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.
Bernard Madoff is accused of perpetrating one of the greatest frauds in history by losing somewhere in the neighborhood of fifty billion dollars of investors’ money. Like just about anyone who works as an executive on Wall Street or simply wants to be one of the big money pushers and shakers, he was an intensely competitive person with a need to prove to the world that he was somebody who was powerful, intelligent, and clever. Mr. Madoff began legitimately enough by building a securities trading firm that by the mid nineties had become the envy of many in his business. Bernard L. Madoff Investment Securities was an innovative and imaginative, technically cutting edge operation that matched small buy and sell orders from retail investors.
Mr. Madoff’s business model was actually winning a good share of the volume from the New York Stock Exchange by trading many of its listed stocks. Mr. Madoff had anticipated that the buying and selling of stocks would become computerized, and his systems provided better prices and services and eventually attracted big name clientele. When so called trading experts visited Mr. Madoff’s high tech office at Manhattan’s Lipstick Building, they were impressed. He sold people on the idea that here was a very intelligent man who knew his business really well and was very driven to succeed. He had managed to sell himself as a major player and a force to be reckoned with on the frontline.
Mr. Madoff’s success had come through a lot of hard work in the trenches of Wall Street. Matching buy and sell orders has never been glamorous work, not like managing other people’s money. He had earned Wall Street credibility.
He bolstered his reputation through activism in industry organizations. He eventually became a non-executive chairman of the NASDAQ. At that point, Mr. Madoff was earning tens of millions of dollars. Here was a man who didn’t need to start a scam to become a multimillionaire many times over. Yet, there was some flaw in his personality that led him into the mess he made and to dig himself deeper and deeper until the fraud that started out a relatively paltry tens of million ballooned into a fifty billion dollar fraud.
He created an aura of exclusivity by selectively choosing whose money he would manage. In wealthy circles Bernard Madoff’s reputation as a financial wizard grew. And no one could touch him. He was an emperor in fancy duds that only those pure of heart who trusted him completely could reap the benefits of profit from. That’s how he suckered people in and it was an excellent job of image marketing. People had to write personal letters to do business with Mr. Madoff. It wasn’t meant as something for everyone. The image was that you were very fortunate to be part of Madoff’s circle. In all honesty, like many things exclusive, the fortunate were the ones who were kept on the outside.
Under the weight of the collapsing stock market where more and more investors began to demand the withdrawal of their money, Mr. Madoff had to admit to that his investment management setup was nothing but a fraud. It was nothing but a giant Ponzi scheme where profitability was nothing but fiction and any cash paid to older investors was nothing but the cash received from newer investors. What began as an honest investment business had mutated into an ugly financial fraud of epic proportions.
Mr. Madoff managed to create a religion around himself. He sold people an idea about what he could do for them and used it for his personal benefit. While people around the nation and potentially around the globe are discovering the impact to their financial portfolios, Mr. Madoff made like a bandit, pun intended. He lived in a posh Manhattan apartment and a Hampton estate that dwarfed the homes of many of his investors.
I look at what happened between Mr. Madoff and his investors and I cannot help but see a parallel between people and their spiritual leadership. I think of my experiences with my early Ifa teachers and communities and see some harsh resemblances. The leadership of the Orisa houses I’ve visited as a young practitioner always kept an air of exclusivity that made you feel special just to be accepted. Not just anyone can walk off the street and participate in Orisa ceremonies. It was a privilege to have an Orisa priest do a reading and be told that a way must be cleared so that you could join their Orisa house. And the fees you paid to have spiritual work done on your behalf were an investment in your spiritual development.
As individuals developed their credibility within the house, through the development of superficial manifestations such as reciting prayers, memorizing songs of praise, dancing and contorting in traditionally African techniques or other talents that will impress peers but in all honesty do little in the development of a true sense of spirituality. But the investment of time and money in the development of spiritual credibility with our peers will allow up and coming priest to develop a similar investment pyramid that will allow them to exploit even younger practitioners.
No where is this violation of trust more evident than when an Orisa priest makes a conscious decision to use the ritual of divination to manipulate others for their own personal benefit. Unfortunately, for most practitioners, there is no spiritual stock market to come crashing down to expose the charlatans. There is no commission of holiness ready to pounce on those that have traded their spiritual integrity for personal benefit. While Mr. Madoff is simply stealing people’s money, other people are actually blocking people’s spiritual development and taking their money in the process. And that’s a true tragedy.
