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Thursday, April 26, 2007

Money and spiritual services, what's right?

I recently posted on several yahoo groups and to colleagues and friends asking the question: how much did you pay for your initiation? The goal was not to be nosy, not to figure out how to set my rates. I wasn't trying to get into peoples personal business, and it wasn't even an attempt to push prices up or down. It was meant to gather data so that people can see what services cost, in order to have a barometer or bell weather of sorts. The response was depressingly low. I'm not sure why though I can speculate on all sorts of reasons, but that's not the point of this article.

I hope to publish the few numbers I do have, but in the meantime I want to be crystal clear about a few things:

**Every circumstance is different, and I'm not suggesting standardized pricing.

**I'm not suggesting that priests are only allowed to earn a specific amount of money.

**This should not be taken as license for people to begin "window shopping" for prices. Make a good decision about a godparent/mentor/Oluwo, and this article will likely not be important to you other then as a reference on ethics.

**Priests have varying knowledge, and a highly trained, highly skilled, learned, ethical priest is truly priceless and rare. As with anything, demand can drive prices up and while a priest must perform works of charity, he/she should also earn a living.

Eji-Obge tells us:

A o t'okun dokun
ka too ri winni-winni agbe
A o tosa dosa
Ka too ri doodo orun Aluko
A baa t'okun dokun
Ki a tosa dosa
Ka too ri oloooto Awo
Odi Ile-Ifa Akelubeke
Dia fun Igbin
O n'sawo lo sode Ileyo
O wa mekun sekun igbe
O mohun seyere aro
O ni: Eniyan an won o
Eniyan an soro
Ka too ri olooto Awo
Ona a jin

We shall travel from ocean to ocean
Before we can see the tiny specie of the Blue Touraco
We shall wind from river to river
Before we can see the specie of Maroon Touraco with goiter on their necks
Whether we travel from ocean to ocean
and from there wend river to river
Before we can find a truthful Babalawo
We shall reach Ile-Ife Akelubebe
That is the declaration of the oracle of Igbin (snail)
When going to Ileyo town to practice Ifa
He made his weeping a shouting lamentation
He made his song a dirge of lamentation
He said: Human beings (truthful ones) are scarce
Human beings are difficult
Before we can find a truthful Babalawo
We shall travel far

**Geography changes the costs of things. You must always remember, it's your responsibility to pay a fair wage, and help support priests in third world countries. Low-balling or negotiating low rates simply because you can or because they live in poverty-stricken areas is not excusable. This means You are not acting ethically.

That all said, this discussion can't go anywhere without talking about my favorite line, "my Ashe is priceless" or "how can you put a price on my Ashe". The implication is that they are the owner of Ashe and the only one who could dole it out (which actually lies in the realm of Esu Odara and the Odu Ose Tura). This kind of pride and arrogance is what gives the religion a bad name. Certainly, the ceremony offers us priceless rewards and guidance, but that does not mean that only that priest could have performed it, or helped you in your quest, that's simply arrogance. As a side note, Ashe (or Ase) is the unseen force/power that makes things come to life, it is also the exclamation "May it be so".

We are all born with Ori, and Orisha, we are also all born with Ashe, no one can take it away, and no one can simply "give" it to us. Through the process of initiation, we can awaken the Ashe in our Ori/Eleda and make the connection between our Ori and the Divine (Olodumare). This is no doubt accomplished with the help of priests using their Ashe and knowledge to perform ritual, sacrifice and prayer. And, they should no doubt be compensated for that service. But, Iwori Wowo (Iwori Ose) reminds us that money should not be our end goal, but only a "thing" we use to fulfill our needs.

Iwori Wowo-wowo
Iwori wokun-wokun
Iwori wokun tan o too wo'de o
Dia fun Eni Ileele
Nje eni i leele
Ti won o nii teni fun lailai
Ni oruko ti aa pe ow


Iwori looks at money
Iwori looks at okun beads
Iwori look at okun beads first, before you look at brass ornaments
These were the declarations of Ifa to a person on the bare floor
Who does not deserve being honored with a mat
The person on the floor who must never be given a mat
Is the name given to money

In this odu, ifa tells us to first look at Okun beads (beads worn by Obas (kings) and Ijoye (chiefs) symbolizing royalty/authority, in this case the authority of Ifa, before we focus on the brass ornaments (a bauble that can be bought with money). Ifa says that a person (money) is not to be honored as equal to a human by being given a mat to sit on. Money, is not of the same worth as people.

