Category Archives: African spirituality

Witchcraft, divination and healing


Even if a person has a ‘good’ destiny, there are still dangers to be avoided if he is to achieve success in life. This is measured in terms of wealth, peace, prosperity, longevity and children (Awolalu, 1970; Leighton et al., 1963: 35ff). Full happiness only comes with the children who will be responsible for one’s burial. While good relations have to be maintained with the orisa and the ancestors, the greatest dangers probably lie in the activities of the witches. Witchcraft beliefs are still almost universal among the Yoruba, despite the growth of education and the spread of the world religions. They can easily be reconciled with Islamic or Christian belief, and a major attraction of the Aladura churches is their explicit attention to the problem. Witches in Yoruba belief are almost always women, and particularly old women. Their powers pass from mother to daughter, but can also be given to non-relatives, or even purchased. Yoruba magic on the other hand uses physical objects with known properties to achieve its results, and either men or women can be sorcerers. The Yoruba word for witch is aje, but normally euphemisms are used like awon iya wa, ‘our mothers’, or agbalagba, ‘the elders’. The stereotypes held about witches by the Yoruba are similar to those in many other parts of Africa: they are believed to be active at night and to have an insatiable appetite for sex. They are supposedly organised into egbe, initiation into which is thought to involve eating human flesh (Prince, 1961).

A number of measures can be taken to deal with the power of witches. Firstly, there are ‘medicines’ prescribed by a diviner. Secondly, there is membership of one of the cults explicitly opposed to witches such as Oro, Egungun or, in south-western Yorubaland, Gelede (Beier,1958). Thirdly, there is membership of the newer witchfinding cults or the Aladura churches. The Babalola revival in the 1930s which led to the rapid spread of Christianity in eastern Yorubaland also led to witch hunts in a number of areas (Mitchell, 1970a: 193; cf. Omoyajowo,1971: 715). The Tigari cult spread rapidly through Ghana, Dahomey and Togo into Egbado in 1951, before it was suppressed by the government (Morton-Williams, 1956b). In this case, most of the witches identified were old women. Witchcraft ‘confessions’ by old women are a common symptom of senile dementia. In Ogbomoso children started to stone an old woman who was wandering about outside our house claiming to have bewitched a number of people, and informants said they had seen similar incidents before.

Nevertheless, open witchcraft accusations against specific individuals are infrequent and people are more likely to take preventive action against witches in general, through ritual, charms and amulets. Where accusations occur, they are likely to be made against co-wives or wives of other men in the compound. These are clearly related to the tensions arising from polygyny and the wife’s subordination to more senior wives in the husband’s compound.

Though there are many systems of divination used by the Yoruba, the most important is Ifa (Bascom,1941; 1969b; Morton-Williams, 1966). The babalawo undergoes a long training, lasting several years. He divines either with sixteen palm nuts (ikin) or with a divining chain (opele). The opele is much quicker to use, but considered less reliable. If he is using palm nuts, the diviner passes them from one hand to the other, leaving one or two behind. Depending on the result, he makes a single or double mark in a tray of powder. He repeats the process eight times, leaving eight sets of marks in the tray in two columns of four. Each of the marks may be single or double, and there are 256 possible permutations or odu. The opele is made out of eight seeds or cowries joined together on a chain so that, when the chain is cast on the ground, each can fall face up or face down, corresponding to the single or double marks.

Each of the odu has its own name, rank and ese or verses associated with it. The diviners know at least four verses for each of the odu, and many more for the higher-ranking ones, those in which the two columns of four marks are identical. The verses consist of an assortment of folk tales, myths and historical narratives. They usually describe why on a particular occasion If a was consulted, the advice it gave, the sacrifice it prescribed, and a general moral. The verses are transmitted orally, and the diviner is constantly learning new ones throughout his career.

