Why we do things the non-traditional way?
I greet you all in the spirit of humbleness and good character welcoming you to the priest/ess class of O.I.D.S.I. and all levels of practitioners. In my many travels to Nigeria, going back to my first encounter in 2006 with the passing of my Olowu the late Afolabi Epega, I encountered different methods and orders of divination in regards to the rituals and readings concerning his transition. The first reading was completed in Lagos, the second in Ode Remo, which is where his lineage hailed and later would become his final resting place, and the final divination was completed in Oyo town, Oyo state. The first thing that struck me was the differences in how Odu Ifa (i.e. definitions, patakis’) was read in each of these places. The verses of Odu Ifa itself all seem to ring the same however, the order of seniority was quite different.
Presently, I am involved in numerous discussions concerning which way is right and which way is wrong as it pertains to the order of seniority of Odu Ifa. In Ifa, it is not what is right versus what is wrong, it is about understanding what works. Whatever lineage you chose to become a part of or initiated into, you should by all practical purposes trust this lineage’s way of divination. This was more than likely the method used prior to your initiation, during your initiation, and finally at your Ita. To go back after any time spent to question the validity of your lineage’s way of divining is to question your ceremonial work and Ita, this may be taboo. As it is considered taboo to question the way in which your lineage divines it is also taboo to question the work of a fellow Babalawo or Iya, regardless of one’s judgment of his or her character and/or craft. These matters are left to his or her lineage, Ifa and the ancestors.
When inquiring of the elders of Ifa and of my lineage, I have been told to study the verses of the Odu Ifa as this is most important. I have conducted many sessions of divination here in the Diaspora, numbering well over a thousand, and come to the conclusion that African Americans are not Yoruba. I say this not sarcastically but because our philosophical and cultural perspectives are often based on a Western state of mind, therefore we tend to expect a different outcome. Because of this Western perspective, a Nigerian-born Babalawo’s interpretation of the verses of Odu Ifa, is often seen as not always relevant to the client’s present condition and more often a very quick reading. Although the Babalawo can insist that the information is relevant to the client’s situation the client is often left puzzled that the core issue at hand was not addressed. The problem becomes even more compounded when the client is left with recommendations for ebos, i.e. rituals, to be performed that often leaves them in a state of doubt as to whether this was actually helpful to their primary situation.
Odu Ifa is primarily based upon the philosophical and cultural perspective of the Yoruba people gathered over hundreds of years. Although the natural landscape and social makeup of the Western hemisphere are quite different, Odu Ifa is still relevant to any situation. This is because it is a universal system and should not be relegated to just a Yoruba cultural perception. We must now, somehow, bridge this gap to take what has been spoken over several hundred years and just like the institute of Christianity and its Bible, adapt and apply these verses to the 21st century African American or Western position.
The lessons in this manual are not to take away or diminish what the Yoruba ancestors have written. They are quite simply to enhance, i.e. expand, the interpretation these Odus to a new people who have a different way of thinking at a different time in history based upon their historical and ancestral experiences. With the help of my fellow god-brothers and god-sisters, along with the situations of hundreds of clients, I have come to recognize the necessity of fusing the sciences of universal law as to how things come into existence. I have taken Odu Ifa and synchronized its geometrical manifestation along with a numerical expression in conjunction with the Orisha and how they speak through Odu Ifa themselves, to offer the best consultation to the client at hand. The purpose of doing this is to help account for not being born or raised up in a traditional Yoruba society of Ifa practitioners.
The absence of an elder present to teach Odu Ifa, its rituals and chants on a daily or consistent basis is the Achilles Heel of the African American practitioner. Furthermore, the majority of practitioners in this country are often initiated past the average age of 35 and some even older. Amidst job, stress, career goals, family, past family issues and a day to day rigorous schedule of trying to survive in a capitalist society often leaves very little time to even chant “Hello, how are you?” to one’s own family or loved ones. So, with the implementation of these schemes we are then able to discuss the condition of each individual that comes for consultation (karmic or otherwise).
This may be viewed as a shortcut or a lack of effort in practicing the traditional way of understanding Odu Ifa as learned by the Yoruba people, mostly memorization. I say it is not. It is however, a synthesizing of universal laws and energy in conjunction with an individual’s blueprint. At the end of it all that which matters most is that the client is pleased with the session and any or all rituals are accepted, the simplest results of all. I have often wondered why the African American practitioner never has had much respect for another fellow African American practitioner. We only seem to respect the Nigerian Yoruba practitioner. And although they represent the foundation they do not hold the master key as to how things continuously expand in regards to universal law. As the practice of Ifa continuously expands throughout the Diaspora it is important for us to hold on to that foundation of our ancestors. This is achieved by grasping their messages that are consistently revealed to us through the ways and laws of the universe. Spirituality, in its essence and manifestation, never rests and is never stagnant; it is in a constant state of motion.
I am of the opinion that Ifa, in its own destiny, left the shores of West Africa on slave ships in the minds and hearts of IFA priestesses and priests to bring forth a new way, to see a new order and to follow new definitions. Not by choice, but by destiny. Thus Ifa was reborn again in its original splendor and poetic romance with the universe and the revealing of dark matter consciousness, i.e. Odu Ifa. I say this out of much respect to all practitioners in the Americas, Africa and abroad we are one family, one creator, one name expressed in many stories, experiences, perspectives, opinions, colors, shapes, sizes, numbers and capacities. We are the manifestation of the continuous expansion of Odu Ifa itself.
Chief Oluwo Obafemi Ifayemi Epega
Founder of the Obafemi Institute for the Universal Divine Study of Ifa (O.I.D.S.I.)