“An ancient legacy worthy of the most profound reflection! A classic of African and world literature! One of the great sacred texts of the world!”
This is how one leading African-American scholar describes the Odu Ifa, the sacred, texts of the Yoruba people of Southwest Africa, that traditionally, were transmitted orally from generation to the next.
In his book, Odu Ifa: The Ethical Teachings, Maulana Karenga, best known as the founder of Kwanzaa, says: “The Odu Ifa is a corpus of sacred texts designed to answer questions of human life through the process of divination. But they also contain a wealth of knowledge and teachings in various fields including, art, ethics, literature, medicine, history and religion.”
“We are told throughout the texts that we must be good parents, sons and daughters, friends and fellow human beings and that we should respect our elders and ancestors, with the understanding that our togetherness in harmony enhances our ability to bring, give and receive good in the world,” says Karenga.
“The Odu Ifa also reminds us of our obligation to the earth. It urges us to avoid plundering, polluting and depleting the earth in our pursuit of wealth and comfort,” adds Karenga.
There are a total of 256 sacred odus in Ifa, and it is believed that Orunmila, the orisa of wisdom, brought these mystic symbols from heaven to earth to guide humanity and to help people shape their lives. The first two disciples of Orunmila were Akoda and Aseda. It is said that Akoda taught Ifa divination to the world and Aseda served as an advisor to the elders.
Orunmila knows the past, the present and the future, and is sometimes described as a scholar who speaks all languages or as “the little black man whose head is full of wisdom.” It is believed that Orunmila witnessed the creation of the universe and can unlock the secrets of your destiny because of his intimate knowledge of all things.
In one of the sacred texts of Ifa, Orunmila says: “Great wisdom is the key to getting great wisdom. If we don’t learn great wisdom, we can’t learn strong medicine. If we don’t learn strong medicine, we can’t cure serious illness. If we can’t cure serious illness, we don’t earn great wealth. If we don’t earn great wealth, we can’t do great things.”
Other verses stress the importance truth, humility and character: “He ran briskly, he walked smartly. Sharp, brisk marching is Tiger’s style of movement. Orunmila was descending from heaven to be honorable on earth. They said that when Orunmila gets to the world, he must not show any arrogance or pride. That he must comport himself in lowliness and humility. Orunmila got to the world; he acted humbly. He was never proud. He accommodated everybody. He won honor and dignity.”
The Odu Ifa also represent energy patterns. “The odus are divine forces which are applicable to every event in the past as well as in the future. Each odu indicates that there is an order and pattern in the events of human life,” says the late Afolabi Epega, in the book, Obi Divination.
“For every major event in your life, you need an odu to guide you,” Epega adds. “The odus represent all the activities in the universe. There are 16 major odus. The first two major odus, Eji Ogbe and Oyeku Meji are the two cosmic forces that represent male and female energy.”
“Ejiogbe represents the masculine force and Oyeku meji represents the feminine force. Ejiogbe and Oyeku Meji gave birth to the remaining 14 major odus. Like the universe, each odu consists of a pair of opposites: finite and infinite, odd and even, hot and cold, positive and negative, good and evil, male and female. The odus are regarded as the expanding and contracting principles of human experiences,” says Epega.
This concept of duality, known as yin and yang in Asian philosophy, extends to every aspect of life and creation. The notion of absolute good or absolute evil does not exist in Ifa. Good and evil are merely two sides of the same coin. Being ill, for example, is not good, but it can be good if it forces you to re-examine your lifestyle, reflect on your values and shift your priorities. Getting a promotion at work is good – but it is also bad if it causes jealousy or gives you undue stress.
The key to understanding Ifa? It’s all about balance, character, reverence for the spirit world, the orisas and the ancestors.
It’s also about patience. Tons of patience. The Yorubas say “one who cannot follow ants – cannot follow Ifa.”
For more information about Ifa, be sure to see the upcoming documentary feature film Across The King’s River. Visit www.acrossthekingsriver.com
As my son and I drove home recently, I reflected on something that he told me…
The stark reality that many of the friends that he used to hang out with are either dead or in jail.