Ifa consultations vary in length. The client need not tell the diviner the nature of the problem, but may simply whisper it to a coin which is then placed in front of the diviner. In short consultations the diviner simply casts the chain, recites the ese of the odu which comes up, and leaves it to the client to make what he can of them as regards his own problems. In other cases, the diviner may make the initial cast, and then work through a long series of secondary questions, to find out whether good or evil is in store for the client, what sort of good or evil it is, and what he can do about it. If Ifa suggests a sacrifice, he can ask whether an offering to Esu is sufficient, or whether one to another orisa is necessary. Finally, the ese are recited. The logic of the method of answering questions is simple. Each of the odu is ranked, and the possible answers are each represented by a different symbol. A cast is made for each of the symbols, and the one which receives the highest-ranking cast is the one selected (Bascom, 1969b). Many of the odu are associated with particular orisa, or even with Islam, and this may give a clue to the solution of the client’s problem.

The criteria by which offerings to the orisa are chosen make an interesting subject of study in themselves (Awolalu,1973; 1978). Each of the orisa has its own tastes and taboos: the preference of Orisanla for white offerings and of Ogun for dogs are obvious examples. Some offerings are chosen for their qualities: palm oil and the liquid from snail shells are both associated with smoothness, peace and tranquillity. Others are linked with the effects they are supposed to produce through verbal association or myth (Verger, 1972). Most edible sacrifices are eaten by the worshippers themselves, with a small portion being left for Esu, but sometimes If a may specify that the whole offering is to be given to the orisa, and it will be burnt, buried, or exposed.

The objects chosen also depend on the importance of the occasion. The more urgent the need for maintaining or restoring relations with the supernatural, the higher the quality of the offering. Before the colonial period, the major communal sacrifices in many towns involved human victims, including major annual festivals, offerings at the start of a war, offerings to ward off a disaster, or on the foundation of a new town. Human victims were also used in some Ogboni rituals (Morton-Williams, 1960b). For the public rites, sheep and cows have been substituted long since.

Yoruba magical techniques and rites prescribed by the babalawo shade off into Yoruba medical practice, and the two are often combined (cf. Prince, 1960; 1964; Maclean,1971; Leighton et al., 1963). The Yoruba word ogun refers to either magic or medicine, and the babalawo is usually known for his medical skill as well as for his skill in divination.

Government medical facilities are unevenly distributed in Yorubaland, and where they are found they can have a dramatic effect on local mortality rates (Orubuloye and Caldwell, 1976). Whereas many villages have dispensaries which can deal with minor complaints, there are few hospitals outside the towns. In any case, queues in hospital out-patient departments are often long, and illiterate patients cannot always be sure that they will get the correct drugs from the dispenser at the end of the day, even if they are prepared to bribe him. The first reaction of most people to their own or their children’s sickness is to try and do something about it themselves. Older members of the compound usually know some herbal remedies which may work, and for those who can afford them there is a lively trade in patent medicines and prescription drugs in the markets. There are also a lot of quack remedies around. If these measures fail, the patient will have to look elsewhere. In the rural areas, the usual alternative is a babalawo or other expert. Even in the towns, traditional healers still have a flourishing clientele, along with the Muslim diviners and the Aladura prophets. The choice of healer often depends on the nature of the disease. While a patient with a chest or stomach complaint is likely to be taken to the hospital, those suffering >from barrenness, impotence or psychiatric complaints are more likely to be taken to other healers. The treatment given by a healer may include both a herbal potion with pharmaceutical properties to deal with the symptoms, and a sacrifice to appease the orisa. Yoruba healers make use of an enormous variety of items, ranging from plants and herbs to pieces of dried birds and animals. There are stalls selling these exotic ingredients in most markets of any size. Verger has shown (1972) how many of these items have names or attributes related verbally to the effects which they are required to produce, and he suggests that the same is true of many of the spells and incantations (ofo) which are used along with them. Buckland (1976) suggests that underlying Yoruba medicinal practice, as well as other aspects of Yoruba belief, is a paradigm derived from a theory of conception, bringing together the colours red (menstrual blood) and white (sperm) within the black skin of the mother, and he relates folk theories of diseases like leprosy, which lead to red or white patches on the skin, and their treatments, to this paradigm.

