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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.

Saturday, February 14, 2009 - Posted by | Faith, God, Ifa, Native Americans, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Yoruba


  1. Oh man do I agree with this post. Everyone is or should be in total and complete control of their spirituality. No one is going to accompany you to deaths door, not even if they push up daisies the same exact second you do.

    In fact adhering to this faux tradition is the reason why so many people are totally off their paths and are having so many problems in life. The first thing they need to do is to remove all standing between them and Orisha.

    Great post keep that up as we should all be open to hearing a different perspective without name calling or threats. And for all those that feel that it is necessary to doom one to eternal life without an Orisha in sight because someone refuses to be duped, don’t bother with it just allow all of us crazy un-indoctrinated Ifa folks go down our paths in piece.


    Comment by theblacksentinel | Sunday, February 15, 2009 | Reply

  2. I am very new to Ifa and Orisa worship. Therefore i beg forgiveness if i seem to be very out of line. I believe in all sincerity, the role of initiation is passing of ashe from teacher to student. in Hinduism there is a similar practice called dishka which simply is the ashe of the teacher transfers to the student to increase his ashe so that he may better walk his(the students) individual path. After initiation a student can choose how he wishes to learn more about himself. The teacher is just a guide, since he has traveled a similar path but he is not the authority because the student’s path and teacher’s path are not quite the same. Now i am too much of a baby in this tradition to judge what is the technology used to transfer this ashe. What is the purpose of what. what is necessary to be performed in order the ritual to have been successful.

    just my two cents.

    Comment by Akil | Friday, June 5, 2009 | Reply

  3. Thanks for the feedback Akil,

    But how can a teacher lead a student when the teacher has no idea where they came from? And why does the passing of ashe require thousands of dollars? Do they perform ceremonies in Hinduism the way they do in Ifa? I wouldn’t know. All I know is what I learned along my path. Ashe is not magically transferred doing a ritual. Ashe is actually learned, cultivated, nourished, etc. A parent passes ashe to a child only after years and years of being involved in that child’s life. It’s not done through ritual. And I don’t know if many parents charge their children thousands of dollars to pass that ashe along. If anything, the parent pays the children.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Friday, June 5, 2009 | Reply

    • Hello,
      Didn’t realise that you had replied just by chance I was redirected back here.
      With response to your comment about how the ashe is transferred in dishka there is an element of mystery to it but essentially yes it is “magically transferred doing a ritual” for lack of a better description. How can this be done? I will try to explain it. If we can agree to believe that each and every man was given divine essence by the Ultimate creator. For graphical representation picture it as a strand of hair. So we all have this “strand of divinity.” It is this divine aspect of us that is Olodumare. Therefore we can agree that within us we have the potential to express the powers of Olodumare on a smaller scale. If we can agree on this point then I will go forward. Can we agree?

      Comment by Akil | Monday, November 30, 2009 | Reply

    • Akil,

      I’m afraid we cannot agree. How is ashe magically transferred from teacher to student during a ritual? What kind of measurement is performed that can verify the magical transfer? Just to say it is magic for lack of a better term is not acceptable. To say that it is magic is to imply that a stranger can walk into an Orisa house and after a ritual is performed, will walk out magically enhanced. If we have a strand of divinity from Olodumare who we accept as the Supreme Being, how can someone else who is flesh and blood enhance that divinity? You might be ready to ignore your common sense and buy into the concept of magic. I prefer to look at things a little more logically.

      A superstitious person who was ignorant of electronics and electromagnetic frequencies and radio waves would look at the invention of the television and call it magic. But even though we may not understand every detail of its function, we know it is based on science with measurable results. It doesn’t take a ritual to activate it. But someone who wants to take advantage of people who are superstitious would say that it is a matter of magic and tradition. People should take more responsibility for their faith and their belief system instead of just buying the old standby that it is all magic.


      Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | Reply

  4. I agree with all your points. What I am trying to put across is illogical. Even if it’s illogical it doesn’t make it any less real.

    Gbogbo Ire

    Diedie a n je ori eja.
    Bit by bit we will eat the head of the fish

    Comment by Akil | Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | Reply

  5. Akil,

    “Even if it’s illogical it doesn’t make it any less real.”

    And on the flip side, it doesn’t make it more real either. Believing that there is a man on the moon is illogical. The fact that it is illogical doesn’t make it any more or less real. But if the believer’s perception is strong enough no amount of argument can sway their opinion. If you want to believe in magic and pay the teacher handsomely to enhance the magic which Olodumare has given us for free then you go right ahead. Obviously, that is what you feel you need to enhance your divine strand. For most people who practice Ifa, the traditional arrangement is all that is needed. However, I am trying to educate people who recognize the flaw in the traditional way of thinking and are ready to broaden their mind a bit. There is another way that actually makes more sense and is in fact logical and does not require a devotee a huge transfer of wealth from the student to the teacher with only the promise of magic as a service. You have been given the information. What you chose to do with it is up to you.


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | Reply

  6. It’s a case of the Emperor’s new clothes. Someone came along and made him believe that they possessed invisible silk strands from which they would sew him a fantastical suit.

    We all could see it was bull but if that made the Emperor feel good thinking that he could be wearing an enhanced suit more power to him. He paid handsomely to be fooled and to look like one.

    You can put out your hand to help the drowning man but you can’t force him to grab it. Only you can save you. If you believe that a teacher who walks a path not just a little different but totally different from your own can somehow enhance that which is freely given then have at it.

    Just ask yourself this. How much did Olodumare make you pay for your magic strand of ashe? And if it was free why do you now need to pay to enhance it? If it needs enhancement shouldn’t you go to the source?


    Comment by theblacksentinel | Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | Reply

  7. I am not talking about the paying aspect of the initiation. I am talking about the actual initiation. What happens during it.

    I agree with a lot of what you saying about paying for these things.

    Comment by Akil | Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | Reply

  8. Akil,

    Then look at it this way…

    What kind of ritual can another human being perform that will enhance that which the Supreme Being has already given you? How can another human being’s magic be more powerful than Olodumare’s? If Baba’s ashe wasn’t enough magic, how in the world (no pun intended) can another man’s magic be greater?


    Comment by brotherpeacemaker | Tuesday, December 1, 2009 | Reply

  9. Sounds like you had alot of bad encounters with money hungry people and not real Babalawos , IFA initation does not make one a Babalawo , its is only through good character and extensive know how that one can call himself one. Many have lied to you but your Ori has not allowed you to be fooled do not loose hope there are still those who practice this religion the way Olodumare instructed us to
    Aboru Aboye ,
    Osun Dare’
    Ile Ogunda Bede
    Ile Idi Otito L’agba Morenike Olomowewe

    Comment by Osun Dare' | Thursday, April 1, 2010 | Reply

  10. To osun dare, I believ u are missing the point that brother peace maker is trying to make. Its not so much about the money is speaking on. What he’s saying to u is this. The light force, power, ashe whatever u call it is within all no man nor woman can put that or take that out of u. Even if u go through the most extensive ritual, its nt the ritual that empowers u nor the person whose doing it its your belief and conviction that gives the ritual power because its in u already. You only know the truth until u yourself becomes the truth. Empower yourself by communing with the divine thats in you.

    Comment by Bro. Rah | Thursday, November 18, 2010 | Reply

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