I immediately taught of my elders in Africa and all the ebos, or sacrifices we had done to help Malcolm over the years. And how I took him to seek spiritual help in Nigeria because we feared that the streets of Oakland could snuff his life out at any time for being at the wrong place, at the wrong time, doing the wrong thing, with the wrong people.
But my son, Malcolm, has escaped the statistics, and I have the elders and the orisas to thank.
The young man that greets me every morning is a far cry from the thug he used to be. This young man is a dedicated father who helps his son with his homework. This young mans has two jobs and works seven days a week. This young man is very respectful to us.
What a welcome change from the angry, young man that I once worried about night and day. What a journey from a thug to a father who has successfully turned his life around.
Back in 2003, when my spiritual father in Africa told me that things would change and that I would see good things in my family, it was hard to believe. I wanted to believe the old man knew what he was talking about and that the prayers and ebos to the orisas would really work.
And the orishas delivered. It hasn’t been easy by any means, but I’m proud of my son and the wonderful transformation that I see. I’m also pleased to report that Malcolm’s six year-old son, Jakari, is on the honor roll and will turn out just fine.
In fact, Ifa predicts that Jakari will grow up to be a popular politician in the future. We’ll see.
Know that change is possible for you, too. That the storm you’re experiencing will not last forever. No storm ever does.
As my Mom loves to say: “This To Shall Pass.”
“Most people are born blind and few ever learn to see,” says Nigerian writer, Ben Okri, in his book, The Famished Road.
But what if you expanded your vision and learned to see with new eyes? Not only might you make better decisions, you might be able to live a more fulfilling life right now.
The ancient art of divination is designed to do just that – help you avoid pitfalls while navigating through life with greater clarity and wisdom. Divination can also identify your life’s purpose and provide guidance in both your personal and business relationships.
But a word to the wise – divination isn’t about coming to a reading hoping to hear what you want to hear. It’s about personal growth and being able to deal with the truth even when it hurts.
At times divination might reveal that you need to change your behavior, your diet, or even a job or a relationship.
Among the Yorubas of Southwest Nigeria, the Ifa oracle is considered be the most accurate form of divination. Divination is both an art and a science and takes years of study to master. Before the advent of Christianity and colonialism, both men and women studied and practiced Ifa in Yorubaland.
“This was like going to school for us in the past. From about the age of four or five, every child studied Ifa for about five to seven years before doing anything else,” says Yoruba scholar, Wande Abimbola, in the book, Ifa Will Mend Our Broken World.
Ifa is more than a divination system, however, it’s a fascinating oral tradition that incorporates herbal medicine, ethics, history, dance, poetry, spirituality, mathematics, science and literature.
“The literature of Ifa contains references to all the Orishas, as well as ideas and values which the Yoruba people cherish,” Abimbola says.
Unlike some Eastern spiritual traditions that emphasize being fully present in each moment, an Ifa divination reading might speak of events in your past, your present and your future.
And not only does Ifa provide insight into your future, it enables you to change it.
“When you know what your future holds in store for you, you will know what sacrifices to make in order to change any elements which may not be good. If there is an impending illness, or some negativity, Ifa will prescribe sacrifices that will alter that negativity into something positive,” says Wande Abimbola.
“In today’s rapidly changing world of uncertainty, we cannot ignore the need for knowledge that can be gained through divination,” says the late Dr. Afolabi Epega, in the book, Obi Divination. “Divination reveals the best course of action to be taken in every event in life, but it also gives you the the spiritual advantage.”
Tips for getting the most out of a divination session? Have an open mind. Ifa will often challenge the way you think and offer alternatives that you might not have considered.
And be patient. Since Ifa often speaks of the future, some things that are revealed in a reading might not make sense to you until days, weeks, months or even years later.
Finally, trust the process and the message. Ifa is the ancient wisdom that has guided our ancestors for thousands of years. The Ifa oracle can successfully guide you too.
For more information about Ifa, check out the upcoming documentary, Across The River at www.acrossthekingsriver.com