In this abbreviated survey of traditional religion, a number of general characteristics emerge which find parallels in the world religions as they have developed among the Yoruba. Firstly, Yoruba religion deals largely with the problems of the individual in this world. It is not concerned with a systematic and logically coherent set of beliefs, but with ritual techniques which are believed to work. God is distant: ritual centres on a variety of intermediaries, especially the orisa. Witchcraft and sorcery are seen as major causes of suffering, but the diviners can provide information on the nature of the problem and help on both the physical and spiritual levels, as well as providing knowledge of the future.

Secondly, religion and the social structure are closely linked. The ancestor cult is an extension of the kinship system, and the descent group is in some contexts a religious congregation in which the elders have ritual authority. However, the correlation between kinship and religious affiliation is not perfect, and cult groups cross-cut descent groups. The oba as the symbol of the community is also involved in the festivals of its major cults. How far these characteristics are also found in the Yoruba versions of the world religions will be considered in the following sections


Personality and the ancestors


Yoruba views of the world make an important distinction between orun or heaven on the one hand, and aiye or the world on the other.[3] Orun contains Olorun, the orisa and lesser spirits and ancestors, while aiye contains men, animals, sorcerers and witches. Sorcerers and witches are sometimes referred to as omaraiye, ‘children of the world’. Mediating between orun and aiye are Orunmila, the orisa of divination, and Esu, the Yoruba trickster. Ifa divination provides man with knowledge of the supernatural, while Esu is responsible for carrying sacrifices to other divinities. He is unpredictable and needs constant appeasement (cf. Westcott, 1962). Often Ifa will simply prescribe an offering to Esu, but a portion of the sacrifice is still set aside for him, even when the offering is to another orisa.

The orun/aiye distinction is important in understanding Yoruba concepts of life, death, destiny, reincarnation and the soul. This is one of the most complex areas of Yoruba thought, and generalisation is particularly difficult in view of differences in terminology between areas (e.g. Bascom, 1960a). However a relatively consistent picture does emerge.

Firstly, Yoruba thought makes a distinction between the physical body (ara) and the spiritual elements which inhabit it and give it life and individuality. The published accounts differ about the number, names and characteristics of these spiritual elements, but generally the two which appear as the most important are the ‘breath’, emi, and the ‘head’, ori.[4]

Emi is generally thought of as the vital force, without which the body dies. In some accounts it is also thought of as the conscious self. It not only provides locomotion for the body, but can think independently of it, and can travel abroad on its own in dreams (cf. Bascom, 1960: 401).

Ori is more complex. In some accounts, it, rather than emi, is the seat of the intellect. It is also related to a person’s destiny, as the element which predetermines his success or failure in the world. The relationship between ara, emi and ori is illustrated by an Ifa verse (Dos Santos, 1973; Abimbola, 1973) in which the body is moulded by Orisanla, the emi is provided by Olorun, and the ori is provided by Ajala. Ajala the potter is said to be a careless and corrupt orisa. Those who pay him get a good ori and those who do not have to take their chance, as many of the ori in his store are faulty. A man with a good ori is able to achieve success in the world, provided he can ward off the dangers of witchcraft, sorcery and other attacks by pmparaiye. Ori is thus given to, or chosen by, an individual before his birth, creating limits within which success in the world can be expected, and within which the emi is able to act.

