Search Ifa articles

Thursday, August 9, 2007

who's on first, what's on second . . . Which Orisa is most important?

Aboru aboye aboshishe,

Someone had posted a piece citing how they believed that Orunmila was above other Orisa, and so I thought I would clarify what I believe the relationship is. Many times, we want to "rank" the Orisa, however I think this is a human construct, and not something that necessarily achieves anything constructive. We very often as humans resort to wanting to place something "first" or "last" or one above another, but I don't believe in the case of Orisa (with the exception of Olodumare) that it accomplishes anything, nor fully understands the symbiotic relationship that occurs even within the realm of Orisa.

For instance, how can we say Orunmila is "first" or "above" the irunmole when without Esu playing his role in the process, none of what Orunmila/Ifa says/does can come to pass? Does that not then make Esu "above" Orunmila in a sense? To me no, they both have their role to play. Also, how can one place Orunmila say above Oduduwa or Obatala? If those Orisa didn't exist, who would have moulded man's head? Without the human race, the role of Ifa in this context is meaningless as what role can any religion play without worshippers to follow it? We of course also have stories in Ose Otura about Oshun and her role in mankind, if she were to get mad and make women infertile, we would die as a race, and what use would religion be then? Certainly I know consulting Ifa would help us avoid this, but what if our Ori didn't make appropriate ebo, Oshun could cause the death of us, and so is that not a power stronger then simply knowledge of how to stop that when not used and indeed more powerful then even Ori?

I'm not saying these things will happen, but am trying to illustrate a point. That point is, it's not about who's first or second when we look beyond Olodumare and Ori, it's about the symbiotic relationship that exists amongst all Orisa that allow us to find our "path" and lead a long and healthy life. Orumila without Esu, Oshun, Obatala, Yemoja etc etc, is an unbalanced world, just as Esu, Obatala, Oshun etc etc without Orunmila is also a world without balance. Ranking the Orisa, as comforting as it may make us feel to be worshiping the "highest", is simply divisive and does not reflect the complex interconnectedness of Yoruba Theology and Cosmogony.

All our Orisa are important, and all have a vital and important role to play. Perhaps at times, one may be more important to us, but there will always be that one time when the key to survival is held, even by the smallest, seemingly most insignificant of Orisa, and at that precise moment, that Orisa means more to us and our survival then any other.


Saturday, August 4, 2007

Power and the priesthood

Power and the priesthood:

Ogbe sa:

Ogbe sa re le
Ogbe sa r'oko
Dia fun Eni0Aye kan
Dia fun Eni Aye Nfe
A bu fun S(h)eere
S(h)eere o, S(h)eere o
Eni Aye kan
E s(h)'aye ire
Bo je emi laye kan
Ko s(h)aye iro o
bo je emi laye kan
Ma s(h)aye ire
S(h)eere o, S(h)eere o
Eni Aye Kan
E s(h)aye ire

Ogbe ran home
Osa ran to the farm
They were the ones who cast Ifa for "He whose turn it is to rule the world"
They also cast Ifa for "He who the masses love and want"
Do it well, pray, do it well
Those whose turn it is to rule the world
Please rule the world well
If it is my turn to rule the world
I will rule the world well
Do it well, pray, do it well
If it is your turn to rule the world
Please rule well ...

I've often considered the process of becoming a priest, and the training (or sometimes lack thereof) that comes as a result of initiation, however we often overlook one of the most important and difficult topics, Power. Whether we acknowledge it or not, on some levels, great or small, we are drawn to the priesthood because of the power that it can afford us. For some, it is the draw to the esoteric knowledge that will allow us to affect our lives in ways beyond the known (admittedly, I fall into this category). For others, it is the draw to the power one has over another, and yet for others, it is simply the power they gain over the self. Whatever the reason, joining the priesthood does give us access to a power that is beyond the normal. For the purpose of this article though, i want to look at the most mundane, but also the most dangerous, the power over others.

I've seen the glint in someone's eye as another person lies foribale in front of them, or they ask what your "age" is, full well knowing you are younger relishing the moment you will dobale to them. Or the joking talk about the "multa" (fine) that they might impose on you if you do something wrong. Seemingly benign acts, these often belie a deeper and sometimes more sinister emotion. Of all the things that occur before someone joins the priesthood, the least spoken about is how one should act when wielding their new position (and the power that comes with it). It is very likely that one of the most important pieces of training one should have is how to act responsibly when asserting the power you have over another.

Some people have a natural ability to lead, and in such often have a great understanding (whether conscious or not) of how, and when, to use their power. This is something which they learned over the years through their own experiences, or observing how others use and wield their power. Rarely is this completely innate, and a mentor or role model often provides the lessons needed to formulate the vocabulary necessary to speak the language of power responsibly. The lessons learned are invaluable, however, more often then not, in this world where training/teutalage in the priesthood is virtually non-existent and there has been an explosive growth in the priesthood, with "babies having babies", we are creating what is the beginning of a crisis of ineptitude.

While certainly one of the problems with the priesthood today is too few spend the necessary hours of training and study to learn the theology, we are failing our children and future generations by not creating the leaders of tomorrow. No denomination is exempt from this crisis. While there are often the obvious stories of inept priests, who hold on with a death grip to their "godchildren"/adherents through what is tantamount to terror tactics. There is also a more subtle and insidious politic of power whereby priests are demanding unyielding loyalty, outrageous time requests and guilting godchildren into doing ceremonies (to name a few things), but giving very little in return. Then, the "eldership" or "duty" response is immediately invoked, nullifying any possible response a godchild might have.

I could go on with examples, but this is sufficient enough for most to see the point. What's more important is that we look at ways in which we can, as priests, more responsibly train the priesthood in the correct/moral use of power. To be honest, one of the biggest deterrents to responsible use of power in the diaspora is the move from Eldership which in traditional Yoruba culture was based on years of life, to Eldership based only on years of priesthood (thereby allowing young people with little life experience to achieve "elder" status before they have the wisdom of what it means to achieve that). That said, that is how some traditions choose to treat eldership, so it becomes even more important to train priests in what it means to "be an elder" and wield power when time is unable to teach them those lessons.

My personal opinion is that all priests from all denomination should be required to train as a priest for a minimum number of years (7 at least) before they are allowed to initiation other priests. This isn't unreasonable, and doesn't go against any "rules" of any of the denominations (except perhaps the American "my rights" attitude). Additionally, priests should be required to have many conversations with their new initiates about the roles/responsibilities they now have, and about what it means to have power over someone. This is of course a difficult thing to enforce, and unfortunately there are already a fair number of priests who have their own cadre of priests, all of whom do not understand the dynamic or responsibilities of power. In my eyes, it's in the hands of the true Elders to begin enforcing these rules and leading by example instead of being caught up in the petty politics of power and greed.

I will never forget the look in the eyes of an older woman when she learned I was a Babalawo and training as such. There was a reverence and respect that I'm not sure I deserved or was worthy of, simply because I had a title and had undergone an initiation. I hope to live up to her expectation. That is a look that can humble you, or can ignite a dangerous pride which results in abuse and greed. I am only thankful that I have been put in enough positions of leadership in my work and personal life to know the responsibility it entails, and the consequences if you fail to live up to that responsibility.

May there be further conversations ...

Marcos Ifalola Sanchez