to have an Orisa acknowledge their existence let alone bother to acknowledge an appointment whenever it may happen.
But once freed from the shackles of traditional thinking I began to recognize and learn that Orisas are far from being the egotistical, temperamental entities that I was led to believe. If anything, Orisas are some of the most humble of entities ever encountered. Orisas could not care less about dominating and ruling each and every devotee that crosses their path. The Orisas know that their worth isn’t measured by how much control they wield. In fact, more than likely, control of others is the very least of their concerns.
We share this plane of existence with a number of different entities with a number of different capacities. While humans may perceive ourselves to be superior to other species in many respects on this planet, in the grand scheme of things we really aren’t all that different to our earthbound brothers and sisters. Add entities like the Orisas into the mix and, if we have a modicum of humility, we realize humans are no where close to being top dog after all. And if we add Olodumare to the equation our importance in the great cosmos drops even further.
But believe it or not, we each have a job to do that no one else in the universe can do for us. We can imagine the universe as a complex clock, with an infinite number of gears and components. If any part of the clock is damaged and fails to do its job it would cause a domino effect that will eventually shut the entire clock down.
The universe is a lot more complex than a clock but hopefully you’ll understand it’s just an analogy. The point is that Orisas aren’t able to do everything people can do just like people can’t do everything all the animals can do. We should respect the fact that animals have just as much right to the planet as we do just like Orisas respect our right to share this plane of existence with them. The way Orunmila explains the mechanics of the relationship, Orisas are no better than humans. We all are manifestations of nature and we all have our jobs to do and we all are the product of Olodumare who we acknowledge as the Supreme Being.
With all that said, the Orisas are definitely not going to go through some form of withdrawal if humans don’t fall on their knees every time they hear an Orisa’s name. Besides, reverence isn’t measured by how many times a devotee falls to their knees, recite rote prayers, sing a little ditty of praise, dance a little step or two, or anything else so basic and rather juvenile. Orisas should find such displays appalling. In the new philosophy of Ifa a devotee’s true reverence is measured by the depth of their integrity, the strength of their trust, the accuracy of their understanding, and the intensity of their drive to truly learn as much as possible and apply those lessons learned to our lives.
Getting information from Orunmila regarding someone’s life path is way too important to leave to a the random throw of an opele chain, sixteen cowry shells, tarot cards, flip of a coin, coconut pieces, dice ala Las Vegas, or any number of means people use to perform divination. According to the traditional thinking associated with Ifa anybody with an opele chain and a book of the odus can go around giving divination readings in Orunmila’s name. But just being so equipped does not guarantee that the diviner is in contact with Orunmila. And most importantly, although there are as many as two hundred fifty six odus, it is impossible for them to accurately cover the entire wealth and every potentiality of the human experience as well as the infinite number of directions available for our spiritual path. The odus can easily be confusing and, more than likely, totally inaccurate and misleading. It cannot be overstressed enough that people need to be more discriminating when it comes to how they gather information regarding their life path. The whole divination process has become so compartmentalized that it begs wonder how did Ifa evolve into its current state.
Part of the problem is the fact that not everyone has the ability to enter a dialog or conversation with Orunmila. A person of such integrity, spirituality, and talent is a truly rare commodity these days. The accuracy of this type of diviner is beyond question. But people being who they are had to develop a technology or process to compensate for the shortcomings of those who wish to be the diviner without meeting some seriously tough standards. Although everyone has the potential to talk directly with Orunmila and the other Orisas and the ancestors, not everyone is willing to put forth the effort to develop their character to the point where it becomes achievable.
Another scenario is the one where the diviner finds themselves in some difficulty that causes their integrity to slip. Rent’s coming due and the bank account is a little on the low side. Next thing you know a client gets a reading that says a couple of Orisas are unhappy and the client needs to give each an ebo. The whole shebang will run the naïve client a couple hundred dollars or so. But Orunmila never said such nonsense. The integrity of the diviner is now in question because not only has the diviner cheated the client but they used Orunmila’s name to do it. Next thing you know the spiritual connection has been lost and the diviner is from that point on operating spiritually blind. The diviner would never admit to their deception so he/she compounds the problem by performing readings for others without Orunmila. The diviner is now so far off path they’ll need to appeal to Esu, Oge, and Orunmila if they ever want to get back on track. But memorizing the various odus and recognizing them when they randomly fall can help keep the charade going until the former diviner makes the choice to come clean if at all.
To compensate for these problems, and who knows how many others, the odus are designed to enable people to perform divination that would not have been able to do them before. Not only that, the odus will give people a quick analysis and solution for any problem they may encounter in their life. The odus are someone’s solution for the mass marketing of divination. The tradition provides a franchise for each diviner. Welcome to McIfa’s, home of the golden opele chain. Today we’re having a discount on divinations for trivial problems. Unfortunately, Orunmila isn’t in the business to solve people’s trivial problems, ask for ebos on behalf of other Orisas, tell people to pay out the nose for initiations, or anything else that requires a transfer of wealth from the client to the diviner. Orunmila’s job is to give people instructions for their spiritual paths.
It would make sense that if a diviner is in good standing with Orunmila then Orunmila would help protect the diviner from those that would try to test the honest diviner’s ability so that they can be discredited. People are so caught up in defending their piece of the divination pie that they would probably defy Orunmila himself if he showed up at their doorstep to stop their impersonation. Consequently, it should be no surprise when people ask for a reading and Orunmila tells them to stop their deception. So until Orunmila shows up, or the choice is made to stop, these pseudo diviners will keep throwing their opele like dice in a craps game until they roll a snake eyes. In the meantime, the pseudo diviners would do well not to use a deception to ask Orunmila for a reading.
How many chickens must be sacrificed as an ebo in order for somebody to get back on their path? My godmother used to ask everyone in the ile this question as she perpetually killed chickens, pigeons, goats, and whatever else the Orisas allegedly demanded as part of somebody’s reading. Her point was that people shouldn’t expect an opportunity to have an ebo performed every time they’re experiencing a crisis in their life. So this begs the question when should we anticipate having an ebo performed? Way too often people who practice the Ifa tradition look for quick fixes for problems that require some deep, fundamental changes in our lives.
Today I read an article on the net from a babalawo who wanted to share one particular story about how he was able to use his skill with the opele, his knowledge of odus, and his experience with Ifa to help one of his clients who was having legal problems stemming from a history of poor decisions early in his life. The babalawo was able to use the opele to determine that the client needed to perform an ebo to repair his relationship with an estranged child who was experiencing their own problem in life. One of the Orisas needed an ebo from the client. The ebo was performed, the relationship was repaired, the legal problems were corrected, and the babalawo took credit for saving the day.
I guess I’m just not feeling it. As children of Ifa we should have confidence in our elder’s ability to offer spiritual guidance. People who go to their elders for help only in times of dilemma probably aren’t learning the best spiritual practices. In most cases, people are taught to think that Ifa is a Swiss army knife that can fix any problem that comes along as long as we make the proper ebo. But, Ifa and the Orisas aren’t just waiting around to respond to our beck and call with the proper ebo for payment. Babalawos, iyanifas, and anyone else who encourages such thinking are teaching people to take their opportunities for spiritual guidance for granted. Our spiritual teachers aren’t here to solve our personal problems.
But let’s say for the sake of argument that part of the diviner’s job is to help ordinary people to solve their personal problems. How does an Orisa benefit from having an ebo done on their behalf? How does a person buying an animal and then paying to have to have it sacrificed influences an Orisa to help us out of our predicament?
For example, I get a reading that says Olokun isn’t happy with me at the moment and I have to sacrifice an animal. The life of the animal will appease Olokun and persuade him to move on my behalf. How does this happen? I don’t mean to disrespect anyone’s interpretation of Ifa spirituality. But this behavior sounds more like superstition than spiritual certainty. It’s just a step up from the stereotype of pacific islanders throwing the virgin into the volcano to appease the lava god and save the village. Students of Ifa know Olokun as the manifestation of nature in the deep of the ocean. How in the world can I, one of billions of higher classification primates, piss Olokun off to the point he no longer wants to assist me in my spiritual development. Stranger still, are the spiritual mechanics of an animal sacrifice that helps us obtain Orisa favor. It’s no different than a baby offering the mother a bottle in order to assure that she continues the nurturing.
People who own an opele or some other tool for divination and charge people for readings have a vested interest in keeping the status quo. These people would have a lot of explaining to do if more people asked more questions to understand the principles of what has been taught through the tradition as fact. If people ask questions and the answers are similar to something like “that’s just the way it is” then people need to ask other questions like “am I being taken for granted?” or “why am I here?”
Although they may appreciate our gifts, Orisas don’t require anything from us. Like a mother receiving a flower from her baby it is appreciated, but not demanded. Our ebos and sacrifices are not for the Orisa’s benefit but for our own. Orisas don’t need another drop of any animal’s blood. These are the things people do in order to feel as if we have earned their help. But in all honesty we couldn’t kill enough chickens to actually earn their intervention. Just like the baby that could never give the mother enough flowers to earn the nurturing they will receive throughout their lives.