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ifa self In nitiation-ritual

An Ifa Self-Initiation Ritual
Oluwatoyin Vincent Adepoju
Comparative Cognitive Processes and Systems
“Exploring Every Corner of the Cosmos in Search of Knowledge”
A ritual laying foundations for depth of relationship with the
fundamental defining factors of the Yoruba origin Ifa system of
knowledge, spiritual development and divination. Primary among these
is ori, the immortal essence of self embodying the individual's ultimate
potential. The dialogue with ori is facilitated by engagement with odu,
the identities of all possibilities of existence in their myriad interactions.
This dialogical process is grounded in the possibility of existence
enabled by Olodumare, ultimate reality and ultimate creator operating
through the orisa. Overlooking and assisting in this dynamic between
aspects of the self are those who have trodden this path, ancestors who
are called to aid the aspirant.
Cover picture
Opon ifa, Ifa cosmological symbol and divination template, with ikin,
divination nuts, resting on quaternary cosmological symbolism
inscribed on iyerosun, the dust of earth as the convergence of
all possibilities in the material existence enabling awareness. Opele
divination chain at the right side and spiral symbol of transformation
and eternity inscribed on top left, reinforced by the circularity of the
opon ifa, evoking lae lae, foreverness. The seeds of possibility at the
nexus of being and becoming, represented by the intersecting vertical
and horizontal lines of the convergence of past and future in the present,
within the quaternary coordinates of space, transformations at play
within the matrix of eternity. Image from Iya Janinia’s blog.
I salute all those who have contributed to my reaching this point,
particularly my mother, Jhalobia Ojemu, and my sisters, Ifuemi and
Ameto, the principal sponsors of my research, support even more
striking because their religious orientation differs from mine, being
members of an exclusivist Christian denomination, and all of us,
including me, are often confused as to which direction I am going, but
having journeyed with me since the tumultuous teenage years of
seeking direction, remain convinced that the direction is unfolding
through the screen of mist.
Purify and Consecrate yourself1. Drinking a cup of water, declare,
inwardly or outwardly, “may the divine essence flowing from Orun, the
This is an adaptation of the Celestial Sanctum ritual and contemplative
method of the Western esoteric order the Ancient Mystical Order of the
Rosy Cross (AMORC) slightly reshaped in terms of my interpretation of
the concept of orun from the Yoruba, Nigeria, origin Orisa cosmology
to which Ifa belongs. The Celestial Sanctum may be seen as the point of
convergence between the source of existence and human aspiration. It is
visualised in the ritual in terms of whatever image the individual finds
Classic descriptions of this contemplative method are the version of the
explanatory booklet on the technique with an introductory essay by
Charles Dana Dean, Liber 777: The Celestial Sanctum: Its Origin, Purposes,
and Program of Services in which he discusses the metaphysics of the
concept and Raymond Bernard’s Messages from the Celestial Sanctum.
The 1940 edition of the Celestial Sanctum booklet by Dean describes the
imaginative template that Bernard’s book builds on.
The best descriptions I know of inspired mental states at the
intersection of individual mind and cosmic dynamism in relation to
Orisa cosmology include Susanne Wenger’s account of “travellinghidden, beyond time and suffering” [enabled by her fondness for ] trees
and running water [presences demonstrating that ] all the gods of the
world are trees and animals long, long before they entrust their
sacrosanct magnificence to a human figure” in Rolf Brockmann and Gerd
Hötter ’s Adunni: A Portrait of Susanne Wenger.
Also relevant in this context is Susanne Wenger’s perception of
Olodumare, described by one view, of which Bolaji Idowu’s Olodumare:
God in Yoruba Belief, is paradigmatic, as the supreme being in Orisa
cosmology. Wenger conceives Olodumare as “axiom paradoxon...origin
and consequence” in her review of Harold Courlander’s Tales of Yoruba
Gods and Heroes in Research in African Literatures, Vol. 7, No. 1 (Spring,
1976), pp. 74-76, This understanding of Olodumare is instructive for
conceptions about orun, where Olodumare “dwells” as it is often
translated or where the ultimate reality is focused, to put it in a different
way the understanding of a reality so abstract, Olodumare has no
shrines, although people address that reality in personificatory terms
and pray to Olodumare, as Idowu demonstrates.