So what is the solution?

The process of payment for spiritual services needs to be transparent.

If a client says that they want to know why this costs XXX, then it is the ethical responsibility of the priest to give them a breakdown. The reason the process needs to be transparent is that Ifa teaches us that as priests and as people we need to be truthful. Not telling people costs, not telling people what they are paying for, not being clear is the same as not being truthful (we need to tell the whole truth). In Oruta rera (Otura Ogunda) Ifa says:

Eke o kun ni
Ika o kun mo eniyan
Bi eke ba n yolee da
Ohun werewere abenu a mas yo wo ni sise
dia fun sagbagiriyan
Tii se baale asotito
Nje sotito sododo
Eni to sotito
Ni mole n gbe

Dishonesty does not pay anyone
Wickedness is beneficial to none
When a dishonest person lots his treachery
His conscience pricks him persistently
These were the declarations of Ifa to Sagbagiriyan
Who was the head of the honest people
Pray, be honest, be truthful
Those who are honest
The deity supports

Once you have told someone what you will charge and why, then they can openly and fully make an informed decision. If you have nothing to hide and believe that your compensation is fair, then you should have no shame or hesitation in letting someone know how much something will cost. Will it shock people? Perhaps sometimes . . . But the flipside is the client needs to understand many variables. As priests we spend years training. A good knowledgeable priests will spend as many years as a doctor training and learning, and it never ends. If we truly believe that our spirit is important, then we would not want to trust a laymen with our spiritual needs. I'm not saying a priest necessarily needs to make as much as a doctor, but why not if that priest has dedicated their life to service, and helps not only those with money, but those in need too.

Ogbo Ate says:

Omo boo kofa, o kofa
Omo boo teru, o teru
Odomode to kofa
To lohun o nii fi sin agbalagba
Ko nii ri Ifa ibule ko
Dia fun akiri-tojule
Eyi tii se aremo Okanjuwa
Emi o pe ng o pin wo o
Ifa ni e ko mi o
Bi ng o ba tete ku
Ma la se maa lowo

Child, if you want to study Ifa, do so
Child, if you want to fight over Ifa proceeds, do so
A child who studies Ifa
Who declares that he will not serve elders with his knowledge
He will not learn the Ifa which distinguishes a Babalawo among the crowd
These were the declarations of Ifa to Akiri-tojule (he who moves from one house to the other)
Who is the first child of avarice
I am not after the proceeds from Ifa
Please teach me useful Ifa
If I do not die young
I will be successful, surely I will be wealthy

This not only tells us the Awo who is truly after knowledge of Ifa will be taken care of. It also, very importantly, warns us against moving from house to house (assuming we made a good choice in our house to begin with). By working with our elders, either as priest or as lay-person, we can learn Ifa and become wealthy (not just monetarily).

I would like to close this with an Ese from the Odu Eji-Ogbe:

K'a má fi kánjú j'aiyé.
K'a má fi wàrà-wàrà n'okùn orò.
Ohun à bâ if s'àgbà,
K'a má if se'binu.
Bi a bá de'bi t'o tútù,
K'a simi-simi,
K'a wò'wajú ojo lo titi;
K'a tun bò wá r'èhìn oràn wo;
Nitori àti sùn ara eni ni.

Let us not engage the world hurriedly
Let us not grasp at the rope of wealth impatiently
That which should be treated with mature judgment
Let us not deal with in a state of anger
When we arrive at a cool place
Let us rest fully
Let us give continuous attention to the future
and let us give deep consideration to the consequences of things
And this because of our (eventual) passing

Ase ooo

Tuesday, April 10, 2007

On finding a godparent/spiritual mentor/Oluwo/Olorisha their role and yours.

This is of course one of the most important topics that one can tackle in their spiritual quest: who is my mentor and how do I pick them? It is also one of the least talked about in the Orisha tradition.

If you ask someone the role of a spirtual guide/mentor/Oluwo you'll probably get slightly different answers from each person you ask. While an extremely important decision, if you were not raised in the Orisha tradition or in a particular house (and even then), it can be very difficult to understand what your responsibilities are, as well as those of your prospective priest.

