THE IFA DIVINATION PROCESS

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Image Source: Art & Life in Africa – University of Iowa

Good day everyone. This week I will be doing a series on the topic of Ifa/Orisa. I will attempt to answer some questions pertaining to the tradition and the basics of understanding it. Today, I begin with The Ifa Divination Process.

It is spirit that leads us to our spiritual path. Nothing is done without spirit. I will make it simple for you, if you want to cook, no matter how hungry you are, you will not move to the kitchen until the spirit compels you. If you are going somewhere familiar to you or even unfamiliar, you will while getting ready or in the planning stage of your expedition see your journey in your minds eye before you leave the house. There is no exception, this happens to everyone. Even on your way to work you will see your work place in your mind before you get there. This is how spirit operates, it runs before us as evident in our dreams and visions. Spirit clears the way.

I write this because it was spirit that led me to Ifa (I am a spiritualist), to Africa, to initiation which added to my path. Without spirit we do not exist and even with Ifa the practice, it is spirit which lights the way, especially for those of us retuning home and embracing this tradition. Iba (salutations) to all those non-physicals who lit my way to Ifa and Osun. To all initiates, aburo aboye abosise!

 

Yesterday I spoke to a Babalawo close to me and he told me that he went to check his Ifa, knocked on his pot to open it and the pot refused to open. This has happened to me before and I know why, but I wanted to hear why from him, so I asked. He laughed and said, Ifa went out to fight enemies, in other words, he was not at home. We laughed together, me understanding full well what he meant. I once had a site teaching about Ifa and Orisha, but enemies……ah sah! However, today I want to share with you some knowledge of Ifa, coming from the University of Ilorin, Ilorin Nigeria where this paper was written.

Please read, learn and embrace this wonderful traditional practice, spawned here in Yoruba land and of the Yoruba people of South Western Nigeria, but belongs to all of us. Hail to the Cubans who have been great custodians of it (Lucumi), and to the Brazilians (Condomble) also. Iba Orunmila, Iba all Orishas!

 

Introduction 

Divination is universally concerned with practical problems and it seeks information from which practical decisions may be made. The source of such information is not conceived as mundane.

The divinatory arts are many and a broad understanding of them can only emerge from a survey of actual practices in various cultural settings. Men all over the world practise divination and device various methods of doing this. The Assyro-Babylonians have their Bam (seer and diviner) who employs hapatoacopy-divination by observing the liver of sheep which had been used for sacrifice. The Buddhists in India practise astrology and they use lots and oracles as means of divination. The Greeks had their oracular shrinks of Jupiter at Dodona and Apollo at Delphi. The Romans used the Sortes and the Japanese use Ornoplatoscopy. In Roman society, auspices (auspicia) are the means by which the Romans seek to ascertain the support of the gods.

Other forms of divination are palmistry, cream interpretation and astrology. Diviners of similar kinds include the many types of media who may communicate with the dead (necromancy process) as well as-crystal gazers, dream interpreters and diviners by automatic writing.

Like the other peoples of the world, the Yoruba employ various system These systems include erindinlogun which involves the casting of sixtecn cowries, which employs a set of separate strings with four markers each and iyanrin tite (sand and cutting). Others areobi dida (casting of kolanut), omi wiwo(water gazing), owo wiwo(paImistry), owo wiwo(gazing on money), atipa or abokuusoro(necromancy) and wjwo oju (gazing on the eyes). One of our informants, Awoyerai Elebu-ibon, emphasises that get (three cowries),’ eerin (four cowries) and eejo (eight cowries) were used for divination in the distant past. Among others, Ogimbiyii (1952: 83-84) Awolalu (1.979: 121), Bascorn ((1969:11) and Qlatunji (1984: 109) have-described some of the processes and forms divination among the- Yoruba.

Of all the methods of divination employed by the Yoruba, Ifa divination is considered the most reliable, and the most popular means of divination (Bascom 1969:11 and Awolalu 1979: 122). Till these day, the Ifa priests are located over the Yorubaland. As this research reveal most of the various forms of divination among the Yoruba take their sources from Ifa divinatioin .

