Regular divination

October 21, 2012 by · Comments Off on Regular divination
Filed under: Ifa divination general 


With Ifa, we have been given a remarkable gift: the possibility to communicate with Higher Spirits, whether we call them Ori, Orunmila, God, Ancestors, Orisha Thingummajig, or whatever. Of course Ifa comes to our aid in case of problems, but it’s also not a bad idea to do a daily check whether we are still in line with our Destiny, and on the right path to Good and Gentle Character or Iwa Pele.

Four cowries for regular divinationI usually have a set of four cowries nearby, specifically for such everyday questions and issues. I’ll tell you a little secret: you can open a divination in whatever way you are used to opening it, and then (Members: click to read on)

Odu Oct/Nov/Dec 2012

October 19, 2012 by · Comments Off on Odu Oct/Nov/Dec 2012
Filed under: All that does not fit elsewhere 


Oyeku-OkanranThe quarterly Odu for the Ilé Dafa for the months October, November and December 2012 is Oyeku-Okanran. The short summary is: under the influence of this Odu truly great things can be achieved, but they won’t come easy, partly because it takes much harder work than we’re used to, and partly on account of outside negativity that we must overcome. (Members: click to read on)

The Iyanifa hullabaloo

October 18, 2012 by · Comments Off on The Iyanifa hullabaloo
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


Iyanifa diviningThere’s a lot of hullabaloo about the question whether women can, or cannot, be initiated into Ifa, in other words whether members of the female gender can become the female equivalent of the Babalawo, called Iyanifa or Iyalawo. In the Cuban-African religion of Lucumi it is generally considered taboo, and loads of shit are poured out over those who dare to state differently. In Nigeria (“Yorubaland”) the situation is somewhat more complicated: in some regions, villages, lineages or families it can be done, while in others it is, just like in Cuba, considered a taboo… Ode Remo being one of the areas where such a taboo is in place.

Among the alleged reasons for not initiating women in Ifa, is the often heard statement that “women cannot see Odu”, invariably meaning that women aren’t allowed to see the signs of the Odu… and without seeing them you can’t read them, can you? But… the issue of women not being allowed to see Odu is severely clouded by lack of knowledge of the Yoruba language, and lack of knowledge of the various paraphernalia of the Ifa diviners. Odu, in the prohibition “women can’t see Odu”, does not refer to the patterns cast with either Opele or Ikin, but to the container called “Odu” that is generally prepared with many things including mud, charcoal, chalk and red camwood. In fact this Odu is an Orisha, and dontcha forget it!

Indeed a woman is not allowed to see this container, definitely not the inside and probably also not the outside. There’s a good reason for this. The Odu (container) is completely saturated with female energies, that might literally produce an “overkill” if it is added to the already existing female energies of any woman that happens to gaze upon it. It would be the end of the (female) Iyanifa, she would start leaking oestrogen at the seams…! For a (male) Babalawo however, contact with Odu (container) generally serves a very good purpose: counter balancing his inherent male energies with the female energies of the Odu (container).

The initiation of a Babalawo and an Iyanifa (or Iyalawo – depends on what area of Nigeria you’re from) are partly different: part of the Babalawo initiation is set up as to “feed” the initiate some female energies, to balance his existing male energies. This would be counterproductive to a woman, and would give no balance at all, but would put her inner scale even more out of balance. Instead Iyalawo initiations contain an infuse of male energies that would be overkill for men. Balance is sooooo important! So in this particular aspect the initiations for men and women indeed are different! But for all practical purposes that’s the only difference.

The female Ifa priest is perfectly able to see Odu (signs of the oracle) and interpret Ese Odu (Ifa texts). The prohibition has nothing to do with these; only with the other meaning of Odu: the Container or Orisha. The only reason this issue keeps cropping up, is because of a lack of knowledge of the various homonyms “Odu”. It’s just like many words in the English language, that although looking and sounding the same, may indicate totally different things. As a totally random example take the English word “plane”. This may mean several things, like a flat surface, an aircraft, or a tree. When someboy says: “You may not fly my plane”, it would be silly to surmise that one is not allowed to take to the air in a tree. Just like that, the Yoruba word “Odu” means several things. It is good to be aware of that, in order not to draw and perpetuate incorrect conclusions.