In contrast to this rather fatalistic model, ori is also said to be the ‘ancestral guardian soul’, a spiritual entity which can be influenced by man in his efforts to improve his life on earth. In his account of Egbado, Morton-Williams describes it as the ‘indwelling spirit of the head, presiding over success or failure in day-today affairs’ (1967a: 222). A man should worship his own ori, together with those of his children until they are adults. The ori is represented by a container made out of cowrie shells. Inside are the smaller models of the ori of the children, which are exchanged for larger ones when they marry. A similar model is implied by beliefs in the existence of a spirit double in heaven. Bascom was told that each individual has two ancestral guardians, one in his head, and one in heaven which is doing exactly the same things as the individual himself is doing on earth (1960a: 406). With the support of the ancestral guardian in heaven, a man will live out his allotted span of life. It is at times necessary to make offerings to the heavenly ori which is sometimes described as an orisa.

These varied conceptualisations of the spiritual components of the person have parallels with those of other West African peoples, and represent similar attempts to deal with the same underlying reality: the structure of the personality. In his discussion of the Tallensi and Kalabari material, Horton (1961) draws a parallel between ‘the Freudian ideal of an Unconscious Self ó a purposive agency whose desires are unknown to consciousness and are frequently in conflict with it’, and the Tallensi notion of destiny, which is ‘a life course chosen by a part of the personality before birth, a course both hidden from the post-natal consciousness and frequently opposed to the latter’s aims’. The Yoruba concept of ori in some accounts has rather similar characteristics, though it is unclear whether an individual can confront and exorcise an unsatisfactory destiny as is the case with the Tallensi and Kalabari.

Related to beliefs in emi and ori are beliefs in reincarnation. Many Yoruba are identified through resemblance, dreams or divination as being reincarnations of particular ancestors, and are given names such as Babatunde (‘father returns’) or Yetunde (‘mother returns’). However, even after this ‘reincarnation’, these ancestors may still be invoked to help their descendants. Bascom’s informants in Meko told him that the emi remains in heaven as the ancestral spirit, while the ancestral guardian soul is reborn, with a new body, breath and destiny (1960a: 404-5). It also appears to be possible for several individuals to be simultaneous reincarnations of the same ancestor, and in some areas resemblance between members of the same descent group is explained in this way (ibid: 404; cf. Idowu, 1962: 194ó5).

Also related to the orun/aiye distinction are beliefs in abiku spirits (Verger, 1968; Morton-Williams, 1960a). An abiku may be born in a child on earth, but it soon leaves for heaven again, and the child dies. The abiku spirits have their own egbe in heaven, and when one of them leaves for earth, he promises to return quickly to his companions. If a woman gives birth to a succession of children who die in infancy, it may be divined that it is an abiku at work, and the next child is given special treatment. Abiku children are given special names ó examples are Aiyedun, ‘life is good’, implying that the child should stay to enjoy it, or Durosinmi, ‘stay and bury me’, implying that the child should outlive its parents. The appearance of these children is often neglected, and they might even be disfigured to make them less attractive to their companions in heaven. It is normal to postpone the circumcision or scarification of an abiku child until it appears likely that it will survive.

Finally, the orun/aiye distinction is relevant to Yoruba beliefs about death and the ancestors. Death marks the transition to the afterlife, and much of the symbolism of Yoruba burial ritual is that of a journey. The dead go to one of two orun, depending on how they are judged by Olorun: orun rere, or ‘good heaven’, for the virtuous, and orun apadi, ‘potsherd heaven’, for the wicked, where they are tormented and from which they cannot be reborn (Idowu, 1962: 197ó201; Bascom, 1960a: 403ó4).

Death also involves a transformation of the personality of the dead person into an ancestral spirit. The ancestors take an active interest in members of their descent groups, and can give them advice through dreams and trances. Anyone can pray and make offerings to a dead parent for spiritual protection, and the bale makes an annual offering on behalf of the descent-group members, usually on the grave of its founder. According to Abimbola (1973: 75), each adult who dies becomes an orisa to his own family. These beliefs are related to the concept of ori. According to Bascom, these annual sacrifices are made on the day on which the founder used to make offerings to his own ori (1969a: 72); and according to Morton-Williams, an adult can make prayers and offerings to the ancestors or the ori of a living parent for spiritual protection (1967a: 223).

