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Monday, February 18, 2008

Discourse on Ifa Symbology and Meaning II: Place of Ori in Ifa Divination

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe

It has been the subject of many a debate inspired first by the advent of phone psychics and furthered with the mass appeal and broad acceptance of the Internet, world wide web and email. Where and when is distance divination (divination sessions in which you are not physically present) appropriate or is it appropriate at all? This idea leads us to the more important question, which is, what is the role that Ori plays in the process of D'afa (Ifa divination). Ori and Ori Inu being relatively new topics in the diaspora, and a sometimes elusive and esoteric things, I'd like to start out with an Ese Ifa to show just how important and significant our Ori is to us.

The odu Irete Ofun says:

Dia fun Okanlenirino Irunmole
Won nlo sode Apere
Atefun-tefun eyin oni
Awo Ori lo dia fun Ori
Ori nlo sode Apere
Won ni ki won sakaale ebo ni sise
Ori nikan0nikan ni nbe leyin ti nsebo
Ebo Ori waa da ladaju
Nje Ori gbona j'Orisa
Ori ma gbona j'Orisa
Ori nikan-nikan lo ko won l'Apeere
Ko si Orisa to to nii gbe
Leyin Ori eni
Ori gbona j'Orisa

He who prints the chalk on the back of crocodile
He was the Awo who cast Ifa for the 401 Irunmole
When going to Apere (a state of perfection)
He who prints the chalk on the back of crocodile
The Awo of Ori who cast Ifa for Ori
When Ori was going to Apere
They were all advised to offer sacrifice
Only Ori responded by offering the sacrifice
The sacrifice of Ori had been abundantly rewarded
Ori is higher then all Orisa (deities)
It is only Ori which reaches Apere, the perfect state
No other Orisa (deity) can give support
Outside of one's Ori
Ori is higher then all Orisa (deities)

If we begin our look at the ritual process of d'afa with the understanding that Ori is higher then all Orisa, it helps us to place the correct importance on the devotee and their physical location. In any D'afa, we always begin with the chanting of prayers, marking of symbols on the Opon Ifa in Iyerosun, and manipulation of the Ikin. I'll go deeper into these processes in a separate piece, but for now we'll focus on the most basic explanation of why they are done. The Opon Ifa, is essentially a portal, an opening through which one can relay the messages of Ifa to a devotee. In Otura-rera (Otura Ogunda) Ifa says:

Igbo teere kan ko
Odan teere kan do
Ona were-were-were kan ibi a n re
Dia fun Alaiku
Omo ayelohun kere
Oruko ti aa pe Opon-Ifa
Won ni ko rubo si laiku araa re
o gbe'bo, o rubo
Ko pe ko jinna
E wa ba ni laiku kangiri
Aiku kangiri laa ba ni lese Ope

The slender forest reached the farmland
The slender savannah reached the brook
The small footpaths reached our destination
These were the declaration fo Ifa to Alaiku (that which will not die)
Offspring of he who possesses a strong clear voice
The name given to Opon Ifa
He was advised to offer sacrifice for longevity
He complied
Before long, not too far
join us where we enjoy everlasting life
Ever lasting life is enjoyed at the foot of Ope, the holy palm tree

The first three lines of this stanza reveal several important ideas, first that we are on a journey, but most importantly that that journey involves a change, in this case a change of scenery, but metaphorically speaking, a change in our path (as referenced in the early article on symbology with the marking of the crossroads on the Opon Ifa). The Opon Ifa represents the acknowledgment of the ever changing forces of nature and the change in Odu from one reading to the next. This is beautifully expressed in the third line where Ifa says, "the small footpaths reached our destination", which is meant to be a visual metaphor of the markings of the Odu in the Iyerosun. Like small footprints in dirt or sand, we mark the Odu on the Opon Ifa, and with the final push of our finger in the Iyerosun, we reach our final destination, the Odu which marks the energy/scenery that is present in our lives.

The stanza goes further in referencing the Opon Ifa as Alaiku (that which will not die), telling us that, no matter our own destiny to rejoin our ancestors in Orun, Opon Ifa, and by extension, Ifa, will not die, it was here before us, it will remain after. Or, as the stanza indicates "where we enjoy ever lasting life" a clear reference to Orun. And as finale, the stanza references the holy palm tree, where Ikin are gathered for use in communicating with Ifa, the medium of communication.

So it is that the Babalawo first awakens the spirit of the Opon Ifa, through prayers, and the markings of certain symbols upon it. After that process, the Awo Ifa awakens the spirit of Ifa through the Ikin which were given to people so that they may communicate with Ifa in order that they may know their destinies and have a means to correct/perfect them. The Babalawo begins with the ritual counting, ensuring that he has only 16 Ikin, which represent the 16 Major Odu Ifa (meji's). Through a variety of gestures/movements done while praying, the Babalawo awakens the spirit of Ifa within the Ikin, which are considered to be Ifa's mouthpieces (in the same way the cowrie(merindinlogun) are mouthpieces of the Orisa). The vibrations of the chants, spoken from an Awo who has been initiated, combined with the rubbing of the consecrated Ikin in their hands and on the Opon Ifa, are the rituals for arousing Ifa so that Ifa may birth/reveal for the devotee the Odu and the Odu's energies which are affecting them and their destiny at that moment.

We now arrive at a critical moment with regards to our question. We understand that Ifa is meant to reveal peoples destinies to them, and help them navigate the difficult waters so they may achieve happiness and success in life. Though we know that Ifa is everywhere and embodies all knowledge, the babalawo, just before casting Ifa, gives the Ikin to the devotee to hold, pray to, and finally touch their head (Ori) and their chest. It's this seemingly small, but extremely significant act which acknowledges the importance of the devotee in D'afa. By praying to the Ikin, and by touching our Ori with them, we let Ifa know that it is the devotee's Ori's destiny which is in question, and upon that question Ifa must answer. This is the first in a series of critical steps that are required for Ori to make so that Ifa may focus on the questions at hand and also so that the first Odu cast by the Babalawo is for the person's Ori, and their Ori alone. It is also the moment in which a person's Ori gives consent to the D'afa and as we are reminded in Ogunda Meji:

Ori pele
Atete niran
atete gb'ni koosa
Ko soosa ti i da ni i gbe
Leyin Ori eni

Ori, I hail you
You who do not forget your devotees
Who blesses devotees more quickly then the other Orisas
No Orisa blesses a man
Without consent of his Ori

Once the first Odu is marked on the Iyerosun, the energy of the Odu which is manifesting is made clear, like footprints in sand show the direction and destination of a person. At this point, the Babalawo, and Ifa actively engage the person's Ori in order to determine whether the energy of the Odu comes with ire or ibi (osogbo for lucumi pracitioners) through use of the Ibo (determinants). Here it becomes critical for the person to be actively engaged in the process of d'afa, because what most people don't understand, is that the process of d'afa is as much about consulting Ifa as it is about consulting one's Ori (as noted in the above Odu). And further, one's Ori (though their choice of destiny, and through their choices made here on earth) can bring about ibi, avoid ibi, achieve ire and ruin ire. This is made clear in the Odu Oyekun Meji which says:

Owo ewe o to pepe
Ti agbalagba o wo akeregbe
Ishe ewe be agba
Ki o ma she ko mo
Gbogboo wa ni a nishe a jo mbe 'raa wa
A dia fun Orunmila
Eyi ti akapoo re
O pe lejo lodo Olodumare
Olodumaree waa rannshe si Orunmila
Pe ki o waa so idi naa
Ti ko fi gbe akapoo re
Nigba ti Orunmila de iwaju Olodumare
O ni oun sa gbogbo agbara oun fun akapo
O ni Ipin akapo ni o gbo
nigba naa ni oro naa
Too waa ye Olodumare yekeyeke
Inuu re si dun
Pe oun ko da ejo eekun kan

A child is not tall enough to stretch his hand and reach the high shelf
An adults hands can not enter the mouth of a gourd
The work an adult begs a child to do
Let him not refuse to do
We all have work to do for each others good
Ifa divination was performed for Orunmila
About whom his devotee
Would make complaint to Olodumare
Olodumare then sent for Orunmila
To explain the reason why
He did not support his devotee
When Orunmila got to the presence of Olodumare
He explained that he had done all in his power for his devotee
But that the destiny chosen by the devotee made his efforts fruitless
It was then that the matter
Became quite clear to Olodumare
And he was happy
That he did not pronounce his judgment on the evidence of only one of the two parties.

