The past week has been one of the most intense ones for my family. A family member’s health took a turn for the worse and my brothers and sisters came home in an expression of love and support. It was a time for family. We came together, happy to see each other. To help relieve the stress of the moment we shared a few laughs. If anyone looked they probably would have thought we were simply having a family reunion because it was time and not because of circumstances.
Our family member needed immediate surgery and we needed a time for prayer. One of us started and we each got an opportunity to express a hope, a fear, a desired outcome, or a belief that things will workout. Some of us referred to our loved one’s condition as something evil that must be eradicated. Some of us were adamant that this was a time for a miracle. Unfortunately, our prayers did not result in a happy ending. The surgery was ineffective. We are now experiencing a time to cry and a time to mourn.
Along with everyone else I wanted to believe that everything would be okay and we would go home knowing that all would be as well as expected. As we sat as a family in the room waiting for some word about the operation, we were confident and sure. We were cheerful and buoyant, silly and playful. But all too soon our sister walked through the door and the tears in her eyes silenced everyone in the room like nothing else could. My heart sank. Before she could say anything several of us replied with our own tears. The news could not be good. It was time to put our silliness aside.
It was a time to plan. Some of us didn’t want to face the reality of the moment. But we did not have the luxury of more time. It was a time to decide. Decisions had to be made and we had to make them as a family. It is still very much a time to come together.
It was a time for me to reach into my spirituality. My family is deeply rooted in various forms of Christianity and I was participating in their belief system, my old belief system, out of a sense of solidarity with my family. It was time for us to be as one.
Sometime after the surgery, I asked Orisa for some help. Babalu Aye, the Orisa of health, said that he could not change the outcome. But we could make things easier by sharing the pain and discomfort of our loved one’s condition. No one should have to bear the sickness alone. If we all took a small piece of the pain away, we can dilute the pain enough to make it much more tolerable. Our family member deserves our help.
I participated in the Christian ritual of prayer with my family. Even though I haven’t been a Christian for years I still participated. So I asked my family if they would consider doing something for mom that is rooted in my belief system. I asked if they would take time to do something that I believe would help. I explained that fate may not change but we might be able to dilute pain and discomfort if we all were willing to share a little of the pain coursing through one’s body. We could show our willingness to help by doing something as small as eating popcorn in our loved one’s name.
It was a time for questions. Why popcorn? How can this work? Why would I want to do that? Because it is part of my belief system and I believe it will help. I can’t explain the spiritual mechanics of it. This is just part of my belief system. If we all are willing to take away some of the pain, share some of the burden, I believe our family member won’t have to suffer through this bearing the brunt alone. It was a time for trust. It was a time to step out of comfort zones and do something strange.
Some of us stepped right up to the plate. Somebody pulled out a bag of microwave popcorn and started going to town. It was a time of support. Others refused. In their opinion it wasn’t time for such nonsense. It may have been a time for disappointment, but I had no choice but to respect their choice.
Like everything else that has comes our way we will face it as a family unit. It would be nice if family learned a time to compromise so that we can try every thing at our disposal to face our life challenges. Unfortunately that’s not always the case. We are still a family. Not all of us are open to new ideas or to respect other’s belief system. That might come in time. I know I’m willing to do just about anything to help family. Even if it means coming together to support my family with their belief in prayer at a time when not everyone is ready to support my beliefs as well.
However, now is definitely not the time to write our family member off. Whether we have just a few more days or whether we have a few more decades we will be hurt whenever time is up. That time is not right now. We have things to do. There is a time for all things. But now is not the time for that. Now is a time for living. A time to die will come soon enough. No need to rush it along.
A few years back I paid a visit to an Orisa house that just went through a growth spurt. With more members and seemingly with more credibility the leadership of the ile told its members that Orunmila had decided the time had come for the leadership to be addressed as royalty. The woman who ran the ile was now a king and her children were part of the ile’s royal lineage. The leader starting addressing herself as the royal we and the children were to be addressed as your grace. I, just like everybody else, was told that Orunmila deemed it necessary. I wonder whatever happened to those folks.
In the Ifa tradition, it seems that there is never a lack of people trying their best to manufacture some kind of elevated status for themselves. All somebody needs is divination tray and the next thing you know they will tell you that the spiritual realm has decided that their status needs to be kicked up a notch.
But truth be told there is little to be gained from competing with others for spiritual status. My godmother taught me that the one concept that Ifa should teach us all is that in this vast universe filled with things that we have yet to comprehend, we are nothing. The pursuit of status by one Ifa practitioner over another is like the pursuit of status of one grain of sand over another. It takes countless number of sand granules on a beach to even make an impression. And out of that entire mix, which grain is more important than the other?