Getting Baba Orunmila to do anything he’s not ready to do is like teaching bricks how to jump through hoops. It’s not going to happen, at least no time soon. So it amazes me that some people can get Baba to give them the reading for the year like clockwork for release on the first of January. I remember back in early December of 2007, I started asking Orunmila for the word for 2008. Baba responded asking me why I wanted the reading for the following year when the year wasn’t even close to being over yet. I responded that I was anxious and ready to demonstrate my special connection with the spirituality of Ifa. Baba responded, demonstrate it to whom and for what purpose? I responded, never mind!
Come New Years Eve, the last day of 2007, I was back with pen and paper ready to get that reading from Orunmila. Again, what’s the rush? Well, in the Orisa houses I experienced as an early practitioner, I was taught that people received a reading for the year at the beginning of the year. And Baba responded that I was also taught that people who were initiated into Ifa were more significant than people who were not initiated. I was taught that people had to shave their heads when they were initiated. I was also taught that people who wanted to practice Ifa had to spend tremendous amounts of money and must adhere to traditional Yoruba culture. Okay, Baba I give up! But when will I get the reading for the year? In classic Baba mode he responded, you will get the reading of the year when you are ready to get the reading for the year.
For weeks I had to put up with this circular, yoyo, Master Yoda logic. I didn’t get the reading for 2008 until sometime in March. So when I see people in the Ifa community post the reading for the year according to Orunmila right on the dot come the first of January, or even the first week of January, or even the month of January, I have to wonder what’s up?
Last year there were a variety of readings for the year from a lot of people. Not a single one of these readings matched what anyone else had to say about the coming year. Again I went to Baba for an understanding of what’s happening. Baba asked when did I ever hear him say that all of these people were speaking for him? Why would anyone simply take these people’s word that they were speaking for him? You see, a lot of people feel like they are speaking on behalf of Orunmila. They get out their divination tools and use them according to the user manual that comes with them. They will say a few prayers, throw the ipwele chain or ikin or whatever divination tool being used, do a little math to figure out which odu holds the answer, look up the result in a book of odu verses, and there you have the reading for the year.
But spiritual readings should be much more involved than a lucky throw to lookup an odu in a reference book. Imagine trying to convey a message about how someone should live their life using nothing but an odu verse that has a rather convoluted story about praising a babalawo and the babalawo praising Ifa with ten thousand cowry shells as payment. Now the odu has to be interpreted and the interpretation is only as good as the practitioner and there are so many ways a very important communication can be misinterpreted. And that’s only part of the problem of an Ifa practitioner whose relationship with Orunmila is in good standing.
People whose standing with Baba Orunmila is troubled have zero chance of even pulling up the correct odu. These people might think they are communicating with Orunmila by going through all the motions associated with divination. Indeed, any body watching them would see a very spiritually dramatic demonstration of stereotypical Orisa worship. But in actuality these diviners are doing nothing but making random stabs at luck. A divination tool in the hands of a practitioner of poor character or on the outs with Orunmila for some other reason would be better used as a doorstop. Baba doesn’t work with people who manipulate readings intended for others to their own benefit, and it is a guarantee that the benefit to the diviner will be lead to more money.
So I asked Baba, how are people supposed to believe what you are telling them through me when there is so much spiritual clutter out there? What distinguishes me from the others? Well, the fact that I don’t publish a reading for the year right on schedule like everyone else should give people a hint that something here might be different. I would rather do without a reading than just put anything up as Baba’s word.
When people read the word of Orunmila here, they can rest assured it is straight from the Orisa and not out of a book of odu verses. Baba and I will sit down and we will discuss the word so that I can get it from him without spin and without interpretation and without having to do some ciphering to get a number so I can pull an odu out of a reference book. Baba will explain exactly what he means. And if form some reason a question comes up about the reading that I didn’t think to answer before, I can always go back and start a new conversation with Orunmila instead of just throwing the equivalent of divination dice around. Integrity and accuracy are key. I might not be the first with a reading for the year. But trust that when I am ready for the reading, it will come straight from the Baba’s mouth.
