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.
What would Jesus do was such a popular expression not too long ago. As the epitome of Christianity the great majority of Americans look to Jesus for spiritual, moral, and ethical guidance. But a lot of people only want to scratch the surface of what the man Jesus was like.
I have nothing but utmost love, respect, and admiration for our collective ancestor the man that many people know as Jesus Christ. For the Ifa faithful, although many claim him to be a child of their personal Orisa, it should be noted that Jesus was a child of Orunmila, the Orisa of fate. For a major portion of the world, time itself is measured by his existence. He is known by many titles such as king of kings, son of man, son of god, and prince of peace. Yet so much hate, death, destruction, prejudice, and downright selfish thinking are carried out in his good name and the principles he preached. Even the President himself is on record saying his Christian faith convinced him to invade Iraq. And so many good Christian people bought what should have been obviously ridiculous hype. How many people stopped to ask themselves what would Jesus do? The answer is obviously not nearly enough. Or maybe people think Jesus would sign himself up into the Air Force and drop his fair share of bunker buster bombs from his F-15 “Superstar” Eagle.
If what I was taught in Sunday school when I was knee high to my dad was any indication, if Jesus was alive today I would imagine he would be severely disappointed by the behavior of so many people who claim to follow his teachings so diligently. The principle of “love thy neighbor” has been modified slightly to a principle of “stomp that bastard into the ground at each and every opportunity so you can have all the material wealth you can muster and they can have your crumbs”. Now the prince of peace is synonymous with such things as the war on terror and the bombing of innocent men, women, and children, in a fruitless war in an attempt to destroy a concept.
I would imagine Jesus would step forward and vehemently speak against the fact that so many people have been thoroughly desensitized to so much strife and conflict going on locally and globally and every area of geographical measure in between. I seriously doubt if the son of man would quietly sit back on a church pew and nod his head in affirmation to the teachings of the prosperity doctrine from the likes of T. D. Jakes, Benny Hinn, Joel Olsteen, Paul Crouch, Pat Robertson, and the like. If people thought the son of man was angry when he drove the money changers out the temple, they ain’t seen anything yet. Let him inside one of these mega-churches with its billion dollar collection plate and Jesus is likely to go postal like only the son of god could.
Matthew 19:23 and 24 says Jesus spoke to his disciples, “Truly I say to you it will be hard for a rich man to enter the kingdom of heaven. Again I tell you it is easier for a camel to go through the eye of a needle than for a rich man to enter the kingdom of god.” That’s got to be seriously hard. But these words do little to keep the televangelist from setting the Christian example of living large in mansions that would make the late Howard Hughes drool with envy. These words as recorded in the Christian bible do little to keep the televangelist from flying to work every Sunday morning in their personal Bell 407 helicopter or in a Gulfstream G500 business-class jet with rich Cardassian leather throughout the cabin. And the words of Matthew do even less to prevent the majority of the Christian populace of the United States to keep their top priority or sole motivation in life off the accumulation of material wealth and status.
It is interesting how many people who believe they live as good Christians do little to follow the true example of Jesus who owned nothing more than the clothes on his back and the sandals on his feet. I hope someone corrects me if I’m wrong but as I recall the only animal Jesus used for transportation was an ass, truly one of, if not the most, humble means of transportation available back in Jesus’ day. Jesus did his teachings without a certificate from Holier Than Thou University hanging in his office or a not-for-profit license from some government agency in his wallet. But, somehow his example has been lost even though Christians everywhere know it quite well.
Way too many people of the Christian faith choose to follow the example of the televangelist or the politician or the celebrity who want to demonstrate their pious humility in the eyes of the public to win the approval of men instead of professing their humility to god in private in a private ”A and B” conversation. Many will exhibit a righteous life every Sunday morning and sporadically throughout the week. We claim to admire people like Mother Teresa and Mahatma Gandhi for their sacrifice. But then we turn around and do our best to live like pharaohs over the minions in our comfortable homes worrying about providing for an even more comfortable future for ourselves and our children, all the while many brothers and sisters are in a never ending struggle just to get through the day.
There is an old joke about Saint Peter standing by the pearly gates turning away men so secular that one married a woman named Penny showing his love of wealth, another man married a woman named Betty indicating his love of gambling, while a third man married a woman named Fanny indicating his love of things of a more carnal nature. But there’s a very materially successful and wealthy televangelist named Creflo Dollar that many people support day in and day out. Am I the only one who gets the punch line?
One of the things that was stressed upon me as a member of a conventional ile was the proper greeting for the various priest and priestesses within the tradition. Depending on where one was from, the greeting process could be extensive with devotees doing salutes and prostrating themselves on the floor. However, the proper greeting for a babalawo is not as mysterious nor complex as a lot of people may think. There are a variety of techniques that can be used in the proper greeting for a babalawo. Unfortunately, to list them all would make for an extremely long essay. Therefore, I’ll just cover a sample of some of the more popular processes.
