Search Ifa articles

Thursday, May 29, 2008

Discourse on Ifa Symbology and Meaning III: The markings of Odu Ifa.

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe,

In the last installment of this discourse we began to look at the deeper meaning of the Opon Ifa and the markings which are made upon it as the Awo Ifa interprets the Ifa Oracle. We began by looking at the verse Otura-rera (Otura Ogunda) where 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 of 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 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 is 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.

The question then moves to how and why do we make those markings in the Iyerosun upon our Opon Ifa? An Awo Ifa in his studies of the process of divining with the holy Ikin is taught to hold the 16 Ikin in his left hand and attempt to grab as many as possible into his right. If there are no Ikin in his left hand, he makes no mark. If there is one Ikin in his left hand, he makes two marks. If there are two Ikin in his left hand, he makes one mark. If there are anymore then two, he makes no mark. So what is the significance of this process?

First and foremost, this is the process for divining the word of Ifa, in which Odu is birthed. This is a critical concept to understand, because though we know all Odu exist all the time, as they are the accumulation of the knowledge of the world, and represent all possibility, they are not all applicable to a person at a given time. We know that the process of Ifa divination is done in order to determine which Odu is pertinent to a person’s Ori. Further, because the amount of information in a given Odu can be vast, it is the job of the diviner to navigate their knowledge of Odu in order to determine what messages in particular are important for that person’s Ori.

This is all to say that the energy of a given Odu is born during the process of divination, and like people, that energy has a limited lifespan and will pass. Which is why we don’t keep getting the same Odu over and over again each time we Da’fa (divine Ifa) for someone.

So why then are there only two events which cause a diviner to mark the iyerosun on the Opon Ifa? Since we know that the process is about birth (also as evidenced by the interplay with Odu, Orunmila’s wife, who is by no coincidence of the same name) then we know that there are only two numbers that are of importance and I'll explain clearly why they are important.

One person seeks another in order to become a pair, so that they may procreate.

The pair procreates so that they produce another being.

In those two sentences of sublime simplicity, we see why Ifa chooses only 1 Ikin and 2 Ikin as significant. Further, it shows us why one is marked as two, and two is marked as one.

The odu Odi Meji tells us:

Ojo nla ta’di shasha
A difa fun won ni’di’kunrin
A bu fun won ni’di’binrin
Nijo ti won nmekun oju she’rahun t’omo
Idi ni a apa asha
Igba idi di meji
Nn la a bi’mo

Success depends on perseverance
See how rain drops wear out granite
Thus declared Ifa to the husband
The same was declared to the wife when they sorrowed daily for lack of children
Commence your efforts from bottom upwards
For when two ends meet
A child is born

The most important revelation in this verse is that in the beginning it treats the husband and the wife as separate. It cryptically talks about commencing efforts from bottom upwards, which I believe means to look at themselves fully bottom to top, to see where their problems lie, and when they both can meet as a couple, in understanding of each other, they might be able to truly unite and create one. The key take away is the progression, single person, through understanding joins harmoniously as a pair, and when the pair are in harmony, they produce one.

Further, we see another connection to the "1 to 2 to 1" in the workings of Ifa in Irosun Meji where ifa says:

Eni poroporo laa godo
Eji poroporo laa gosun
Dia fun Baba boo-lejo-o-ba-Ipin-re-wi
Oro o kan Eegun o
Ko k’Oosa
Eledaa eni loro o kan

One person pounds the mortar
In twos do we pound camwood
These were the declarations of Ifa to Baba who is advised “if you have any problems, consult your destiny”
The matter is not that of Eegun (ancestors)
Nor that of the Orisa
It is with destiny, fully and completely

The first line of this ese is a reference to the lone person making their destiny (the pounding of the mortar is done in order to do make food). The second is a reference to the person having gone to the Awo Ifa for divination. We know this because; camwood is the true wood used for Iyerosun, pounding is a reference to the Awo’s fingers pushing into the iyerosun on the Opon Ifa to make the mark of the Odu, it takes two people for there to be a consultation and lastly, the next sentence pronounces that the person must consult their destiny. The last three sentences are a reminder that no matter what the ancestors or Orisa may tell us, it is our own destiny (and thus ourselves alone) that can take the steps towards resolutions. One with problems, needing the second to consult Ifa. Two in consultation, which can only be resolved by the one person. One to two, two to one.

So Ifa creates balance by creating a closed circle. That Odu Ifa marked upon the Opon Ifa, creates a mirror in which we are able to see our problems clearly in hopes that we can find a resolution. Ifa will show us the truth in ourselves.

