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Tuesday, July 29, 2008

The path of initiation in Ifa: Lucumi and Traditional Yoruba

Aboru aboye aboshishe,

After a few conversations including a longer one with my Oluwo in Nigeria, I thought that it would be quite useful to post my understanding of the processes of initiation into Ifa for both Lucumi/santeria Ifa practitioners and traditional Yoruba Ifa practitioners. I'm not doing this to say that one is right, and one is wrong. They are their own interpretations of Ifa, and while they agree on many things, this particular area of ritual/theology, they differ quite a bit.

For Lucumi practitioners, the process goes like this. One can be introduced to Ifa through their "madrina/padrino" if they have ilekes first, or they can go directly to a Babalawo, if they are not yet affiliated with a house. Having a divination session is something every Lucumi practitioner that works with Ifa eventual does, with varying degrees of frequency. Everyone, at some point, who is associated with lucumi Ifa can and should receive Ifa via Awofakan (ceremony for men) or Ikofa (ceremony for women). For women, Ikofa gives them their birth Odu, and can dictate only one more potential initiation, that of Apetebii (wife of Orunmila). Becoming an Apetebii is however, a requirement for any women who is the wife of a Babalawo.

For men, Awofakan (owo ifa kan-one hand of Ifa), gives them their birth Odu, unless it is determined they have an Odu which destines them for the priesthood of Ifa. If this is the case, and they observes the taboos of Ifa for his priests, he would do his Itefa (Ifa initiation) during which he receives his true birth Odu and Odu of priesthood (which he uses to identify himself). Of course having an Odu for the priesthood comes with responsibility, please see my article on this for further information:

I will also mention here that during Ikofa or Awofakan, it is perfectly acceptable to determine a person's "guardian Orisa", instead of having a separate "plante" to do this. In lucumi Ifa, homosexuals are forbidden from the Ifa priesthood, as are women. I don't say this to get into a debate about it, it's simply religious law, but it does not forbid either from going to Ifa for divination, help or Awofakan/Ikofa.

In traditional Yoruba Ifa practice, Ifa worship begin dramatically earlier. Everyone who comes from an Ifa worshipping family should first do their Ese'ntaye 7 days after birth, (like I just did for my son). Ese'ntaye [meaning "stepping on the earth"] acts as a guide for your early life, revealing personality, direction on what they will do, and Ewoo (taboo) for the child, as well as their Ifa name.

This is where traditional Yoruba Ifa varies from Lucumi Ifa. In traditional Yoruba Ifa, all men who can/have the resources, should Te'Fa, or Itefa (initiate Ifa, like the lucumi) either either in the Itelegan style (where the man does not see Odu the mythical wife of Ifa, not done in the Lucumi system) or Itelodu (where the man does see Odu, equivalent to Lucumi initiation into the Ifa priesthood). However, if they do not have the resources they should Ishefa (this is the traditional Yoruba equivalent to the Lucumi Awofakan-owo ifa kan). If they took the second route and only did their Ishefa, they may receive an Odu in Ishefa that says it's compulsory that they do their Itefa (similar to the cuban system) in which case they are required to do their Itefa anyways.

This is where things truly diverge because, in traditional Yoruba Ifa, once one has done their Itefa (either Itelegan style or Itelodu style), they are not considered a Babalawo, but only an initiated follower of Ifa. It is only through the Odu they receive during Itefa (their true birth odu) that it is determined whether they will be allowed to be an Ifa priest (and thus a Babalawo) and learn the deeper secrets/knowledge of Ifa. This is radically different from the lucumi interpretation which says once you Itefa you are a Babalawo. To clarify, in my own case, even though I had Odu for babalawo in my Awofakan (received via lucumi priests), since I did Itefa Traditional Yoruba, I didn't truly know whether I was going to be allowed to be a Babalawo until I received my birth Odu in Itefa (which I didn't understand at the time!). So it's my Odu of Ifa (birth Odu received in Itefa) that allows me to be a Babalawo. The logic is perfectly clear to me, it's only in receiving your birth Odu that you know your path. The unfortunate thing is that many go to Nigeria to Itefa thinking then they are a Babalawo (and perhaps are sometimes misled to believe so), but this is not the case, you are only a follower of Ifa unless being a Babalawo is your destiny. The commonality between Lucumi Ifa and traditional Yoruba Ifa is that being a Babalawo is a destiny, not a choice, the only difference is which Odu determines that, and what the timing and meaning of different ceremonies are. So even if you want to be a Babalawo and go to Nigeria to Itefa, it's your birth Odu that determines it. If you decide to be a Babalawo anyways without the Odu, you are simply going against your destiny, which is completely contrary to Ifa theology, and why would you do that?