Once Again, I`m not sure what the negative energies [are] in which orisa protect us from.I would say the negative energies are life`s adversities, or maybe the Ajogun,who are spirits that create obstacles for humanity.The head of the Ajogun is Baba Esu Elegbara.I do not [believe] that the Orisa were sitting around waiting for us for [millions] of years.To demonstrate what i believe I bring up the subject of human parents. Our parents were not sent to earth solely for the purpose of having us. Before they had children our parents lived their own lives. However,somewhere down the path of their destinies they were supposed to have children.When Osun swells the river she usually does so because it is a natural [occurrence].The Orisa guide us along the paths or destinies of which we chose in front of Olodumare himself prior to being born.the orisa instruct us on how to live our lives.The Orisa show us how to achieve ‘Agbo Ato’, Long Life.they also discipline us when we have strayed from our paths.
Thanks for the feedback Oludare Akinola,
Human parents are more closely associated with other primates than with Orisa. The whole point of members of the animal kingdom is to be fruitful and multiply. In essence, it actually is your parents’ purpose to have children. The fact that our parents take their sweet time getting around to being parents does not mean their purpose was not to become parents.
As humans we have complicated life so much that we actually think our purpose in life is to be doctors and lawyers and other professions. We have a tendency to judge each other based on what we do instead of who we are. We have developed complex economic systems to accumulate wealth and maximum profit and more materialism than the average person has any right to in order to develop a comfortable life. I think of how our African ancestors and our Native American ancestors lived simply off the land without the accumulation of such excesses and I wish we could go back to a style of living where it is all for one and one for all.
We now live in a culture where it’s every man for him self. And everybody has to work their hardest in this rat race. Other primates don’t enslave themselves to economics like we do. No other animal chooses to live its life so removed from nature. Generally speaking it is only the human species that have evolved so distant from its true roots. Because we have voluntarily brought so much trouble, so much osogbo into our lives, so much negativity, many of us look to our beliefs for relief. We think the solution to our problems lies in the supernatural realm instead of in our own hands. We look towards Orisa and ancestors and Olodumare himself for some relief from our choices as a collective civilization.
But it is not the Orisas’ purpose to guide us through self inflicted trouble. When it comes to the relationship between the Orisas and humans, all we can expect is the guidance to develop our spirituality. As our spirituality matures, we should eventually realize that the materialism and the wealth and the other distractions that we think are important really don’t rate that high at all. When we develop our spirituality, we learn to keep perspective on the problems we normally think are so overwhelming.
All Orisas are here to help us in this endeavor of spirituality, especially Baba Esu. Esu opens the door that leads to the path of spiritual development. With so many people needing so much help getting their spirituality in order Esu has his work cut out for him trying to get all of us to go through that door that can lead to our spiritual salvation. But instead of us acknowledging his contribution to our development, we blame Baba for our own bad choices. What incentive would Esu have to help us when we malign him so?
If Esu had the humanistic traits many of us put on him we’d all be in trouble. Through the traditional propaganda of Ifa, we learn to believe that he is a trickster and someone that is not to be trusted. Thankfully, Baba Esu, like all Orisas, is above the human weaknesses we constantly like to saddle them with. We say Orisas are great. We say that we appreciate their guidance. But then we say that the Orisa Esu cannot be trusted and that he spends his time luring us off of our path after he worked so hard to get us on it.
It doesn’t take an Orisa to distract humans. For the vast majority of us, all it takes is a shiny bauble or trinket to get us to lose sight of our true goals. All too often human spirituality is fragile and we are always looking for some type of prestige or status that we can hold over others to win their admiration. If this was Esu’s purpose he wouldn’t have very much work to do at all.
More people need to spend more time developing their own personal relationship with Orisa instead of relying on the tales and stories that traditional Ifa has passed down from generation to generation. We rely on conjecture and hearsay from our elders and other humans that we trust to know what they’re telling us. But when we take a moment to examine what they’re really saying it doesn’t take much to see that we are being sold tainted goods.
The only negative energies that impact our lives are the negative energies we as individuals and we as a community allow to impact our lives. As a collective, we can do so much better than this. We make the choice to take our spirituality for granted and allow our understanding of Orisa to be based on what others choose to believe about our spiritual guides. Until we learn to take better control of our spiritual development we will continue to be manipulated and we will continue to suffer negative energies as a result. No one punishes us. When we make the choice to take our eyes off the spiritual prize we are the ones who open the door for trouble to come.