Zone of Ultimate Origins, infuse my being and cleanse me of all
impurities of mind and body, so I may enter the intersection of mind and
cosmos, and commune in purity and worthiness. Ase2”.
The personifications Idowu presents are masculine, however, while
Babatunde Lawal argues in “Ejiwapo: The Dalectics of Twoness in
Yoruba Art and Culture", African Arts, Spring, 2008, that Olodumare
may have once been understood in terms of the confluence of masculine
and feminine genders.
The other accounts of elevated consciousness I am aware in Orisa
cosmology include Aina Olomo’s description in a post of 2nd August
2010 on the Yoruba Affairs Google group, under the thread “Esoteric
Knowledge and Power in the Orisa Tradition”, of the Yoruba concept
“awo”. She characterizes it as “the dimension of consciousness where
the sum total of humanity's inspirations and experiences are alive,
existing forever in the minutes of today, never solely attentive or
restricted to yesterday or tomorrow” [yet] “it is a realm of phenomena
that is unavailable for total absorption by the human mind”.
Also inspiring in this context is Awo Falokun Fatunmbi in "Obatala:Ifa
and the Chief of the Spirit of the White Cloth" on awo. He depicts this
idea as signifying “ the esoteric understanding of the invisible forces that
sustain dynamics and form within Nature. The essence of these forces
are not considered secret because they are devious, they are secret
because they remain elusive, awesome in their power to transform and
not readily apparent. As such they can only be grasped through direct
interaction and participation. Anything which can be known by the
intellect alone ceases to be awo.”
“Ase”, expressed here as an affirmation, is an invocation of the Yoruba
conception of ase, the creative force that animates the cosmos and is
responsible for being and becoming, this being an interpretation of the
description by Rowland Abiodun et al in Yoruba:Nine Centuries of
African Art and Thought, a presentation expanded by John Mbiti’s
African Religions and Philosophy in identifying a similar idea as unifying
classical African cosmologies. It can be cultivated and directed through
a variety of means, including ritual. The word is to be intoned slowly and
mindfully, enabling one take advantage of the correlation of vowel and
consonantal sounds that constitutes its phonological structure, a
combination that recurs in a number of sacred words, including the
Hindu “OM”, described as the expression of the creative force that
sustains the universe, “Amen”, the Judaeo-Christian word of sacred
affirmation and “Amon”, the ancient Egyptian name for the creator of
Having set the stage by purifying yourself, invoke that aspect of yourself
known as Ori, Ehi and Chi3, establishing a correlation between your
conscious mind and the embodiment of your ultimate potential, your
own self that dwells in the source of existence:
Ehi, my self in orun, the zone of ultimate origins, my overself, Ori,
captain of the path of my life, Chi, the guidance of the supreme, my inner
self who existed before I came into this world, who dwells with the
Undying One, what is your will? What do you see of the landscape of
existence from your place in the ramparts overlooking all?
the universe. The Rosicrucian AMORC thinker Harvey Spencer Lewis in
his essay “Amen,OM, Amon” in an issue of the Rosicrucian
Digest describes this vowel/consonantal combination as facilitating
entry into contemplative states. AMORC instructions suggests they be
intoned along with rhythmic deep breathing. I have experienced the
combination of breathing and slow intonation of one of such words as I
have listed above to be helpful in facilitating entry into a contemplative
Options for this section which I have left out in the name of brevity
conducive to the emphasis on contemplation but which expand the
central idea are : “Let us dialogue in the depths of my soul. What
intersections do you perceive between my paths and the paths
constituting the totality? May I forge a link, may I build a bridge between
your transcendent vision and my conscious understanding. The more
you listen to yourself, comparing the different soundless voices within
you, the better you will be able to assess the relative value of the various
directions in which you are being pointed”.
Ehi, Ori and Chi, aspects of the self as understood in Benin, Yoruba and
Igbo cosmology, respectively, are understood to exist in the dimension
of being that relates most closely to the creator of the universe. They are
also described as embodying aspects of the potential of the individual
which are not ordinarily accessible to consciousness but which can be
reached through divination and supplication. For Ori, among many
sources, one could see Bolaji Idowu, Olodumare: God in Yoruba Belief,
Wande Abimbola, An Exposition of Ifa Literary Corpus and Ifa Divination
Poetry. For Chi, Chinua Achebe’s, “Chi in Igbo Cosmology” is superb. For
Ehi, R.E., Bradbury’s “Ehi: Three Stories from Benin", in Benin Studies,
(ed.) P. Morton-Williams, is impressive. My “Correlating Benin, Yoruba
and Igbo Cosmologies” gives an overview of conjunctions between
these systems.
Maintain silence.
Ori speaks in silence.
A tender, eloquent silence. An often gentle persuasion. At times a
compelling urge. Dialogue through Ifa is centred on hearing the voice of
Ori, the friend who follows one on the most distant journeys without
turning back4.
The blank space below, as in related strategies in the continuity between
opon ifa, classical Chinese painting, Japanese gardening and classical
Japanese architecture in exploring relationships between empty and
non-empty space, suggests the silence within which ori is best engaged
with. The interior of a room is empty, but on that emptiness, the
usefulness of the room depends. The centre of a bicycle wheel is empty,
but on that emptiness, the functionality of the wheel depends, states the
Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu on the room and the bicycle wheel in the
Tao te Ching. The centre of the opon ifa is empty, but in that emptiness is
centred its value as a space for configuring patterns in seeking divine
vision. The mind may be occupied by varied impulses and ideas, but
within the vortex may be created or discovered, a centre through which
these voices may be distilled and the most insightful and profound
An adaptation of a majestic ese ifa, Ifa literature, "The Importance of
Ori", from Wande Abimbola’s Sixteen Great Poems of Ifa, reprinted in
Jack Mapanje and Landeg White’s edited Oral Poetry from Africa.
Currently accessible at Martin Kondwani White's website African Poems:
Oral Poetry from Africa.
Visualize a divining tray of Ifá-blanki5
The divining tray of the Ifa divination system, the central system of
knowledge of classical Yoruba culture, is the central iconographic form,
the central visual expression of the system, after the marks that
represent the two hundred and fifty-six Odu, the latter being the
primary organising categories of Ifa. The totality of the Odu are derived
from a set of primary sixteen units. The opon Ifa image is from Rowland
Abiodun et al’s , edited, The Yoruba Artist: New Theoretical Perspectives
on African Arts. I discuss fundamentals of opon ifa iconography, its
visual symbolism, in “Opon Ifa, Being and Becoming at the Nexus of
Time and Space”. Hans Witte,’s Ifa and Esu: Iconography of Order and
Disorder and Abiodun et al’s Yoruba:Nine Centuries of African Art and
Thought, among others, are also pioneering works in the burgeoning
field of Opon Ifa Studies.
Meditate on this symbol of the coming of everything from Nothing. The divining tray is empty but
from it will emerge the 16 Odu Ifa. In a similar sense, out of the emptiness of the essence of being,
emerges all that exists. The divination tray is empty but on it will be written the 16 Odu which
represent the totality of existence. From Nothing did the universe come. To Nothing will it return.
This conception of the odu ifa is a personal, speculative interpretation of Ifa cosmology, deriving
from a number of sources, including Hindu cosmology and the cosmology of the Hermetic writer
Dion Fortune as described in Fortune’s The Cosmic Doctrine. The concept of Nothing is also very rich
in scientific cosmology, a demonstrated by Tian Yu Cao’s magnificent analysis about its relationship
to a contemporary scientific picture of the origin of the cosmos in "Ontology and Scientific
Explanation," in Explanations (ed. John Conwell, Oxford University Press, 2004), 173-196 and
Nothing: A Very Short Introduction by Frank Close.
Imagine yourself at the centre of the Opon ifa, empty but full of
possibilities, within the primal waters of the womb of being, as the
universe comes into existence from you, manifested as the primary
sixteen Odu of Ifa.
Slowly Visualize the sixteen Odu emerge on either your body or in the
space in front of your body as you call out their names and visualize
their symbolic markings. A mapping of the Odu onto your body is
provided on the previous page6.