Aboru aboye aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez –

Monday, May 12, 2008

Ifa is enlightenment

Aboru, Aboye, Aboshishe,

What most people don’t understand when they embark on the path of Ifa is what Ifa’s true purpose is. All too often, as with most religions, people turn to Ifa in their time of need seeking comfort and solace, or a solution to those problems which plague them. If a solution is found, the adherent is drawn deeper into the system of belief. However just as often, if they are unable to find what they seek, they wander and drift looking for some path to provide them with a solution. Those who remain often do so from a sense of relief that they have found something to provide them with the answers they seek. Certainly Ifa can provide this. But more often than not, the deeper meaning of Ifa is hidden, ignored or simply misunderstood.

I believe the true path of Ifa is one filled with reflection, self-analysis and contemplation of the difficult questions left when one tries to understand how we can live harmoniously as one community. Ifa can help you to see the world and yourself for what they truly are. It’s through this understanding that we are able to decipher the roadmap given to us by Olodumare and the true nature of our Ori/Head chosen at the house of Ajala. Ifa is a storehouse of knowledge that acts as a key, opening an understanding of the true nature of any given situation.

So why is it that we know that enlightenment through Ifa requires self-reflection? This excerpt from the Odu Iwori Meji tells us:

Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
If you undergo Ifa initiation (Itelodu)
Endeavor to use your wisdom and intelligence

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

Two critical sections of the Iwori meji text point to this interpretation. By reminding us over and over throughout the Ese to “look at what affects [us]”, we are reminded that it is our responsibility to constantly reassess the world around us to see how it is affecting us. Further, there is a reminder to those members of the priesthood who have been given special access to the wisdom of Ifa. It is our responsibility to use our wisdom and intelligence, i.e. don’t assume Ifa will provide the key simply through initiation.

Lastly, Iwori meji reminds of one of the most important yet one of the least stressed concepts for the Awo Ifa, “Initiate yourself again by using your wisdom and intelligence”, it is here where Ifa tells the Awo that initiation alone does not make you a true Awo. It’s only through reflection and contemplation of Ifa that one can achieve an understanding of the initiation one went through, and through analysis and study, self initiation (awareness of the truths of Ifa) can occur.

The Odu Okanran Oturupon reminds us of our need to study in saying:

It is through constantly studying Ifa that we come to understand Ifa
It is through missing the way that we come to know the way
It is the road we have not traveled before that causes us to wander here and there

Ifa ki ko nii mu ni mo Ifa
Ona sisi nii mu ni mo ona
Ona ti a ko rin ri
Nii se ni sibasibo

Further, this excerpt from the Odu Ogbe Ate supports this idea :

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...

Besides the clear support given to our earlier analysis, Ogbe ate takes things one step further by stating, “I will re-initiate myself, by myself...”. It’s in this statement that Ifa reminds us of one of the most important truths of them all, understanding of truth, is a solitary act. While others can help guide us along the way, in the end we face truth on our own. The solitary act of insight into the true nature of life is why we must travel the final road to realization alone.

It’s this epiphany that leads me to my next important, but potentially controversial statement.

Ifa is the path for everyone and no one.

The seemingly zen contradiction in this statement is an understanding that Ifa can provide universal truths to all those who seek it, while simultaneously acknowledging the solitary and unique nature of the epiphanies of truth. Truth reveals itself to each person in the way that person will understand it, and Ifa is but one path to Truth.


In order for any follower of Ifa, Awo and adherent alike, to benefit from the wisdom of Ifa, they must each have smaller revelations of truth. During each session of Ifa divination (D’afa), Ifa reveals an Odu which is drawn on the Opon Ifa. This process is meant to provide a mirror through which the devotee can recognize themselves and the truth of their situation in a given moment in time. As noted in earlier writings, D’afa (with the exception of major initiations such as Itelodu) is meant to provide a momentary glimpse into the true nature of a person’s life situation. This includes their actions, the actions of others, and the nature of people.

Oworin Obara is a perfect example or our need to use Ifa as a mirror:

She sees me. I don’t see her.
This was the teaching of Ifa for Owa
They said that which we are looking for is near us
But we do not recognize it
Orunmila, Witness to Destiny, said:
The very thing we are looking for is near us
But our lack of knowledge prevents our seeing it

O ri mi. N ko rii
A difa fun Owa
Won ni: ohun ti a nwa nbe nitosi eni
Afi aimo eni
Orunmila, Eleri ipin, o ni:
Ohun ti a nwa nbe nitosi eni
Afi aimo eni ni kii je ka rii

Ifa is knowledge that provides us with the key to unlocking the door to that which we seek. If only we use it, we can recognize what we are looking for, and fulfill our destinies.

Ifa will enlighten us, if we take the time to reflect on, and apply the wisdom which it gives to us…

Aboru, Aboye Aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez