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Monday, December 28, 2009

Is Pinaldo (cuchillo) necessary?? A question of lucumi theology...

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe,

I recently entered into a conversation about the much talked about and controversial "Pinaldo" or "Cuchillo" ceremony of the lucumi. Here are my thoughts on the subject, one which is both difficult and important.

Pinaldo does not have an equivalent in Nigeria, though there is a professor/babalawo, with a clear lucumi agenda that has a paper that tries to assert (with many five dollar words) that there is a link from the kuanaldo (Ifa "cuchillo" ) ceremony to one in nigeria since there are some similarities to ijeshon. His agenda is clear as he tries to promote the argument about "lost" ceremonies "kept" by cubans to assert some higher level of authenticity to Cuban Lucumi practice. The link does not seem clear to me in my reading of the paper.

The story I've heard is that there was a famous santera (see david brown's work, he has names dates etc) who had a break with the existing system of the time, in which Ologun (achogun) were the only ones with authority to sacrifice. This already varies from Yoruba practice since each Orisa has their own separate priesthood, and they don't require outside priests to offer their sacrifices. That said, the Achogun had such a chokehold on the system that she decided to break away and created the pinaldo ceremony to "authorize" others to do what they did with the "knife".

It seems a very likely/credible story. I've done pinaldo lucumi, and worked in a few. It's 85% the same as kariosha. With obvious differences... I won't go into detail in this public area... Publicly though, there's a fancy table where all the santeros sit who have pinaldo (even if you're a santero, if you don't have pinaldo, you can't sit at the table) and obviously Ogun speaks for the first time through his own caracoles.

All in all, not very exciting, but just as expensive as your kariosha. I've heard all sorts of justifications like "it gives you the right to use the knife for sacrifice" (ok fine). Or, my favorite, it's a "confirmation" of your Osha... What??? You have all the Odu you were born with, if everything was done correctly, why would you need to "confirm" your Odu?? You were only born with one Odu, so all the new Ita is giving you is a more current "snapshot" of your life, with the exception of Ogun, who if he's speaking for the "first" time with caracoles, is a new Ita, and his ewoo/advice stands for life (according to lucumi theology).

I'll additionally point out there have been lots of "elder" santeros I've met who didn't have Pinaldo (usually because of cost), they seemed to be doing just fine. However, I need to point out, the Lucumi are well within their rights to create ceremonies they deem theologically necessary. Was this? perhaps yes, perhaps no... It may have been strictly political, may not have. We'll never know for sure.

The real question is, do today's priests deem it to be a theological necessity? Do they agree with ceremony's existence? Like with ALL religions, it's up to the Lucumi priesthood to decide whether this ceremony lives or dies, whether it is a necessity, or something that's outlived its purpose. The difficulty of course lies in the fact that as a decentralized religion, there is no governing body. This means that if a tradition or ceremony dies, it dies a more organic/chaotic death, not one which was deemed so by a ruling body. This of course makes the process more complex and lengthy.

We can see an example of this if we look at the whole year in white. Slowly, as the newer generations come about, there has been a relaxing, or even forgetting of the "rules" to the point where I see people who are touching during their year, use any utensils/plates to eat, some who only wear white for 3 months. I'll note here that wearing white for a year is not a part of initiation in Nigeria (though it is often worn during the ceremonies), however it was pointed out that some priests are given a mandate during their Ita to wear white always, or for a year or X period of time. This is how I believe the year in white, and many other traditions/taboos (Sango and Oshun priest's not "touching" each others "crown") got started. ie one priest passes their ewoo to their godchildren, and it propagates as general rule, instead of being specific to one person).

Some food for thought...
Aboru aboye aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

Monday, July 13, 2009

NJ Child Endagerment and Santeria/Palo case

Aboru aboye aboshishe,

Please take a moment to pay attention to this case that is now happening in the NJ courts. This is a classic case of ignorance of the law, and bigotry in its application. Whether you know these people or not, like them or hate them, believe they deserve this or not, it doest NOT matter. There is a bigger picture and a larger issue at hand. If this is allowed to go through, our hard fought for 1st amendment rights are being squashed, and this already happened in the Church of lukumi babaluaye supreme court case. DO NOT stand by and let this happen, because next it might be you. Get involved! Go to the court appearances dressed in white as a show of solidarity, fight for the right to practice our religion and not be afraid they might take our children from us.

In the meantime, please sign this petition which will be sent to the court, prosecutors, mayor, senator and congresspeople.

marcos ifalola sanchez

Friday, May 15, 2009

Contemplations on Ifa ritual, Ofun Meji and Oriki to Yemonja

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe,

Sorry for the long pause, moving between continents can be time consuming... Enjoy...

Contemplation on Ifa ritual:

Ritual is devoid of meaning if one does not understand from whence it came and it's underlying theological principles. It is to say, an open act of worship is meaningless if the act is made only with intent, but no understanding of what the act means. If intent were the sole basis for giving meaning to an act, then we can say as we please caring only that we mean it in the name of worship. Ritual without understanding is like a wind blowing a leaf this way and that, it certainly moves, but where it lands is anyone's guess.

Ritual married to understanding is like a man in the desert who with compass and map in hand, can reach a desert oasis. Ifa is my compass and Odu my map, that I may find shade and water in the desert of humanity.

Ofun Meji

Was the Awo who divined for ‘the small child who knows nothing’
When performing Esentaiye at the dawn of his life
He was told that if he sought wisdom
And did not lie, or be treacherous
Ifa would support him
He was told that in life, there are many roads,
But only the road of righteousness would lead to an end
Supported by Olodumare
And that in the end
He would return to the place he began
Next to the innumerable Irunmole in Orun

When nearing the end of his life
The Awo ‘We-start-where-we-end’
divined for ‘the small child who knows nothing’
who had become the wise elder who knew much
Ifa said he supported his Ori
And his Ori had supported him
In choosing the righteous path
And so he would return to the place he began
Next to the innumerable Irunmole in Orun
It is such that we repeat the cycle of life
Until we reach Apere (the perfect state)
Ofun Meji
Who was first
And became last
Showing that everything that begins, will end
Trading places with the end, that became a beginning
Eepa Odu

Oriki Yemoja

Ashe o Iya mi Yemoja!
Mother whose children are the fish
Who inhabit the primordial waters
Mother whose salt runs in our veins
Able to give life when ours has drained
Mother who lives in our tears
Revealing yourself in both our darkest and happiest moments
Ashe o Iya mi Yemoja!
Your curves wind like the rivers that sculpt their travels in stone
Even mountains can not stop you on your journey
There is no obstacle you can not circumvent,
Nothing that can block your way
Even the hardest and strongest
Will give way, or be overtaken
Ashe o Iya mi Yemoja!
Without you
We can not live
Without you
We can not thrive
Without you
We can not survive
Ashe o Iya mi Yemoja!
May you provide us with health
May you provide us with wealth
May you provide us with someone to share our lives
May you provide us with children
May you provide us with longevity
May you provide us with wisdom
May you provide us with peace
Ashe o!

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

Thursday, March 12, 2009

Isese (Isheshe) 2008 festival and interviews

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe,

Here is a wonderul taping of the 2008 Isese day in Nigeria. Some good explanations, including the Yoruba calendar New Year! Plus several other clips of different parts of the Isese day...

second part (you'll see trad Y dobale)

Notice in the third section, Ifa, Sango, Obatala and other Orisa worshippers working in harmony on Isese day!! and a casting of Obi kola

Ase o!
Marcos Ifalola

Monday, February 9, 2009

Heretical treatise on hierarchy within the Orisa priesthood

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe,

This week I was in Rome, and while sitting at a Papal audience, I began to contemplate what it means to be a priest, what it means to be “holy” and the role that initiations play in our status in our religious community and society at large.

I start this by saying that what I propose here might make sense to some, seem radical to others, and heretical to possibly a large portion of the Orisa community. That said, I feel it’s my responsibility to propose these thoughts, if nothing else, so that people might take a second to think about what it is they believe and perhaps decide for themselves whether to continue their path, or refine what it means to worship, and what roles different people play in the process of worshipping the Divine.

I should first begin by laying out my definition of Orisa priest (Olorisa or Babalawo). In my mind, after many years of study, and further 12 years now as a priest (4 as Awo Ifa), I believe the primary role of the priest is to act as an intermediary between the laity (believers who are non-priests) and the Orisa (who are ultimately our closest link to Olodumare). In that role as intermediary, it is our responsibility to open the portals of communication, be it through Oracle, trance possession or acts of nature. We must then accurately interpret those Divine messages, deliver them to those who need to receive them, and where necessary, prescribe the actions or offerings necessary to align followers with their path in life, in order to give them Ire (blessings).