A lot of factors should be taken into consideration when greeting a babalawo or any person in the tradition with a title. Some factors that should be kept in mind are the relationship the devotee has with the babalawo. Has the devotee and the babalawo ever met before? If so, under what terms did they have their previous greeting? Is their a cordial relationship between the two or is it more distant and reserved? Is the devotee a male or female? Is the babalawo older than the devotee? Where have the devotee and the babalawo met before? Was the previous meeting in a formal setting or was it in an informal gathering such as a party or bimbe? Who saw who first? All these factors and more must be given the proper amount of attention in the greeting process.
It may sound complex but trust me, it is not as difficult as it may sound. Actually, to those with an open mind and who wish to truly understand the concepts of Ifa as they are intended to be followed by everyone, it will come as naturally as your next breath.
When meeting a babalawo for the first time, proper etiquette suggest that the devotee walks up to the babalawo, get the baba’s attention, extend the right hand, smile with a friendly facial expression, and say something clever along the lines of, “Hello, my name is Peacemaker”. Now, the knowledgeable babalawo who wishes to acknowledge the devotee might say something in return along the lines of, “Hello, it’s a pleasure to meet you.” If the babalawo wishes to establish a relationship he may honor you with his full attention and turn his entire body to your direction.
However, do not be offended if the baba cannot or does not give you his full attention. A most important consideration to remember this time is the fact that your worth is not measured by how well or poorly the baba responds to you. Many babalawos have the social skills of a European aristocrat and the devotee would do well to remember that not everyone has the good social graces. In fact many babalawos, priest, and other people with titles within the tradition believe that devotees without titles or initiates with lesser titles are beneath them. That’s okay. Even a babalawo is human and you as a devotee would do well to dismiss him for his poor judgment.
Many devotees already practice this form of greeting. As a student of Ifa who resides in America the style of greeting previously described is most appropriate for this environment. If the devotee and babalawo have a history and it is cordial the devotee could give the babalawo an affectionate hug. The smiles may be broader and the greeting somewhat familiar like, “It’s good to see you again.” The babalawo may return the warmth by saying, “It’s good to see you too.” Unfortunately, if the baba is known to have demonstrated less than proper social manners in the past you may want to watch and observe the babalawo before exposing yourself to the potential of rudeness.
When greeting other practitioners of the Ifa tradition regardless of their title it is most important to remember the simple fact that we are in this together. We are all human and none of us are more human than the other. Regardless of how people wish to push an agenda that they are better or are more important. But they are just people. They don’t have any more access to spirituality than you do. For a lot of people with spiritual titles the whole tradition is little more than a performance on a spiritual stage to con the unsuspecting. They are not your superiors. They are your brothers and sisters. Fall to your knees and praise their shadow as it stretches from their feet if you must. Personally, I’d rather look them in the eye and say something like “Hello” or “How you doin’” or Wha’s up?”
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.
An ile must be an environment of cooperation and sharing. It’s important that people within an Orisa house at least feel like their opinion and ideas matter to their community. If two heads are better than one then an ile of people should be the best of all. Priests and priestesses know this intellectually, but it may be a little difficult to accept in reality.
One of the things I often heard senior priests and priestesses in Ifa say on a regular basis is that they welcome different opinions from the people within and without the Orisa house. If it has to be said then it probably isn’t very true. Too often an ile is ultimately managed by a classic type A personality that places little value into the opinion of people who are perceived to be of less worth or status. In order to counter the reality that the ordinary people’s opinion doesn’t matter, management will promote the ideal of an open door policy. Ile management really should be more aware of the contradiction.
The philosophy of this type of ile management model will manifest itself as an ile in constant turmoil. Some ile members will recognize the fact that in many respects they are not true members of an ile family but are merely extensions of ile management’s will. Consequently, the ile membership will experience a constant state of turnover from people who find themselves dissatisfied with a spiritual arrangement that looks more like a business arrangement. Their membership rolls will remain a fraction of what it should or could be.
But I’ve also witnessed iles that operate as a community of equals with very little hierarchy between members regardless of the length of time members have been with the ile, the length of time members may have been initiated, spiritual gifts members may exhibit, natural talent, or any other factors that may be used to separate people who have a common objective. The management of this ile model doesn’t tout their desire to have an open door policy because the members already know that their opinions, ideas, and who they are as a person are valued and respected. People feel free to express themselves without the sanctimonious rigmarole of parliamentary procedures, point of orders, and the like implemented to discuss ile affairs. The management of this ile model doesn’t fear loosing control of the people since their objective doesn’t include controlling the people.
The philosophy of this type of ile management style will foster an environment where people truly feel welcomed and respected. While getting a large number of members should never be a primary goal of an Orisa house, the membership of this particular type of ile is more likely to be strong and stay strong.
As students of Ifa it is our understanding of the universe that Olodumare is the supreme spiritual being. But when I envision heaven I don’t see Olodumare sitting around on a throne relaxing in his superiority over the Orisas and ancestors. When the spiritual entities come together I doubt very seriously if the Orisas spend any of their time stroking Olodumare’s ego or flaunting their devotion. I doubt if Orisas spend their time contesting each other to determine their proper place in the hierarchal order. I have yet to have anyone explain to me which Orisas exist at the bottom of their command chain. I doubt if someone can explain to me which manifestation of nature is the least valuable. All Orisas have a job to do and they all come together to do it. That’s the Orisa community. That’s spirituality. As it is in heaven so should it be below.
