I awakened to my spirituality in a very horrible way. I’ve written about this here many times before but it was my spirituality, my awakening, that pushed me to Ifa. As a matter of fact, after my awakening, I was told to go to a church that I did not grow up in: Revival/Zion. While in the revival church, I began to use the wisdom that my sweet Padrino had taught me years before to show the way of studying nature to the Bishops and Pastors of my church. Eventually, same church, or should I say the same Christian God, sent me to Africa… to Ifa.
Now this post is about the spirituality behind Ifa and Orisha as a traditional practice.
In this post, I will try my best to explain what is happening behind what you see.
In Nigeria, Ifa traditional practice is the study and veneration of nature as pure energy. What I mean by “pure energy” is this: Every leaf, every stem, every flower, etc. all have a particular animistic energy that allows it to work for human beings and the earth.
These energies are all of Light.
*Note: No energy that comes up on our Earth Plane is ever dark. They are all Light. When that energy gets ready to play a “negative” role in our lives, that energy now manifests itself as dark. Malevolent beings are seen as dark beings, but they are actually Light beings that take on the “role” of dark when something needs to happen (i.e. car crash, natural disasters, even obeah, etc.) in order for something to change. Darkness is necessary because everything begins with it. Like a pregnancy, it gives way to form, i.e. change, ideas, physical manifestations, “knowing”, what is tangible, what has arrived, etc.
But Let’s Start With The Babalawo
A Babalawo, before becoming independent and working as a Babalawo for the community, must go through extensive training. Within the training, they will learn many things. Not only how to understand the use of the oracles and the verses attached to each odu, but also how to use nature for medicines (spiritually) or for work to aid humankind. Now, the master of the Awo in training also had a master, and so did the master before him and before him etc. So in Ifa, everything is handed down orally.
What is not realized by some is that those old masters are the ones who now sit beside the Awos in their non-physical form and continues to teach in spirit.
A newly trained Awo can cast Ifa, but it also depends on how open his spirit is to receive the information from generations of non-physical, well-trained masters. These non-physical masters will not only teach him while he works or studies, but also while he sleeps.
So some Babalawos will know extensive knowledge about odus without ever having been taught by their physical master. It would be a “knowing” that they develop, and this “knowing” is what is given to them by non-physical teachers.
Everything in life is spiritual, whether you know it or not. Nothing is ever mechanical.
Ifa Traditional Medicines
A leaf burnt to make a medicine instantly becomes a spirit. How? Because there was a spirit attached to this leaf before it was used for this preparation. This is why every tree and every leaf has a name, just like every human being has a name. So, if I wanted John to go to the shop for me, I would call him by his name and send him on errand.
Just like calling John, the Awo has to use incantation to “wake up” the medicine in order for it to now become “alive” and go out to work for the human it will be given to. By “alive” I mean that the medicine has now become a messenger. If you have used the Herb & Prosperity Medicine from the shop this is how that medicine works.
Now, when I send John to the shop, John needs a mode of transportation. When the Awo makes the medicine, it will now use the breeze to carry it through. If the medicine was for prosperity, it will use the breeze to search for avenues to bring prosperity. Because the breeze is an element of nature and a force within itself, it will now become activated by this medicine, and the two work together for the benefit of the human.
How is this knowledge given so that it can be passed along through generations? All of this knowledge is not only passed down through training, but also through non-physicals (a spirit still alive and conscious). The more a non-physical assists the human in evolution and growth is the more that non-physical elevates into Light Continuum.
The spirituality behind tradition is the activation of non-physical beings who must also be propitiated always. Therefore, the reverence and sacrifice to the ancestors and your Ori are important. It is the non-physicals or those from the ancestral world that will lead someone from Iceland or Greenland all the way to tradition without them ever having heard of it before. They, the spirits, are like salt, which without it, the food can never be good. They act as an activation for everything spiritual that needs to be done or learned.
What Happens When You Are Initiated
I spoke to someone yesterday who was a part of a particular spiritual house in America. She practices a system similar to that of the Yorubas, although she is not initiated. During our conversation, she informed me that she had done a ceremony to receive Elekes (ìlẹ̀kẹ̀ in Yoruba).
After the reading, I asked her “Who will initiate you?” and after she told me, I wished her the best, but being who I am, I could not end the conversation without sharing some information.
If a person needs to be initiated to Ifa, a trained and competent Babalawo who is the reprensentative of Orunmila on Earth and has the Ase to pass over will be the one to do this type of initiation. If you initiate to an Orisa, the Babalawo will call the custodians of that particular Orisa to assist him. The custodians hold the Ase (power/rights/rituals) to that Orisa, therefore it is they who can pass it over correctly. However, it is compulsory for a Babalawo to be present during an Orisa initiation due to the necessary odu and sacrifices that will be needed.
Neither a Babalawo nor an Olorisa can do an Orisa initiation by himself. Every person involved comes with their own Ase to impart.
Getting initiated to Ifa is a very big protection for many things, which I will explain soon. Getting initiated to an Orisha, on the other hand, is like having your personal guardian angel support your destiny. However, as I said before, Ifa is a guide. So imagine someone directing you: make a right here, don’t go there, go straight, avoid there, etc. This is the role of Ifa. The interesting part is that everything Ifa is guiding you away from or guiding you towards are all things written by you (your spirit). You were literally the author of your own destiny.
