Casting Four Cowries

December 1, 2012 by · 13 Comments
Filed under: Four Cowries, Obi, etcetera 


There’s much more to Four Cowries or Obi divination than initially meets the eye! You can make it either as simple, or as complex as you want. In fact, with four cowries you can do the exact same as one can do with Opele or Ikin! But that’s a bit beyond the scope of this page… right here we’ll explore some of the simpler variations that, I emphasize it again, should not be underestimated!

Alafia Alafia

The basic essence of Alafia is “Yes” with some blessing attached. Many diviners consider it necessary to ask again, but in my personal experience that’s not really a necessity. Alafia simple means “Yes” in 99 out of every 100 cases. And if you happen to encounter that 100th case, your gut feeling (that’s a colloquialism for Ori) will tell you so… and then you can ask again.

Okanran Okanran

Although Okanran often is considered to mean “No, but…”, I have learned to forget about the “but” and consider Okanran a clear and straightforward “NO”.

Ejife Ejife

Ejife is considered a very clear “Yes”! No doubt about it! No need to keep asking, simply proceed from that “yes” on. Generally Ejife is considered to be a firmer “yes” than Alafia, but I don’t fully agree with that point of view. What I do agree with, is that Ejife doesn’t need a follow-up question to make matters more clear… it’s “Yes”. Period.

Etawa Etawa

Essentially the meaning of Etawa is “No, but you’re kind of close”, in other words you’re sort of on the right track, but there’s more to the issue than meets the eye. Rephrasing the question, or slightly changing the angle of attack, repeatedly if necessary, will eventually lead to a clear “Yes” or “No”. For all practical purposes, I am increasingly inclined to consider Etawa just a “NO”.

Oyeku Oyeku

The meaning of Oyeku can be quite varied. Some people are scared shitless when this pattern appears, but I never could discover any negativity in it. Depending on the circumstances it can mean a definite “No”, but far more often (as my own practice developed, for me this eventually became: always) the appearance of Oyeku means that the Ancestors (Egun) want to speak, emphasizing the answer to the original question. So: ask that exact question again, and don’t be surprised if Oyeku appears… again! Then ask the question for the third time, and when either Alafia or Ejife appears it means an absolute, undoubtable, totally definite “Yes!”. When Etawa appears, in the earlier stages of my practice I considered this also a “Yes”, but after my system and I had a “talk” we decided that from then on it would be a form “No”! When Okanran appear it means an equally firm and definite “No”. The Ancestors have spoken. Don’t fugg with them.

Making arrangements with your cowries

You may have noticed a few references to things that I changed during my decades of practicing Ifa. This is part of ones growth and development as a diviner. Making very clear arrangements, almost “contracts” with whatever divination system you use, is very important – in fact you literally tell the system how you want it to cooperate with you. Bear in mind: although Ifa is always in control of the answers, the wisdoms and the results, it’s you who must be in control of the tools… otherwise the whole thing will get away from you so fast that you’ll need days to recover and gather the courage to try again (amused grin)! During the years of honing your divination skills, every now and then you will get the gut feeling that you should change/improve something. Then get into a dialogue with the Spirit behind your tools, and settle the “agreement” or “arrangement” accordingly. Then stick to the new agreement and way of working, until (if ever) the next occasion comes up. Is this an established, traditional, generally approved way of doing things? I have no idea. Nor do I care.

Reading underlying Odu Ifa

You can interpret all casts with four Cowries in a more expansive way, by reading the “underlying” Odu Ifa, which is simply done by viewing them as a vertical row. Now there are two results in Four Cowries that can only have one Odu Ifa underneath, because all cowries are lying in the same position: that’s Alafia with all four “mouths” up, and Oyeku with all four “bellies” up. In other words: the underlying Odu Ifa in Alafia is always Ogbe, and in Oyeku it’s always Oyeku… plain and simple. In Okanran, Ejife and Etawa however, there are various possibilities, which I give below with a short interpretation for each fall.