I am too embarrassed. I like to consider myself a conscious student of Ifa. I like to consider myself in tuned with nature and less likely to take nature for granted. I have been watching the happenings of flooding along the Mississippi river practically right in the back of my own neighborhood. The level of the river water has risen significantly. I have seen the Mississippi flood, but I cannot remember the last time I have seen the river so swollen.
Last night I drove across the big 270 highway bridge just north of St. Louis, Missouri to check up on some property I have in a storage locker just across the river. The river looked like a lake. The little road that runs along the river on the Missouri side was a lot closer to the water than it should be. As I drove into Illinois there were soggy puddles of standing water in the fields just on the other side of the river levee. I marveled at all the water. The Chain of Rocks canal that runs parallel to the larger river is no longer visibly separate from the river adding to the lake affect. It was another impressive manifestation of nature.
My property was safe by the way. Now that the family has a minivan, I parked my blue 1992 Honda Accord wagon in covered storage with some other items that are hard to keep when a family is trying to stay in a large one bedroom apartment. In order to keep the car in good shape, I start her up once a week and let her run for a few minutes. The river will crest in the next day or so and it looks like the levees will hold easily. I was prepared to move my things. I was even prepared to lose a few items. But it looks like the wagon and the other items will be safe.
However, it wasn’t until this morning that I realized that had not acknowledged the Orisa Osun at anytime during this ordeal. When I saw the storms traveling through the upper Midwest, my mind automatically went to the Orisas Oya, Yemonja, and Sango. I saw the winds blow and the tornadoes spin and I would give praise to Oya! I saw the rain fall and I would give praise to Yemonja! I saw the lightening strikes and I would praise Sango! I saw the rivers swell and I said wow. I have been severely lacking in my appreciation of Osun. I would like to take a second and correct that mistake.
Osun, the Orisa of the river, plays a seriously important role for humanity. The river has done so much for humanity. We have used for travel. We use it as a source of drinking water. We have disrespectfully used the river as an open toilet for our waste products. The river water has quenched the thirst of our crops. We have used the power of the river to light our houses. Man is so smug to think that we can build river damns strong enough to hold the river at bay. We think we can build levees that will keep the river confined to a small channel of water that is guaranteed to hold the water for five hundred years!
The river must be the Rodney Dangerfield of nature. It gets no respect.
Orisa are interdependent. In nature, it is rare for one Orisa to manifest change alone. They work together. Oya, Yemonja, and Sango have created conditions that have made the normally docile Osun an assertive, uncooperative, force of water, one of the most forceful elements of nature. While high velocity winds, raging fires, and movements of earth are destructive forces in their own right, the river Orisa can effectively turn our world upside down with a burst through a barrier with so much energy that a wall of water will destroy anything in its path for miles and disappear as quickly as she came. Or, Osun can creep quietly and glide slowly but relentlessly, without exhaustion, until she has literally consumed our entire world. She will stay for days, and then quietly slink away just as slowly, leaving considerable damage in her wake to everything made by the hand of humans.
As humans we have done a lot to try and redefine the relationship between the land and the river. The natural occasion of water exceeding the river banks was part of nature’s cycle. To live next to the river was to live with the fact that it is only temporary and when the river wanted to exceed the banks it was time for those living next to her to leave. It was natural. Water pouring over the land helped replenish water tables. Even the sediment and sludge that traveled with the water would carry nutrients to help keep land fertile. All of this is nature keeping maintenance of its self.
But we have engineered levees and water management systems that are intended to make the cycle of water exceeding the river banks a once in a five hundred year event. We’ve built concrete canal systems that are intended to keep the rainwater from being absorbed into the soil and instead, moving it back to the river so it can be swept out of our vicinity, back to the river, to be whisked away to some other location. And when nature responds with even greater river swells, man responds with stronger levees, damns, dykes and locks until mutually assured destruction is inevitable. The mutually assured destruction is not shared between humans and the river but among all the people who dare become so comfy that underestimate the danger of the situation we create for ourselves.
If somehow Osun burst through the levee that kept my property across the river safe it would be no one’s fault but my own. I made the choice to put my property within her reach. I know the river is swelling and yet I leave my property there instead of moving it safely out of the way. Just like the river helps to take excesses away from the land it would take my excess stuff away from me.