Invoke the universal significance of the Odu by speaking inwardly or
outwardly the description of the Odu by Benin babalawo Joseph
Ohomina, an affirmation of cosmic unity:
The Odu are the names of spirits whose origin we do not know. We
understand only a small fraction of their significance. The Odu are the
brains behind the efficacy of whatever we prepare. They are the
spiritual names of all elements in existence, whether abstract or
concrete: plants, animals, human beings, the elements and all kinds of
situations. Abstractions such as love, hate, truth and falsehood; concrete
forms such as rain, water, land, air and the stars; situations such as
celebrations, fighting and ceremonies are represented in spiritual terms
by the various Odu7.
Having invoked Odu Ifa, project these fundamental essences into the
world through a collage of selections from the great ese ifa, Ifa literary
form, “Ayajo Asuwada” :
Dews pour lightly, pour lightly.
Dews pour heavily, pour heavily.
This is an adaptation of the Middle Pillar Ritual from the Western
esoteric school of the Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn as described
in Israel Regardie’s edition of the Order’s rituals in The Rituals, Rites and
Ceremonies of The Hermetic Order of the Golden Dawn. It involves
concentrating on a part of the body, principally those parts that
correspond to the Jewish/Hermetic cosmology of the Kabbala, and
intoning the sacred names of the body of God as expressed in terms of
the structure of the cosmos, thereby correlating self and cosmos and
vivifying those cosmic centres in the individual self. These centres are
correlated with the head, the throat, the chest, the navel, the feet, the
shoulders and the hips.
7 I discuss this magnificent summation in “Cosmological Permutations:
Joseph Ohomina’s Ifa Philosophy and the Quest for the Unity of Being”.
Dews pour heavily
So that you may pour lightly
As I pour myriads of existence upon the earth .
Myriads of goodness take the shape of togetherness.
The creator of togetherness, I invoke you!
Let myriads of goodness come to me!8
Then affirm your unity with the convergence of the cosmic dynamism of
ase and the metaphysical essence that is Odu:
I have become fire that makes transformations from one state to
another possible, from matter to energy, from the first nothingness to
everything, the primal explosion through which the universe was
created, the radiations of sound racing outward from the core of the
terrible cataclysm, the forms that were crushed out of the chaos
emerging as star clusters, as planetary systems, as the variety of the
Complete this stage with the following declaration of identification with
cosmic dynamism in pursuing your ultimate purpose:
As the spiral returns into itself, as the snake curls itself into a circle, as
Osumare, the ever moving rainbow serpent, symbol of continuity and
permanence, the principle of movement, the integrating force that binds
the universe together9, Iyandezulu, the bundle of heaven whose
Translated by Babatunde Lawal in The Gelede Spectacle: Art, Gender
and Social Harmony in an African Culture, from Akinsola A. Akiwowo
“Contributions to the Sociology of Knowledge from an African Oral
Poetry” International Sociology, 1986; 1; 343-48. I discuss this poem in
some detail in “Manifestations at Cosmogenesis : The Three Awo Before
Time, the Descent of Ọrọ and Asuwa and the Splitting of Oyigiyigi:
Universal Implications of Three Yoruba Cosmogonic Narratives”.
From Hans Witte, on serpent symbolism in classical Yoruba art in Ifa
and Esu: Iconography of Order and Disorder. John Pemberton III’s review
of this work in African Arts, Vol. 18, No. 2 (Feb., 1985), pp. 88-91;88
describes Witte’s association of Osumare and opon ifa patterns as
lacking corroboration from Ifa sources. Even if that is so, and Witte has
let his imagination run away with him as Pemberton argues, the
development of ideas often operates through imaginative extrapolation,
so Witte’s interpretation is adapted here. Maria Swampwitch is most
inspiring on Osumare at the Brazilian Candomble tribe at the Tribe
social networking site on [Link is non-functional as of this writing,
years since my accessing it]:
“Osumare is the orisa of all movements, of all cycles, wealth, long life.
Osumare is the snake that surrounds the earth eating its own tail
(ouroboros). If one day he loses his strength and lets go of his tail, the
earth will fall apart, which will happen if mankind continue to destroy
Aiye [Yoruba for the world]. Due to this he is considered by many the
orisa of ecology.
The universe is dynamic and the Earth is in constant movement, this
movement that creates the seasons. Imagine the earth without rotation,
with just one season, a permanent day or night. It is necessary that the
Earth moves, so day comes after night, seasons occur, the vapor of water
goes up and comes back as rain. Osumare cannot be forgotten, because
the end of cycles is the end of this Earth.
He is the great serpent that surrounds the Earth and secures the unity
and renovation of our universe. He lives in Orun [ the ultimate zone of
origin] and comes to Earth as the rainbow. Son of Nana and brother of
Obaluaiye, he is the Yoruba counterpart of the Vodoun Dan of the
Ewe/Fon of Dahomey.
Osumare is a male Orisa, but due to his duality and cycles (six months a
snake, six months as the rainbow), some incorrectly say he is both male
and female. He is an ambiguous, double orisa. He expresses the junction
of opposites in order to maintain the universe and life. Osumare
synthesizes [symbolizes?] the movement of transformation. He owns
everything that is elongated, such as the umbilical cord. He also
represents wealth and fortune as other Orisas do. The segi (segui), a
rare blue mineral found in Yorubaland is said to be his excrement and it
is more valuable than gold. It is with all the colors of the rainbow that
Osumare gave color to nature.
Although his beads in Brazil are yellow with black stripes, all colors
belong to him. His eleguns wear brajas (cowry elekes in snake format)
and carry a bronze snake in their hands. Some say that like Osumare, his
children go through cyclic changes in life, like the snake shedding its
skin. His dances while in possession are some of the most complex in
He is saluted with the call: “À róbò bo yi!!” He is linked to both Sango
and Obatala. In some of his itans... he is seen when in Aiye as a babalawo,
movements are in thousands10, encircling the universe to make it one,
the serpent who rests in the flesh of my body and in the flesh of earth11;
Dwenningmen12, the twisted horns holding the knotted movements that
explode into life as the cosmos bursts into existence, embodied in the
dynamic motion of the shapes of plants, roots, bones and stones13; as the
universe is stable and yet dynamic14, ensuring a fulfilment for each
species in accordance with its overall cosmic purpose15, expressing the
ultimate goal that comes to itself when it is with the incomprehensible
One16, so will I fulfil my ultimate purpose; as long as space abides, as
a diviner, who had great power of healing”.
From Mazisi Kunene on snake symbolism in classical Zulu cosmology
in his introduction to his Anthem of the Decades.
Adapting the Indian concept of Kundalini, a creative force in the self
visualized as a serpent coiled at the base of the spine and related to the
development of consciousness, as described, among many other texts, in
Lilian Silburn’s Kundalini : The Energy of the Depths : A Comprehensive
Study Based on the Scriptures of Nondualistic Kasmir Saivism and also
correlated, in newer thinking, with the concept of earth energies, as
demonstrated in Mary Scott’s Kundalini in the Physical World.
Ghanaian Akan and Gyaman Adinkra symbol described in terms of its
dynamic symmetry.
Adaptation of Mazisi Kunene on the centrality of the concept of
movement in classical Zulu thought in his introduction to Anthem of the
Adaptation of the concept of the concept of ase, understood here in
terms of being and becoming.
Adaptation of Mazisi Kunene on the centrality of the concepts of
plurality and of balance of value between species in his introduction to
Adaptation of Kunene in his introduction to Anthem on the source,
validation and ultimate understanding of cosmic meaning in the creator
of the universe as expounded in classical Zulu thought -“Only
Mweliqanqi understands the true direction of creation” and from the
long as the world abides, so long will I abide, destroying the sufferings of
the world17.
Maintain silence and stillness for a few minutes for those affirmations to
settle into the mind.
As the Iroko and Akpobrisi18 manifest the Supreme Presence in the
forest, so do the Odu express the One beyond being in the world of
May I see with the eye of Eji Ogbe, Owonrin Meji, Ofun Meji, each
Odu and her Orisa, thus may I grow into perceiving with the
understanding of the One beyond all19.
As the eye of the eagle soaring above the Iroko, the rabbit and the deer,
sees how these various forms make one whole, my heart beats in
harmony with the heart of the forest of existence. I sense that the
immortal spirit that animates that forest, the immortal spirit that flows
through the Odu, the immortal spirit that energizes the cosmos, the
immortal spirit that lives in me, are one and the same20.
characterization of the relationship between ultimate meaning and the
ground of being by the Catholic theologian Karl Rahner, quoted in
“Living into Mystery: Karl Rahner’s Reflections on his 75th Birthday“-the
blessed goal of knowledge which comes to itself when it is with the
incomprehensible One”.
The vow of the Boddhisatva, the Buddhist in training to emancipate all
sentient beings from ignorance, as stated in the Bodhicaryāvatāra of
Sacred trees in classical Benin cosmology.
The names of three of the Odu are here correlated with the
description, by Wande Abimbola, in Ifa Divintion Poetry or An Exposition
of Ifa Literary Corpus, that each Odu is particularly associated with an
Orisa, thereby integrating the cosmos as understood by Ifa.
An adaptation of a section of the Upanishads, a central text in Indian
thought in terms of the idea of forest as cosmos, the forest as a
microcosm of existence and human navigation of the ecosystemic
complexity of the forest analogous with the exploration of the
Complete the initiation by aligning yourself with the orisa, expressions
of the Ultimacy Who Cannot be Pictured, Who has No Altar, No Shrine,
No Place of Worship Beyond the Human Mind, yet whose agents
humanity may more readily comprehend21:
You who molds each child in the womb
from whom each Orisa emerged through the shattering
of your form
re-gathered by the Wise One
the holy
multifarious unity of the cosmos, as developed particularly powerfully
by Abiola Irele on Ijala, Yoruba hunter’s poetry in “Tradition and the
Yoruba Writer : D.O. Fagunwa, Amos Tutuola and Wole Soyinka” in The
African Experience in Literature and Ideology and similar to other African
ideations, with Ayi Kwei Armah’s adaption of classical Akan forest
thought in the conversation between Densu and Damfo in his novel The
Healers being particularly impressive, while Michael J. Sheridan and
Celia Nyamweru’s edited African Sacred Groves : Ecological Dynamics
and Social Change provides the rich example of Alma Gottlieb’s "Loggers
vs Spirits in the Beng Forest,Coite d'Ivoire:Competing Models", contexts
I discuss in “Forest as Cosmos: Abiola Irele on Classical Yoruba
Philosophy of Nature” and “Hermeneutics of Space: Soyinka, Irele,
Armah”. Other particularly rich developments along such lines include
the Nigerian Cross River Ekpe esoteric order transposition of
observation of the unified density of nature in its Nsibidi symbolism and
related rituals, which I discuss in the Nsibidi/Ekpuk Philosophy and
Mysticism Research and Publication Project. My explorations of Benin
sacred landscapes, particularly its tree and forest spirituality, have
brought these ideas home for me in an intimate manner, hence my
invoking of names of sacred trees from Benin culture, although the Iroko
is revered across Southern Nigeria.
An adaptation of Bolaji Idowu’s summations on Olodumare and the
orisa in Olodumare and Susanne Wenger’s depiction of Olodumare in
her Research in African Literatures of Harold Courlander’s Tales of
Yoruba Gods and Heroes where she states “Orisha functions as an
intermediary between Olodumare's unaddressable and imperceptible
sanctity and his work-that is, ourselves”,
whose purity is that of the stream at dawn22.
May my being be united in the calabash of radiant purity
at the center of my self.
Light the path of my journey to the center of the world
may the vigour of the passage
strengthen the self and elevate the spirit.
As I was kneaded into existence
by hands of divine love
the spark of life in me lit by the ultimate fire
may everything I bring into being be inspired
by the One
who is beyond time and space
but who has shaped the cosmos
in the image of That Thought.
The Wisdom which has existed since before creation
You who understand the essence and relationships of all that is
enkindle the flame of our minds
so that by its radiance strengthened by your light
we may see into the Pot of Being where all
existence is woven into one23.
Orisanla is described by Bolaji Idowu in Olodumare: God in Yoruba
Belief as the Orisa who moulds the child in the womb before Olodumare,
the Supreme Being, infuses the child with life. Orisanla or Obatala, as he
is also called, is noted, according to Idowu, for purity of being as
represented by his white garments and the purity of the stream at
dawn, from which water is fetched in a calabash every morning to grace
his altar. He represents the proliferation of the Many from the One
through the shattering of his self into shards which are the other Orisa.
The rest was gathered into the sacred calabash of existence by
Orunmila, the Embodiment of Wisdom, Who was consulted by the
creator, Olodumare at the time of creation, this narrative being a
summation of a mythic sequence described by Idowu and a beautiful
metaphorical interpretation of the same sequence in Ulli Beier, The
Return of the Gods: The Sacred Art of Susanne Wenger, along with the
summation of Orunmila in Wole Soyinka's seven stanza poetic overview
of Orisa cosmology in his The Credo of Being and Nothingness.
23 A central metaphor of Ifa is the closed calabash understood as a
metaphor of the cosmos, and, possibly, the dwelling place and being of
My brother
who is paradox itself
may I grasp the various aspects of truth
which even through seemingly
in opposition
form one whole24.
As Obatala
On his journey of purification and atonement
may I learn that you, Esu, are everywhere
in those tests that strain us to respond
with the emotion and thought of the moment
or with the understanding of our divine mission25.
Odu, the wife of Orunmila and generative source of the wisdom of Ifa as
described by Babatunde Lawal in "Ejiwapo: The Dalectics of Twoness in
Yoruba Art and Culture” by Rowland Abiodun, and Henry John Drewal et
al, in Art and Oracle: African Art and Rituals of Divination and by Judith
Gleason in A Recitation of Ifa, Oracle of the Yoruba.
“Esu turns right into wrong, wrong into right” (Wande Abimbola,
Sixteeen Great Poems of Ifa)His cap is red on one side and black on the
other; he is at time shown as androgynous . A superb analysis of Esus’s
correlation of contraries is provided in the first chapter of Henry Louis
Gates Jrs’ The Signifying Monkey. Esu overlooks the Ifa divinatory
process and represents the axis constituted by the relationship between
chance, opportunity and free will, as well as the mediation between the
various aspects of being, particularly between the Orisa and human
beings. Esu is one of the three central Orisa of Ifa. The other two
are Orunmila, the founder of the Ifa system and Odu, Orunmila’s wife,
who, according to one view, revealed Ifa to him. The offspring of
Orunmila and Odu may be seen as the two hundred and fifty six Odu
Ifa, the organizational categories and active agents of Ifa. I discuss Esu in
relation to opon ifa iconography, its visual symbolism, in “Opon
Ifa, Being and Becoming at the Nexus of Time and Space.
Orisanla, also known as Obatala, was once advised by
Ifa/Orunmila before he went on a journey to visit his friend the Orisa
Sango, Alaafin of Oyo and that he should bear without retaliating every
provocation he encountered on the journey. He did so even though he
suffered serious ignominies. He was eventually vindicated by the forces
of nature which responded in protest to his circumstances. The
O You, Esu, who give reward for action
that is in harmony with divine will
may I always act and respond
with an understanding of the universal law
of cause and effect.
The divining tray glowing with the 16 Odu patterns
guide me to create the wisest pattern as I
weave the tapestry of my life
according to your divine wisdom.
Your brethren in light
as an assembly of radiant beings who lay
shining hands of power on you and merge their
luminous beings with yours, lifting you into
cosmic consciousness, in union with the Absolute.
As you visualize the brethren, declare:
My ancestors in the wisdom of the Odu
extend yourself to one who wants to
discover and propagate the profound
significance of this understanding which we all love.
May my being
my actions be united in
this divine task.
Remain in silence to incubate the communion you have initiated,
Repeating the ritual at intervals is helpful to further galvanizing the
powers within and beyond you being called upon.
provocateur on that journey is at times identified with Esu, agent of
opportunity for good or bad (Ulli Beier, A Year of Sacred
Festivals and The Return of the Gods : The Sacred Art of Susanne
Wenger ).