We see that even Orunmila can not change someone who has chosen bad Ipin (destiny), be it while on Aiye, or before coming to earth in Orun at the house of Ajala. So it is critical at this point that Ori (and by extension Ori Inu or spiritual head) be present in order that you first, are connecting Ori to Ifa so that they may communicate, secondly that your Ori is there to communicate it's own wishes and knowledge of your destiny through the manipulation of the Ibo (determinants i.e. small rock, cowrie, seed, efun etc. that are given to you to see if Ire or Osogbo occur and yes/no questions), and lastly, so that once you have that knowledge, your Ori can assist in the process of appropriate ebo, addimu, ewoo to bring ire and avoid osogbo (again through usage of the Ibo). And, we are further reminded, though we might desire a certain result, if our Ori is not in alignment with destiny, we may not be able to achieve it regardless of Ebo, intention or desire, which is no fault of the Babalawo.

This I believe outlines the interplay between Ifa and Ori Inu, and shows the importance of being physically present when D'afa is performed, so that the revelations of Ifa are clear and in alignment with the Ori Inu and Ipin of the person. Certainly, being Eleri Ipin (witness to creation) and holding all the knowledge of the world, Ifa doesn't "need" the person to know what's goin on. However, in order that the person's Ori Inu is in alignment with Ifa, it's critical that it be present to represent itself, and fully hear and respond to the revelation Ifa makes for it. It is this interactive process, that makes the Ifa oracle an accurate and responsive form of divination truly like no other.

Are there exceptions? Can "distance" D'afa be performed?

Yes, however these are just that, exceptions. They should not be a regular form of divination and in my opinion performed only by people you have a formal connection to. Ideally, i believe that one should also have a metaphysical connection to the Babalawo and their Ifa through initiations like Isefa, Awofakan, Ikofa, Itefa, so that Ifa has made a formal recognition of your acceptance of the practice, and there is a metaphysical link to the Ikin that will be used to divine for you. But I stress that these should be exceptions and not normal practice. Receiving divination by phone or email separates the devotee and their Ori Inu from the process, and as we know in all Orisa practices, the physical connection to the Orisa is as important as the metaphysical one. If it were not, we could simply initiate ourselves and declare that we are priests, which we all know, is not possible, only Orunmila is the one who we do not know who initiated. An excerpt for the Odu Ogbe Ate states:

Orunmila was the person who initiated Akoda
He also initiated Asheda
He equally initiated Araba
Only Orunmila Abonniregun
Was the person we do not know who initiated
Now, after I have been initiated
I will complement it with self initiation
All those things that are my taboos
I will surely avoid them
I had been initiated
I will re-initiate myself, by myself...

Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

Tuesday, February 5, 2008

Vengance shall be mine . . . righteous living.

aboru aboye aboshishe,

One topic which is not often discussed is that of righteous living, specifically as it relates to the idea of ultimate payment for our actions here on Aiye (earth) or in the afterlife in Orun (heaven). While seeming a judeo-christian concept, these are in fact ideas which permeate many religions, including Ifa. For instance, Ifa says;

Ogunda bede (Ogunda Ogbe)

Eke a pa elekee
Odale a pa Odale
Oun ti a ba se nisale ile
Oju Olodumare nii too
Dia fun Amookun-se-ole
To ni oba aye ko ri oun
Bi oba aye ko ri o nko
Oju Olodumare nwo o

Lying (gossiping) will kill the liar
Betrayal will kill the betrayer
Whatever you do in a hidden place
Almighty Olodumare is aware of
These are the declarations of the oracle to
And he says nobody takes notice
If worldly kings did not see you
Almighty Olodumare is looking at you

