Odu of the Year – sense or nonsense?

April 10, 2014 by · 4 Comments
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


At the beginning of every year many “Odu’s for the world” are cast. Do they make any sense? Does the world need an Odu? Is it even possible to cast such an Odu?

Ninety percent of everything is bullshit, and I am quite prepared to raise this percentage to let’s say ninety nine for all those damn “Odus of the Year” that float around all over the internet… each and every year again.

It’s the remaining 10 (or 1…) percent that counts, and I am inclined to say that indeed not all is nonsense because the Earth, like everything, has its own Ori… and as such can perfectly well be read. You can with a certain amount of effectiveness divine for the damn Milky Way, if you’re good enough – which I probably ain’t.

GalaxyThe big mistake (at least it’s a big mistake in my eyes) with all those readings for “the World and its Neighboring Galaxies including Black Holes, Supernovae and God Herself” is that people forget that it’s for a large conglomerate, not for its individual members. When any group of Awos have read “The World” or, if they’re a bit more modest, Cuba or the United States, everything that is said in such a reading about individual behavior pertains to these individuals’ position in relation to the United States, Cuba or The World.

It does not, at least not directly, pertain to their own individual experiences, behavior or destiny in daily life. In other words: the reading is not about every individual Ori in the group, but about the Ori of the group itself.

A reading about your own Ilé, your own Tradition or your own World will give you some insight in how to function within and towards the optimum Destiny of that World, Tradition or Ilé, but it does not give detailed information on how to make your individual optimum Destiny manifest. In fact, it tells you next to fuck-all about yourself, apart from those situations that bear a more or less direct relationship to whatever the reading was held for. It depends on the closeness of that relationship how much or how little of the info in the Odu applies to the rest of your life: for most people that will be relatively little.

Let’s put it this way: if you have a reading for your car, your beloved Mustang 1964, the reading may indicate that the car as a whole will gloriously last through the whole of the year, provided you perform good maintenance.

Ford Mustang (Wikipedia)Now that’s great news for the car, but not necessarily for all its parts and contents. I you are the oil, you will have to be discarded and replaced. If you are the air filter, you will need a thorough cleaning. If you are the gearbox, you may need major surgery in the local garage. If you are the left front tire, you might experience a blow-out and “die”. I guess you get the picture.

However, there is still some sort of connection between the greater Destiny and all its individual Destinies. The oil knows that its Destiny does not contain it lasting through all the decades the car lasts, and the gearbox knows that it needs regular maintenance to keep it meshing alright. That’s what it’s a fuggin’ gearbox for, or a can of oil. So the Destiny of the car is not the same as, yet interwoven with, the Destinies of all its parts.

To use another example: in the human body millions of cells die daily while millions of others are born, in order to enable the body to function well and long. For the first group their Destiny is to die, for the second group their Destiny is to live. And it’s all good.

So: do these readings for the World make sense or not? My answer would be: in a limited way they do.

What is an Independent Ifa Practitioner?

January 25, 2014 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


Seems an interesting idea, being an Independent Ifa Practitioner. But… what does it really MEAN? Is it about learning directly from Ifa, or learning with the correct Babalawo? And what about Orunmila? Do you honor him as Independent practitioners?

A babalawo is by definition an initiate into the Orunmila system. Being part of a “system” inevitably limits what you are allowed to do, and often even what you are allowed to learn.

Ifa, the spirit of wisdomThe limits on what you are allowed to do, are not necessarily bad. After all, each club, group, society or association has its rules, and one is free to decide to accept these and join, or not accept them and don’t join. For those who accept its rules, the Orunmila system with its particular limitations is perfectly alright. For those who don’t, the same Orunmila system with the same limitations feels like a prison cell, and it’s this kind of personality that “Independent practice” might be very good for, and might help them fulfill their Destiny.

Fairly often within the Orunmila system (in fact within any established religious system) one is not only limited in what one can do, but also in what one is allowed to learn. One thing I feel “Orunmila inmates” are not allowed to learn, is that there are more NON-Orunmila diviners in the worldwide Ifa complex than there are Orunmila diviners. Another thing the Ifa system doesn’t want its adherents to know, is that initiation into Orunmila is not at all necessary to become a highly effective Ifa diviner. A third thing the Orunmila system doesn’t want its practitioners to know is that Ifa is not exclusively (or even basically) a Yoruba “thing”, but an Africa-wide, indeed world wide complex of binary divination systems of which “Ifa Orunmila” (so called in contrast with the non-Orunmila systems) is just one single branch.

Sooner or later Ifa begins to explain itself!

