A New Trend In Ifa Practice: Where and How Were They Trained?
By Chief FAMA
Some Practices do not Represent Yoruba…
Name it, it is all happening these days in the name of Ifa. Few of the examples are:
“Your Ifa initiation was not done properly [in Africa] because you have few Ikin Ifa.” Solution? A second Ifa initiation, here in United States.
Ifa recommends that “I have sex with you” before I do your ebo. Reaction? Demands for sex were met.
A certain priest had sex with an initiatee while on the throne during the process of initiation.
A ‘possessed Babalawo’ gave Ifa readings to members of his audience while still possessed [by Ifa?]. By the way, none of Ifa divinations was used. Solution? Expensive ebo by victims of his possession.
A weekend of being blindfolded in order to meet the spirits who “will fix your problems.” Solution? If problems are not ‘fixed’ the first time, “come back the next weekend for a discount.”
Ifa will “kill you” if you leave me. Result? The victims are killed spiritually and
emotionally, not by Ifa, but by their tormentors.
For consecration of Orisa tools, use grocery store vegetables especially ‘collard greens.’ Reason? A new fad in Orisa practice.
“The Babalawo I contacted uses cowrie shells for divination.” Truth? Such diviner is not a Babalawo. A genuine Babalawo does not use cowrie shells for divination.
“A woman was ceremoniously presented to Odu, known as Olofin in the Diaspora, and was actually given an Odu pot during her Ifa initiation in Nigeria.” Position? A wild fabricated lie. This claim was crossed checked in Nigeria and found to be baseless.
The list continues.
Even though Ifa might be seen as religious fad by these new “self-styled Babalawos and Iyanifas”, Ifa is a serious spiritual discipline that requires in-depth training and deep understanding of its application. It can never be reduced to mere religious worship. In Yorubaland where Ifa originated and where it is still being practiced in its pure form, Ifa has dual levels. The first level, and the uncontested one too, is the Ifa diviners, the Babalawo. That level stands like a giant, overseeing a second levela multitude of Ifa believers. This group of Ifa believers composes Ifa clients who have experienced positive Ifa influences in their lives. Similar to going to western trained doctors for medical and psychological attention, members of this group are drawn to Ifa diviners for spiritual diagnosis of their problems that had probably defied western medical and psychological treatments. Since a visit to western clinics does not require anything else but the unwell patient and his/her money, so also is a visit to Ifa diviner for consultation with Ifa. Nothing is required of a person seeking spiritual deliverance other than his/her ailing spiritual body and enough money for ebo. If the ultimate solution to that person’s problem is initiation into Ifa, the person will be dully initiated. He or she will be encouraged to be closer to Ifa than he/she was before. As opposed to the past trend of just consulting Ifa and making the necessary ebo, the initiate in this category would be guided on how to develop a lasting and healing rapport with his/her Ifa for a permanent solution to the problem. Unless it is mandatory for the person’s spiritual well-being, he/she would not be forced to become a diviner. If such a believer chooses to become a diviner, then, it is mandatory for him to bring himself up to that level.
Becoming an Ifa diviner requires rigorous training. It begins with the elementary level of knowing all the tools for Ifa practice, their significances and their differences. (1) Opele Ifa, Ikin Ifa, Ibo Ifa, Opon Ifa, Iroke Ifa, iyereosun, Ajere or Awo Ifa, Irukere, Ada Orisa, Apo Ominijekun (Ifa’s utility bag), Eni Idafa (divining mat), etc. (2) What are the tools for making Opele, and what are their significances? What constitutes Ibo Ifa, and what does each individual piece of the set represent? How is Ikin Ifa different from palm kernel? What happens if Ikin Ifa is accidentally mixed with palm kernels that are being processed for palm oil? How is Ikin Ifa tree treated once it is identified, and what is the process of its identification?