Ifa divination is both a body of knowledge and a system of social, emotional, pathological control, employing relevant historical and mythological precedents contained in the special divinatory verses to be recited, chanted or song by the babalawo. lfa divination is the most complex system of divination both in its repertoire of verses and in its range of applications. To the Yoruba, divination or consultation with the supreme divinity (Orunmila) is of crucial spiritual importance. The oral tradition emphasises the parit played by Orunmila is guiding the destiny of man and divinities. One reason given for his intimate knowledge of matters affecting man’s destiny is that Orunmila is present when man is being created. Therefore he knows all the secrets of human beings and thus he can reveal what one has destined and if the destiny is an unfortunate one, Orunmila canprescribe remedies to avert the misfortune. This is why Orunmila is being described as Elerii-ipin (the witness of destiny or lot), ‘Obirikiti A-pa-ojo-iku-da’ (the great one, who alters the date of death).

Ifa divination is operated by means of the configuration called Odu. In the Ifa corpus are as many as 256 possibilities (16 principal and 240 minor Odu) each containing mythological stories which the babalawo narrates in the process of divination. The sixteen principal Odu (plus the signs) in order of seniority are listed below (for easy reference).

(note from Obara Meji, please observe them from right to left)

ODI MEJI [4] IWORI MEJI [3] OYEKU MEJI [2] E.JI OGBE[1]
      0        0

00      00

00      00

0        0

  00          00

0            0

0            0

00          00

   00         00

00         00

00         00

00         00

 0  0

0  0

0  0

0  0

OKANRAN MEJI [8] OBARA  MEJI [7] OWORI MEJI [6] IROSUN MEJI [5]
   00         00

00         00

00         00

0           0

   0            0

00         00

00         00

00         00

   00         00

00         00

0            0

0            0

   0            0

0           0

00         00

00         00

OTURUPQN. MEJI

[12]

IKA MEJI[11] OSA M EJI [10] OGUNDA MEJI [9]
   00         00

00         00

0            0

00         00

   00         00

0            0

00         00

00         00

   00         00

0            0

0            0

0            0

   0            0

0            0

0            0

00         00

OFUN MEJI[16] OSE MEJI  [15] IRETE MEJI[14] OTUA MEJI [13]
   00         00

0           0

00         00

0            0

    0           0

00         00

0           0

00         00

   0            0

0            0

00          00

0            0

   0            0

00          00

0            0

0            0

Note: The numbering order (1-16) follows the system in which the Odu signs are always marked by the babalawo.   

The Babalawo

The Babalawo are the trained dedicated Ifa priests and diviners in the Yoruba community of Nigeria. In Yoruba tradtional society, a babalawo is a ‘doctor1‘, a ‘pharmacist’, a herbalist and the most popular diviner who the people’ consult for advice, guidance and medical treatment. When a pregnant woman is under labour, when a person is seriously sick or when there is a breakout of epidemic disease, the babalawo’s help is .sought personally or on behalf of the victim. It should however be noted that the babalawo’s unique position in the Yoruba society is neither attained through lineage or honour. The status of a   babalawo can only be acquired after many years of rigorous training and experiences. The detail on training follows later.

At any point in time, no practising babalawo divines without using either the  opele (the divining chain) or the ikin (the sacred palmnut). The use of these instruments would enable him, to know, the nature of his client’s problem. The diviner relies on the dictate of the gods. The diviner thus serves as a link between two worlds: the ephemeral and eternal, the material and the spiritual. Just as a medical doctor always takes with him a stethoscope, a technician has .an avometer, a screwdriver and pliers ready with him for an emergency work, a babalawo pockets his portable opele when he is invited to a nearby town or village for divine consultation.

There are two major categories of babalawo in Yorubaland: the- Awo Qlodu and the Awo Elegan.   The Awo Olodu  (the devoted Ifa diviners) are the most recognised and the most knowledgeable class of babalawo in the Yoruba society of Nigeria. They are only the diviners but also the worshippers of Orunmila, the god of divination and wisdom. The Awo Elegan  on the other hand, are those babalawo who are not fully engaged in Ifa divination. These consist of the Agbamole and Sawosesegun. The Agbamole are the set of babalawo who either inherited the divining chain or partially trained in .the art of Ifa divination but uninitiated into Ifa cult. When this class of babalawo feel like doing so, they can divide for themselves or. any member of their family, but never an outsider. The area of specialisation attached to Ifa literature include the Ifa divination art, healing and chanting of Iyere (the ifa songs).

babalawo may specialise in one or two of the areas. The Asawosesegun, the second sub-category of Awo Elegan mentioned above, are those babalawo with combined honours degree in Ifa literature. They combine divination with healing of serious illnesses such as leprosy, epilepsy and mental disorder. Usually, they are more popular as a healer than a diviner. Chief idowu Obayomi, and late Aladokun of Ikirun Oyo State of Nigeria are two examples of Asawosescgun interviewed in the course of this study. To whichever category of babalawo one may belong, the code of conduct which binds them all must be preserved. A babalawo is always generous, faithful, Knowledgeable, and a good traditional counsellor to the members of his community. A babalawo in discharging his duty, always believes he has an obligation to fulfil in respect of his client (s) and this he does willingly.