An Independent practitioner does his own studies, finds his own way(s) into Ifa, figures out how his individual personality (Ori) makes him function best within worldwide Ifa, and last but not least experiences to his/her great joy and considerable amazement that, once he begins to learn how to divine, sooner or later (usually sooner) the “system” begins to explain itself!

In short: the Independent practitioner learns with Ifa itself, and is not easily tempted to let a priest come between himself and his god. Learning with the “correct babalawo” might be theoretically possible, but in practice not many babalawos are willing to teach students forms of Ifa divination that are outside their own system. There will hardly be an Ifa priest (Babalawo) who will tell his omo’s: “Look guys, of course it would be nice if you were initiated, but it really isn’t necessary. I’ll teach you how to become a damn good Ifa diviner without ever having the need to become initiated”

But how important is Orunmila in Independent Ifa?

Since Independent Ifa practitioners are by definition kind of… eh… independent, I can’t speak or even pretend to speak for all of them, so I’ll produce my personal point of view.

Considering that Orunmila only surfaces in the Yoruba version of Ifa, his importance seems to be limited to that version. Even within Yoruba Ifa, Orunmila seems to be a fairly recent praise name for the Orisha Ifa. With “fairly recent” I mean that, going back in time, we see the mention of the name Orunmila slowly dwindle in favor of the name Ifa, until we arrive around 1850 before which ALL mention of Orunmila seems to stop, and ALL documentation speaks of only Ifa instead.

I found some stuff from the 19th century, pertaining to the position of Ifa vs Orunmila, from Awori-Egbado, Lagos-Ondo, Egba and Ibadan. The general tendency seems to be that Ifa is seen as both the system AND the driving Orisha behind it.

In Ibadan, 1853, a worshipper got quite exited, waving a sword and declaring: “Ifa is God, no other word shall be heard”.


In 1858 at Otta an olorisha states that Ifa is an Orisha, and in 1868 a babalawo says that there is no enmity between Ifa and Olorun, which implies that he too considered Ifa a deity because, if it were only a “system”, the above statement wouldn’t make sense.


In 1878 in Adeagba (Egbado) an olorisha verbally kicks the butt of a missionary stating that “we olorisha worship Olorun through Ifa”… without any mention of Orunmila.


Around the same time, in Lagos a babalawo states that Ifa is the god of his fathers and therefor he worships him.


In Leke in 1878 there’s finally a reference to Orunmila… but not as a separate Orisha but as a praise name for Ifa. An Ifa priest by the name of Agogo states that Ifa is the mediator between God and men because of the name Orunmila… implying that it’s a praise name or complementary title of Ifa.


Beju, 1879: some olorisha state that their town has been built by Ifa and the people will be directed by Ifa. The second mention of Ifa could certainly refer to the system, but the first one clearly indicates a deity.


Ondo, 1877: the king and his chiefs confirm their adherence to the worship of Ifa and their other Imole.


In Lagos, somewhere during the second half of the 19th century, a babalawo was recorded saying that the sixteen palm nuts were not the object of worship, but “mere representatives” – the true Ifa was a Spirit.

So… to me “Orunmila” is a praise name for the Orisha/Spirit of Ifa, a praise name which may have derived from a possibly mythological, possibly historical, possible both, character or individual that we see surface in many Ifa texts as a CLIENT of Ifa.
In the vast collection of Ifa texts I have, there are many incidences of a person named Orunmila who goes for divination to Ifa, which seems to indicate that Ifa and Orunmila have separate existences of their own. In other words: in the texts that probably are very old, they are thought of as DIFFERENT characters.
Again, only in the second half of the 19th century does one encounter the first mention of Orunmila being a praise name of Ifa, indicating that the two are beginning to be thought of as “the same”.

For me, not being in the Yoruba system, Orunmila does not have the same importance as he has for those who are in that system. In fact I think there’s good reason to believe that “Orunmila” is simply the Yoruba pronunciation of the Arabic “Ar Raml” (sand cutting) which, although a different system, is as much Ifa as is the Yoruba system.

So… what’s the final verdict on being Independent?

The Independent Ifa practitioner studies wherever he can, practices whenever he can, and lets Ifa talk and teach to him through the increasingly sophisticated way the student learns to handle the paraphernalia. He/she is not opposed to the Orunmila system as practiced by the Yorubas and their spiritual descendants in the Diaspora but… he is most certainly not a part of it. It’s a different branch, with it’s own different rules.

