Ifa: interviewing God

September 21, 2012 by · Comments Off on Ifa: interviewing God
Filed under: Ifa divination general 


by Brenda Beek, September 17, 2012

Some people may have read the public version of Jaap’s article about Ori. I hope that at least it made clear that people should be careful at whose door they knock when they want to practice Ifa-Orisha, or the Orunmila system, as a religion or when they are in need of divination. It is very important to choose wisely. Protect yourselves, protect your integrity!

Opon IfaI have been told some astonishing stories by people who only had a little bit of guts or self-esteem left, but decided to approach an independent practitioner from The Netherlands, of all places. All very kind, vulnerable and first-I-respect-you humans that received seeds of fear.

I, myself had to disappoint them, I could not help them with divination, or explain them their Odus, because I am not (yet) a diviner. I feel I have a natural talent for understanding Odus though, but I can’t get Ifa to confirm my hunches are right.

I have to develop more before I feel I can deal with Ifa in the appropriate way. I do practice in conversation with my Egun and the four cowries. But I am sure I will feel when time is right. And I am sure Ifa will let me know when I am ready to be its mediator. As he made clear to me, that in my case it has to occur all naturally.

I still felt I had to do something for those people. I am pretty Oshun-y and I guess I am a bit sensitive about public opinions as well. But I don’t consider myself a coward either. I really needed to grab my balls to stand up for Jaap, for myself and inspire some people to believe in themselves again to be able to stand-up. I felt that was the only thing I could really do for them. It helped myself in a way as well. And as far as I know, I have succeeded in what I tried to accomplish.

Though, I have always been too much of a pighead to just accept rules that feel manipulative and counterproductive. My mother’s side of the family is Indonesian, I have learned all about respect and being humble. I also sadly found out that within a Western society, being humble makes one very vulnerable. For instance, subservient and submissive are confused and people take disadvantage of that. I am fond of respect actually… Well-mannered behavior, I could do better I guess, but I have always cared more for content and not so much about form.


My personal experience with Jaap-Ifa-Brenda divination is that it only makes me feel better, it is de-confusing, more effective and efficient than psychotherapy, it all makes so much sense! And a decent and wise diviner will guide you through till Ifa has said all it needed to say.

And over all, it is so much fun to do ebo. To pour Eshu some red palm oil over his naughty head. Give Ogun iron nails and red palm oil. Bury things in the earth poured over with Omulu’s hot water. Bring a bottle of booze to the Iyami, empty the bottle and run like hell. It resonates with the child being within yourself… All very very positive.

And then being astonished by its effect. And I feel this is the way it should be; a way to positively manipulate yourself. Speak to your Ori, and it will take care of the rest.

I have been able to restore some great unbalance in my family this way. I told nobody I did, because it would only freak them out (again); I have always been a witch to them you see, I don’t want to frighten them. But I got convinced by its effect.

There is yet much to learn about performing Ifa divination, how to conduct an “interview with God”, so to speak. And I would never advise anybody to just do that, I might be a rebel but I am not irresponsible. But I have felt this God visiting me during my life. I recognized Ifa during divination; it is such a loving, funny, caring being, you can’t but feel happy and smile from ear to ear when it is so near by. Respect comes automatically on a very deep and intense level.

Why I tell this, because to me these could be indicators you have found yourself a good, honest and decent diviner.

Sixteen cowries to opele

September 18, 2012 by · 10 Comments
Filed under: Ifa divination general 


Not everything you believe is true

This is a page in the making… I’m recovering old material and reorganizing it, so it’s messy right now, not to mention incomplete. But… it will improve!

There are many misunderstandings about the origins of Ifa divination (Dafa). There are even misunderstandings about its very name, lots of people especially in the diaspora believing that Ifa is the real name, and that Fa, Evwa, Afa, Ebba etcetera are different systems with different techniques and different origins. Naaaah… it’s all basic Ifa.

Another persistent belief is that Ifa divination (Dafa) predates Merindinlogun divination. This belief is mainly sustained by an, in my opinion illogical and incorrect, interpretation of Ese Odu Ifa informing us that Orunmila taught Oshun the somewhat simpler cowrie shell system so that she could attend to clients while he was gone traveling. However, these texts do not necessarily imply that Orunmila invented a totally new system which he then taught to Oshun. Much more likely, the clever small man who lived by his wisdom taught Oshun the still existing simpler predecessor of Ifa. I know… most people in Ifa/Orisha believe otherwise… but not everything you believe is true. Of course that goes for me too, so I may be wrong (wide grin)! Whatever may be the truth, I invite y’all to think about it with an open mind, leaving dogmas aside for a while. Make up your own mind, that’s what I mean.

From “loose” to “fixed”

Odu-Ifa-library-buttonsPresent day Ifa divination wasn’t parachuted down onto earth from heaven – it developed from casting a collection of loose objects to the casting of a string of fixed objects, the Opele. The sequence (time line) of the development seems to have been: sixteen cowries (or other loose objects like seed pods or for all I care trouser buttons) >>>> four strings with four cowries or medallions or seed pods each >>>> two double strings with eight medallions each (still used in Agbigba) >>>> one double string with eight pods (the Opele).

“The other way around” simply makes no sense. It’s very unlikely that at some moment in prehistory a clever stone age ancestor suddenly tied eight seed pods on a string, and began divining with it. Usually, in the course of human endeavor, simple things are tentatively tried, then through the passing of time slowly improved. Only when you get tired of carrying stuff on your back, you invent the wheel.