Now, I’m no expert on Ifa. I doubt if anyone on this plane of existence is. And that would go for anyone claiming to be the Pope of Ifa as well. I was rather appalled to see anyone in the ancient Yoruba spirituality use such a reference. Not to say that I am trying to promote some idea of spiritual superiority over any of our catholic brothers and sisters or anyone else for that matter. But there is no single figurehead that represents the embodiment of Ifa the way the pope embodies the Catholic Church.
I have to confess that I am no expert on Catholicism either. In fact, I know very little of this religion. But from my cursory observance of the papacy, the Pope appears more suited for concepts of spiritual law rather than spirituality. The difference being the former is an interpretation of a set of rules and regulations designed to govern spiritual behavior compared to the latter which is true spiritual behavior regardless of any definition or law. If you feel it is spiritual then it is spiritual regardless of what any law written by someone else may say.
So now some of us want to take the concept of the Pope and try to put this catholic peg into an ancient African spirituality hole. It is my understanding that the head of the Yoruba tradition worldwide is the Supreme Leader Araba Agbaye. The Araba is considered to be a direct descendant of Baba Orunmila and is the overseer of all practitioners of Ifa and his duties include influencing the teachings and ethics of the Ifa tradition as it was passed down for generations in order to protect the tradition from evolving as people evolve. Nothing stays stagnant unless it is forced to stagnate, including faith.
Not knocking anybody’s interpretation of our spirituality but I simply cannot believe anyone has the ability to direct my spirituality for me even if he is the supreme leader of all things Ifa here on planet Earth. I know a lot of people who think that the traditional ways practiced hundreds or thousands of years ago are the only way. But spirituality should be flexible enough to adapt to an age where jet travel is the norm and electricity and cell phones are essential. Besides, how is it possible that the Araba’s spirituality supersedes anybody else’s simply because he has a title? Who is this guy?
Personally, I never met the Araba and I probably never will. He might be a nice guy, he might not. But the point I’m trying to make here is that if we know nothing about this man who lives halfway around the world, why would all of us be so inclined to trust his judgment when it comes to our spirituality?
I’m sure some people find it convenient to dump responsibility for their spirituality on someone else. But I seriously doubt if the Araba or anyone else would take the development of my spirituality as seriously as I would or should take it. Instead of letting the Pope of Ifa take responsibility, or credit, for my spirituality I’d rather take that responsibility for myself.
On the flipside of this same coin, if I was the Araba I wouldn’t want to take responsibility for anybody’s spirituality on the other side of the room let alone halfway around the world. If I was the Supreme Araba of Ifa I think I would be telling people to quit trying to clamber out of taking responsibility for their spiritual development. Letting someone else do my spiritual development would be like me being enslaved having someone else experience my freedom. It doesn’t work that way. It doesn’t matter if you’re the elder of an ile, spiritual royalty, or the Pope of Ifa.
Ifa is an African spirituality deeply rooted in African tradition. For most people who practice this spirituality, strict adherence to African social structure is absolutely necessary. These people feel that you can’t be a true Ifa devotee if you are busy developing new understandings about spiritual concepts that the wider Ifa community takes for granted simply because somebody who may be an elder says claims it as tradition.
It is inevitable that new understandings and concepts are refuted by elders with a vested interest in keeping the state of spirituality status quo. In this respect, Ifa is no different than any other organized religion that adheres to tradition for the sake of tradition and ceremony for the sake of ceremony. And without exception, the traditional way of doing things protects a very lucrative business for spiritual elders who can charge a king’s ransom to perform spiritual rituals that have absolutely no tangible or measurable results.
People can pay priest to do absolutely anything. In Ifa, there are rituals to protect health, protect relationships, assure financial success, or do whatever else somebody may want in his or her life. It is my experience that the ritual includes the slaughter of an animal in a very spiritually dramatic process. But all the ceremony and spiritual procedures in the world don’t amount to a hill of beans if a person’s character is lacking. I don’t care how well you know prayers, if your character needs attention then all the rituals in the world don’t matter. I don’t care how much you pay a priest, the best way to get a job is to prepare yourself through education or experience.
And what happens when the ritual doesn’t work and all that money is spent for naught? More than likely the priest will say that the devotee was unsuccessful because there was a bigger lesson to be learned here. But the priest would never admit that the biggest lesson a devotee can learn is to quit wasting time and money on pointless rituals. Although a spiritual ritual can make a person feel like they have spirituality on their side, things are not so cut and dry. If all it took was a ritual, everybody in the Ifa community would be living large. And that is simply not the case. But nevertheless, the orthodox Ifa practitioner believes in his or her spiritual elders, in ritual, and in the traditional thinking that eschews people developing their own sense of spiritual understandings.
The orthodox practices heap a great deal of significance on hierarchy and protocol. A great deal of significance is paid to people with impressive sounding titles. What exactly goes into getting a title? Well, a lot of it is nothing more than people buying them. And like rituals, almost any title can be bought for the low, low price of whatever. Like a prayer expertly recited can have little meaning from someone with questionable character, a priestly title can be neutralized as well.
Recently I have seen a number of communications from a number of devotees trying to expose people committing fraud in the name of Ifa. I was personally contacted by a couple in Trinidad who had a concern about a priest visiting from Nigeria. The priest did a reading and “discovered” that the couple’s baby was a gift from god and a ritual was necessary for the child to reach its full potential. Typical of a lot of spiritual work, the price of the ritual was exorbitant. And when the couple said that all they could afford was a fraction of the original asking price, the visiting priest didn’t hesitate to take what he could get.
It is a given that when someone is performing spiritual ritual, we believe that they are in communication with spiritual entities. No where is this more important than when someone is getting a reading. A reading is supposed to come directly from the Orisa Baba Orunmila himself. But not everyone has the integrity to pass along spiritual communications and keep their ego in check in the process. And when someone’s ego becomes more important than the messages, chances are they no longer recognize their purpose and are now just as misguided as the people they lead.
Fortunately, it is fairly easy to spot spiritualist who may have fallen off the spiritual bandwagon. All one has to do is look and listen and apply a little logic. When a priest says something like a child is a gift from god and a ceremony is needed for the child to reach its true potential, suspicion levels should go off the scale. What can a priest do on a spiritual level that god failed to do? My first guess would be very little. That would be one of the first clues.
Another good clue about a priest’s integrity or lack thereof would be the need for more spiritual work after getting a reading. That ranks right up there with going to get an oil change and having the mechanic tell you that your engine needs a complete overhaul and the transmission needs to be replaced as well. I will go out on a limb and say a reading should never lead to a need for more work. It just doesn’t work that way.
So before devotees get caught up in the spiritual tradition of throwing good hard earned money away by paying for expensive ceremonies and rituals from priest they hardly know, or from anyone else for that matter, I would recommend that they sit down and ask a single question. Why? It shouldn’t cost a fortune to become spiritual. Before our ancestors knew what money was they were able to establish this spiritual tradition. When did money become so important to the tradition?
Not too long ago I made a comment about Miss California Carrie Prejean’s comment about opposite marriage being the only acceptable form of marriage in her country and in her family. What I wrote must have been an invitation for people to hate because I got a lot of comments from people who questioned my intelligence, my patriotism, as well as my sense of spirituality. Because Ms. Prejean was being honest about the way she felt and how she stood up for the sanctity of opposite marriage she was going to get a heavenly crown from god. Who the hell was I to give my honest opinion about someone giving their honest opinion about people who were honest about their sexual orientation enough to have their same sex relationship sanctified by the state?
Ms. Prejean and her peers believe that god loves people who hate the idea of homosexual marriage. It sounds like a lot of people believe that they will be in god’s good graces if they hate in the name of god. God doesn’t like gays and lesbians and therefore, to get a holy crown, I’ll hate gays and lesbians. And how do we know that god hates same sex marriage? It says so in the bible. It says so in the book of Romans 1:24-27 and the First book of Timothy 1:10 and the First book of Corinthians 6:9-10.
It’s funny because these same Christian bible books also mention the hatred god has for adulterers but nobody ever says that people who commit adultery should not be allowed to marry in the name of god. These books also talk about sexual perversions and unnatural sexual acts. While that might include some same sex acts, I know a few heterosexual acts of sex that might cross the line of perversion. I’m not going to go into any detail here but I spent nearly my entire adult life learning a few sexual perversions in order to help satisfy the woman in my life. I know for a fact some of the things I do wouldn’t pass a lot of people’s idea of conventional sex acts.
But that’s okay. If god is going to judge my spirituality based on how prudish my peers think my bedroom life is I seriously doubt that god understands my spiritual nature at all. My god doesn’t judge me based on what you might think. In all honesty, my spirituality has absolutely nothing to do with my sexuality. As long as I respect myself and respect my partner and respect my family and respect my community, as long as I do what I can to be the best person that I can be, how does my private sex life interfere with that overall sense of respect? Why would god put such emphasis on what I do for good, healthy sexual relationship?
Honestly, I don’t think god cares. And since I’m talking honestly nobody can condemn me for what I say and I should be getting my heavenly crown any day now.
God is not a voyeur looking into my bedroom for sexual deviation. The idea that the creator of the universe wants to condemn me to hell because of my extracurricular sexual activity is an idea that doesn’t sit very well with my psyche. If the only people who go to heaven are the people who stick to orthodox sex without perversion, it doesn’t look good for me. I will definitely be disqualified at the pearly gates. But then again, if the heavenly bound are people who are so rigid that they cannot accept those who are different, then I would have to say, even if I was so inclined to stick with nothing but missionary sex with my partner, heaven would not sound very heavenly to me.
I have family members and friends who are part of the gay and lesbian community. The idea that they are not welcome because god doesn’t like the fact that they are honest enough to follow their true sexual nature, their true sexual spirit, is not one that sits well with me. If this is the nature of the Christian god, then hell sounds a lot more appealing than heaven.
But I know for a fact that god doesn’t judge people on such trivialities. My god doesn’t award heavenly crowns to bigots. My god doesn’t smile down and love small minded people because they hate in his name. The god that I have come to know and develop a relationship with is the type of god that would not think to judge others no matter what. God doesn’t need people to hate in his image. My god is big enough, strong enough, and capable enough to hate all by himself. People who revel in hate should learn to stand up on their own and hate on their own. Quit putting petty bigotry on god’s shoulders.
I was watching an episode of Bill Moyers Journal about how the greed of Wall Street is based on fraud. The guest on this particular show was William Black who identified the problem of our economic crises as a betrayal of people’s trust. People create a sense of trust through a series of manipulations designed to put a target at ease and when the opportunity presents itself, something of great value is exchanged for products or services of little value or, as in many cases when spirituality is involved, no value.
Bankers and other people in the financial world sold people on the idea of investing in assets that were either worthless or significantly overpriced. And as long as people were interested in becoming unwitting targets, people were interested in making them targets.
The same is true for people who prey on people in the ancient African spiritual tradition. Babalawos and iyanifas and people who claim to be of all kinds of priestly titles in the African tradition will prey on people who trust their spiritual development in people who claim to be in the spiritual know. Many people who may consider themselves spiritual neophytes want to entrust their spiritual development to other people who might appear to be more spiritually knowledgeable. And in order to become more spiritually developed, many people are willing to pay good hard earned money for it.
But spirituality is something that is totally subjective and open to interpretation. To some, spirituality is nothing more than being talented. A spiritual person can manifest their spirituality as a talent to entertain others. Other people may think that spirituality is having a string of priestly titles and paying for expensive rituals. People who are spiritual will know ritual and will know African words and dress only in traditional African costumes. Spirituality is measured by how many Orisa pots somebody has or how extravagant an Orisa shrine is put together or spirituality is dependent on how big or how festive an Orisa pot might be. Some people think being self centered is evidence of spirituality. People highly spiritual are royalty and deserve to be waited on hand and foot on a round the clock basis.
But spirituality is nothing so simple. Although spirituality can be developed, it is nothing that can be bought and sold like a commodity. It is nothing that should be shopped for. Although some people can help others develop their spirituality, if such help comes only at extreme cost how can that be spiritual? The though of paying extreme amounts of money for anything is stressful for most people. So how can the stress of paying for an expensive spiritual ritual help induce spirituality?
And while we’re asking questions, why does spiritual rituals cost so much anyway? People with priestly titles simply pull fees for spiritual work out of thin air. Exorbitant prices are supposed to assure quality of the work. But how can spiritual quality be verified? Do divination services come with a guarantee? Do people who perform rituals intended to induce good fortune give the money back when bad fortune is the result? Of course they don’t.
There’s absolutely no way to verify spirituality. I don’t care how well somebody boogies across the bimbe or how high somebody can jump with a machete in his or her hand spirituality is not a quantity to be measured. No priest is more spiritual than I am. I cannot claim to be any more spiritual than the next soul. People who pay extravagant fees promising to deliver your Ori into the waiting arms of Orisas should be avoided like the plague. No human being has the power to deliver another person to his or her spirituality.
A person who says that they should be paid handsomely for spiritual development is the same type of person who would be willing to sell worthless property to investors at over the top prices. There is no difference. Most people who spend a lot of money for their spirituality will simply turn around and look for their own spiritual suckers to fleece.
People need to wake up and realize that spirituality is not something that is bought and sold. Spirituality is something that is carefully developed on ones own. It is understandable to pay someone for his or her help in the process to develop spirituality. Teachers deserve to be paid to teach students. But the payment should be reasonable. And spiritual development takes time, not money. Anyone who says otherwise is someone that should not be trusted. Spirituality is hard to measure and hard to qualify. People out to cheat others are much easier to spot.
I gave up watching CSI when Gary Dourdan’s character Warrick Brown was murdered off. All the other characters that left the show can be brought back at a moment’s notice. They simply decided to quit the CSI service and take early retirement so it will be nothing to bring them back. But they had to kill Warrick Brown. I didn’t even wait until his last episode. The moment it was announced that he was leaving the show I made the choice to turn the channel. Although my favorite character by far was Gil Grissom played by William Peterson, Warrick Brown was the character I identified with the most. The show instantly lost my interest.
But the Misses continued to be a CSI devotee. That was until she saw last night’s episode named Mascara. There was a scene where detective Nick Stokes, played by George Eads, and Captain Jim Brass, played by Paul Guilfoyle, went to a house and knocked on the door. They are about to leave when there is a scream from inside. An old woman answers the door. They walked into a tribal ritual with drums and religious statues and dancing and chanting based on a variation of the ancient African traditions. Images of something sinister are flashed on the screen as the drums beat and people contort their bodies to the rhythm. Something is happening. But the audience isn’t sure what. The episode plays out and eventually they find their perpetrator for a series of rapes and murders. But the perpetrator says he didn’t do it. It was Ogun, the Orisa of war. The man was spiritually possessed and therefore innocent of the acts. Somebody says something about the only evil is the evil in the man’s heart. The episode ends.
Now, many people who practice ancient African spiritualities believe in possession. I’ve seen a few myself. But I believe that most of the alleged possessions I’ve witnessed were simply devotees crying out desperately for a little attention. But I must admit that I have yet to see anybody do anything even remotely harmful to another. Not to say that it doesn’t happen. But people being possessed and carrying on like demon driven hellions is no more a product of these spiritual traditions than a women drowning her children because Jesus told her to do it through the toaster is a product of Christianity. But because the vast majority of us are familiar with Christianity, we know how incongruous the murdered children phenomenon is to the Christian philosophy.
Few of us take the time to truly understand the African spiritual traditions. Therefore, African spirituality is easily susceptible to conjecture and downright fabrication. Even people who practice the variations of this tradition don’t put enough effort into truly learning the meaning of what’s happening. It’s too easy to just pay someone else to perform the necessary rote rituals and it’s too easy to buy spiritually charged trinkets that are supposed to ward off evil. Unfortunately, there are people who practice this tradition that would be quick to blame possession by Orisa or ancestors for the poor choices they make. But that’s just a cop out. If someone wants to do wrong then they will do wrong. It is akin to the Christian blaming the devil for the evil he or she does.
However, what is most upsetting is the fact that we never see the wizened Orisa devotee that dispels the orthodox or popular myths of our tradition. Most people never get to see a balanced view of African spirituality in these fictional accountings. We only see the deep end version filled with bloody rituals that border on the sadistic. It would have been a first to see the spiritual community depicted in this show come forth to set the record straight and condemn the evil doer. But instead, it is always someone outside the tradition that sets things right and becomes the voice of reason. It’s as if to say that the only balance to people who practice this African voodoo is people who don’t. And that’s some real bullshit.
Like most spiritual communities, the ancient African spirituality runs the gamut of human experience and participation. There are low lives that practice this tradition only for personal gain and there are people who treat this spirituality with respect and who should be respected for their spirituality. In reality, in many ways it is no different from its Christian counterpart. But because we do not get a realistic picture of the ancient African traditions, only the grotesquely distorted evil version, we seldom see the flip side of the tradition that offers people something positive to actually believe in. Not all of us believe that we need the theatrics of masquerades or cigar smoke laden rituals or spiritual possession at the drop of a hat or chanting or divination tools that are little different than dice in a casino.
Someday we might see a more balanced and evenhanded depiction of African spirituality. Unfortunately, it won’t be any time soon. The fiction is strongly against it. And because most people have never witness any other interpretation, most people believe the voodoo rituals often played in the media with colors of pure wickedness are simply par for the course.
If Orisa like Ogun really were evil and wanted to kill we would all be in trouble. If Orisas thought about killing they probably wouldn’t think about doing a couple of people here and there. They wouldn’t possess people and use them to kill one or two. In the African tradition, we believe Orisas are aspects of nature and can harness the energy of nature to do unspeakable things on a global scale. We’re talking hurricanes and earthquakes and other natural disasters on a magnitude that would boggle the human mind. Think more along the lines of a tidal wave strong enough to reach the driest desert. If the Orisas were all evil and truly wanted humans dead most of us would be dead already.
My husband and I live in Trinidad. We came into the Ifa tradition about four years ago. We have since been blessed with a beautiful daughter who, according to divination, is a special messenger from Olodumare. Now herein lies our problem. We have been instructed to do Ifa initiation but we do not presently have the thousands of dollars being charged in our country—and we both have locks.
While we are prepared to make all needed sacrifice, how do we determine what sacrifice is necessary?
Additionally, how do we know that the initiation being done locally by visiting babas is the same that is done in Yorubaland? Right now there is much debate about which babalawo is really doing “full” initiation.
We will welcome the viewpoint of others on this matter. – Ifalolase
You and your husband have been blessed with a daughter who, according to some divination ritual, is a special messenger from Olodumare and an initiation ceremony costing thousands and thousands of dollars is now necessary. Why? If Olodumare made the child the special messenger, would she not be the special messenger regardless of any ceremony being purchased from any man? What would a babalawo from Yorubaland do for the special messenger that Olodumare didn’t do already, with the possible exception of sending the child’s parents to the poor house?
Who performed this divination ritual for you that said Orunmila requires an initiation? I would strongly suspect their ethics. As far as I know, divination is the voice of Orunmila. And in all of my conversations with the Baba, I have never heard him say that somebody needs an initiation or an occupation or a celebration or an inoculation or anything else that is strictly a personal choice for ones self. The sole purpose of divination is to help guide people in the development of their spiritual character. How do you know for a fact that the babalawo is indeed a man of Orunmila and not just someone out to make money? Why would you trust your life and your daughter’s life to someone you just met and is trying to charge you so much money? The development of spiritual character rarely involves spending a lot of money. But the way many diviners operate, people are often told they need to spend money fast and to spend it furiously.
Some people may feel like they need a divination ceremony to kick their spirituality into gear. Some people feel that they need to shave their heads in order to invoke or inspire their spirituality. That is a personal choice. The development of spirituality is a personal choice. People who develop spirituality based on the traditions and requirements of other people are not taking their spirituality into their own hands but are allowing others to determine the rules of their spirituality. How can this be personal spiritual development?
Your Ori, that little voice inside your head, is already trying to guide you. Listen to your Ori. If you feel that you or your daughter being initiated isn’t right, chances are it isn’t right for your spiritual development or hers. And I can guarantee you that if you proceed with these thousands of dollars rituals you will forever wonder if you had spent your money wisely. I strongly suggest that you do what you, and only you, feel is necessary for the development for your spirituality. If other people do not approve of your personal decision then that is their problem. They didn’t consult you with questions about their spiritual development. This isn’t about them and their feelings are not a factor. They do not understand your situation as well as you do.
But trust me, Orunmila does understand your situation. He, nor any other Orisa, would ever ask you to do anything that goes against your family’s best interest. And trying to figure out how to pay for an initiation ceremony from a babalawo or some other priest who honestly could not care any less about you is not something that sounds like it might be in your best interest.
No offense, but every child that is born is a special messager from Olodumare. A child is a special message to parents that you have an opportunity to help shape the future. The best thing you can do for your daughter is to give her a foundation of genuine spirituality by teaching her to respect herself, her parents and family, her community, and her environment. Don’t let her get caught up in status and the materialism. Wealth and materialism is the antithesis of spirituality. The accumulation of wealth in order to perform an initiation is not conducive to spirituality. That is illogical.
An initiation is a ceremony that celebrates your Ori and your primary Orisa. That bond is there whether you spend money to have someone perform the ritual and have it officially recognized or not. No man on this earth can initiate you into spirituality or take your spirituality away. True spirituality comes from within. Do not let anyone try and tell you what you need to be spiritual.
An initiation is like a wedding ceremony. The actual marriage takes place in a government office where you get a marriage license and the union of two people is recognized by the state. The ceremony with the gown and the cake and the preacher who blesses the couple is a ritual that is dependent upon how much money somebody wants to pay. The ceremony can be big or little. It can be expensive or done very economically. The same is true for an initiation. You have the right to say how much you want to spend to have it done, if you want to have it done at all. That is totally up to you.
Lastly, despite everything I said, if you want the ceremony performed and you feel like you need the high dollar package with all the trimmings, then go for it. Some people don’t feel like they are married unless they spend a huge wad of cash on a wedding ceremony. If you truly feel that is what you need in order to develop your spirituality then by all means do it. But don’t rush into anything. Orisas can wait. Orisas have been on this plane of existence since the beginning of time. They will be here until the end of time as well. They are not trying to force you to hurrying into debt. And speaking of debt, it makes you wonder how our ancient African ancestors got initiated before there was such a thing as money.
Baba Orunmila has finally given me the reading for the year. If it was anyone else I would have said that it was about time. But like I’ve said before, trying to rush a reading from Baba is like trying to hold back the Iya Osun in her form as the Mississippi River with Lego blocks.
To be honest, I received the reading earlier this week. We decided to give it a title of A Year Of Give And Take. To accompany the reading I chose a picture of a shore line with its waters in a constant rhythm of give and take with the sand. The picture also shows billowing clouds meant to symbolize the fact that this year is going to be a year of great changes just like last year was. And everybody knows last year was a hell of a deusy. I don’t think I’ve met anyone who thought otherwise.
With the wisdom of hindsight I can see that last year was intended to give us all a new perspective of the need for material wealth. A lot of people had their face slapped when they realized their economic security was being pulled from under them like a rug. Many of us stumbled. Some of us stumbled harder than others. Few were untouched.
When I was little I went to Sunday school and we learned that Jesus said that a man shouldn’t build his house on a foundation of sand. So many of us have built our future on an economic foundation based on an entry in some bank’s database somewhere. A magnetic record somewhere tells everybody what we are worth. And people are working like crazy to increase the size of that magnetic bank balance easily wiped by the stroke of a keyboard. If that doesn’t sound like a foundation of sand then I don’t know what does.
This year, we will have another chance to get our focus back on what is important. We need to focus on building our relationships. As Baba said, change is best confronted when we have people around us going through the change with us. Family and friends are key to weathering the coming storms. Anyone who thinks they can face the future without support from others is taking a huge risk. I know I wouldn’t want to try it.
One thing Baba Orunmila said that wasn’t included in this reading is the fact that there will be an addendum to the reading that will be coming later. Honestly, a sequel to the reading is most appropriate in a year described as give and take. So Baba gives a part here. We have no choice but to give Baba the time he wants to come back with the sequel.
In the mean time, we should take heed and do what we can to keep our families close and our loved ones closer. This ride has just begun. I think last year was just the beginning. There is a lot more to come.
And just in case you don’t bother to go and read what Baba Orunmila said for yourself, the Orisa for the year is Baba Obatala. I was taught that Obatala is the Orisa of the mountains and there isn’t much more stable than that. In a year of great changes we will need stability in our lives. Baba is also the Orisa of justice. And what symbolizes justice more than the concept you reap what you sow? And we will have a lot of reaping to do for a long time.
But that’s cool because Baba Obatala, the Orisa of the mountains will be here to help give us a better foundation. We just have to make the choice to take him up on his offer to guide us. And if nothing else we’ll learn to build our future on a rock solid foundation.
For all practical purposes we will define spirituality the existence that transcends bodily senses, time and the tactile world. Spirituality implies a separation between the body and soul. But spirituality may also be about the development of the individual’s inner life through specific practices. The spiritual is traditionally contrasted with the material. It is a perceived sense of connection to something that exists in a metaphysical reality that is greater than one’s self. It may include an emotional experience of reverence or a state of nirvana. Spirituality is the personal, subjective dimension of religion, particularly that which pertains to salvation from our day to day drudgery.
I am regularly astounded at the number of people who think spirituality is narrowly defined by circumstances from a single perspective. It is typical for some people who adhere to any particular set of dogma to believe anyone who doesn’t walk step in step with the exact same belief is a spiritual imposter unworthy of any consideration. People with the same basic beliefs but with what can be considered different styles of implementing the details are ready to condemn each other’s efforts as a damnable heretic.
The African spiritual tradition of Ifa appears to suffer more than its fair share of people who refuse to conform to the orthodox spiritual theory. I happen to be one of them. Traditional Ifa puts a great deal of emphasis on people conforming to a strict hierarchy of status and ritual that has little to do with spirituality and a great deal to do with obedience and submission not to some spiritual entity but to other people in the community.
All too often I am told that I do not have any inkling as to what makes someone a student of traditional Ifa. The most recent comment made was from a traditional practitioner expert who suggested that I go through the traditional motions of an initiation ceremony in Yorubaland because the initiation ceremony I already went through was not the way things are practiced there. But little information was given as to what makes one ceremony better than another. Instead, I was given the title of a book to read as to what makes the Ifa the tradition of Ifa so I too can conform to what the author of the book describes as acceptable Ifa practices.
Now here comes the best part. This traditional Ifa conformist tells me my personal dreams and meditations and conversations that I have with spiritual entities are all bogus and I need to stop pretending that I am doing my personal spiritual development and get with the program. Instead of Ifa I’m practicing some form of spirituality that more closely resembles Native American traditions. The Ifa conformist demands that I stop invoking the hallowed names of Orisa in my acts of blasphemy until I learn to adhere to the orthodox Ifa.
Usually it’s some self important babalawo or iyanifa or some other title that tries to get me to conform. But, this time I think it is nothing but a brand new initiate who has, in their own words, “gone through the motions” of ceremonial initiation rituals in a field trip to Africa and now feels that the only place on the planet where people are good enough to indoctrinate others into Ifa are the native Yoruba people. You see, you have to spend good money to go to Africa and find traditional elders in order to become spiritual. People who don’t simply are not worthy. Regardless of their story, this person obviously suffers from some kind of official ceremony on official Ifa ground superiority complex. You’re nothing if you’re not initiated by the expert elders in Yorubaland.
The fact of the matter is no one at our level of existence has the ability to initiate someone into or exclude someone else from the official spiritual club. Orisas are the ones who actually do the accepting. And unlike us humans Orisas aren’t bureaucratic requiring strict adherence to ceremonial ritual for ritual’s sake. No one can imbue another with spirituality. No one can say that they are the only ones who can converse with spiritual entities.
I happen to like the idea that my spirituality resembles the spirituality of people with a reputation for being spiritual. The fact that spiritual people resemble each other when all the dopey rules and regulations are taken out of the picture is kind of a compliment. People have a tendency to take the clearest of issues and convolute it with complexity and rules in a lame attempt to minimize confusion. What might work for one person might have a totally different feel for another. The steps that led to one person’s spiritual enlightenment will have no affect on the spiritual development of another. It isn’t always that cut and dry.
But a lot of people who have bought into the twelve step spiritual development program are not ready to give up their choke hold on their brand new elevated spiritual status. These people know for a fact that only someone pure of spirit and ready to manifest that spirituality with strict adherence to the spiritual principles listed in The Hitchhiker’s Guide to Ifa can claim to bend spiritual entities to their will. May the Orisa have mercy on the souls of people who claim otherwise. Honestly, it must be nice to be able to write the rules of spirituality for everyone. I know I would never embark on such an endeavor.
I was sitting, watching the news people follow President Barack Obama around on his first trip on Air Force One, a cross between the Queen Elizabeth of the skies and probably the closest thing to an AWACS without actually being one. While no one will mistake Air Force One for anything other than a plane, it has got to be one of the best ways to travel known to man. One thing that caught my attention is that while flying the President has access to luxurious food prepared by some of the best chefs available.
But on this maiden voyage, Mr. Obama ordered a burger, medium well, with a salad and fries. The waiter was just too happy to take the President’s order. My partner, watching the program with me wondered aloud how long it would take the seemingly down to earth Obama family to adjust to being waited on hand and foot by people with some of the highest security clearances in the land.
I took the bait. I think they’ll do like most people and quickly adjust to having worldly items handed to them on a silver platter. It is human nature for most people to indulge if given the opportunity. But how long people tolerate such indulgences depends on the person of course. Some people are more than happy to have others wait on them. Some people might indulge for a minute or two, but will soon realize that there is something to being able to feed and take care of one’s self.
During our discussion I suddenly remembered the movie Coming To America, where Eddie Murphy played young African Prince Akeem. It was his birthday and he was proud to become a man of age. His attendant had wakened him up and started to prepare him for his big day. He escorted the prince to his private bathroom when he suddenly turned around and asked the attendant if he could do it by himself this morning. The attendant scoffed, clapped his hands, and called for the royal wipers. While some people would be more than happy to continue having their asses wiped, others would much rather prefer to do the job on their own.
Recalling the movie with the African theme my mind quickly wandered a bit to my old Orisa house that practiced the African spirituality of Ifa. Like most Orisa houses that I’ve experienced, the people there thought of themselves as a little African tribe practicing everything African including dress, food, language, rules, regulations, and African hierarchy. My old godmother was at the top of the hierarchy and there was a pecking order based on titles and initiation dates. People who weren’t initiated were at the bottom of the pecking order with their own pecking order. And everyone was to treat the godmother and her family like royalty.
What really got my goat was the way the community interacted with the godmother’s dogs. We would be deep in a conversation about the Orisa or about ancestors, exchanging ideas and trying to get concepts straight. When suddenly, the godmother would say the dogs need to be fed. Everybody in the house would get up and spring into action. A small army would head to the kitchen to get the dogs’ food and water bowls. A few people would be assigned to getting the dogs from where ever they were secured away into the open area. No one was allowed to touch the dogs or speak to them. The royal dogs had more clout than just about anybody in the house.
One day somebody in this little African community got the bright idea that we needed to follow the rules of royalty to the letter. The godmother needed to be addressed as “your majesty” and her daughter needed to be addressed as “your grace”. People in the African community could not turn their back on her without taking three steps back first. Somebody was going to have to accompany her whenever she went out in public.
I remember watching the elders in the house iron out the details of the royal treatment. I remember watching people argue back and forth about who was responsible for what. At one point, I asked my godmother how she felt about these changes being made to the community. She chuckled and said something like, who are we to deny the people. She was already using the plural reference to herself. I was disappointed. But it was another lesson or two for me.
Some time ago, my godmother taught us that the purpose of Ifa was not to make us larger than life, but to teach us that in the grand scheme of things, we are nothing more than the tiniest specs when compared to the cosmos. Ifa is supposed to teach us that we are no better and no worse than the next guy. If anything we need to be gracious enough and humble enough to avoid the pomp and circus stance that drives us to seek status for the sake of status and notoriety for the sake of notoriety. In one fell swoop, that royal baby was thrown out the royal window with the royal bath water. The opportunity for the royal treatment was snatched and milked for all it was worth.
As President, I can understand why Mr. Obama would take advantage of being waited on. The President needs to be free to think and respond to the chaotic mess that people make on a global scale. If people can help him focus on the big issues by taking his focus off the mundane things, I can understand. I sincerely hope Ms. Obama keeps him rooted with helping him remember to do a couple of his own chores every now and then. I sincerely hope Mr. Obama can avoid status simply for the sake of status.