For now, it looks like Osun will let us keep our excesses. Regardless, she deserves an ebo. Tonight, I plan to go to the grocery store and buy a melon, apples, oranges, and etcetera. I will make a big basket of fruit. I will take it to the old Chain of Rocks Bridge that crosses the Mississippi that is now reserved for pedestrian and bicycle traffic across the river just south of the 270 interstate highway bridge. I’ll go out there to the middle of the river and toss the fruit in. I’ll watch the water rage below me. I’ll feel my heart pound in my chest with adrenaline as common sense heightened by a sense of self preservation tries to convince me not to take such an unnecessary risk with the river so swollen. Hopefully, the experience will instill with me such respect for the river that I will never take Osun for granted again.
A few nights ago thunderstorms rolled through the city in the middle of the night. For some reason or another I was awake. I could see the silent flashes of lightening penetrating the curtains on the window in through the dark. The storm was still far away. It was hot that night. The apartment was literally steaming with the city’s first stab this year at eighty plus overnight temperatures. The apartment didn’t have an air conditioner. I got up and tried to strategically place a box fan in a window so that it could pull the steamy air out of the bedroom, through the kitchen and dining room, and out the living room window. The bedroom curtain billowed as the slightly cooler but fresh air from the outside began to move through the apartment. Mission accomplished, I climbed back in bed and moved the window curtains to the side so I could watch the lightening show with an unobstructed view. Shortly thereafter the wind began and the trees started to sway with the wind. The air got considerably cooler. Large globules of rain began to pelt the ground. Thunder began to follow the lightening.
I don’t know why but I had a sudden urge to try and recite the Yoruba prayer I was given to memorize when I joined my old Orisa house a few years ago. It had been months since I had last tried to recite the prayer. I wanted to see how much I could recall of the Yoruba words. I started the prayer. “Omi tu tu, ona tu tu, ile tu tu…” The words began to flow. There’s the part with all the tu tus dedicated to nature, the planet, the sky, the heaven, followed by the mojuba part dedicated to the Orisas. This is where I began to falter. I knew many more Orisas now than I did back then and I didn’t want to leave anybody out of my recital. I started to ad lib as I tried to make my updated Orisa roll call off the top of my head.
Suddenly the Orisa Sango made an appearance in the bedroom. He had a smile on his face, a clear sign of mischief. He started to give me a little static. Baba said it had been a long time since he heard that little prayer of mine and asked if I thought I could remember it. He was taunting me. To say Baba enjoys giving me a hard time is an understatement.
I made the mistake once of challenging Baba during a particularly heavy lightening storm once. It was about two years ago. At the time, there was a particularly intense storm with brilliant flashes of lightening actually running across the sky from horizon to horizon. The light show was truly impressive. It was actually kind of scary. I’m not always sure if Orisas know how truly fragile the human body is. Baba laughed. I had put on a false sense of bravado as my heart was trying to beat out of my chest and ask Baba if that was the best he could do. Baba Sango stopped laughing and with a big smile on his face responded with an, Oh? The kind of oh that’s like an abbreviated, Excuse me? Not quite a full minute later there was a lightening strike that turned night into day for a good second or two. I could not discern where it started or where it stopped. The whole sky just lit up like one big giant halogen light bulb. After a brief delay there was a loud crackle and then one of the most thunderous booms I’ve ever experienced. The power throughout the neighborhood was knocked off line. I ran back into the house. Sango just laughed.
Ever since then I don’t even try to get under Baba’s skin. He’s the man. One day in the future I may feel particularly brave again and give him a little static. But trust me, it won’t be any time soon though.
Anyway Baba had asked me about my “little” prayer. I responded that my little prayers came through in a pinch at the last initiation ceremony I participated in. The priestess performing the ritual at the time wasn’t exactly familiar with the Yoruba words and was having a little difficulty getting through the prayer that included the Orisa roll call. It was her first initiation and she seemed a bit nervous. I joined her in the prayer. She was grateful enough to let me do the prayer solo.