We are only intermediaries, and through our initiations, our minds are opened and our abilities to act as intermediaries are awakened so that we may serve the Orisa. Initiation is, in effect, the act of submitting to the will of Olodumare.

And yet, in both traditional Yoruba Orisa worship, and Lucumi Orisa worship, priests and lay-people alike get mired in the technicalities of seniority and status, forgetting that as intermediaries it is our actions, our ethics, our knowledge and most importantly our character that truly determines our seniority and status within the religious hierarchy.

I have myself seen the pomp and circumstance given to a chief, priest or elder in Yorubaland, who would see nothing wrong in taking graft, charging the poor outrageous fees for their services, selling titles or not doing initiations properly because they know the “client” won’t return. Equally I have seen Lucumi adherents and priests quibble about who’s older, who should dobale to whom, give unnecessary expensive cleansings or initiations or argue about which priest should be praised first with a ceremony.

Who bows to whom, who is the first to speak, who one’s godparent is, who gets a “tambor” first, these are simply constructs of the ego, concerned more with the self, and self satisfaction than with acting as the intermediary between the profane and the Divine.

I go one step further in my definition to say that the idea that the priest acts as anything more than intermediary, or midwife during the process of Dosu/Kariosha is absurd. The “godparent” does not give birth, though it can be said that the Iyawo has been re-born. There is not a single moment in all of the lucumi Kariosha ceremony in which the priest spiritually or otherwise gives birth. They simply act as intermediary or midwife, by spiritually passing the Ase of the Otanes to another set of Otanes. And through ritual, prayer and sacrifice take the Iyawo through a rebirth of their own, in which their Eledaa/Ori is awakened, and the connection between Eledaa/Ori and Orisa is opened so they too may become intermediaries between non-priests and the Divine. Ifa even tells us that the idea that the godparent is essentially a “parent” is false. In a portion of the Odu Oworin Irete, where Abeshujiyan imparts three pieces of wisdom, for which he names his three hair patterns, the third he is:

“Guardianship does not equal parentage
Another person’s child cannot be like a child from one’s bowels”

“Agbabo o jo onbi
Omo olomo o lee jomo taa bi ninu eni”

Which is proven later in the Odu when Abeshujiyan is about to be sentenced to death, and his adopted child asks that his cloth be removed so that the blood from the execution he will watch does not stain it.

“Let us set him free
If this boy had been his son truly
And not an adopted child
Would he say his fathers blood should not be allowed to spill on his cloth?
Can’t we all see truly that a Guardian does not equte a parent
Another persons child can not be like a child from one’s bowels”

E mo jee ki awon o lese lorun
E je ki awon o file
Oba ni nje bob a je pe omoo re to bi nnu ni omo un
Ti kii she omo to gbawo
Se jo pee ki ejee Baba oun o mo ta si asho oun
Omo olomo o jomo eni looto

Through the wisdom of Odu, Ifa teaches us:

Initiation alone does not give one character.

Initiation alone does not give one knowledge.

Initiation alone does not give one seniority.

Initiation alone does not make one a true priest.

Ifa tells us in the Odu Iwori Meji:

Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Bi o ba te Ita tan
Ki o tun iye e re te
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi eja igba gun ope
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi aimowe wo odo
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi ibinu yo obe
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma ji kanjukanju jaye
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma fi warawara mkun ola
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, maseke, sodale
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma puro jaye
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma se igberaga si agba
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma so ireti nu
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, ma san bante Awo
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni
Awo, bi o ba tefa tan
Ki o tun iye e re te o
Iwori teju mo ohun ti nse ni

Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
If you undergo Ifa initiation (Itelodu)
Endeavor to use your wisdom and intelligence
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not use a broken rope to climb a palm-tree
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do no enter into the river without knowing how to swim
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not draw a knife in anger
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not be in haste to enjoy your life
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not be in a hurry to acquire wealth
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not lie, do not be treacherous
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not deceive in order to enjoy your life
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not be arrogant to elders
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not lose hope
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
Awo, do not make love to your colleague's spouse
Iwori take a critical look at what affects you
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

In this, and many other Ese Ifa, we are reminded of that character, ethics, proper behavior, intelligence, and most importantly, not assuming initiation in and of itself makes the priest, are critical to understanding the role and responsibility of a priest.

By reminding us over and over throughout the Ese to “look at what affects [us]”, we are reminded of our responsibility to constantly reassess the world around 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.

None of this is to say that we should not respect each other, or that certain priests are not worthy of respect and the rituals/rights that show that. But, initiation alone does not give a priest those rights, they must be earned. The attachment of the role of “parent” and the idea that the priest “gave birth” in the diaspora overemphasizes the mentor/guide role of the priest, creating cults of personality often, though not always, based on little more than performance of initiations and perhaps consultation in which they are interpreting and clarifying the advice of the Orisa for the adherent. These attachments to roles and status are ephemeral at best, and only serve to divert our attention away from the true meanings behind the role of a priest.

So what makes a priest worthy of respect and the actions associated with that respect? Length of initiation means absolutely nothing. In and of itself, how can we give seniority values to the act of initiation, when it is only an enabling act, giving one a title, and the potential to access the Divine. The Odu Eji Ogbe tells us:

We have initiated you into the secrets of Ifa
You should re-initiate yourself
This was how Eji Ogbe was initiated
But he plunged himself into the forest
We have initiated you into the secrets of Ifa
You should re-initiate yourself
If you get to the top of the palm tree
Do not let your hands loose.

Awa te o nifa o
K’o o tunra e te
Tite la t’Eji Ogbe
T’o fi m’ori wo’gbo
Awa te o nifa o
K’o o tunra e te
B’o o d’ori ope
Ma she jowo si

Eji Ogbe, the highest of Odu, went through self-initiation, even after being lead to the sacred grove (igbodu) for initiation (te’fa), he plunged himself back into the forest. This act shows that even an initiate must go back in to the grove in order to teach himself. And, even in this short stanza, Ifa reminds us that even if we reach the pinnacle of understanding and knowledge, our arrogance should take over, lest we let our hand lose and come tumbling down the palm tree.

This excerpt from the Odu Ogbe Ate also 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...

Again Ifa reminds us not only of the need for self study and initiation only being the beginning of the road, but also another important truth, the 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 is through the meticulous study of the rituals, methods of accessing the Divine, theology, philosophy, and Ethics and the appropriate application of those studies that one begins the long road of priesthood. Only after one can successfully access the Divine, and interpret those messages can one begin to earn the title of “Olorisa or Babalawo”.

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

How can one be considered a preist of Ifa if one does not understand Ifa? How can one understand Ifa simply by being initiated into Ifa? In order to be a priest one has to understand, and if understanding can only come through studying, how can someone who has simply undergone initiation be considered a priest? While ultimate understanding eludes us, we can only come to understand through study, and so without study, we are priests of nothing.

On Character/Ethics

There are a multitude of ese Ifa on character and ethics, but here are some that I believe stand out. In Ogbe Sooto (Ogbe Osa) Ifa says:

Ifa a Babalawo is in grave want
Let him like not
If an herbalist is in need
Let him not be dishonest
Let no one lie or display dishonesty
Because of accountability when he dies
This is the declaration of Ifa for Orunmila
When unknown people (pretenders) waged war against him
Orunmila was asked to offer sacrifice
He complied
Now all you protestors
You have all been exposed
I now know the python
Which resembles the cobra
I now recognize the rattle snake
Which looks like the boa constrictor
I can now see through Iwowo Ereke (impersonator)
Who pretends that he is Orunmila himself.

Bi oju ba npon Babalawo
Ki Babalawo ma puro
Bi oju ba npon Onishegun
Ki Onishegun ma shera
Keni ma sheke shera
Nitori ati sun awo
Difa fun Orunmila
Nijo ti eni Aimo wa nko ogun ja Baba
Won ni ki Baba rubo
Nje eni Aimo
Emi ma wa mo yin o
Emi ti mo monu-monu
To finu jo Oka
Mo ti mo Agbadu
To tinu jo Ere
Mo ti mo iwowo-Ereke
To finu jo Barapetu

Ifa here warns both layity and priests twofold . First that our ethics must be of the highest standard, and that we not lie in order to get our way as priests. It’s no matter whether that be to assert power, manipulate others for our own gain or to make money. In the end, we will be judged. But even more important, Ifa reminds us to not mistake one thing for another, and to not mistake the priest for Orunmila himself! Beware of priests who begin to mistake themselves as Orisa. In this Odu, Ifa makes it clear that the comparison may be subtle, both snakes but of different types, one may not say outright they think of themselves as Orisa, but their actions belie their true feelings. We priests are not Orisa incarnate on earth, we are humble servants, to think or act otherwise is nonsense.