Certainly, here we are left with the clear idea that although our transgression may not be viewed by the authorities, there is a divine authority, Olodumare, which will take notice and exercise justice in the end. Though I have not yet found Odu regarding the gate of heaven where we dig our "pit of sorrows" as noted by Chief Elebuibon in "The Healing Power of Sacrifice", I do believe that there is a link to between our earthly activities and our digging and subsequent filling of our pit of sorrows. I believe it's in the pit of sorrows that we dig for the transgression that we have committed in earlier incarnations, hoping to avoid those problems again. And finally after our digging and filling, we are allowed to incarnate on aiye once again. The idea of incarnation is clarified for us in the Odu Ika Ofun, which states:

Aje bori ogbon
Otosi so opo oro
A bu ni lole omo oun ti nse'ni
A kunle a yan eda
A dele aye tan
Oju n kan gbogbo wa
Eda ose pada loo yan omiran
Ayafi bi a taye wa

Wealth surpasses wisdom
A poor person utters ineffective words
Those who castigate us as being lazy do not understand our predicaments
We knelt down and chose our destiny (in heaven)
While on earth
We are all in a hurry
We cannot go and change our destiny
Unless we re-incarnate

And so Ifa clearly creates a link between our incarnations and those deeds which we make. But while our own Ori can only be blamed for our wrong doing, Ifa reminds us that Olodumare is watching our every move. Further in the Odu Ogbe Ate, Ifa states:

Bi iwaju ika ba dara
Eyin ika ko nii sunwon
A kii fi ika di eru ko gun gege
Dia fun otito-inu
Omo otite afitele tireletirele
Olodumare lo ni ile
Olodumare lo ni Idajo
Esan ni ti Olodumare
Oba mi yoo san-an-fun onikaluku
Gege bi ishe owo won

Even if the lifetime of wrong-doing is pleasant
the end of wickedness will not be good
we can not use evil to secure goods and expect them to be anchored firmly
These were the teachings of Ifa for the upright one
the offspring of the initiated one who treads the earth with humbleness
Olodumare is the lord of the land
Olodumare is the owner of judgement
Retributions belongs to Olodumare
The king of the world will reward everyone
precisely according to the work of their hands.

This last Odu is particularly interesting because it has a rather biblical tone to it. Some might say that perhaps this was a biblical influence on Ifa. However, others might say, perhaps Ifa had an influence on the Bible? Certainlly we know Ifa is old enough... And yet others might say it's mere coincidence, since these seem to be themes that are shared across many religions including those of non-judeo christian origin.

I certainly believe that the idea of a just God that is the eventual judge and jury can be the production of a logical mind. If we are the weak, it gives us hope that we might in the end receive justice. If we are the strong, it too has logic, in that it stops those that might be more powerful then us, that they give pause when trying to do wrong to us, as there is almost always someone who is more powerful ...

Ifa as a corpus, I think is meant to reflect all the possibility in people, and reflect those traits that can help people as a race survive. Ifa is, in essence a guide to self preservation, created by Olodumare for man . . . only the Yoruba called it, aligning yourself with your destiny. For if preservation of the race is not our destiny, we can only be destined to die. And that's no good.

Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

Friday, February 1, 2008

To Give . . .

Aboru aboye aboshishe,

A recent conversation claiming that only Africans and African descendants were allowed to practice Ifa left me a bit sad. On reading Odu this morning, I came across this Odu which hit me deeply and left me feeling heavy.

Oworin Odi

Gba ohun iye; danii
Gba lailewu
Bi a ba bi eni
K'a fi ohun naa fun olohun
Ire ni aigba fun ara eni
Won ni: t'o a ba ri won
Eniti nfi ojun fun olojun
Ko ma yee ni lowo

Accept a thing of value and hold on to it
Keep it safe
and when we are asked for it,
we should give the thing to its owner
Goodness lies in not keeping it for ourselves
they said: May we see our ancestors
and that anyone who returns things to their owner
Will never be empty handed.

Orunmila gave Ifa to all the people of the world, so that they may always have a way to fix their problems and align themselves with their destinies. May those of us that have been given Ifa to hold, keep it safe and give it back to the people, that we and they never be empty handed or left without a way to help themselves.

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez