It's about our community and our spirituality!

The Inflated Cost of Orisa Initiations

An Orisa Altar

In Ifa, an initiation is a marriage between the devotee and their Orisa. The initiated devotee is known as an iyawo which is literally translated as bride of Orisa. In many cultures and governments, the actual act of marriage occurs when two parties agree to the marriage contract. The wedding is just a ceremony or ritual to give the newlyweds an opportunity to celebrate their marriage with friends and family. After the wedding there is the wedding reception where people are invited to eat, dance, and enjoy themselves on behalf of the married couple.

Wedding ceremonies and their corresponding wedding reception can run the gamut from the rather simple and undemanding to huge, extravaganzas of extraordinary proportions requiring careful planning, perfect timing, and abundant resources. Many fiancés fall into the mindset that their celebration must be the absolute biggest display possible in order to correctly and proportionately reflect the size of their love for each other. Never mind the fact that chances are good that they’ll end up in divorce court. But nevertheless, traditionally, couples who marry have the opportunity to decide exactly how much they are willing to budget for their celebration.

But when it comes to Ifa weddings the budget for the initiation isn’t in the hands of the devotee. In most houses of Orisa worship, the ile sets the price for the ritual and the devotee has no choice but to pay or to do without. Most houses have a distinct order of initiation rituals that may require a number of things that can increase the cost of the initiation ceremony exponentially. A particular set of decorations must be purchased and members of the community must be compensated for installing them on the devotee’s behalf. Certain members of the community must be paid for their presence and compensated for any expenses incurred traveling to the ritual. Certain foods must be purchased and prepared for everyone who comes to the ile during the initiation ritual which could be as long as an entire week. The oriate, the Yoruba equivalent of a master of ceremony, must be paid along with various priests and priestesses within the ile. Authentic African clothing must be purchased, transportation must be arranged, animals must be sacrificed, spiritual readings must be performed, and the list can go on and on and on. There is no option to delete any item a devotee may consider unnecessary. It is an all or nothing proposition.

Imagine what would happen if you hired a wedding planner or coordinator for your conventional wedding celebration and they told you there was only one way they operated, their way or the highway. One wouldn’t hesitate to terminate the business relationship and find someone else to do the job. There are claims that the quality of the initiation ceremony may suffer if one does not use knowledgeable and/or experienced priests. Some will argue that unless a specific number of priests participate in the process then the integrity of the initiation may be in jeopardy. But the simple fact is that like most conventional weddings these are traditional ceremonies performed as an option and not actually necessary ceremonies.

For the most part, once a devotee is correctly identified with his/her Orisa the matrimonial bond is a relatively simple and straight forward ritual. It involves ritual cleansing of the physical body and of the spirit. The physical body will be purified by fasting before hand and a bath with herbs associated with the specific Orisa. It includes an invocation of prayer to recognize and acknowledge our spiritual benefactors the Orisa (mo ju ba o), the ancestors (iba se o), and our family (both spiritual and by blood) and friends. And like almost every other milestone celebrated throughout our lives, it includes a feast for the gathering. The priest performing the ritual is simply making the formal introduction of the devotee to their Orisa. The quality of the priest performing the ritual is not the pertinent issue to the joining. The devotee and his/her devotion to the Orisa is the one most critical component to the success or failure of the initiation. The vast majority of ritual, procedure, ceremony, pomp and/or circumstance are the trivial additions designed to impress and overwhelm the guests.

Like people Orisas enjoy a good party. But contrary to what people may have been taught to think no Orisa wants to see their children stressed over things that really don’t matter. Orisa are spiritual, non-corporeal entities who manifest themselves in nature. As they interact with us during meditations they simultaneously interact with other worshippers and non-worshippers around the world. People insist on giving the Orisa human emotions and weaknesses. The Orisa are above irrelevant displays of anger on inconsequential people. In the big picture where does one more sacrificial goat fit into the grand scheme of things otherwise known as the divine plan? Why would Orisa exercise their unlimited power into reprimanding a single individual? One thing about Orisas that everyone will do well to remember is that their patience is very long. These are the entities that build mountainous islands in the middle of the ocean over eons. These are the same entities that carve rivers through grassy plains over millennia. And these beings are the ones who will wait for your conscience to open and any work that needs to be done will be done in its own good time.

It’s all about keeping balance. In order for the devotee who’s barely making ends meet to save up enough money to pay for the same type of an initiation for someone else who could simply make a withdrawal from their savings account is not balanced.

When a priest claims that an Orisa is angry because they didn’t get the sacrifice or ebo they required it is an attempt to use inherent superstitious fears of the spiritual realm against the devotee. For a priest to say that an Orisa demands all the trappings of a full blown initiation is an attempt to perform the very same type of manipulation on a grander scale. Sadly, the very people who have the most influence in our community appear to be more concerned with making quick, easy money than with serving the people or the Orisa. In the one price system of initiations only the most fortunate can pay to have their relationship with their Orisa recognized with a ritual. Too many people see the request for an initiation as an invitation to print money. On the other side of the coin, too many people prefer to wait until they have enough of their hard earned cash to give these priests the windfall premiums for a so-called higher quality initiation.

Like its conventional counterpart, the Orisa initiation can be a beautiful occasion whether it’s a full scale assault on the senses open to the public or a simple, elegant, private affair. The devotee should be able to make the choice to have their initiation done as their resources will allow. The devotee should have the option to be able to stick to a reasonable budget as they see fit. Not everyone has deep pockets to employ every person in the ile for their initiation. For those that don’t they should know that there is an alternative.

Friday, March 23, 2007 - Posted by | African Americans, Black Community, Black Culture, Black Men, Black People, Divination, Faith, God, Ifa, Orisa, Philosophy, Religion, Spirituality


  1. Aseooo!

    Comment by Anonymous | Tuesday, March 1, 2011 | Reply

  2. O gbo ato
    It is wonderful we have this discussion. I was initiated in Yorubaland and my initiation was very genuine but very much so less ritzy than initiations in the Americas. The fact is that a simpler ceremony with emphasis on the necessary points is much more effective than a ceremony with a bunch of bells and whistles. Remember, at the end of the week (or 3 days) it is just you and your Orisa… ASE!

    Comment by Anonymous | Wednesday, March 30, 2011 | Reply

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