It should be remembered that the social environment of an ile is directly indicative of the condition of its spirituality. Having other people submit to one’s whims might appear to be an attractive power. But, spirituality isn’t about practicing control, superiority, and separation from another person who should be acknowledged as your equal in the grand scheme of things. There is nothing spiritual about an ile that practices the suppression of members. People who come together for the sake of community and spirituality shouldn’t feel intimidated by other members who just so happen to be the head of the house, older initiates, or anybody else for that matter.
It’s a fact that when the tsunami hit Sri Lanka on December 26th, just days before the end of 2004, the number of animals that were killed was extremely low. There are stories about animals fleeing the low ground just before the giant wave hit the shore. There are other stories from people who usually take their dogs for walks on the beach about how their pets resisted going that particular morning.
Researchers are working to uncover how animals sense the various pending disasters, whether it be by hearing nearly undetectable sounds in the environment, sensing minute vibrations in the ground, detecting changes in atmospheric pressure, or whatever it may be. The hope is to duplicate the animal’s detection ability with technology since humans either never had the ability or lost the ability to detect such occurrences.
Whatever the phenomenon animals use to detect environmental disaster it appears that they all share it. So it may not be just one characteristic of pending destruction that animals detect. More than likely, the animals are simply more in tuned with the natural environment in its entirety than the humans who share their world. People are so out of touch with their environment that no technology can compensate for our indifference to the environment.
Researches have developed technologies that can calculate the path of a hurricane for days prior to its landfall. The technology predicted hurricane Katrina’s course through New Orleans and the rest of the gulf coast states. But the technology was ineffective against the indifference of people who command and control all the resources to help those in need with little resources if any. Nearly two years after Katrina people are still waiting for help from people who have obviously little desire to help them. Unfortunately, the reality is that any technology developed to warn of approaching tsunamis, tornadoes, earthquakes, droughts, or killer meteorites will not be used to assist the population of color. Black people have yet to realize that they we are not appreciated as an integral part of American society.
Katrina is old news. America doesn’t care about black people is old news, at least for those of us with our eyes open. Animals can instinctively detect environmental disasters because they are tuned to nature. All of this is old news. But what if the animals weren’t necessarily more in tuned with their environment but just more in tuned with their common sense? What if animals simply see what is happening in their environment and make rational decisions about leaving the area? People on the other hand see the changes in our environment, suppress their common sense, and simply shrug off the changes as nothing that our technology can’t handle.
For years medical institutions have been warning about the dangers of smoking yet people continue to learn to smoke to this very day. Why? Who knows? But it’s obvious somebody’s not practicing common sense. With so much evidence about the dangers of smoking and the practically zero benefit one wonders why as a society will continue to allow cigarette manufacturers to continue to sell their poison. A society that practiced common sense would not have a problem shutting the cigarette companies down to save their children.
For years people knew that New Orleans couldn’t survive a direct hit from an intense hurricane yet people in the area lived as if none of it mattered. Poor or not no one should’ve made the choice to live in that city with the threat of flooding so real on a daily basis. I remember being in New Orleans once and watching as a ship floated out to sea on water so much higher than my relative position. It actually made my heart skip a beat I was so shocked. I was uncomfortable for the remainder of my visit bothered by the notion that at anytime the levee could break and we could be inundated with water. Common sense says not to live in such a dangerous position.
But what happened to New Orleans is child’s play compared to the pending disasters looming on the horizon. Global warming is real. In the grand scheme of things it isn’t very important but since it will severely impact our ability to survive on this planet one would think everyone would take it a lot more seriously. But people scoff at the idea of a possibility that the Earth’s ability to sustain us is at risk. Where’s the common sense? These people wouldn’t acknowledge danger until it is scientifically proven that it is far too late.
The financial crisis that the United States has created with its crushing national debt is another impending disaster. According to the History of Oil by Robert Newman, the United States had to go to war with Iraq to keep countries buying and selling oil from changing their US dollars to the European dollars. Saddam Hussein wanted to conduct business in euros and once that ball started rolling and other countries followed suit the American economy collapses and the United States would dry up unable to sustain its self. The multinational companies rooted here will simply conduct their business where the money is good. It’s no accident that a lot of companies are doing their best to gain a foothold in China.
We see this coming. It’s not a question as to whether or not the economy collapses. The question we should be asking ourselves is that when the financial hurricane comes and bitch slaps the United States what have we done collectively to prepare for it. The fact that we may or may not have the resources of other people to prepare properly will be little comfort when our families and communities suffer from a nationwide inability to obtain food. And like most disasters that hit us as a society, usually it is the black communities that suffer the hardest and longest.
Like the animals in Sri Lanka and the other places that left before the tsunami hit we shouldn’t hesitate to move ourselves away from the disaster that we see coming. If at all possible people need to make a choice to minimize their exposure if they can’t get out of the way. A little common sense now will help us become better prepared for these and other disasters that our heading our way. If Katrina has taught us one thing it is the fact that people of color don’t have the luxury of waiting for technology or to wait until the very last minute.