I still maintain, before calling yourself a Babalawo, you must adhere to the commitments and Ewoo (taboo) of a Babalawo and if you are committing Ewoo (taboos) you should not act as a practicing priest nor call yourself a Babalawo without respecting those ewoo. In traditional Yoruba Ifa, treatment of homosexuals is varied, most typically they are viewed as acting contrary to Ifa and nature and are outright shunned. There are other who don't believe this and work with homosexuals, however all factions bar homosexuals from being Ifa priests. This comes in part from the requirements of Ifa priests (ie, having an apetebii (being married to a woman), having children, and from other things. There does seem to be a don't ask, don't tell or look the other way policy as of late, and some folks who were shunned by Lucumi practitioners have taken to going to Nigeria where they are not known. This does not mean that traditional Yoruba Ifa accepts gay babalawos, just that some people are working around the system.

Women follow this path, first receiving ese'ntaye, then Isodu (the Ide (bracelet) of Ifa and one ikin - an Ijebu practice, which is exactly like some Lucumi lineages) for those who are not a Babalawos wife. When receiving Isodu, the Babalawo casts his own ikin to determine the woman's Odu. In receiving this Odu, it can be determined she needs to Itefa and become an Iyanifa, a position not recognized by Lucumi Ifa. Iyanifa are female Ifa priestesses that can Te'Fa, but are NOT allowed to see Odu (the mythical wife of Orunmila). In some areas, she can cast Opele (divine), but not Ikin. In all areas an Iyanifa learns Ifa verses and other rituals of Ifa.

If the woman is married, the Babalawos Odu is the Odu of the house, but she receives an Odu during her Apetebii ceremonies which tells more about her specifically, including whether she should Te'fa and become Iyanifa. All Babalawo are required to have an Apetebii (ie, be married) and during said ceremony, the women are ritually married to both the man and Ifa.

Other important notes are that Ishefa (owo ifa kan) would be given to the child of a babalawo within a month of birth, but can be received 1 - 2 years, 3 at most later. Itefa is typically done around puberty (when he becomes a man) but can occur anytime after that.

In Ogbe Ate, Ifa says:

A kii ji ni kutukutu
Ka ma mo Odu to da nu s'aiye
D'ifa fun Olupo Alaelu
Eyi t f'eyin ti
To n fekun surahun ire gbogbo
Eyi ti ti ile aye ni lare kokooko bi ota
Won ni ko sakaale ebo ni sise
Ko si lo ree te ifa
O gbe'bo o rubo
Ko pe, ko jinna
Ire gbogbo wa ya de tuturu
Ifa de o, Alase
Ope abise warawara


It is not advisable for one to wake up in the dawn of one's life
without knowing the Odu that gave birth to one
Divined for Olupo Alaelu
Who reclined and was weeping in lamenation of his inability to achieve all Ire in life
He whose life was as hard and tough as pebbles
He was advised to sacrifice
He complied
Before long, not to far
All IRE in life came to him in abundance.

I hope that this helps clarify some of the processes and differences in Lucumi and traditional Yoruba Ifa practices. It's been a learning process for me as I shed some of my own layers to learn how things are done in my particular path.

Marcos Ifalola


Ifakemi O. said...

Aboru Aboye Abosise! I appreciate you posting this. I am an Iyanifa of Ifa and an Iyalorisa, recently made in Nigeria. I had started in the Lucumi tradition and a part of what influenced me to change was the strong feeling that I had a calling to Ifa, which was confirmed by readings when I got on the other side, and I knew that the Lucumi tradition does not make or recognize this position.

I wonder if you might do an entry at some point on the difference in the path of initiation for Olorisa (and the status of the Iyawo) in Lucumi and Traditional Yoruba. I think that would be quite helpful for many. Modupe for your time and energy.

Anonymous said...

Bàbá, modupe for sharing this article, thus bringing understanding and clarity on this subject. I just happened on this site by accident...or not. "Ifa is the path for everyone and no one". I have been looking for information on Ogbe tura to further my understanding of this odu. Would you write a piece on this odu?


Fawole said...

Aboru aboye baba,

I salute you in posting all of this information on the web. It's a must! Education is the key! Love all your blogs! Our temple is doing the same thing but we're sharing the information through our website and weekly classes to folks in the community. I sent you a private email. I'd like to connect sometime.

blessings, Fawole

ps: Our temple is located in Los Angeles. Ara Ifa Ijo Orunmila lead by Chief Fasina. We also have strong ties to Chief Solagbade Popoola.

48lawsNdreams said...

Modupe Baba! I am grateful to have come across this blog to gain such insight through your postings.

Is it possible for one to join a Lucumi house, get initiated/crowned in Lucumi, and also be initiated into Ifa afterwards in the traditional manner?

I was wondering when you have the time, if you could offer insight on the odus Irosun Obara, Osa Ogbe (particularly in regards to Oya and/or omo-Oya), and Ogbe Meji....

David Cruz said...

This amazing. The sharing of information is vital to those of us who love Ifa, but are turned off by the bickering between houses on what is right or wrong. I am awofakan Irete Ofun. Could you share a little of your knowlege about this path?

David Cruz said...

This amazing. The sharing of information is vital to those of us who love Ifa, but are turned off by the bickering between houses on what is right or wrong. I am awofakan Irete Ofun. Could you share a little of your knowlege about this path?

Marcos said...

Alaafia david,

I'll have to put irete ofun on my list of Odu to write about. Glad you liked it, please forward and share with others.


EpiphanyPurple said...
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Marcos said...

Ogbo ato,
There are no traditional Nigerian Ifa houses I can recommend. Largely in part because there aren't sufficient Nigerian trained awos to do the ceremony here, not to say that it hasn't been done. My baba did do one or two here, but on special request and with a lot of arrangement. But be wary, as in nigeria, in the US there are plenty of shady characters who will initiate anyone for a price, and who will tell you that certain taboos don't exist in nigerian Ifa, when in fact they do, and they may even be one of those people who ignored taboo... Look long and hard, and honestly, you might (not certainly), you might be lucky to find someone in Nigeria to do your itelodu. But if you are lucumi already, then do as I did, feed your guardian orisa, ask his permission with caracol, ask Esu's permission with caracol, and take your Ikin to a lucumi babalawo, and ask Ifa where you should do you initiation. You might find you don't have a choice...

EpiphanyPurple said...
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EpiphanyPurple said...
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Marcos said...

I suspect you've already read my article, so know my stance. If you've received ishefa, you've done what you need to do, and in most opinions, you've no need to go further. It seems that the strategy is for folks who have prohibitions to try and work the system by going to Nigeria to get initiations because they accept things lucumi don't. Reality is they are the same as lucumi, just a few folks who are greedy, or have the prohibitions themselves and skirted the system are trying to change it. Will they be successful? I have no idea, Ifa has long said, you will look long and wide for a good babalawo. We're so initiation focused, we need to back down and say, what can we do with what we've got? Likely, everything you need to do and more. But US culture is such that sometimes, we focus on giving our kids every laptop, iphone, tablet, test, action figure etc etc when in reality, a wooden train set would have made them just as happy....

EpiphanyPurple said...
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JAY said...

Yawbo Obadele Aboru Aboye Abosise! Modupue on a fascinating article. As a drummer I started out in the Lucumi tradition receiving elekes, warriors and awofacan. No disrespect to Lucumi but I wasn't 'echando palante' [moving ahead]. I found myself always broke being said always needing something done and not learning anything. I was deepley annoyed and hurt that such a beautiful religion was not teaching me anything. What am I to do. I researched day and night talking to people and came to the conclusion that Lucumi is a business, taking those individuals that don't know for a ride. I met many in the same boat and some that have left the religion. Im not saying all are bad in Lucumi are all bad but most that I have come across are. I prayed to Orula to please bring forth an honest and worthy Ile. My prayers were answered due to my having faith and always worshipping. I met a Babalawo who introduced me to traditional Yoruba/Ifa and his wife an Iyanifa who opened a whole new beginning for me. I am now a Yawbo omo Obatala studying to be a good preist. Blessings

JAY said...
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David Cruz said...

I am sorry it has taken me many years to respond. I lost the site and just recently found it again doing research. Call it fate I guess. Thanks to all who bring the true practice of Ifá to the Americas and share their kids knowledge.

Gilly. said...

I'm happy to finally come across some REAL knowledge. There's so much ignorance and confusion about this, everywhere. It's 2017 now, and everyone on Instagram claims to be a priest or a priestess, and don't even know what awofakan or ikofa are. I'm not yet initiated, but I am BEYOND bless to have comes across a babalawo who I very good friends with now, that was taught and initiated by the great Wande Abimbola. I can't wait to find out what my birth Odu is.
Thank you for spreading the TRUTH, and not just "beliefs". Traditional Yoruba Ifa, is the root, and has been the root for over 8,000 years. All other practices are branches.