The babalawo are highly respected, not only for their wisdom and intelligence but also for their faithfulness and generosity to the members of the society. Under normal circumstances, no one insults or fights them.

Mo ru eewo orisa,                               I say it is a taboo to the orisa,  

Enikan o gbodo na babalawo,             No one beats an Ifa priest,

To ba gbofa yanranyanran lotu Ife    Who is Very Versed in Ifa in the city of Ife.

Generally, every babalawo knows his right and also keeps te law of the land. A babalawo by his training and practice, is prepared to advise and guide anybody who consults him. He knows something about the life and teaching of Orunmila and when he divines for his clients, he interpret only the message of Orunmila. Whatever may be the problem or complaint of a client is no secret to Orunmila and any trained and certificated babalawo should be able to read the language of Orunmila through the Odu signs. But if a babalawo does not receive a proper training, he may have some problems in interpreting Odu sign and thus deliver wrong message to the client. In such a circumstance, the clients whose faith in Ifa divinity is not strong enough may complain of its inability to foresee all things.

Ope-oseru,                  Ope (Orunniila) is not dishonest,

Qniki ni o gbofa,        It is the chanter who is’not versed in Ifa,

Ohun a ba b’Ifa.          Whatever we ask Ifa

Nifa i so.                    Is what Ifa reveals.

If this happens, it is the babalawo who has “misrepresented the divinity. Anyone who has successfully passed through the rigours of Ifa training would be able to identify the problem of his clients. The babalawo should base his expertise on the training he has acquired. Those who use charms to find out the hidden problems of their clients are not true babalawo and in fact, they are not fit to be one. This class of babalawo (if any), are being dishonest, and they pay dearly for it. In the later part of their life, emphasised our informants, such babalawo lose their sight permanently.

I will post part two before the week is out.

 

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chocowoko
Blogger
chocowoko
2 years ago

I noticed there is no recent post here from Obara Meji is she on vacation? Also, have not had any response to my emails.

Owasinda
2 years ago

Hey Obara, I hope you’re in good spirits and the family is ok. I just want to tell you how appreciative I am of you. I do t come on the blog often cus I like when imghe posts build up and binge read. But your blog has completely changed my life and for the better too. Thank you so much ! I think about you almost everyday to be honest cus your like a a mentor to me plus u feel like me mother in a way. You have this motherly thing about you although we’ve never met but… Read more »

Ayobami
Blogger
Ayobami
1 year ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Please message me on my gmail,have a lot of questions to ask [email protected]

Aisha
2 years ago

Thank you so much Obara for this post. It seems there is very little information published about Ifa. And what is out there is many times confused with Santeria.

KTB
KTB
2 years ago

Present for class! Night Obara

OTS
OTS
2 years ago

Thank you Ma- great great post. It’s incredible that our ancient traditions from Africa, such as Ifa divinations have been labelled as “bad”, “evil” practices. I was fed these lies for so long, even though a part of me didn’t see it as a bad thing, I was somewhat forced by Christianity to believe it to be bad or evil. Very sad. I thank my ori, ancestors, spirit guides, everyone and everything that is energy all within Olodumare and Olodumare within it, all involved in my awakening. I feel extremely blessed and fortunate to have found this site. Ma- can… Read more »

OTS
OTS
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Oh wow- that’s very informative. Thank you Ma- you’ve explained it very well. My understanding is improving bit by bit.