The next level is learning the symbols of Ifa. It starts with the identification of the symbolic representations of the 256 chapters of Odu Ifa. The chants, messages, ebos, herbs, charms and invocations of the 256 chapters starting with Eji Ogbe. Before getting to the graduating level of Odu Ifa Ofun Ose, a budding diviner would have been taught the dos and don’ts of the Odus, the dos and don’ts of Orisa worship; and the dos, don’ts and responsibilities of a Babalawo, to himself and to the society. Graduation of Ifa training in Yorubaland is initiation into Ifa.
Even though an Ifa believer might be initiated into Ifa for spiritual healing, he is never considered an Ifa diviner, and he never parades himself as one either. Moreover, the distinction between the two levels is that an Ifa diviner is a professional, trained in the intricacies of Ifa and is expected to uphold the tenets of Ifa and the Orisas. In Yorubaland, the rule is still that of “Ifa training before initiation”the license to practice. Going to Nigeria, or some other countries for one month or less, for a seven day initiation ceremony and/or subsequent visits thereafter, can best be likened to the initiation of a believer that was done purely for spiritual deliverance. Such initiation is never considered an initiation for practice. Such an initiation is never a license to practice Ifa. However the initiation will suffice if the initiatee acquires the necessary training afterwards. He can only practice after the required training.
During training, a diviner acquires the knowledge of using Ifa as spiritual medical process to diagnose, investigate and address the spiritual essence of problems that might have defied the physical diagnosis of touching, seeing and feeling, and the diagnosis by mechanical devices. He also knows how to use ebos, herbs and chants to resolve conditions that have defied synthetic medicine. While in spiritual contact with Orunmila during Ifa divination, the diviner will be given information on the client’s problems. For a client who is already initiated into Ifa, his/her personal Ikin Ifa might be used for such a consultation. A trained Babalawo never bases his diagnosis of a client’s problem on merely counting the number of Ikin Ifa in Awo Ifa (Ifa pot) as practiced by some Babalawo in the United States. If the Ifa initiation was done correctly in the first place, there would be at least seventeen Ikin Ifa in the pot. As opposed to the diasporal terms of the first hand of Ifa (mano de Orunmila, ‘k’ o ‘fa or s’efa in Yoruba) whereby a single Ikin Ifa is given to a woman and a set of sixteen or more Ikin Ifa is given to a man; and the second hand of Ifa (initiation, ‘itefa’) whereby additional set of Ikin Ifa is given; the Yoruba practice is different. Truly there is ikofa/isefa and there is initiation into Ifa. Most of the time, ikofa/isefa precedes itefa, the emphasis is usually on the quality of the Ikin Ifa, no the quantity. Since this article is not meant to be a complete tutorial, I will skip the procedure for now. However, a unique principle in the authentic practices that an awo Ifa must contain the minimum requirement of sixteen Ikin Ifa, plus one or two extra. This fact is not known to the self-styled Babalawos who believe that eighteen Ikin Ifa in an awo Ifa means that the Ifa initiation was not done right.
The problem with the self-styled Ifa priests and priestesses is that they lack the training of Ifa and have to make up for it, by hook or by crook, in order to parade themselves as Ifa priests/priestesses. With this false pretense comes the vogue of “I am a Yoruba priest or priestess” practicing (trained?) the Yoruba way. Or “I was initiated in Nigeria,” with the connotation that the initiation in Nigeria substitutes for training. What happens to lying and falsehood? The liar keeps lying to cover up, while the falsehood perpetrator keeps making things up in order to look good and to live up to expectation.
Being initiated into Ifa in Nigeria, in the United States by genuine practitioners, or in any other country where Ifa and Orisa is practiced authentically, is an excellent experience; it is also a rewarding spiritual investment for any budding Ifa/Orisa devotee. However, an intended initiatee should ensure that he/she is not taken advantage of by the Babalariwos, Baba-noise-makersYoruba term for self-styled Ifa priests.