When this Ifa/Fa/Evwa/Ebba system that seems to have had its origins around the Niger/Benue confluence spread to the (proto-)Yoruba, a probably indigenous Yoruba system with 16 palm nuts was incorporated into it. The problem with 16 palm nuts is that they’re the very best instrument for potential cheats, which unfortunately can be found in great numbers in “the religion”. I tried this kind of nefarious manipulation out and even I, with my arthritic hands, can produce the exact double Odu I want to produce, when “beating” the nuts.

The name “Orunmila” was possibly added at some later point in history, like post-Islam. It kind of sounds like a sub-Saharan pronunciation of the Arabic “Er-Raml” or “sand cutting”… also a divination system in the Ifa cluster. I don’t know if this etymology is correct, but considering that many scholars have adopted it plus the fact that the name Orunmila doesn’t seem to appear in history before halfway the nineteenth century, there might be a ring of truth to it. Anyway, the concept of an “Orunmila” mainly (only?) appears in the Yoruba(-derived) versions of Ifa/Afa/Fa/Evwa/Agbigba/Ebba etcetera divination, and no trace of him can be found in research of the earlier stages or proto-Ifa.

No religion is objective about itself

Methinks that, whatever one says about these subjects, nobody can be fully wrong or fully right. I know I’m not fully right… because I’m speaking from a frame of reference that’s only one of many. Concerning this sort of discussion I think my frame of reference may be wider than some, on account of me not being bound by, nor much interested in, religious dogmas including literal (or “fundamentalist”) interpretations of Ifa divination texts – which are tools to help clients reach some form of spiritual transformation via impressive symbolism and not Abrahamic biblical or quranic “eternal unalterable truths”.

Of course my frame of reference is limited to what I know (or think I know – grin), but that goes for everybody. Indeed everyone discussing the subject, especially the more religiously driven individual, is prompted, motivated and led by a belief about reality… which are different things that are far too easily confused, the one (belief) being promoted as the other (reality).

What I see happen in many discussions of this nature is the readily accepted belief in a dogma, in a mighty good piece of religious propaganda and as such a strong belief… but it is a belief about reality and not necessarily reality itself. In parts of the “divination world” Orunmila became the head honcho. These particular parts, mainly on account of the technologically advanced countries of the diaspora, simply got the best press, the best access to the internet, and the best spin doctors. And it works! Still there are enormous numbers of Ifa/Afa/Fa/Evwa/Ebba diviners outside the “Orunmila system” who never have heard of either Yoruba or Orunmila. But if the present tendency persists, a younger generation than mine will be burned at the stake if they don’t “believe in Orunmila”. I know… although I haven’t been burned yet (happy grin!), my own life has been threatened several times, by “babalawos” in Africa as well as in the Caribbean/American diaspora.

Anyway, in order to get to some real hard stuff about these issues, one has to step out of religion and propaganda, looking at other branches of knowledge and information, because no organized religion can be trusted to be objective about itself.

Reconstructing proto-Ifa

Ifa-like divination without immediate references to Africa can be encountered all around the world, but in order to keep it sort of simple, this article refers to Ifa/Afa/Fa/Evwa/Ebba-like forms of divination in Africa, and in the African diaspora as caused by the slave trade.


Back in the olden days in West-Africa the “proto-Ifa” would probably have been 16 loose “things” like cowrie shells or seed pods without strings, followed by the logical sequence of development from 16 loose things (cowries or pods) to 16 things strung on four separate strings, to 16 things strung on two “double” strings (i.e. 2 opele), and finally to the single opele. You see the various correctly sequenced paraphernalia in the picture above.

The Yoruba palm nuts (Ikin) and the accompanying Ifa tray with it’s “fingered on” signs, may or may not be a development of “derb er-raml” with the signs fingered into stuff (like iyerosun) on the tray instead of into the sand/soil. I dunno – somewhere along the line they got incorporated into the larger Ifa/Afa/Fa/Evwa/Ebba divination cluster, of which they have become a respected part since.

Sixteen cowries make two Opele!

As an illustration of how it all started with 16 “loose” objects and after many centuries finished up with the well-known Opele, I made a little video that will probably piss off half of my readers, and make the other half think “Geez! The bugger may have a point!” (wide and wicked grin)! The principle has always been there, seen by many but noticed by few. And the few who did notice, kept their mouths shut, because it’s heresy.

As time passed, the original system of sixteen cowries followed two diverging paths of development, which was possible because from its very beginning the system could be read in two different ways. The first way, taking into account the sequence of the shells and thus reading two double Odu Ifa in each cast, resulted in Opele and the marks on the Opon Ifa. The second method that simply counts the “mouths up” without paying attention to the sequence of the sixteen objects is now called Dilogun or Owo Merindinlogun. Yet… still… if you’re a Dilogun diviner and you just look carefully at what you’re doing, you’ll see in one cast with your Sixteen Cowries what the Ifa diviner needs two casts with his Opele for. This is one of those things where, once you have seen it, you can never “unsee” it.

So watch the video and don’t go make my life difficult by insisting “Jaap, you’re manipulating the cowries to produce two double Odu Ifa!” because I don’t. In this video I simply shove them for your convenience into a somewhat easier recognizable four-by-four grid… but that grid was already there to begin with! Of course I am not one hundred percent sure if this was the way the whole development towards Opele started… but neither are you one hundred percent sure that it didn’t! So think about it… that’s all I want you to do. I want you to think!

Do you get the gist? Good! And if you don’t, there’s no reason to worry. Just try it out a few times for yourself, and in no time at all you’ll be able to do it all the time! Just keep experimenting until it comes naturally to you.