Alafia supported by Ogbe Alafia supported by Ogbe

Alafia can only be supported by one particular Odu Ifa: Ogbe. The blessing that comes with Alafia is partly caused by Ogbe giving an impulse towards expansion, evolution and elevation. Alafia/Ogbe kind of goes “beyond the intellect”, Ogbe representing the perfect alignment between Ori or Consciousness and Iponri AKA the Higher Self. In order to make the blessings materialize, acting upon the “Yes!” answer should be done in a very ethical way because Ogbe, though bringing good stuff, also warns against narcissism and egotism. Although I’m not a great proponent of exaggerated humility which is often no humility at all but simply a form of reversed arrogance, after seeing Alafia/Ogbe it sometimes makes sense to pursue the line of questioning to make sure if the client understands the need to avoid egotistical and narcissist behavior. This having been said, in my practice I rarely if ever do such a follow-up: generally speaking Alafia means a clear “Yes!” with a blessing.

Okanran supported by Obara Okanran supported by Obara

Modesty is needed, take care that lessons taught by those who are older and wiser have been well absorbed. There may be too high an opinion of oneself, leading to a doubtful result. Overestimation of oneself leads to various mistakes, like rash actions. Self-confidence is good, but when Okanran is supported by Obara one should take care that it doesn’t become self-deception. The answer, of course, is “No”.

Okanran supported by Okanran Okanran supported by Okanran

Resistance from family or surroundings may be playing a role. If the one who asks the question expects support from others, he might well find himself very disappointed. The uncertainty in Okanran may be the result of this person not fully understanding how big the opposition might be. This Odu speaks of a lone prophet, who has the guts to go against the majority, especially in defense against moral decay. Okanran/Okanran is not a final answer, the uncertainty often referring to the client underestimating the amount of opposition he will experience on the matter he is asking about. In my own practice I see the strong influence of Oshoosi in Okanran, Oshoosi being the pathfinder and tracker who guides us via the shortest route to our optimum destiny. The answer, of course, is “No”.

Okanran supported by Ika Okanran supported by Ika

Unexpected illness may block a positive result. Gossip and self-doubt are also a form of illness, it’s important to remember the power of the word: don’t use it negatively because that’s a form of self-hexing! The uncertainty in Okanran supported by Ika is often caused by gossip, self-doubt, or possibly as a result of hexes, spells and curses from outside. The answer, of course, is “No”.

Okanran supported by Oturupon Okanran supported by Oturupon

Now this is a real pisser: Okanran supported by Oturupon often refers to the distinct possibility of deliberate attempts by others to prevent a good outcome. There may be need for psychic protection. Often silence is the best protection: we don’t discuss our plans with everybody and his ancient mother. The answer is “No”. When pursuing the line of questioning, it’s a good idea to include the aspect of psychic protection, to avoid the risk of spiritual or psychological damage.

Ejife supported by Iwori Ejife supported by Iwori

Ejife an any form is a firm “Yes”! When the pattern is is supported by Iwori, action as a follow-up to the question will have positive results for spiritual transformation through blessings by Shango, or emotional transformation through blessings by Aganyu. Fire, both in a literal and metaphorical sense, is the key to transformation. The client will need to commit himself to positive change, which is what the fire in this pattern suggests: the heat of passion to make things change for the better! In my experience Ejife supported by Iwori indicates that we are not yet on the brink of these positive changes, but that we’re working steadily towards them

Ejife supported by Odi Ejife supported by Odi

Ejife supported by Odi is a firm “Yes” with the blessing of the birth of something truly new… although on fact every birth is of course a rebirth, or a form of regenerating and revitalizing. Blessing of Yemoja, in the form of a new enterprise, a new idea, a new relationship or maybe even a new child. Ejife with Odi underneath is a pattern of “birth”, in other words we are on the very brink of good changes… that is, if with the help of the oracale we make them good!

Ejife supported by Irosun Ejife supported by Irosun

Ejife supported by Irosun is a clear “Yes” with a blessing from the Egun and Osun, the latter (not to be confused with Oshun!) being the Orisha who protects the consciousness of those who search for spiritual transformation. The client for whom this pattern falls tends to be aware of the spiritual aspects that play a role here, has learned the lessons from the ancestors, and follows the right path. There is a good foundation for learning how to let go of ineffective thoughts about living in this world. The admonition by the Egun is that this person should proceed carefully and cautiously in order to progress through difficulties.