Baba Sango laughed some more. More thunder boomed outside. He told me to relax and reminded me that forgetting the prayers I was given so long ago was not a bad thing at all. In fact, there are a lot of prayers, rituals, ceremonies, stage props, good luck charms and religious trinkets that are little more than the equivalent of spiritual security blankets. Prayers are not automatic spiritual connections where a spiritual entity is just waiting to tune into your prayer vibe. Humans are not entitled to the attention of spiritual entities simply because we start talking with our heads bowed and our hands folded. No where else do we have such a high opinion of ourselves than when we spread the myth that god, or the gods, are always watching and listening to each and every one of us. As far as we know to Orisas and Olodumare our elaborate rituals and ceremonies can look like little more than when we see a child is playing tea party. We feel like we’re doing something serious. But Orisas may well think it all looks cute.
So why should anyone believe that I spend my time talking to Baba Sango or any other Orisa? In all honesty you shouldn’t. You have no guarantee that I or anyone else may have a spiritual connection at all. Each one of us should be taking personal steps to develop our own consciousness to a point where we feel comfortable knowing that we have our own spiritual connection. It should involve sincere, quiet meditation and a minimum of distractions. Clear the mind and the path to spirituality will open. Other than the Orisa pots and the ilekes from a trusted student of Ifa, I strongly suggest avoiding the purchase of any spiritual ornaments and ceremonies simply because someone says that they are guaranteed to help you win spiritual favor. No one has the ability to create anything that will make anyone more spiritual. Anything created comes from the Orisas and Olodumare and not from the hand of any man or woman.
This is not to say that there is anything inherently wrong with reciting prayers and performing ritual. Humans are nothing if not creatures of habit and many of us find old habits hard to break. Many of us have been taught to rely on prayers and ritual to enhance our spiritual awareness. If you feel you have such a need then by all means feel free to express yourself. However, keep in mind that there are no hard fast rules and there are no rights or wrongs. Do what drives your spirit and be sure to keep it a personal choice and avoid the temptation to impose your choice on others.
And above all else, whatever you do, don’t say anything to goad Sango into upping the intensity of any electrical storms. Not a smart move.
For me, getting Baba Orunmila to do anything before he is ready to do it is like getting a brick to jump through a hoop before it was ready to do it. It’s not going to happen, at least no time soon. So it amazes me that some people can get Baba to give them the reading for the year like clockwork. Back in December of 2007 I started asking Orunmila for the word. Baba would respond asking me why I wanted the reading for the following year when the year wasn’t even over yet. I replied something to the affect that I was anxious and ready to demonstrate my special connection with the spirituality of Ifa. But Baba isn’t so easily persuaded. Baba would ask, demonstrate it to whom and for what purpose? And all I can say is never mind!
Come New Years Day of 2008 I was back with pen and paper ready to get that reading from Orunmila. Again, what’s the rush? Well, in the Orisa houses I experienced as an early practitioner, I was taught that people received a reading for the year at the beginning of the year. And Baba would respond that I was also taught that people who were initiated into Ifa were more significant than people who were not initiated. I was taught that people had to shave their heads when they were initiated. I was also taught that people who wanted to practice Ifa had to spend tremendous amounts of money and must adhere to traditional Yoruba culture. Okay, you win! But when will I get the reading for the year? Baba’s answer was that I will get the reading of the year when I was ready to get the reading for the year.
For weeks I had to put up with this circular, yoyo, Yoda logic. Baba didn’t give me the reading until sometime in March. So when I see just about everybody else in the Ifa community post the reading for the year according to Orunmila like clockwork on the first of January, or even a little late like the first week of January, I have to wonder, what’s up?
Last year there were a variety of readings for the year from a lot of people. Not a single one of these readings matched what anyone else had to say about the coming year. Again I went to Baba for an understanding of what’s happening. When did I ever hear Baba say that all of these people were speaking for him? Why would I take their word that they were speaking for him? A lot of people feel like they are speaking on behalf of Orunmila. They get out their divination tools and use them according to the instruction manual. Say a few prayers, throw the ipwele chain or ikin or whatever, do a little math to see if the answer is in the left hand or the right, look up the result in a book of odu verses, and there you have the reading for the year.
But spiritual readings should be much more involved than a lucky throw to lookup an odu in a reference book. Imagine trying to convey a message about how someone should live their life using nothing but an odu verse that has a rather convoluted story about praising a babalawo and the babalawo praising Ifa with ten thousand cowry shells as payment. Now the odu has to be interpreted and interpretation is only as good as the practitioner and there are so many ways a very important communication can be misinterpreted. And that’s only part of the problem of the practitioner whose relationship with Orunmila is in good standing.