Mscan
2 years ago

This is very intriguing I must say I’m glad the day my spirit led mi to dis a page yah becuz bra me did lost never know anything bout none a dis. I find it fascinating as I’ve been searching for something other than the teaching I grew up on and always questioning. The only thing I was sure of was their was one true God but there was always a confusion to say who was the maker and ruler of me since everyone has their own God dat they believe is true to them. Ms. Obara jus like how… Read more »

Lincoln
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Totally agree that GOD is pure energy- it is like the FORCE in star wars- we are made of it and it is made of us . It’s an energy created by all living things. It surrounds us and penetrates us; it binds the universe together.
notice together that’s why we should strive to be together with everyone and everything that we come in contact with but as Obara beautifully explained we are soiled by being in this physical human form—

Mscan
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Oh Obara Thank u for this one thing I’ve always know is that God lives within me. Thank u so much for ur knowledge and being so kind answering if I ask question like dat within a church or asked a Christian they see it as blasphemy how dear u asked such question the bible has somewhat some great stories but it’s has some things dat make u want to ask question and raise ur eyebrows. My sediments exactly God doesn’t have emotions dat who make the supreme being mortal like us human. Thank u thank u ms. Obara can’t… Read more »

Mscan
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Look how Obara have me a think man Tom drunk but Tom nuh fool lol. I live my life be as loving as I can be doing good and being kind. but u know how it go they turn out to be betrayer. Mi innocent so none of them shall prosper. Bless up Obara and keep the good work and keep on educating us hope we cross path.
Ps. Mi nuh pray to white God mi pray to my creator and mi protector

Lincoln
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

live your life, do good, be kind and loving as you can be….YES !!!

SeaQueen
Blogger
SeaQueen
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Your son is very wise, “some ppl have a need to believe.” Nowadays when I hear about any form of Christianity or Christian word MI tune out smh. Now I’m in a process of retraining smh. If I were looking at it from an emotional human perspective I would get sad or maybe angry at the thought of someone enslaving and forcing their ideals upon another. I try to look at it from another perspective of that being the life path of the black race, to find a way around such oppression and lead them back to basics or awaken… Read more »

Intellectual Bhutu
2 years ago

Greetings All, I love the Obeah posts but the IFA posts have a special place in my heart; it was spirit that led me on the search for IFA and to the Embracing Spirituality Blog and the wealth of information provided by Dr. Obara 🙂 I am particularly pleased to see academic writings emerge from the observations of spiritual practices. There exists, through spirituality, the solution to all problems, known and unknown and yet some many people deh batta batta fi fine dem destiny. “Many things about tomorrow, I don’t seem to understand, but I know who holds tomorrow and… Read more »

Intellectual Bhutu
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Thanks for responding. Please explain omnipresence in relation to IFA….or the divinity that has travelled as this apparently limits the Awo’s access.

SeaQueen
Blogger
SeaQueen
2 years ago

Good morning mums. Blessed day to you and all ES family. This is a very good article about ifa divination and provides detailed information that is a great bed of knowledge for those seeking divination from you. I love how you explain that every society has their own way of divining. It shows I have a couple questions, if you don’t mind: 1. You mums are considered an iyanifa (one of your many titles), what is the difference between the training of an iyanifa and a babalawo? I believe they have similar jobs but what sets them apart besides gender.… Read more »

SeaQueen
Blogger
SeaQueen
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Thanks mums. What does it mean to manipulate skins? So basically, Odu is the individuals specific life path/guide that tells the how they should live and what encumbrances to look out for including taboos. And is only done during initiation into the Ifa tradition. I know these are things that I have read before but the tradition is so complex I’m trying to get a firm grasp in the concept. MI all ah try decode the corpus above like it’s math as isnm getting stumped. No wonder it takes babalawo 20 years of training. It’s deep. Thanks again mums, for… Read more »

SeaQueen
Blogger
SeaQueen
2 years ago
Reply to  Obara Meji

Going to read again…..I always find more information and better understanding when I re-read. Let’s see if I have more questions left in me lol

Lincoln
2 years ago

Obara! a couple years ago when I just started reading about Ifa and babalawos I actually went into a botanica to purchase some incense and one introduced himself to me. I think I still have his card in my car but anyways he was latin I want to say Puerto Rican not sure since my interaction was just for a few minutes. I was kind of spiritually turned off, first thing that came to my mind was he was a hustler lol and the fact that he was drinking in the middle of the day didn’t sit with my spirit… Read more »

sue
Blogger
sue
2 years ago

Teach I am reading and reading, feeding my curiosity and understanding what is happening.

Teach I remember some months ago I wrote about my dream and my darling oladayo today me to seek a spiritualist. I was going to do so but fear nuh tek mi so im learning the hard way. Anybody out there hard of hearing nuh pay…. Ooooo… With fi listen and stap play fool or dead….

My questions soon come through…. Big up!!!

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