This brings to mind the demand of some Babalawos (Babalariwos?) for initiation into Ifa the second time. This fad is gaining ground also. Outside greed, the feeling of :I can get away with it” and the lack of proper training, initiation into Ifa is once in a lifetime. Once the head is shaven for Ifa during initiation, the only time that such head can be shaven again is at death. This rule upholds within the entire Ifa community in Yorubaland. Being that as it may, it is doubtful if a Babalawo, genuinely trained by the wise ones in Yorubaland, will commit this atrocious, spiritual ineptitude, or should we say, “spiritual crime?”
Beware, if a Babalawo tells you that your Ifa initiation was not done right because there are eighteen Ikin Ifa in your awo Ifa, he is not a Babalawo but Babalariwo. Thank him and seek a Babalawo for attention to your spiritual needs. If a supposed Babalawo goes into spiritual possession of body shaking and talking in tongue, do him a favor, refer him for psychiatric evaluation, then move on and seek a Babalawo for your spiritual needs. If you are being blindfolded for an entire weekend, or for a lengthy period of time, in order for your problems “to be fixed” by Ifa or the Orisas, report the case to Esu Odara, who will in turn contact Ogun for confinement of such Babalariwo or Iyalariwo in his iron enclave.
As for demands for sexual intercourse, please note that it has never been one of the items for ebo, and it has never been part of the payment terms for an ebo. Sometimes, a divines lust for sexual pleasure might erode his spiritual obligations. Beware of this fact and use your best judgement in dealing with this situation, if this should happen.
If you are being treated unjustly with the power of Ifa, like in a bad relationship where you are being told, “If you leave me, Ifa will kill you,” first examine yourself and your actions to be sure you are “in the right.” Is the relationship an illicit affair? Are you traitorous towards Ifa and Orisas? Are you deceitful and collaborative? If you answered “Yes” to any of the questions, run as fast as you can to a Babalawo, not a Babalariwo, for help with atonement to Ifa. If you answered “No” to all the questions, then go to Ifa and commit your safety to him. Hand over your tormentor to him, too. Never engage in a spell fight, the aftermath is always disastrous.
On the other hand, if you have gone through the process of isefa/ikofa (one hand of Ifa from the Spanish words mano de Orunla) and/or gone through your Ifa initiation, and you feel your problems are not solved fast enough; first do dome self examination. Look back and recount your problems before your initiation into Ifa; compare your life experience then with your present life experience. Any positive changes in your present life? Would you have been dead, but you are still alive? Would you have been placed on medication, or you were on medication then, but now you are free of the constant doses? Would you have been destitute, but you are able to hold your head up now, at least? Would you have been homeless, but your financial situation has improved? Did you lose your legal freedom or you were once fighting for it, but now you are legally a free person? Would your love life have been a chaos, taking into consideration that you have taken care of the human flaws; but now you are at peace with yourself and with your life? Your children, your family, compare and contrast both situations. If you answered “Yes” to all of the questions, or some of them, your incursion into Ifa and the Orisa has been worthwhile. Congratulations. Take care of your Ifa and/or your Orisa and continue to stay blessed, Ase.
Chief FAMA was born in 1953 to an Ogun worshipping family at Emure Ile, a village revered for the spiritual prowess of its citizens. In 1984 she became actively involved with Ifa. In November of 1988 she was initiated into Ifa by Chief ‘Fagbemi Ojo Alabi, late Araba of Ayetoro town, Egbado, and the Oluwo (High Priest) of Ogun State, Nigeria. The author is a pioneer member of Orunmila Youngsters International, publishers of Orunmila Magazine. Presently the author resides in the United States of America and she and her husband own Ile Orunmila Communications and Ile Orunmila African Imports in San Bernadino, California.
Many thanks to Chief FAMA for allowing a reprint of this article from Odidere Orunmila Gazette Vol. 2, Issue 4. Author retains original copyright.
For a great selection of Orisa books, supplies and the basic items needed for traditional Orisa worship, please visit the Ile Orunmila African Imports’ website or call Chief FAMA at (909) 886-6023.