Initiation to Ifa is an amazing rights of passage to your spiritual journey, evolution and elevation. However, there are some that initiation is a must for. There can be many reasons for this: a chosen destiny, to save a life (or lives), healing, to collect a great blessing, to stop an ill fate, to rewrite a destiny for the better, for protection, etc.
Before initiation, a person may feel their life is unaligned. They may experience many things: obeah, confusion, difficulties, they may feel lost, or drawn to a particular or many roads of spirituality, at times life may just become too hectic. If we were to take an X-RAY of that person’s life, the X-RAY may look something like this:
After initiation, and adhering to taboos and keeping up with sacrifices, the person will now become aligned with their destiny. Therefore, what has been tangled before now gradually begins to untangle, until finally those chaotic lines straighten out. This is when the initiate has become aligned totally with their destiny and the X-RAY now looks like this:
This does take time but what it does is ground and balances a person spiritually, emotionally, psychologically, physically and then some. For some, the process can be gradual, but then no baby is born and walks out of the hospital.
This is why Ifa initiation is recommended to be done first because Ifa is the guide. It is through Ifa that one will now know not only the Orisa that rules his or her head but also the Orisa(s) that he or she will need to support him or her through their life.
You do not have to be Yoruba to embrace this tradition. Ifa’s children spreads far and wide across the world. It does not matter if you are Christian, Muslim, or something else, if Ifa is in your blood, Ifa will find you.
Getting Ifa is like being handed a book of your own destiny. The title of the book is your Odu and inside of this book are all the things you have written for your life before coming to Earth; both the good and the bad. As the Babalawos read your book and interpret, they see many things: wealth and plenty of children, or famine and poverty. However, because we create our realities, initiation helps you rewrite your destiny. So if famine, poverty, untimely death or illness was in the future, with Ifa’s guidance (i.e. a sacrifice, medicine, taboo, etc.) that unfortunate future can be changed.
Observe the image above which was taken during an Obatala initiation. Everything used during initiations has its specific meaning and symbolism. From the cloth they wear, to the way the cloth is tied, to the markings (a coded language) written upon the head and body, to the movements or sounds made, and propitiations. All of this is done ritualistically in the calling down of the energy (Orisha).
What Energy Has To Do With Initiations
The entire initiation process is a process of transference, shifting and manipulation of energy. I use the image above to show you the hundreds (or thousands) of dots floating around. Those are energies, or spirits.
So the “force” (Orisa) that is called upon you now becomes “apart” of you. In a metaphorical way, it sits atop your head and you and it have become one. As time goes on, you will begin to take on characteristics of that Orisa. This will take time as the Orisa develops overtime within the person. So the older you get, is the more that energy binds itself with you.
We ascribe gender to Orishas only for better understanding of the human due to limitations of the mind. However, Orishas are pure energies and therefore genderless. Shango, for example, is seen and described as masculine because of the harshness of lightening and thunder and the rage within fire. In human form, these are masculine traits. Osun is seen as feminine because the river is seen as soft, sweet, clean and flowing.
When these energies are now placed alongside or within any type of ancestral spirits or statues or ascribed a new personality, that pure energy is no longer pure. If you put a masculine pure energy and change it to a feminine energy, and that feminine energy is not pure but is instead ancestral, then that once masculine energy has lost its purity. So what happens when that new energy is given to someone during initiation? It is like a hybrid and just as that energy has been crossed or tainted, so will now the human become. This, fortunately, is not the case in Africa.
The Yorubas have mastered the art of manipulating energy correctly.
Initiation includes certain sacrificial rights, the feeding/propitiation and invocation of energies and inviting them into the space through acts and symbolic language. It is further advanced through sound such as drumming, singing and dancing. The words, melody, and tune all work to create a passageway for that particular energy or source to come down. In other words, we are calling “spirits/live energies” and calling them into this space. It is to create frequency which will act as a signal to the particular Orisa you are seeking to come.
So this is a part of what I mean by “passing along Ase” because it is the custodians of the Orisa that will know the correct rights and rituals or insignia to bring in the Orisa.
In the world of Occult, you can not call a spirit unless you know his signature, otherwise everything can turn upside down for that person.
Each initiate, including the new initiate, carries the Ase of that Orisa. That Ase stays within that individual and grows more and more and more as he develops further into his spirituality. So, the custodian passing along his Ase is him or her passing along that energy. The longer one has been initiated or has been a custodian of that Orisa is the more powerful and potent his or her Ase becomes.
There are so many things to know in understanding Ifa-Orisha from a metaphysical point of view. There is much to learn because most of us on the other side of the world were not born within the tradition.
It was a journey for me to get to Ifa (the struggles I had in my life), but I have arrived, and at my best. I have brought my children along, and I believe this is the best thing I have ever done for them.
The wearer of pure white clothing does not sit at a palm oil station – Yoruba Proverb
Obara Meji is a spiritualist, Ifa-Orisa practitioner, and teacher of metaphysics. Since 2011 she has used her online platform to share her personal experiences to those seeking answers about spirituality. Her teachings will expand into short stories, novels, and public speaking to continue her mission of bringing enlightenment to the world.