African origins of the Oyinbo

April 4, 2013 by · 3 Comments
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


It’s becoming kind of boring, but with depressing regularity questions crop up whether White people (“Oyinbo”) should or should not be initiated into Ifa-Orisha. The argument against, is usually that the Orishas disapprove of White people, where in fact it’s more likely that Black people disapprove of White people… which to be honest I can hardly blame them for. Anyway, here’s what Ifa says about the origins of White people… and it doesn’t seem the Orishas disapprove of the Oyinbo.

Some stuff on how the White ethnicity (AKA the Oyinbo) was born in Africa, according to Ifa. Based on words spoken by Chief Fasuyi Kekere Awo of Ile Ife, in 1985.

Black and White handshakeIt’s in Ejiogbe that the origin of Whites is explained and narrated. There were three groups of Oyinbo, respectively moulded by Obatala, Oluorogbo and Olokun. Obatala moulded the European groups. In 1985 there still was was the Igbo Oyinbo (White Man’s Wood) in Ile Ife… for all I know it may still be there. Before creating/moulding the White variety of the people of Ile Ife, Obatala visited the diviners Alaanu, Oloore, Sungbemi, Magbemiti, Saaragaa and Ejufiri, who divined for him and made the necessary ebo. This way the White ethnicity came into being. When the Whites were about to emigrate and populate the world from Africa, they informed Obatala of their plan. Obatala blessed them and gave them the following template for greeting and responding to each other:

Greeting: Alo
Response: Alo
Greeting: Ewo maanio
Response: Ewo danindanin.


Greeting: Hello
Response: Hello
Greeting: It is taboo to forget this way of greeting
Response: It is a serious taboo.

In 1985 there were still groups in Ile Ife greeting each other in this manner, and the White children of Africa (Oyinbo) that populated the world after Obatala created them, still greet and respond to each other until this very day.

Burial or cremation?

December 19, 2012 by · Comments Off on Burial or cremation?
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


The general understanding in the Ifa-Orisha religions is that when an Olorisha dies he/she must be buried: they cannot be cremated, even if there is no money for a (more expensive) burial? Every now and then I’m asked whether in my opinion (for whatever tha might be worth) this is correct… my answer usually being: Yes, and no.

CremationTraditionally (and ritually) burial is the norm, and cremation is more or less out of the question. However, tradition is always cultural, never spiritual. “Spirit” knows no limitations… only “culture” does. You can’t “spoil spirit” by having the weeping bereft dispose of the stiff according to their own culture and wishes instead of those of the dear departed. That would be the bloody limit, like my own daughters overruling the care the Egun and the Orishas take of me, and kind of destroying my “afterlife” by burning old Pops to make sure he is dead and stays dead (wide and wicked grin)! Once a person croaks, the rules change. What we think should happen to the stiff is based on earthly rules and traditions. Works perfectly alright… als long as everybody agrees on those traditions and rules. If they don’t… do you really think Olodumare cares? And destroys your Soul or whatever, if you’re burned instead of buried, or if they can’t find your hair to bury with you, or whatever? Naaaah… what the sorrowing bereft do isn’t too important, I guess.

Extended family… not always fun!

December 13, 2012 by · Comments Off on Extended family… not always fun!
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 

public-article-balkAfrican Traditional Religions seem to be connected very much with the concept of the extended family. It’s often said (and to a certain extend correctly) that the Ifa-Orisha religions, from Africa to Santeria, Lukumi and Candomblé, are all about “family” and “community”… everything centers around it, and under no circumstances should this aspect be removed from it. I hold a more nuanced view of the subject, which I will explain from my own position as a Dutchman, inhabitiant of one of the smallest countries in the world: The Netherlands. Are “we Dutch” looking for an extended family, for a community, for a group? I guess not… Most of us here would love to leave parts of our damn claustrofobic family life behind us (grin)! Nobody in my country lives more than three hours driving away from parents, children, aunts, uncles, grandparents, grandchildren, nephews, nieces, and in-laws.

Extended family

Exactly five minutes walking (even with my bad legs) away from my house lives a cousin with his wife. Three minutes walking the other way lives another cousin. Ten minutes driving from here (in different directions) live five other cousins, a bunch of nephews and nieces, and an aunt. My sister lives less than half an hour driving from here. My fathers only surviving brother lives less than an hour and a half from here. About ten minutes walking from my house is the local cemetary, where my grandparents are buried and about a dozen other relatives. My parents are buried less than half an hour from my house. My great-grandparents are buried about an hour driving from here. Another thirty minutes and I visit the graves of earlier generations, my folks from the 15th, 16th, 17th and 18th centuries. Then we go back to Ede where I live, taking an hour’s detour to visit the graves of my 9th, 10th, 11th, 12th, 13th and 14th century ancestors. When I finally arrive home, half of my living family is waiting on the doorstep inquiring where the hell I have been: didn’t I remember that they had announced their visit? Heeeelp! Less family please, not more! And to top it off, we Dutch are in the habit (possibly retained from our distant African ancestors) of teaching our children to call adult neighbors and adult family friends: “auntie” or “uncle”…