People whose standing with Baba Orunmila is on the outs have no chance of even pulling up the correct odu. These people might think they are communicating with Orunmila by going through the motions or the drama of doing readings. But in all honesty these diviners are doing nothing but making random stabs at luck. A divination tool in the hands of a practitioner of poor character or on the outs with Orunmila for some other reason could be better used as a doorstop. Baba doesn’t work with people who manipulate readings intended for others to the alleged diviner’s benefit.
So I had to ask, how are people supposed to believe what you are telling them through me when there is so much spiritual clutter out there? What distinguishes me from the others? Well, the fact that I don’t publish a reading for the year right on schedule like everyone else should give people a hint that something here might be different. I’d rather do without than just put anything up there.
When people read the word of Orunmila here, they can rest assured it is straight from the Orisa and not out of a book of odu verses. Baba and I will sit down and we will discuss the word so that I can get it from him without spin and without interpretation and without having to do some ciphering to get a number so I can pull an odu out of a reference book written by some other diviner. Baba will explain exactly what he means. And if later on, if I ever have a question about the reading that I didn’t think of earlier, I can always go back and start a new conversation with Orunmila. That’s just one of the reasons why I take extra care to stay in good standing with Orunmila. I might not be the first with a reading for the year. But trust that when I am ready for the reading, it will come straight from the Baba’s mouth.
To way too many people a yearly reading, or any reading from Orunmila for that matter, is an opportunity to have one’s fortune told for the following year. But Baba Orunmila is no fortune teller and the yearly reading is not a fortune for blessings for the next year. The yearly reading is guidance for helping people stay on their spiritual path for the next year. In less than four weeks 2007 will be coming to a close and the yearly reading for 2008 will be revealed. Now is a good time to take inventory of our spiritual stock and see how well we adhered to the yearly reading for 2007.
I have to confess this has been a year of some serious pain. The lack of resources has put a serious hurtin’ on my ability just to get from one day to another. I thank Olodumare himself for my mom and my immediate family for giving me the strength just to get by. It’s hard out here for an unemployed American.
However, on the flip side of things I have to admit that this year was truly a banner year for my personal development. I started this blog back in late March and it has been a serious benefit in helping me grow spiritually and socially. A lot of people didn’t or don’t care for a lot of the things I have said or have to say. But I a lot of people have given me a lot of food for thought and a lot of positive feedback and support. For that I am truly thankful. In this respect, I have had some serious personal enrichment and personal enlightenment. I had been promising myself that I would start a blog for years. This year will be a true milestone in my life.
As far as the pain goes, as Orunmila says this too is a part of life. Just because we may have a spiritual connection doesn’t mean that we are free from experiencing all the components of the human condition. People in Ifa will still suffer the loss of loved ones, accidents and other financial setbacks, sicknesses and poor health, and in other less pleasant drawbacks to life including death. Don’t let anyone tell you that there is a ritual you can do to prevent any of these things. These experiences, just like their more pleasant counterparts, are what we as humans are here for. It’s all about the choices we make. It is about as far from rocket science as you can get.
As the year winds down to a close I’m happy to report that I am on my spiritual path. In fact, right at this moment if anyone were to ask I’d have to say that I’m a little down personally. The last job interview that I had was such a good one I just knew I was going to get the job. But it didn’t happen. At least not yet. There was always the chance that someone better would come along and do a better job of selling his or her self. I was really hoping to put this economic tailspin behind me. But nevertheless, through it all I am still on path.
I have said it before and I’ll say it again many times in the future the spiritual entities that are here to help guide us are not our personal genies and servants. We cannot expect them to come and save the day each and every time we find ourselves in a sticky predicament. When some of us pray or perform rituals and things still don’t go our way we want to soothe ourselves and say things like Orisa work in mysterious ways. But there’s nothing mysterious about it. They aren’t here to grant our wishes. They are here to help us develop our character along the lines of the divine plan. It’s all about staying on path whatever that path may be.
