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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


ijoyeye said...

Eku ikowe Baba,

Many, many kudos to you for sharing this most valuable advice to all who have ears to hear. And for those who choose their egos over spirit and good character, their hands will not stretch as far as they can go until they learn the lessons set before them. However powerful we may appear to be, we cannot fully elevate our consciousness while operating from a perspective of ego.

Beyond the pursuit of knowledge that forms the science operating within the universe, what needs to compel us all into the priesthood is a desire for higher elevation. This person, this body is just that--a body. Our consciousness (ori) is what will transcend this world into the next, and it is ori that needs elevation in order to fully accomplish the destinies we chose at the feet of Olodumare. In addition to several years of training prior to the initiation of others, what we desperately need as priests and leaders is an in-depth understanding of the link between ebo and self-growth. Initiation and spiritual, emotional and mental transformation. That's what it's about--the material and worldly success are reflections of the spiritual growth we are attaining. Because Ifa says if we do not have good character, then we don't truly have anything.

If we are consciously striving to attain higher elevation, then it is impossible to seek satisfaction of our hunger through the domination and control of others. The domination and control of others would not be appetizing to us--rather, our thirst would only be quenched by the knowledge that we are helping to elevate others' lives and setting positive examples for our descendants to follow.

Iyawo Yemoja

Christine said...

Aboru Aboye dear Marcos, once again you have nailed it. Now that I have the privilege to teach a Iyawo (as his Iyubona)I will do my best to see that he learns, and by teaching I also learn. Oshun has blessed me with a beautiful child to work with, who is reverent, honest and innocent, qualities many lack and which I strive to live up to. My comment is only that I have finally learned my Mojuba without notes and it is all in Lukumi, no Spanish. It took a long time, but I finally got it, it is simple but I understand all of the words and what I am saying, for what is prayer without understanding of what we say. Every morning I Mojuba my orisha and I also speak to my egguns, asking for blessings, direction, to remain honest and hardworking and to be perserverent, which is often hard. Power...for me, I became initiated to become a better person, to fulfill my destiny, to have a set of blessings and taboos which would direct my life in the right direction. I too have seen the many abuses of power, and the ego involved in this practice. In our ile there is a young girl 11 years old who is older than me in as is our custom, I salute her, and although there are several younger than me, no one else salutes this young priest...who would not want the blessing of a young woman who is still so innocent and precious? We also have fully grown adults, not yet initiated, who refuse to salute anyone, feeling that it is beneath them, who are they to question blessing from Orisha? It is babalawo's like you who will always ask the proper questions, who will strive to preserve the traditions, you know I could not have made it this far without you, so modupe abure, love Omi Awo

Anonymous said...

Aboru Baba...
Yours is a very responsible disposition of somebody holding "that" power...May it serve as example to other young and newly initiated Awos