God help us, there’s nothing but family here! The whole of this minute country of Holland functions and behaves like a traditional African village. Decades ago I couldn’t, and my children to a certain extend still can’t, put a bloody foot wrong without some “uncle” or “auntie” (either by blood or by “honorary title”) calling the brat to order or walloping an ear. Well, you won’t hear me complain: at least my wife Caroline and I don’t have to raise them all by ourselves! And if Caroline and I are both away when dinner time is coming up, there’s always somebody along our road where they can, and do, succesfully invite themselves to dinner. So: it does have its advantages, but puhrleeese: no more family! Although modern influences tend to diminish the old ways, this whole country is still far too bloody much like a traditional village, far too much for comfort!

I don’t think that the religion is all about family and community: the African culture is. And so, God help us, is the Dutch. When my American Babatobi was in the Netherlands for my initiation, he was quite surprised that I took him to meet my parents (they were both still alive then): none of his other omo’s had ever done that. I, on the other hand, considered it a normal thing, and my parents would have been kind of insulted if I hadn’t. Then Baba invited my (very Christian!) mother to the feast (bembe) after the initiation, and he almost came in his spiritual pants of pure excitement when indeed she showed up (as did my mother-in-law)! His religious orgasm was complete when, after I had in good African tradition asked my mother for her blessings, she blessed me, raised me up and congratulated me on my initiation. Having a staunchly Christian woman partake in an Ifa-Orisha bembe and giving her “heathen” son her blessing, was something he never thought he would encounter!

Well, I dunno about others, especially when they’re living in other countries. But for myself here in Holland, I never encountered any shortage of family life and/or religious support. On the contrary: we’re a bloody African village here, and it’s claustrofobic as hell. What we need is more divorces, more disfunctional families, and longer distances. Without all that, there’s no escape from the chains and shackles of family life. And for those you who are idiots: the last two sentences were written “tongue in cheek” (wide and wicked grin)!

Do I have to pray in Yoruba?

December 4, 2012 by · Comments Off on Do I have to pray in Yoruba?
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


One of the original languages of our religion is Yoruba, which often prompts the question from diasporian practitioners: do I have to pray to the Orishas in Yoruba?

Yoruba languageNaaah, you don’t, not at all, for various reasons – the first being: what Yoruba? Egba? Oyo? Egbado? Ife? Ijesa? Edo? Ketu? There are dozens more, and all of them are different. Even nowadays “standard” Yoruba is a misnomer: there are essentially two different “standards”: Oyo and Lagos. And for the “ancient, archaic” Yoruba: see above! There are just about as many ancient archaic versions of “Yoruba” as there are different peoples and tribes in the “Yoruba cluster”.

The second and main reason why it is not necessary at all to pray to the Orishas in whatever kind of Yoruba, is that it would be a very dumb Force of Nature indeed who is limited to one language only, and a human one to boot! Orishas are not people, they are cosmic forces that couldn’t care less which of the 30,000 or so languages on earth is used to address them. It is much more the force and the conviction of your prayer that makes it work, and this force and conviction should be evident to you!

Long time ago I used to do a lot of prayers and invocations in Yoruba, and only occasionally I switched over to my native Dutch. At one of these occasions a coupla Nigerian Yoruba friends were present in order to assist me, and they politely said: “Uncle Jaap, when you pray in ‘Yoruba’ we hardly understand what you’re saying, so badly mispronounced it is. You mean well, but it sounds silly, especially since you do not know exactly what the words and the idioms mean. When you pray in Dutch however, the force of your prayers and invocations immediately increases and becomes much more effective, because you know exactly what you’re saying and why you’re saying it. When you invoke in Yoruba we smile, but when you invoke in Dutch (even if we don’t understand a word!) we literally get goose pimples from the force of your invocation, and the presence of the Orisha is immediately felt. So, Uncle Jaap: if you want to raise a mighty amount of Ashe, just pray and invoke in Dutch. Simply forget the ritual gibberish, and get the job done in your native lingo”.

Well friends, I’ve heeded their advice ever since, and my communication with the Orishas has never left anything to be desired. So: use whatever language makes your invocations and prayers the most forceful, and more often than not that will be your own language.

Can I hex people so they die?