When people have asked me this question in the past, one of the most important things I say is, remember that there is no need to rush, all things in their due time. Choosing a spiritual guide should be as important a decision as whether or not you ask someone to marry you. In fact, spiritually speaking in a way, they will play almost as important a role in your life, one that may outlast a marriage and one that is important for you in sickness as well as health. The person who assumes this role will be there to interpret what the Orishas have to say to you, which is no small task, and potentially can mean literally putting your life into their hands.

That said, priests are, at the end of the day, just people, not perfect and can make mistakes. But, it is up to you to demand that they are held to a higher standard, as they themselves should also do. Becoming a priest is a big responsibility, and having a congregation/"godchildren" whatever you call it, is equally a large responsibility.

Practically speaking, when choosing a priest to become your guide, it's important to understand a few key things:

1. Are they truly initiated? seems like an obvious question, but one often not asked. While some folks may be offended, they shouldn't be, you don't know them, they don't know you. You can ask what their lineage is, who initiated them etc. We often do more research when purchasing a TV or microwave, so why then, with something so important as our spirituality, do we often ask little to no questions about our prospective Orisha priest??? Ask for references (though this might get you a few stares) or ask who their godparents were, make sure you're dealing with someone who can be verified. We all have several priests in our initiations specifically so we can be verified.

2. What Orisha tradition do they practice? There are many such as: Ifa (traditional African and Lucumi), santeria/lucumi/regla de Ocha, Traditional African Orisha worship, Egungun, Ogboni, Egbe, Candomble Nago/Ketu/Angola, Palo Monte/Mayombe, Vodun, Obeah . . . and the list goes on. You need to ask what your godparent practices, often people are initiated into multiple traditions and especially in the diaspora, people practice religions that are totally separate. Is this what you want to do? Do you feel comfortable with someone who is practicing more then one? What are the practicalities? What if they want you to initiate into something other then the tradition you originally came to see them about? These are very important questions that people simply don't ask themselves.

3. What is their standing in the community? Do they have many godchildren? Just like looking for a job, we might ask what the company is like to work for, or if it's legitimate, why don't we do the same for something so important as our spiritual leader? You should feel free to ask around the community and see what kind of standing the person has. Talk to other people who follow this orisha priest and see what their experience is like. Are they overbearing or rude? do they demand alot of time from their followers? do they teach their followers or do they simply expect them to be quiet and watch and learn? Are they lax? Are they learned/scholarly? Do they have a big ego?

Of course be careful, politics and power struggles can sometimes taint what you hear about someone, but if you ask around enough, you're likely to be able to figure out which opinions are tainted, and which are true. Remember, just because someone is initiated as a priest/ess it DOES NOT mean that they are therefore a good person. More importantly, it doesn't mean they're a good teacher. If you truly are interested in learning about the tradition, you need to find out if the person you pick will actually train you. Some priests are great people, great diviners, but can't teach to save their lives. Think about what you want your relationship to be like and ask these questions, it'll help save you tons of grief and switching in and out of different houses constantly. And be careful of priests who "collect" godchildren. In other words, they have a lot of godchildren, but don't really spend any quality time with any of them.

These are of course sensitive topics, but important ones nonetheless.

4. Priest factories. Not everyone who practices this religion is destined to be a priest. Even if you have the Odu, it's always important to DIRECTLY ask the question of the Orisha or Ifa through a reading (ie, do you XXX Orisha want me to initiate as a priest). This avoids any misunderstanding and allows the person to go forward with a confidence beyond someone just telling you so. It's your right to ask, and don't let any priest tell you otherwise (but also be prepared if the Orisha says yes!).

Being a layperson, you are not aware of what the caracoles/dinlogun or Ikin are actually saying, nor what the Odu is. It is of course a matter of trust, but when in doubt ask. Even if you want as badly as anything to become a priest/ess, ask anyways, the Orisha can see more then we can, and them saying no is not the end of the world, and it may help you avoid a cataclysmic decision. Personally, I would be wary of a priest that has initiated inordinant amounts of priests, while there is no specific ratio, every follower they have being a priest is a sign that something is amiss. Also, see if the other priests in their Ile (house) are trained and knowledgeable, or are simply laypeople who have gone through initiations.

Remember, anyone can buy an initiation, few people become true priests/theologians.

5. Money machines. Everything costs, we sacrifice all the time. Reading this article is a sacrifice of your time and an Ebo of sorts. Priests are sometimes "full-time" and this is their only source of income, they are sometimes part timers like me with regular jobs. Whichever they are, while it's important to compensate for their valuable time/expertise, it's also important to know when you're being taken to the cleaners.