Spread of the Opele

October 17, 2012 by · Comments Off on Spread of the Opele
Filed under: Ifa divination general 


West African peoples who use some kind of Opele for Ifa divination, with the name(s) they use for their form of divination. In the illustration you see to the left the four separate strings that is used in f’rinstance Ominigbon and Agbigba, and to the right we have the two connected strings that is known as Opele in Yoruba Ifa.

Benin Edo (Ogwega, Ominigbon)
Ekoi (Ewu, Efa)
Ibo (Afa, Aha, Efa)
Idoma (Eba)
Igbira (Agbigba)
Isoko Edo (Eva)
Jukun (Noko)
Nupe (Ebba, Eba)
Tiv (Agbendi)
Yagba (Agbigba)
Yoruba (Ifa)
Agbigba and Opele

Some Yoruba facial marks

October 16, 2012 by · Comments Off on Some Yoruba facial marks
Filed under: All that does not fit elsewhere 


The application of facial marks (also called scarification) is an ancient tradition among many African peoples, including the Yoruba. Below you’ll find some (by no means all!) facial marks one could, and to a certain extend still can, encounter in “Yorubaland”.

Some Yoruba facial marks
More Yoruba facial marks
Here’s a text from Owonrin Meji, referring to some facial marks.

Come gather all around me now,
you divination clients for this session,
for it’s for many people here together
Owonrin speaks, as Ifa will explain.
“All tribal marks are gathered now,
some faces here have thirty carvings,
horizontally: that’s called abaja
Some others here have twenty
chevrons on their face: that’s keke,
and others still have fifty lines
that we call woro-woro, vertical.”
These were the ones who cast for Odunmbaku,
the son of Ifa, yes, Orunmila’s own son.
They told their client he must sacrifice
to avert a sudden death, to sacrifice
five bags of cowries and a five-toed chicken
to put outside, close to the road,
taken by Hawk, then lost from sight.
The sacrifice was gone, accepted.
Iku, that’s Death, came looking;
and happy Odunmbaka said: “Good heavens,
‘t was Hawk took Chicken, and your road is blocked.
This year I cannot go with you,
so next year better, Death!
I’m very sorry, but you know: that’s life!”
Death shrugged his shoulders, for whatever
we say about him: he’s an honest fellow,
who never takes what not belongs to him.
The people sang and danced
and loudly praised their Ifa,
saying: “This year we should have died,
but Iku just took Chicken,
and left us living, yet to see another year.
That’s what the Awo’s said:
“All tribal marks are gathered now,
some faces here have thirty carvings,
horizontally: that’s called abaja
Some others here have twenty
chevrons on their face: that’s keke
and others still have fifty lines
that we call woro-woro, vertical.”
These were the ones who cast for Odunmbaku,
the son of Ifa, yes, Orunmila’s own son.
All make the sacrifice, along with Odunmbaku,
a chicken to Iku, for us to live some more.

Main choice: African or Cuban?

October 15, 2012 by · Comments Off on Main choice: African or Cuban?
Filed under: Finding your way in Ifa-Orisha 


Although the African system of Ifa-Orisha (Yoruba Traditional Religion or YTR) and the Cuban system of Ifa-Orisha (Lucumi) were once one and the same, they have separated to a considerable degree… so much that I tend to consider them different religions by now. This poses a dilemma for newcomers, especially in the diaspora: “In which of the two religions will I be at home?”