December 4, 2012 by · Comments Off on Can I hex people so they die?
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


Every now and then I am approached by worried people with questions like: Is it possible to cast a spell on people so they die, even unborn children in the womb?

Well… since almost nothing is impossible, I think this isn’t either… but I’d rank it in the category of “elephants can fly”. Dumbo did it in the Disney movie, but I haven’t seen any other elephant do it since. Or before, for that matter. So… I wouldn’t worry too much about this kind of thing. Although it is quite possible to cast a nasty spell on people, those sad and sorry abusers of the religion who are stupid enough to try, as a rule of thumb are also more than stupid enough to fail.

Casting spells - witches hatThis basic truth having been said, I guess you’d like some more concrete info. Well… those practioners that indiscriminately “cast spells” on people, exhibit a nasty show of bad character. Now bad character, simply by its very existence, tends to mess up one’s effectiveness in life and work. This is what I mean by saying that those stupid enough to try, are more often than not also stupid enough to fail.

Another fact is, that the human body and mind are naturally protected. Just like the skin keeps out most infections, and antibodies take care of the nasties that got in anyway, our spiritual selves have their own protections. This is an unconscious process, that you don’t have to think about: it just happens. Rarely such a spell works: if they did, there wouldn’t be a human being alive on this world, for the creeps and weirdos would exploit their sorry capabilities to the fullest!

In individual cases however, a spell or curse might work. But if something nasty is happening to you, look for physical causes first instead of metaphysical ones. In 999 cases out of every 1000 there’s a “natural” cause for (even deadly) illnesses, that should be dealt with by doctors. In the odd case that nothing physical can be found, you might go see a diviner. But before you do so, review your own life, beliefs and ideas. For more often than not, the only spells that can hurt us, are the ones we cast on ourselves.

Orishas fighting for your head???

November 30, 2012 by · Comments Off on Orishas fighting for your head???
Filed under: Apparently burning questions 


Every now and then I get a question like: I am on the shortlist to be initiated, but there are three Orishas fighting for my head: Oshun, Yemoja and Oya. In which of these three should I be initiated?

CockfightSuch question is pretty easy to answer: I’d say in none of them. If they can’t even sort out their differences among themselves, none of the sorry bunch would be any good to you (wide and wicked grin)! How on earth can you expect anything from such a bickering crowd? Of course there’s more to the issue than the above irreverend remarks. Contrary to common Western belief, Orishas do not “fight” for your head. Geez, they are forces of nature, and your tiny little bonce isn’t even remotely important enough for these cosmic forces to fight over! What do you think the realm of the Orishas is like? A fuggin’ cockfight? C’mon, be your age!

The whole idea of “Head Orisha” or even “Guardian Angel” (yuck!) is vastly overrated in the New World; it’s a relatively modern invention. In Africa whole families, sometimes even whole villages, were (and sometimes still are) dedicated to one single Orisha, and initiations almost automatically took place into that local Orisha. No divination at all about “what Orisha” to be initiated into; the question in for instance a Shango family/village simply was: “Should this person be initiated like everybody else into Shango?” If the answer was “no”, no initiaton took place, and if the answer was “yes” the initiation into Shango became a fact. Nothing more, nothing less.

The Western confusion about this matter results from lack of knowledge about the way the Religion worked/works in Africa. Not only is initiation not desperately sought after like in Cuba and the United States, but also the worshipper has a relatively great freedom to shift allegiance from one Orisha to the other. If Shango fails to “deliver the goods”, his worshipper is totally free to give let’s say Oshoosi a try. And when Oshoosi happens to deliver the goods instead, he has won a worshipper and Shango has lost one. This takes place regardless of whoever might be the worshipers “Head Orisha”. It always comes as a surprise or even a shock to Lucumis, that in Traditional Yoruba one can get initiated into (many) more than one Orisha!

The Yorubas are a very pragmatic people, and they want results. That’s what their religion is for. It is not traditional in the religion to desperately seek initiation, on the contrary: unless one is kind of automatically initiated as a family tradition, most try to desperately avoid it, on account of initiation bringing lots of heavy responsibilities towards the community, and costing a packet to boot!

As for your “fighting” Orishas Oshun, Yemoja and Oya: which of the three “delivers the goods” to you? Which one do you want to be initiated into? Or is it any other Orisha that brings you the most benefit? Figure all this out for yourself, and when you’ve found the Orisha that you have the best connection with, only then ask if you should be initiated into him/her. If the answer is “no”, just sigh with relief for it relieves you from becoming yet another “chief with no indians”, and if the answer is “yes”… well… you may act accordingly.

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