You shouldn't need to do pricey ebos every month, you shouldn't be hit up for expensive initiations constantly, you shouldn't pay for a reading that lasts 10 minutes, barely hear them talk, then be told you need to pay XXX exorbitant amount for this ebo that you have to do. What's right to charge? what's right to do? Well of course that's hard, but talk to others in your tradition, ask questions. You are, after all, a consumer, act as such. While you can't put a price on religion/time/sacrifice, you can understand when someone's taking advantage of you.

This of course also leads to the question of what should things cost? Well, this is a tough one. What might cost $3,000 in Cuba costs $8,000 in NY and $10,000 in San Francisco. It is of course not typically correct protocol for someone to ask why the price is what it is, and often you get a nasty stare, or a "because I say it is" or a "my Ashe is invaluable" answer, but if the person has nothing to hide, they will tell you where your money is going. Nothing should cost $35,000, that is outrageous (yes I've heard people being asked that much money for initiations). If the person says the Orisha told them that amount in divination, perhaps they did, and perhaps they did so that you would know NOT to go to this person.

These things are expensive, I've seen it, don't underestimate the immensity of it, but do not let your socks be taken out from under your shoes. If more people ask for an accounting, this process will become more decent and there will be more checks and balances. A competent priest should be able to at least give you ball park figures of what things cost.

This isn't to say you should start "shopping around", that's simply the wrong attitude and will get you nowhere fast (except left by your godparent), but do be responsible and understand where you hard earned money is going. You can't put a price on initiation, but the Orisha didn't create you to be a fool either.

Now this all leads to the duties section . . .

As a godchild I think your duties to your godparent/priest/mentor mimic those of one decent human being to another.

Be humble
Be honest
Be helpful
Be kind
Be available to help with ceremonies, this is your responsibility and will sometimes entail hard work (but do not be a slave)
Helping your godparent/priest/mentor with personal issues is up to your discretion but not "required"
Helping your godparent/priest/mentor with personal finance issues is NOT "required" nor is it really considered appropriate
Accept direction, accept advice, accept that you may not be allowed to know everything, but do expect to be treated as a human
Priests are not Orisha, do not treat them as such, nor should you let them act as such
Do not allow yourself to be belittled, trampled on, or mistreated
Do not allow yourself to taken advantage of or manipulated
Do not ever be lead to believe that a sexual act is a part of ANY religious ceremonies
Do not forget you have rights
Most important . . . Be aware

As a priest, we have duties mandated by Odu. There are many Odu that talk of this, but one broad one on the conduct of an Awo Ifa is told in the Odu Iwori Meji:

Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Bi o ba te Ita tan
Ki o tun iye e re te
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi eja igba gun ope
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi aimowe wo odo
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi ibinu yo obe
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma ji kanjukanju jaye
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi warawara mkun ola
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, maseke, sodale
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma puro jaye
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma se igberaga si agba
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma so ireti nu
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma san bante Awo
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, bi o ba tefa tan
Ki o tun iye e re te o
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni

Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
If you undergo Ifa initiation (Itelodu)
Endeavor to use your wisdom and intelligence
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not use a broken rope to climb a palm-tree
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do no enter into the river without knowing how to swim
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not draw a knife in anger
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not be in haste to enjoy your life
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not be in a hurry to acquire wealth
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not lie, do not be treacherous
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not deceive in order to enjoy your life
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not be arrogant to elders
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not lose hope
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not make love to your colleague's spouse
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, when you have been given Ifa initiation
Initiate yourself again by using your wisdom and intelligence
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you

Remember that we, as priests should be held to a higher standard.
We should demand it of ourselves, you should demand it of us.
But also remember that we, as priests, are still only humans, and help us when we are weak, or have lost our way, as we should help you.

O gbo ato isuri ti Iwori Wofun!

May you have long life with the blessing of the holy odu Iwori Wofun!

Ase O!!!!!

Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Differences between Traditional Orisha worship and the Lucumi denomination

Recently the question was posed, how should view the differences between Tradtional African Orisha worship and the Lucumi? To which I answer:

Having been a practitioner in both traditions, and now an Ifa priest, the first thing to note for those that seek to understand the Lucumi is that catholicism is not as "mixed"/syncretized as some people (including santeria priests) would lead you to believe. In reality, there's nothing catholic in the actual "ceremonies" and though people speak spanish, the ceremonies are conducted using prayers, songs and call/response in a mixed dialect of Yoruba. You will never hear anything catholic in the initiation of a priest other then a side comment occasionally which doesn't have to do with the actual ceremony. Mostly this occurs when an Olorisha (santero/a) may make reference to an Orisha in a personal conversation using a catholics saint's name.

The catholic "veneer" washes away very quickly once you become initiated. In fact one of the biggest fallacies espoused by many is that there is a real syncretism, when in reality it's only surface level. I participated in at least 12 initiations of priests in a traditional Lucumi house before passing to Ifa, and not once did I ever hear anything catholic (the same goes for the dozens of other ceremonies I participated in, like Olokun, ibeji, "guerreros" etc). One exception is that an Oriate in the Ita of the Iyawo (newly initiated priest) will sometimes when interpreting Odu, make reference to catholic things that are "born" in a certain odu. As odd as this sounds, in a deeper analysis, it's not exactly incorrect or out line with Yoruba thinking.

The Lucumi system of Dillogun (caracoles) divination varies from the traditional method. As I've spoken about before, the traditional method would be to throw the cowrie shells only once, and chant the odu that appears, with only 17 possibilities (though there are many Ese odu). The Lucumi, whether for survival or political reasons, adapted this to the system of Ifa, creating 256 different possible combination (by throwing 16 cowries twice) mimicking the 256 Odu Ifa. This is important because by definition, within Odu Ifa is housed all the knowledge of the world past, present and future, and so it's not necessarily strange to believe that events from other traditions/religions would have a place within Odu Ifa.

Another exception to note, is the "misa" which occurs before the Kariosha (priest initiation), however it's important to note that this is NOT an Orisha practice. The misa is considered an "espiritismo" practice, which is essentially a replacement for Egun rites. Espiritismo is a whole different tradition and does in fact syncretize Catholicism, Kardecian mediumship (Alan Kardec), and Yoruba culture (by virtue of spirits that are Yoruba and often practitioners of Orisha traditions) and may be where the confusion lies. This one practice often leads people to think that the Lucumi as a whole more deeply syncretize Catholicism then they in fact do.

In order to place the Lucumi and Traditional Orisha worshippers within a wider context and understand how they relate, we have to look at a definition of the religion. I believe that Orisha worship as a whole, is a belief system of the Yoruba people (and tribes they conquered) originating in western Africa (note I am not going to get into whether it has Egyptian roots as some espouse as for our purposes that is not necessary). There is one "God", Olodumare, who created all that we know and don't know. Olodumare also created the Irunmole amongst which were the Orisha, divine beings who inhabit the universe.

Humans interact with the divine, in order to understand their purpose in life and affect the world around them. To do this, they created priesthoods in order to supplicate various Orisha. Amongst these priesthoods, several Orisha became prominent for one reason or another, and amongst these was Ifa, Orisha of knowledge and divination.

During the trans-atlantic passage of slaves to the carribean, priests, as well as regular people were sold by African Kings to Europeans. As the slaves were brought over they established their religion, mostly in secret. But as a child grows up unique to their parents once they are out of the house, the religion which is now commonly referred to as Santeria or Lucumi changed an morphed, for both survival (obi kola nut becoming obi the coconut) as well as political reasons (the invention of the "pinaldo" or knife ceremony, the reception of 6 Orishas simulatneously). Thus becoming a sect or denomination of the Orisha tradition (as did Candomble Nago and Ketu in Brazil, and Culto de Shango in Trinidad, etc). I specifically use this language not to downplay or denegrate the Lucumi/Santeria tradition, but to point out that it's roots/origin are with the Yoruba of western Nigeria, and it is a younger and newer interpretation of Orisha worship.

So the lucumi denomination due to geographic, cultural and historical differences has re-interpreted the traditional African system. Within both the Traditional African and the lucumi denominations, there is a group of Ifa worshippers/priests, who also re-interpreted (though to a significantly lesser extent) the african system of Ifa (there are many more similarities then in other Orisha priesthoods).

In many ways you can think of it as the difference between Orthodox Judaism and Reform Judaism or Catholic and Protestant. Their doctrines, liturgies, rituals etc have differences and are interpreted differently, even though they both base it on the same principles/ideas/concepts.