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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


Ninja said...

Thank you for such a wonderfully stated article!

ifastudent said...


Anonymous said...

Ifa wants me to be initiated as a priestess, (I did ask questions and am sure that this is what Ifa wants and not what someone thinks). I found your article enlightening and humbling. Now I have an idea how to behave and what to expect. Thank you.

Ifakemi O. said...

I'm finding your articles to be well-written and helpful. Thank you for your time.

Awo Bade said...

Wow... Thank you for this wisdom. I have been studying Ifa for some years now but just recently seriously. I have been fortunate enough to have met a knowledgable Babalawo who is very much grounded in Ifa. I have since been told that I was truly a child a Sango and imediately wanted to get initiated. This article really provided me with the insite to ask Sango first if this is what I should do and if this is what he wants of me. So I look forward to hearing what Ifa and Sango has to say. Thanks again!

Ifabimpe said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marcos said...

To Ifabimpe,

Unfortunately distance learning is difficult, takes committment on both sides, but even great on yours (I know, I'm in a similar situation as my Oluwo is far). That said, I have been in the tradition for many years, and have developed a network of colleagues with whom to discuss, as well as an extensive library. The number you mention seems quite high for a female initiate, is your oluwo lucumi or trad. Y.? If you want to discuss in more detail, please email me directly...

Omama said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Omama said...
This comment has been removed by a blog administrator.
Marcos said...

Hello everyone,

Please do not use this blog to have arguments, that is best done between two people, or on your own blog.


DavidASosa said...

This is amazing, real and needs to be declared to all people who bring coco, plato and dreho to someones house... I feel like turning this into a plaque and posting it on my door. Great work!

Oshun Funke said...

Nicely written. This is the first article of your I read all the way through... I am finally on break from school after all...