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 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 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