My approach to spirituality has always been different. I take an aerial look at all things spiritual and not of this world. My decision to initiate into the Ifa-Orisha Isese (e-shay-shay; referring to the traditional Way as it is practiced by the Yorubas) tradition of South Western Nigeria was a decision that was made for me by Beings that work closely with me that I call Spirit. I was initiated in Nigeria, in the ancient town of Abeokuta. The Oluwo (the chief priest) was 126 years old at that time, though he looked about 70 and was very strong and healthy. Iba (salutations) Oluwo Okegbemi.
He made his transition at age 130, four years after he had initiated me. My initiation process was peculiar (although I had nothing to compare it with at the time) and it was to be eight years after that I had witnessed an initiation done the way that my own had been done.
The Ifa initiation process is deeply symbolic and rarely is it ever fully explained to those who are not themselves a trained Babalawo of Yoruba origin, as the depths of the understanding is embedded within the poetry of the language itself, and deeper revelations, which are still kept secret, are passed only to priests of a higher order. For those who do know, they often find it difficult to explain what they know of life’s mysteries, let alone translate it to English.
As with all great and ancient spiritual practices and initiations there is great symbolism. The metaphysical reason behind this is because as above, so below. The same invisible Laws which dictate our Universe and our very existence, is reflected in the symbolic drama of the Ifa initiation and tradition.
What this means is we as humankind that walk this Earth are faced daily with things that are happening within the invisible world, but because our consciousness is not on the height of understanding certain things humans are most often blind to it. However, we thank God and all invisible forces for the ancestors because through them certain people who have managed to rise their frequency to a degree are able to see beyond the veil when the ancestors lift it for a peak.
Now, if one should understand the whole philosophical, metaphysical, metaphorical, theosophical understanding of Ifa they would know and understand that this sits at the very peak of the pyramid. However, most people often pay attention to the practical drama, like the sacrifices, the incantations, the dressing, the drums, the divination board and tools, the Holy Odu stories, etc.
It is like when children are fascinated by the beautiful colors hanging over their crib, but they do not know that the colors are stimulating their minds. A person can watch you playing the piano and it looks nice and sounds beautiful, but what makes it that way? Can it be played if not for the wood and strings of the instrument? And even with the most perfect construction, can it be played without the intelligence of the player and his will?
In other words, the root of things which are beautiful is where the real power lies, understanding what that power is. Everything on this planet that we live speaks to us through symbolism, and if a person is able to understand the language of symbolism they will find truths hidden behind shadows.
It was from a younger age that I got exposed to the Yoruba tradition. However, my exposure of this beautiful tradition first came through Lucumi, which is a similar practice of the Isese Yoruba tradition (nuff respect to them). As I look back, I realize that it was not by happenstance that I found Lucumi and my Padrino, a Cuban man whom I had met in my youth. He was a blessing and had taught me much, just by being around him, about this traditional practice of Lucumi. It was to be years after that I made the trip to Africa to do my initiation into Ifa.
Now the reason why I say that Ifa sits at the top of the pyramid is because through Ifa (Orunmila being the deity of the oracle), through initiatory rites a person is able to find their Odu. In other words, their destiny or path or in Western language their Akashic Record. With this, they are able to know their journey, what is before them and why.
This, I believe, is a question that most humans have. The Ifa initiation marks the Search for Odu, the secret “calabash” that contains all the knowledge of our human life. “Odu” contains all the possibilities of human existence, and every human being has an “Odu” which contains their life purpose, both the negatives and positives of the journey, and the solutions to change unfavorable circumstances. However, this knowledge is lost to humans, but through the Way of Ifa, it is able to be found.
The initiation begins in the darkest hours of the night. You are there because your spirit, that which has guided you since your first breath, has brought you here. The first thing that is to be done is called Adande, though you will not be told this at the onset. Nothing is explained to you as you go through your initiatory rites. However, every single thing that is done and every single word that is said and every single instrument that is played and every person present plays a role, like an actor, in your birthing process, because on this night you will be reborn.
The humans which play these roles are imitating the activities that are simultaneously performed by Invisible Forces. And trust me– the invisible beings outnumber by hundreds or thousands the physical bodies that you will see that night. These also include your own spiritual family and ancestors who are also present.
The initiate during the night is clothed in the proverbial sackcloth, what the Yorubas call Asho Osi, or poverty cloth, that will never be worn again.
The “Adande” is the first sacrifice performed before initiation and literally pertains to the casting of Ifa, in other words a direct communication with the Divine, for the purpose of praying for a positive outcome. At this juncture, the Babalawo will now beseech the Head (inner consciousness) of the candidate and the Non-physical Beings involved, that he will initiate this person and that the Odu which descends tonight shall be one that will come positive and with blessings.
This must happen because this first night is crucial that all goes well because many portals, invisible openings, walls behind Heaven and Earth will be opened this night. So the biggest taboo is negativity in word, thought, or deed, and the Babalawo will perform the necessary sacrifices to prevent this interference, because if such should happen, it also affects the life of the initiate thereafter.
Hence, Eshu, the messenger between Heaven and Earth, is very important in this initiation as he will be the petitioner on behalf of the priest and the Invisible Forces which will descend. This is a very big night for the initiate.
So during this Adande sacrifice, these prayers are to be said because we are expecting at the end of this initiation, that the Heavens will descend in this way.
Often times, the sign of this Heavenly descent is in the form of sudden rainfall or heavy winds, no matter what the weather forecast predicted that day. Although it does not happen for every initiation, it is a common occurrence and no matter the weather condition, the initiation goes on.
At the dawn of initiation (the Discovery of Odu), there is a triumph and a celebration as the initiate is paraded through the town (or in public) and a woman (usually the wife of the Oluwo), representing the bride of Ifa, carries the newly found Odu upon her head. A symbolism which displays the birth of Odu into the life of the initiate.
But something very interesting happens at the dawn of the first stage of initiation…
Not only is the Odu found, but also the negative aspect of one’s self is dispelled. Truly the initiate at this juncture in his or her life has found not only himself, but his path. There is much I can not reveal or even explain, but for now I can tell you that this is a great thing because we all come into this world wearing both black and white, what the Yorubas call Ibi and Ire. In other words, we all have a shadow. That shadow is the opposite of us in every way and is for the hindrance of our path and the blockages of our way… until we find Ifa.
Let me stop it here as I believe I have said too much on this particular topic.
The Yorubas are great custodians of Ifa, a spiritual energy which belongs to the world. Becoming an Initiate was one of the best things I have ever done, it is what birthed Obara Meji and has catapulted me into this phase that I am. When I returned home from Africa after initiation, I knelt before Ifa and I asked him to open the way for me to do something that would be impactful to others. It has been many years since I made that request, so long ago that I had forgotten.
However I am beginning to see things unfold which indicates that Ifa forgets nothing…
In time to come, I will be writing more on this wonderful tradition. Until the next blog post, please walk good.
Everything in life is negotiable, even death. The only thing that is certain is change, and that is the very reason why everything can be negotiated.Obara Meji