What Ifa does teach us is to respect everyone regardless of status, without that respect, how can one claim the title of priest? In Osa Meji Ifa says:

The head of a person with a bad future does not swell up
No one can recognize the footprints of a madman on the road
And, no one can distinguish the head of an honorable person in an assembly of people
This was the theaching of Ifa for Mobowu
Who was the wife of Ogun
Surely, the head that will wear the crown tomorrow
No one can recognize it
Therefore, let husband and wife stop calling each other names
And stop talking foolishly to each other
For the head that will wear the crown tomorrow
No one can tell which one it will be

Ori buruku kii wu tuulu
A ki i da ese asiwere mo loju ona
A ki i m’ori oloye lawujo
A difa fun Mobowu
Ti i se obinrin Ogun
Ori ti o joba lola
Enikan o mo
Ki toko-taya o mo pe’ra
Won ni were mo
Ori ti o joba lola
Enikan o mo

Aside from reminding us that we never know when we will need help from someone, or who that will be, Ifa is clear that we also do not have foresight. The leaders, and likewise madmen, of tomorrow are not known today, so from a practical standpoint, we should treat all people respectfully.

The question of character and its affect on the priesthood is even more profoundly addressed in the Odu Ofun Otura where Ifa states:

The liar casts the Kola nut and it yields a bad omen
the commitment breaker casts the kola nut and it does not yield a good result
But the good hearted person casts the kola nut and the result is clearly promising

Eke pa bi, o di
Odale pa'bi, ko yan
Oninure pa bi, o ye peregede

Priests make a commitment to uphold and protect Orisa/Ifa and their principles, so priests who have broken this commitment when casting a tool of divination (this case kola nut, but again Ifa is metaphors, so to me, any form of divination, including Ikin Ifa or cowries) will not yield a good result. This means that the state/character of the diviner IS in fact important to the result, and affects the outcome of divination. If that is the case, how can one give seniority let alone respect to priest with no character.

Further, the prayers and action of the priest before divining are designed specifically to awaken the voice of the Orisa, if not done properly, the objects used to divine remain just that, inanimate objects and not conduits for the Divine word. It's important to remember the if consecration was the only thing that make Ikin or Dinlogun/Cowrie "speak" the priest wouldn't have to pray or do anything, simply cast and go.

These are just a few of the many ese Ifa that deal with character, pointed out to show that without character, the title of priest and respect that goes with it, are meaningless.

On Age/Wisdom

Whether the age is counted in years of initiation or years on earth, age alone does not make a priest. Though, we can certainly deduce that while age doesn’t guarantee wisdom, without age (years on earth) wisdom can’t be fully attained. This is why in Yoruba culture, years of initiation can never outweigh years on earth, so it would be absurd to see a 45 year old dobale/kunle to a 20 year old, regardless of their years as a priest. Also of note though, is that years on earth and “eldership” does not guarantee character (or wisdom for that matter. The Odu Ogbe Iwori says:

Bad conduct is what is attributed to youth
Bad character is what is attributed to elders

Ishekushe l’ewe le she
Iwa ihukuhu ni ti agbalagba

Ifa explains that in our youth, when we do something bad, the action comes from not knowing better. As an elder, life should teach us to know better, so when we do something bad, life should have already taught us so, and therefore it must come from bad character. Without character, eldership means nothing, regardless of how you measure that time.

Eldership further does not mean that one holds no responsibility to help those that are junior, which is yet another show of true character. Eldership is retained by remembering one’s status, and helping those at a different level, whether it’s age or mental ability. The Odu Oyekun Meji reminds of this by stating:

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.

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

Additionally, this Odu reminds us that eldership is attained and kept by being just and wise. Olodumare seeing two juniors (Orunmila and his devotee) was wise in waiting to hear both sides of the story before pronouncing judgement. This allowed him to realize that not all was as one person might have it seem, and so rendered just judgement.

Ifa tells us in Orangun Meji (Ofun Meji) the eldest of Odu that became the junior of Odu upon descending to earth:

He who breaks a Kola nut (with 4 valves) will eat two valves
An avaricious elder is he who eats three valves
After eating three valves
He carries his load unaided and proceeds on this way
These were the declaration of Ifa to the person at the forefront (the senior/leader)
Who shall later become the person at the very rear (the junior/follower)
He was advised to offer sacrifice
He refused to comply
It is their lack of propriety in manners
It is their lack of diplomacy
The person at the forefront
Had turned into the person at the very rear
It is their lack of propriety and manners

Onpabi nii j’eji
Agba okanjuwa a j’eta
To ba j’eta tan
A gn’eru u re a yaa lo
Dia fun Eni iwaju
Ti yoo deni ikeyin
Ebo ni won ni ko waa she
O koti ogbonhin sebo
Nje aimowa a hu u won ni o
Ai mede e pe e won ni o
Ara iwaji o, lo deni ikeyin
Aimowaa hu u won ni o

Even an elder and leader can lose their status for lack of character, as told my Ifa in Orangun Meji.

On Mentorship

It is the role of the priest to act as mentor and advisor to the devotee, but these are not things which come easily, quickly, or instantly upon initiation. In Otura-Elejin (Otura Ogbe) Ifa tells us:

A child studies Ifa with labor and suffering
When he grows up
He will reap all the rewards
This was the declaration of Ifa to Otura
When he would dip his hand into the boat of success
I dip my hands into the boat
And I pull out all good things of life
When Otura dipped his hand into the boar
He became successful from his sojourn to his home
I dip my hands into the boat
And I pull out all the good things of life

Tishe tiya lomode kekere fi n ko’Fa
Bo ba dagba tan
Nii ri ere e ee je o
Diafun Otura
Ti yoo towo b’ili ni Ishaga
Mo towo b’oko
Mo fa’hun rere yo o
Igba Otura t’owo b’oko
Lo la wale
Mo t’owo b’oko
Mo fa’hun rere yo o

In the story of Orunmila’s creation of the system of Divining Ifa, we are told:

Ifa, you are the leader
I am the follower
The leader is he who teaches the follower wisdom
You are the one who teaches one
Just as one’s sibling…

Ifa, iwo lara iwaju
Emi ni ero eyin
Ara iwaju nii ko ero eyin logbon
Iwo loo ko’mo loran

It is as leaders that Ifa wants us to teach Ifa’s followers wisdom, and so without wisdom, character and scholarship how can we accomplish this? If we do not study, we do not show character, we do not show leadership how can we truly call ourselves priests, let alone demand respect and senior status?

I’ll end this with on the somber note created by a stanza from the Odu Eji Ogbe

A o t'okun dokun
ka too ri winni-winni agbe
A o tosa dosa
Ka too ri doodo orun Aluko
A baa t'okun dokun
Ki a tosa dosa
Ka too ri oloooto Awo
Odi Ile-Ifa Akelubeke
Dia fun Igbin
O n'sawo lo sode Ileyo
O wa mekun sekun igbe
O mohun seyere aro
O ni: Eniyan an won o
Eniyan an soro
Ka too ri olooto Awo
Ona a jin

We shall travel from ocean to ocean
Before we can see the tiny specie of the Blue Touraco
We shall wind from river to river
Before we can see the specie of Maroon Touraco with goiter on their necks
Whether we travel from ocean to ocean
and from there wend river to river
Before we can find a truthful Babalawo
We shall reach Ile-Ife Akelubebe
That is the declaration of the oracle of Igbin (snail)
When going to Ileyo town to practice Ifa
He made his weeping a shouting lamentation
He made his song a dirge of lamentation
He said: Human beings (truthful ones) are scarce
Human beings are difficult
Before we can find a truthful Babalawo
We shall travel far

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola

Wednesday, January 14, 2009

Iyanifa, an Ode Remo perspective...

Aboru aboye aboshishe,

Clearly one of the "hot" topics in the Ifa community both Traditional Yoruba and Lucumi, is the topic of Iyanifa. Lucumi do not accept this as a legitimate initiation, and in Nigeria, some do not accept it, and some do (though those that do all agree that Iyanifa do not "see" Odu). My Oluwo's wife is an Iyanifa, she doesn't divine, but is very active in Ifa, Ogboni, and ROF. So, in my lineage, we accept the place of an Iyanifa (though again please note, Iyanifa do not see Odu).

In this article, I am not posting my own personal views but felt these series of 10 interviews would be interesting and important to the discussion. Below are some videos on the topic of Iyanifa from Ode Remo, Nigeria, where apparently the initiation of Iyanifa is rejected. Interviews apparently conducted by Russian adherents of different personages in Nigeria including the araba of Ode Remo and others. If nothing else, this reinforces the very clear notion that Ifa and Orisa practice, even in Nigeria, are not as singular as we sometimes want to think in the diaspora. Regional variation in ritual, theology and emphasis occur, and need to be accepted.

Aboru Aboye Aboshishe,
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez

Thursday, January 1, 2009

Letra del Año / Odun Ifa what and why?

Aboru, Aboye, Aboshishe

It's the time of year when we see much of the Lucumi world alight with the question, "Do you know what the Letra of the year is?" and "is that the one from Cuba? or Puerto Rico? and which part of Cuba?". This ultimately leads people to ask me time and again, two very important questions:

Why is the letra del Año de Ifa Lucumi at a different time then the traditional Yoruba Odun Ifa?

Which "letra" is the one I should follow?

To answer the first question, fundamentally, the letra del Año de Ifa Lucumi and the traditional Yoruba Odun Ifa are essentially the same ceremonies, though there are some differences which have no significant bearing on the questions posed. They are meant to offer sacrifice to Ifa, and to seek Ifa's guidance over the coming new year. But why then are they at different times?

To start with, let's talk about Odun Ifa in traditional Yoruba Ifa. In my Ile, we do the Odun Ifa usually in August, though the day isn't exact, and can vary from year to year. Typically, although not exclusively, Odun Ifa coincides with the new yam festival (first harvest of the yam, an important staple in the Yoruba diet) and due to the nature of agriculture, is not on a fixed day. As with many cultures, the first yam is given to the Gods/Orisas as an offering, asking that the yield be plenty and that the coming year offer the community health, wealth, ample food, and other blessings. In this light, as followers of Ifa, we ask the same. Additionally, since there are poisonous tubers, some contend that the offerings are made to ensure that Ifa protect people from the consumption of such tubers.

The Odu Ogbe Ate (Ogbe Irete) tells us:

Correctness is the essence of true ritual
Those who, accepting this teaching
Offer libation first to Mother Earth
And then to lips
Sail though life over smooth calm waters
Was divined for Kufodo, he who serves liquor in pitchers

Ka ta a'le
Ka ta e enu
Otara-tara ni ishon odo
Dia fun Kufodo
Omo Oloti ape

From this Ifa tells us to always make offerings to mother earth, because she is the one who feeds us (entering through our lips). This is why the new Yam festival is so important, and why Ifa's guidance is always sought in the new year.

As to the Lucumi doing their Odun Ifa on the new year, no one will know for sure, but I suspect (since slavery was an enourmous factor), it was likely that it was impossible for the slaves to get away for even a moment during "harvest" time, as this is when they were probably worked the hardest. Further, as the slave owners celebrated the new year, and there was likely not much work done, it was probably a convenient time, and further, represented the "new year" of the culture which was forced upon them. I'm sure there are many theories, this being only one, but many of the sentiments are the same, celebration of a new year to come, and hopes of peace, health, prosperity etc.

With regards to the second question, "Who's 'letra' should I follow?" the spread out nature of worshippers in today's world complicates things a bit. Odun Ifa are traditionally done for the community, but not what we think of as "community", which has extended itself across the globe based on technological advances. It is the physical community in which one lives, works, grows old, etc. and this is an important distinction.

In an older post I spoke about "distance divination" and the importance of physical presence in Ifa divination, I belive this to hold true in the Odun Ifa. The prognostications of Ifa are meant for the people who are a part of the community that is performing the rite. This is a complication highlighted by globalization and the spreading of Ifa across the globe. But it's important to note that even in Nigeria, there is no "ONE" magic Odun Ifa (letra) for all of Nigeria. Odun Ifa is performed across Nigeria, and even at different times for different communities.

I believe that the desire to feel community and connection has caused many people to look to Cuba or Puerto Rico to provide their guidance, but I don't think that Ifa intended it that way, and Odu don't necessarily cross oceans or land masses. There are exceptions of course. For instance, I am aware of my Oluwo's Odun Ifa, and listen to the advice that comes from it, but that is because my Ifa was born from his, and I and my house are spiritually connected. That said, if some day my community becomes large enough, I will begin to perform my own Odun Ifa, and as soon as I do, the Odu/advice from my Odun Ifa will be the only one that is of consequence to me and my community.

So certainly if your initiations happened directly in a particular community, it makes spiritual sense to draw import from the advice of their Odun Ifa, even if you have large physical distances. However, if you don't, that advice is not meant for you. Just as you wouldn't take the advice given to someone else during their private d'afa as meant for you (unless you came up specifically by name in that person's reading).

I believe it is important that people create better communities, and begin the process of performing their own Odun Ifa (with the proper training in whichever tradition they follow), so that Ifa can accurately and appropriately guide his followers each new year.

In Osa Ogunda Ifa says:

The anthill is the place of deliberations of the eerun ants.
Asuwa, a grouping together in harmony, is the place of deliberations of human beings.
It was through the principle of grouping together, that the earth was created.
It was through the principle of grouping together, that heaven was created.
And it was in the form of collectivities that beings descended on earth.
All inclusive was the grouping together when beings were first created.
All embracing was the grouping together when beings were completed.
Formed into collectivities were beings, when they rained down on earth.
All goodness became a grouping together in harmony.
The grouping together of the strands of hair covered the head.
The grouping together of hairs on the chin became an object of attention.
The grouping together of trees became a forest.
The grouping together of the eruwa grasses became a savannah.
The grouping together of beehives hold up the roof of the house.
And the grouping together of the Ita ants led to their covering the earth.
Alasuwada, Great Being who creates all beings in groups, we ask you humbly,
That you grant us things gathered in groups
So that they bring together all things good for us.
Bees for swarms
Eeran plants grow together on the farm.
Brooms are formed from bundles of twigs.
Eeran grass grows in bunches on the plains.
And the elegiri birds form flocks

It is as a grouping together that we encounter the grassland
It is as swarms that the locusts consume the farm
It is in several colonies that we find termites in their mounds
It is in groves that we encounter the ekunkun trees on the water's edge
It is in clusters we find oore grass at the riverside
It is in schools that we find egbele fish in the ocean
It is in groups we encounter the dragon fly
And the adosusu leaf is never found alone

Dews pouring lightly, pouring lightly
Were used to create the world
And likewise was done to create the earth.
So that goodness of togetherness could come forth at once.
Indeed all goodness took the form of a gathering together in harmony.

Now, if one Ori encounters good,
It will spread out and touch two hundred
If my Ori is good
It will spread out and touch you
And if your Ori is good,
It will spread out and touch me
For if just one Ori experiences good
It will spread out and touch two hundred.

Asuwa ni toyin
Asuwa leeran nhu ninu oko
Asuwa ni to susu owo
Asuwa leeran nhu ninu aare
Asuwa ni ti elegiri

Asuwa laa bodan
Asuwa lesu nfiijoko
Asuwa opo suu laa ba ikan inu ogan
Asuwa laa ba ekunkun let omi
Asuwa oore lodo
Asuwa laa ba lanilani
Asuwa laa beja egbele lokun
Ewe adosusu kii duro loun nikan

Iri tu wili, tu wili
Lfi dale aye
la bu da ile
kire susu ko wa su piripiri
ire gbogbo d'asuma

Nje, bori kan ba sunwon
A ran igba
Ori mi to suwon
lo ran yin
Ori yin to sunwon
Lo ran mi
Bori kan ba sunwon
A ran igba

Certainly Ifa believes that all beings need to be in groups to survive, that was how they were created, a community. Which means, we are not only responsible to ourselves, but to the group that allows us to survive in the world. So we hold together our community and offer sacrifice during Odun ifa...

Aboru, aboye, aboshishe
Marcos Ifalola Sanchez