Conforming To Traditional Ifa
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.