Representing the ancestors, but assuming a role which cuts across descent-group boundaries, are the egungun masqueraders (Morton-Williams, 1956a; 1967a: 340ó7; Bascom, 1969a: 93-4; cf. Olajubu and Ojo, 1977). They are dressed from head to foot in elaborate costumes, and their faces are obscured by nets through which they can see. There are several types of egungun. The omo egungun, ‘children of egungun’ or ‘junior egungun’, have costumes made out of brightly coloured strips of cloth and leather which swirl out as their wearers dance round. The agba egungun, ‘senior egungun’, have costumes made out of dirty rags and masses of clay with animal skulls and charms embedded in them. Egungun masks are inherited within the descent group, and the agba masks can only be worn by men who have learned the necessary rites to counteract their power. The Egungun cult, like Oro, emphasises the separation between men and women.[5] The masks are only worn by men, and apart from a woman official called the Iya Agan and her deputies who help the men dress, women are not supposed to know the identity of the wearers. It is dangerous for women to touch the masks, and some of the agba egungun are believed to be able to identify witches, who in Yoruba culture are almost always women.

Egungun appear in two contexts during funeral ceremonies. In some areas it is customary for an egungun to emerge from the room of the dead man some time after the burial, and to imitate him while he brings greetings from the dead to the other members of the compound. Secondly, during the celebrations which follow the death of an elderly person, the relatives may pay the members of the cult to come and dance for them.

The dual significance of the Egungun cult as a commemoration of individual ancestors and as a representation of the collective dead acting on behalf of the community as a whole comes out clearly in Morton-Williams’ account of the festival in Egbado (1956a). After the vigil with which the festival starts, there is a procession of agba egungun together with the members of their descent group and drummers, demonstrating the solidarity of the groups that own the masks. On subsequent days of the festival there is less emphasis on kinship, and the other types of egungun join in

The Yoruba : Olorun and Orisa

Two problems commonly arise with general accounts of Yoruba religion. Firstly, they often fail to indicate just how extensive are the variations from town to town. Some idea of this can be gained from comparing the detailed accounts of specific communities, such as Bascom’s study of Ife, (1944), Morton-Williams’ studies of Oyo and Egbado (1964a,1967a), or Ogunba’s study of Ijebu (1967). Secondly, some of the accounts, particularly by theologians, tend to make Yoruba religious thought appear far more systematic and coherent than it in fact is. Articulate informants like the babalawo may be able to describe the system as it appears to them, though even here there may be problems (Bascom, 1960: 405). But their accounts remain individual constructions rather than generally accepted bodies of dogma. Most actors are concerned with a body of folklore and ritual technique which will help them in everyday life, and both may vary from place to place. A body of folklore like the Ifa verses (Bascom, 1969b) may present a number of apparently inconsistent versions of the Yoruba world-view. It is not necessary to attempt to reconcile them, and there are obvious difficulties in doing so.

The Yoruba cosmos contains Olorun or Olodumare, the supreme deity; the orisa or lesser divinities; ancestral spirits, and a number of other categories of spiritual beings. Man is made up of both corporeal and spiritual elements, the latter having a variety of functions. These are related to Yoruba beliefs about destiny and reincarnation. Fulfilment of one’s destiny is achieved through avoiding the wrath of the orisa and the attacks of witches and sorcerers. This is done with the help of the orisa and the ancestors, and through piety, divination and sacrifice.

Olorun is to the Yoruba a rather distant figure, apparently playing little part in the day-to-day affairs of men. Idowu uses the analogy of the Yoruba oba who is responsible for the affairs of his kingdom, but who has little contact with his subjects, as most of his dealings with them are through the orisa. He argues that the orisa are, nevertheless, only the ministers of the deity, whose supremacy is clearly recognised. He is the creator, the final arbiter of heavenly and worldly affairs, omniscient, immortal and pure, and the source of all benefits to mankind (Idowu, 1962: 38-56).

The number of orisa worshipped by the Yoruba is very large, though they range in importance from those worshipped by only a single descent group in a single town to those whose cult is found throughout the area. Their nature and origins are varied. Some are personifications of natural features, such as hills or rivers, or of natural forces. Others are divinised heroes given cosmic attributes, such as Sango, the Oyo divinity of thunder and, by tradition, an early Alafin.[1] The important divinities lead hierarchies of minor ones with similar characteristics, symbols and functions. The ‘hard’ orisa are led by Ogun, the divinity of iron, hunting and war, while the benign ‘white’ orisa, particularly important to women, are led by Orisanla, the Yoruba creator. The parallels between these hierarchies and the Yoruba political system are obvious.

The major orisa in a Yoruba town have their shrines and priests with their distinctive dress and insignia. Each orisa has its favourite sacrificial offerings, and its followers observe a distinctive set of food taboos. The same basic symbolism often permeates all aspects of ritual. The followers of Orisanla wear white cloth, and the usual offerings are also white, such as boiled yams or snails cooked in shea butter. Each cult has its own rituals, music, oral literature, dances and divination techniques. To their followers, the orisa bring the benefits of health, wealth and children, but they punish neglect, impiety and the breaking of taboos.

Before the spread of the world religions, there was a close relationship between cult membership and descent (Bascom, 1944: 1ó8; 1969a: 77ó 8). A person normally attended the rituals of the orisa which his own parents had followed, and contributed to their cost, but would only be initiated into a cult if ‘called’, through dreams, sickness, possession or divination. If a woman prayed to an orisa for a child and her request was granted, the child would probably worship the orisa throughout its life. In some areas, the father asked a diviner at birth which orisa his child should follow.

Initiation into a cult involves lengthy training, and can be a period of intense emotional crisis. The cults of some orisa, particularly the ‘hot’ or ‘strong’ ones, involve spirit possession (Verger, 1963; Prince, 1964: 105-9). This usually affects women, though the Sango cult is an exception. The Sango possession priest, or elegun, is a man, but he is dressed in the clothes and hairstyle of a woman. During the Sango festival, he dances in a trance state and gives displays of power. In Ogbomoso in 1971 these included fire-eating, apparently piercing the lips with an iron needle, and turning leaves into cigarettes. During the initiation process, a lengthy torpor is produced, during which behaviour patterns appropriate to the orisa are learned. During the festivals, certain clues, like a particular type of drumming, are enough to send the initiate into a trance state.

Orisa worship involves three types of ritual. Firstly, there are private individual rites, carried out in the house, usually early in the morning. The worshipper greets his orisa, and divines with a kola nut what the prospects are for the day (Awolalu, 1970). Secondly, there are the regular rituals at the orisa’s shrine, and the cycle of these is based on the four-day Yoruba week.[2] Thirdly, there are the annual festivals, much more elaborate affairs involving a large proportion of the population of the town as well as cult members from elsewhere.

The ruler plays an important unifying role in religious life in the town, and the major festivals involve a procession to the palace to greet him and bestow on him the blessing of the orisa. Rulers are expected to participate in the annual festivals on behalf of their community, whatever their own religious beliefs. There are other links between religious and political organisation. In Oyo, many of the chiefs are also cult officials, and some of the most important cults have representatives in the palace (MortonWilliams, 1964a). The Sango cult was important in the administration of the provinces. It was controlled from the capital, and some of the ilari were initiates who could threaten supernatural sanctions, as could the Alafin himself. Elegun from other parts of the kingdom had to come to the capital for the final stages of initiation and to collect their ritual paraphernalia (Westcott and MortonWilliams,1962). Cult officials had to be called in when certain types of misfortune occurred. Sango priests were responsible for purificatory rites when a house was struck by lightning, and the victims had to pay heavy fees for their services. Albinos, hunchbacks, dwarfs and pregnant women were sacred to Orisanla, and had to be buried by his priests, while the clothes and bodies of smallpox victims were disposed of by the priests of Sopona. In the early colonial period, the Sopona cult was banned by the British when the cult members were suspected of spreading the disease deliberately