Oshun/Caridad del CobreFor me, the choice what system to follow was pretty easy, as I believe it could be for everybody else. I have uncountable African ancestors, and not a single Cuban one – making it quite logical for me NOT to “take a spiritual detour” via Cuba, but go straight for the African system instead. The same, I think, would apply to the vast majority of Black and White U.S. Americans: generally speaking they have no ancestral ties whatsoever with Cuba, but LOTS of them with Africa.

If, on the other hand, one has ancestral ties with Cuba, it would be logical to go for the Cuban system, AKA Lucumi, which developed from Africa to Cuba just like your ancestors did… like half of Florida ;-)!

Maybe I can put it even clearer. If your most recent ancestors who practiced an African religion lived in Africa, go for African Ifa-Orisha. If your last ancestors who practiced an African religion lived in Cuba, go for Cuban Ifa-Orisha AKA Lucumi.

Then there’s yet another factor. Most (Black and White) U.S. Americans are not brought up in or around Catholicism, in contrast with Cubans/Hispanics who generally are. As is time upon time shown in this and other groups, Lucumi has close connections with Roman Catholicism, like the threads about Iyawos being taken to Church show, not to mention things like use of Holy Water, and even here and there the requirement of baptism.

Ibeji, the Yoruba twinsSo: if you don’t have some Catholic background yourself, choose Nigerian Ifa-Orisha which is far less influenced by Catholicism than Lucumi. If your background is Catholic though, Lucumi might give you more things that you can identify with.

There are many other factors that might/should play a role – I leave most of them out and just mention one very important factor: personal preference! For me that simply ruled out Lucumi because… I don’t like Lucumi. I respect it, and I certainly don’t say there’s anything wrong with it but… I don’t like it. So: ask yourself several questions before choosing your religion or way of life… including the question “Do I like it, and can I live with it for the rest of my days on earth?”

Initiating paleface… or not?

October 14, 2012 by · 2 Comments
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


With depressing regularity, both in real life and digitally, the question is asked whether it is alright or not to initiate people who are not from “African background” into Orisha. It’s an issue that keeps cropping up every now and then – and I wouldn’t be Jaap Verduijn if I hadn’t had some idea on how to answer it (wide and wicked grin)! Here comes.

San tribesmanALL people are from African background – there’s no human being on this earth whose ancestors didn’t live in Africa. It’s where mankind was born. Some early humans emigrated out of Africa, others stayed at home, yet the African DNA sloshes through the veins of all of us. Bit of a wonky metaphor, but I guess you get the gist.

However, when people pose this question, it’s very clear that they don’t refer to the above – because if they did, they wouldn’t ask the question.

What then, is the question about? It’s never about African background, because we all have that – it’s about how recent is that African background. You can’t judge that by skin color: it’s not possible to truthfully say “If he’s Black, his African background must be recent”, because for example the Australian Aborigines are very Black, yet they are further away in time from their African ancestors than any other people on this earth: the ancestors of the Aboriginals separated from the ancestors of other human populations (“left Africa”) some 64,000 to 75,000 years ago… much earlier than the ancestors of, for example, the Europeans. Skin color is no indicator of recent or not-so-recent “Africanness”, because when it comes to closeness in time to Africa, White Europeans are much more “recent African” than Black Australian Aboriginals.

But that was a bit of a detour, the real question being: if recent African background would be required for initation into Orisha, how recent must that be? How many (or rather: how few) generations ago must your last African-born ancestor be born in order for you to qualify for initiation into Orisha? Must one of your parents be born in Africa? One of you grandparents? One of your great-grandparents? Your great-great-grandparents? Or can it be longer ago? I dunno… Before the question can be answered, it is necessary to define the maximum number of generations that may be passed before a person ceases to be “from African background”.

That is… unless you go for the one fell swoop by accepting that all of us are from African background. Or, even better, go for the position that Ifa-Orisha indeed is a universal religion where ancestry plays no role period. I clearly prefer the last option, my personal opinion being that the Orishas call whom they want to call. Creating a “generation limit” or “time limit” on African background would be a human construct… not a spiritual one.