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The Pope Of Ifa


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.

Friday, May 22, 2009 Posted by | Ifa, Life, Orisa, Spirituality, Thoughts | 1 Comment

The Spiritual Level


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?

Saturday, May 16, 2009 Posted by | Faith, God, Ifa, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts, Yoruba | Leave a comment

Spirituality For Sale


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.

Saturday, April 4, 2009 Posted by | Faith, Ifa, Life, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts | 2 Comments

African Spirituality Gets No Respite From Slander


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.

Friday, April 3, 2009 Posted by | Ifa, Life, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts | 7 Comments

Ifa Initiation Is A Personal Decision


Alafia Brother,

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.

Sunday, March 29, 2009 Posted by | Divination, Ifa, Life, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts, Yoruba | 13 Comments

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 | 12 Comments

The Royal Treatment Doesn’t Equate In Ifa


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.

Saturday, January 24, 2009 Posted by | Ifa, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality | Leave a comment

Bernard Madoff Would Have Made An Excellent Orisa Priest


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.

Saturday, January 10, 2009 Posted by | Bernard Madoff, Divination, Ifa, Life, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts | 2 Comments

No Reading For 2009…Yet


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.

Friday, January 2, 2009 Posted by | Divination, Faith, God, Ifa, Life, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts, Yoruba | 1 Comment

End Of Year Review


By many measures 2008 was a helluva year.  Baba Orunmila said that this would be a year of great change.  To quote Baba, “This will be for good, better, and yet also worse. Oya is blowing and the landscape of life will begin this beautiful metamorphosis that is change. Do not be confused as change is wonderful. But ugly things can, and do, happen during the process.”  Truer words were never spoken.  And boy did Iya Oya blow.

2008 started off with some of the craziest weather seen in forever.  A monster blizzard in China just in time for the Chinese new year brought that country to a screeching halt and threatened many people’s ability to celebrate the coming year of the rat.  Snow in Los Angeles of all places.  There were reports of tornadoes taking out targets in Tennessee in early February.  We saw satellite photos of the Wilkins Ice Shelf collapsing into the ocean off the coast of Antarctica in the southern half of the globe and glaciers in the northern half that have existed for thousands of decades are on the verge of extinction.  But for many people global warming continues to be nothing that warrants attention.  A cyclone hits Myrammar and kills tens of thousands.  An earthquake hits China and kills tens of thousands more.  The changes in our natural environment are beginning and we are woefully prepared for what is to come.

The economy burst out the gate erratic.  While the recession was far from being official, unofficially it was way too real for a lot of people.  Back in January something like sixty thousand jobs were lost.  But that was just the start.  Well over a million American jobs were lost in 2008.  And while the petroleum giants were raking in their astounding profits fueled by four dollar a gallon gasoline, automobile manufacturers hit bottom and were asking the government for help.  A variety of financial institutions ceased to exist as independent entities.  But others, believed to be too big to fail, received the nurturing handouts of government sponsored bailouts.  While AIG and other financial institutions get a no strings attached bailout easily topping one hundred billion dollars that can be used for anything and everything like executive retreats at lavish resorts and seven figure executive retention payments that look amazingly like end of year bonuses, automobile manufacturers have to agree to an hourly wage cut before they can get a dime.

And do we really need to point out the changes in politics, at least in America?  After well over two hundred years America is finally going to have a President that is not a white male.  That’s the news of a couple centuries.  Political change was coming even if President-elect Barack Obama was not elected.  If the Republican presidential nominee had won we would have had our first female Vice President.  Thankfully, America dodged that bullet like a President dodges a couple of Iraqi loafers.  But that’s not all.  Louisiana made a couple of politically historic moments as well with the election of Republican Bobby Jindal as the first Governor of Indian American decent, and the election of Republican Anh Joseph Cao to Congress makes him the first Vietnamese American to go to Washington.

Baba Orunmila also said that many have overreached and are looking for Orisa to come to the rescue.  How many people pray for better days?  And true, relatively speaking not many people pray specifically to Orisa.  But a lot of people are clinging to their faith in these hard times.  Whatever people’s beliefs, they pray to their spiritual entities for some kind of relief for the mess they have made of their lives.  This past year, like every year of our lives, should have been used as an opportunity to make adjustments and wiser choices.  The potential for loss is great and people who try to face the ways of the world separated from the support of family and friends would do better if they had true allies.

I wonder how many people actually heard Baba Orunmila’s reading for last year and took it to heart.  I wonder how many people actually took the steps necessary to make adjustments in order to better prepare for what was coming last year.  And now that the year is over, how successful were we in our preparation or lack thereof.

Like many people I could have done better this year.  But I also could have done so much worse.  Thankfully, I had my family around me and with me in every endeavor I had to make this year.  Like everyone else I have to take the somewhat vague things that Baba Orunmila tells us and figure out for myself the best way to respond.  Regardless of what many students of Ifa claim, children of Orisa don’t get a free pass or any advantage when it comes to facing the challenges of life.  We can live and we can die just like anybody else.  How we chose to live is based on the same choices that, for the most part, apply to everyone else.  We have the choice to take the reading to heart and try to prepare or we can disregard what was said and take our chances with the spiritually deaf and dumb.

I have yet to hear the reading for the next year.  I’m willing to bet it will be very similar to 2008 if not worse.  I hope to hear the word of Orunmila and take it to heart.  Listening to the reading and then making changes to stay in harmony with nature and the environment can be extremely difficult.  But change is the only constant in the universe and the changes to come are bound to make the changes we’ve been through pale in comparison.  But as humans, if we take the time to build our social strengths we are more likely to survive changes together with less fuss than we are as individuals too rigid to compromise.  Whether we want to or not the next year is coming.  I look forward to hearing it.

Thursday, January 1, 2009 Posted by | Faith, God, Ifa, Life, Orisa, Religion, Spirituality, Thoughts, Weather | Leave a comment