Ejife supported by Owonrin Ejife supported by Owonrin

Ejife supported by Owonrin means “Yes” with blessings from Eshu or the Egun… or possibly both. Either way, the Ancestors look favorably upon the subject of the question and on the client’s way of proceeding. Consult the Ancestors to obtain additional depth and clarity, and be aware that the intervention of Eshu can lead to unexpected changes in the circumstances that led to the asking of this question. What Owonrin brings can get lost again quite easily, so be alert and disciplined… because Owonrin is an unstable Odu!

Ejife supported by Oshe Ejife supported by Oshe

Ejife supported by Oshe brings a “Yes” with the blessing of Oshun, in the form of f’rinstance sensuality, erotics, abundance and fertility, depending on the nature and subject of the question. In a life that is lived according to the instructions of Ifa, that is: in harmony with nature and with the spiritual forces that keep creation intact, Oshun can supply all these blessings.

Ejife supported by Ofun Ejife supported by Ofun

When Ejife is supported by Ofun, the meaning is “Yes” with the blessing of Obatala. The client should take good care to act according to ethical principles. The blessings of Obatala come to those whose social behaviour and personal actions are consciously directed towards the highest possible spiritual standards and aspirations. There should be no excess of any kind. The client should truly maintain spiritual, physical, and domestic cleanliness. Clean, white, pure, ethical… those are the words that come to mind when Ejife falls with Ofun as supporting Odu!

Etawa supported by Ogunda Etawa supported by Ogunda

Etawa supported by Ogunda is a “No”, but you’re probably not too far off, although there are obsacles preventing you from getting a “Yes”. These obstructions should be confronted and removed. In the Odu Ogunda, Orisha Ogun spreaks very strongly, which is a good thing because he is the one who moves obstacles out of the way! The obstructions can be external or internal, implying the removal of physical circumstances that prevent improvement (a change in circumstances), or the removal of ineffective thoughts and attitudes (a change in consciousness). Courage is required, and the determination of Ogun… the warrior spirit!

Etawa supported by Osa Etawa supported by Osa

Etawa supported by Osa is a “No”, but you’re probably not too far off. This pattern brings the Winds of Change! What seems important now, can change because of presently unknown causes that are in movement. Shape and content of the present issue can suddenly change. Through the presence of Oya, who controls the conversion or indeed the “twilight zone” between the living and the dead, the Ancestors can cause sudden change. This partical form of Etawa comes with a struggle, possibly as the result of a lack of preparation or the absence of a “Plan B”.

Etawa supported by Otura Etawa supported by Otura

When Etawa is supported by Otura, it’s “No” but you’re probably not too far off, possibly indicating the need for asking again with a slightly different (spiritually more elevated) approach. The end result is acceptable, but possibly there’s something not completely ethical in the way the person who asks this question wants to reach that result. Otura is the Odu that makes or breaks families, and depending on the situation either the one or the other is relevant. Here is a strong reference to social responsibility. In case of continuing confusion, Otura speaks of fasting and meditating in order to gain clarity.

Etawa supported by Irete Etawa supported by Irete

Etawa supported by Irete often indicates that the person who asks this question has the unconscious tendency to sabotage his own efforts. The meaning is “No”, although you’re not too far off. The point you may be “off” may be an issue of insecurity and self-doubt that may stand in the way of a good solution. Selfrespect and self-affirmation should be examined, and where necessary encouraged. Asking a related question with a slightly different approach often helps to bring more clarity.

Oyeku supported by Oyeku Oyeku supported by Oyeku

Oyeku can only be supported by one particular Odu Ifa, also named Oyeku. For me, Oyeku lets the Ancestors (Egun) speak very loudly! Usually, when Oyeku falls, it turns out to be one or more (easily identifiable) Egun hammering at the importance of the answer, saying: “Cast again, asking the same question! And stick, stick, STICK to the answer! No shortcuts here, no tricks of the trade: ask the question again and if the answer is either Alafia or Ejife it’s an absolute “YES!!!”, when Okanran or Etawa appears it is an absolute “NO!!!”, and when Oyeku falls again it either emphasizes the importance of the issue even more (cast again with the same question!), or the Egun want to be consulted in depth on the issue. Oyeku by itself never means disaster, and the paranoid reaction of many diviners to its appearence (throwing water, doing “gymnastics” and such) has no equivalent in Independent Practice. But it does indicate a very important situation, usually illuminated by the Egun.