I guess this is a very clumsy way of saying that you have less than four weeks to the end of the year. If you’re a practitioner of Ifa you may want to do some reflection on the past forty eight weeks and ask yourself how well did you stick to the reading for 2007? If there is something that might be a little amiss then time is running short and you only have a few weeks to get things in order. Even if you’re not a follower of Ifa it will do you good to sit back and reflect on how well you did with your personal endeavors this year. The New Year is coming with its own to do list so you probably don’t want to add any of the outstanding stuff to the list.
The last time I got a reading from a traditional priest of Ifa was a few months before my initiation. That would be about three years ago. I can’t remember what it was for exactly. More than likely since I was about to be initiated I’m sure it was something regarding the details of the final preparation. I probably got a reading saying I needed to have a chicken slaughtered to remove any remaining spirits or such nonsense. Back then my only role models for the development of my spirituality and my understanding of ancestors and Orisas was the people in the ile who had a very strict and a very traditional interpretation of Ifa and I was anything and everything to learn.
I don’t remember which odu fell but I remember hearing something like I had to give Orunmila about forty thousand cowries and something big like an elephant or something else that’s pretty impossible to find these days, those days, or any other days in between. I had to give praise to my babalawo and my babalawo had to give praise to Ifa. But has anyone seen the price of cowry shells lately? Forty thousand cowries could cost as much as four thousand dollars these days. And to this day I still have yet to find a suitable elephant on eBay! Not a problem! The leaders of the ile interpreted the odu to mean that I had to have a chicken slaughtered and give pay the ile so many dollars. That was a load off my mind.
Like I said that was three years ago. Now that I have a little experience under my belt, and a much better appreciation for the spirituality of Ifa, I am able to understand things much more clearly and interpret the mechanics of spirituality without the interference of adherence to traditional thinking. Like most spiritual text written for the benefit of the masses, the odus of Ifa are not to be interpreted literally. The two hundred fifty six verses are little more than stories that are supposed to inspire and guide people in their own lives. Odus should never be interpreted literally. My teachers knew this to be true but only to a certain extent. They knew that nobody is going to show up at any ile with an elephant in tow. So the odu can be modified and the elephant can become a chicken and the forty thousand cowries and become a hundred dollars or so. And the part about giving these sacrifices to the Orisa can be modified to giving the money to the ile. Nobody has a problem with such interpretation.
Odus that inspire and guide people to take the spiritual plunge and go through an initiation ritual may say that the subject of the story may have gotten a haircut. But that should not be interpreted to mean that the haircut is mandatory for the future initiate. The manifestation of the haircut is by no means a requirement for spirituality. In the grand cosmos of things, sacrificing one’s hair makes little impact in the development of one’s character or one’s spirituality.
People who want the haircut to be part of their initiation are by all means welcome to indulge in the symbolism. For those people who need to separate themselves from the masses with overwhelmingly obvious signs of differences. It’s easy to point to the bald person walking around in all white and say there goes a student of Ifa. But it isn’t the outward experience that makes for the proper development of spirituality. Spirituality is based on character. The outward manifestation of our spirituality is based on our behavior and the choices we make for ourselves, our family, and our community. It is easy to see the person walking down the street sporting a new do and wearing all whites. It takes a lot more to recognize a person’s character and make the determination if it is of substance or not. Once has to be willing to invest the time necessary to actually to get to know the person.
Anybody can don a new appearance and parade themselves up and down the street. But the initiation is a spiritual rebirth not of appearance but of understanding. The need for a haircut is designed to make it easier for other initiates to recognize the newbie across the room, market, or whatever the case may be. Combine this with the fact that many people who are looking to be initiated aren’t looking for spiritual development as much as they may be looking for prestige and status. Over time, the individual who might not be so focused on their manifestations of their character but on their appearance can easily pass for the genuine article if we are taught to see and recognize the genuine article as the white clothes and the haircut.
But the students of Ifa who want their spirituality truly developed mustn’t rely on such obvious signs. Real students must learn to develop their character so that their behavior makes the difference and not the clothing. If an initiate wants to go the whole nine yards and get the haircut and the white clothes to go along with the change in their behavior then by all means go for it. But don’t think that an odu telling a story that someone getting a haircut just before, after, or during the initiation ceremony means that everyone who has made the decision to be initiated is required to get a haircut. If you are going to take the odu literal then may I suggest that you not only get that haircut, but start collecting cowry shells and start looking for an elephant to sacrifice as well.