ogunOgun is the God of War, Energy and Metal

Ogun keeps matter in motion

Ogun is the sustainer of life

Ogun lives in the knife, and with it, clears a path for man. Ogun is the force within your computer. Ogun is technology.

Ogun is the force of gravity, the force of attraction.

Ogun represents the tools that shape man, bringing out a person’s potential, enhancing one’s life.

Ogun controles life and death. Ogun is our heart beat and the final contraction during birth. Ogun is auto accidents and gun wounds.

Ogun is the warrior, hunter and farmer.

Ogun is the God of loyalty and life long friendships.

Ogun is the master of secrets, skills, crafts, professions and creations.

Saint Peter


Orunmila is the God of Wisdom and Destiny
Like the other Deities, Orunmila existed before man and is the only Orisa to witness creation. Orunmila therefore has the knowledge concerning the fate of every man, woman and child. Orunmila is the youngest Deity out of all the Deities created by God before the creation of the earth. This circumvents the position for Orunmila to be the final manifestation of virtue for man to follow.
Orunmila sojourned to earth on various occasions to assist man at the crossroads. The crossroads I speak of are the moments we come to in life that require major decisions or points we get to in life that will affect the rest of our lives. Esu, the Deity that sits at the crossroad, is forever indebted to Orunmila and has vowed to serve and assist Orunmila like non other (Ogbe-Di).
Orunmila, through the sheer power of wisdom, sacrifice and patience became the commander and prosper of all Orisa (Irete-Wori).
The expansion of man all over the earth and the frequent needs for Orunmila to sojourn to earth for the benefit of mankind became cumbersome and frustrating for even Orunmila, this great God of Wisdom. So Olodumare (God) endowed upon Orunmila a means for mankind to communicate with Orunmila to reveal ones individual fate. This means is called Ifa. Ifa is the embodiment of Orunmila and is also another name for Orunmila. Ifa is a literary corpus that entails the fate of man and all of his accomplishments and transgressions. Only priests of Orunmila have the authority to sound the voice of Ifa. These priests are called Babalawo. Orunmila vowed to serve man in spirit with his infinite wisdom and the Babalawo hold the same secrets to creation and the fate of man that Orunmila held through the medium of Ifa.
Orunmila the Deity represents the power of wisdom to overcome misfortune.
Orunmila the Deity represents the power of Divination to analyze our past, reveal our present and forecast our future.
Orunmila the Deity represents the power of sacrifice to achieve what would other wise be impossible.
Ase O!



We all should know what sacrifice is. “The giving up or foregoing of some valued thing for the sake of something of greater value or having a more pressing claim”. Whatever one desires in this life requires the giving up of something. Life does not strive on taking alone. Life also requires giving; hence life is a process of give and take. The simplest form of sacrifice one can give is time. The most complex form of sacrifice one can give is change. This subject of sacrifice takes on many facets. This page will only touch on the fundamentals of sacrifice from an African/Ifa worldview.

The sacrifice of time is the most fundamental form of sacrifice. In America we sacrifice most of our youth towards school. We then sacrifice our time towards daily labor to acquire finances for daily living. On a deeper level the sacrifice of time involves patience.

Time sacrificed does not always bring about the desired result in our lives. Nor does time spent on something guarantee you peace of mind. When these disharmonies are prevalent we are taught to seek the spiritual realm and pray to beg God for favors. Many of us are unaware and do not realize that the spiritual realm like the physical one requires some sort of giving in order to receive. Imagine walking into Human Resources at IBM and demanding a paycheck knowing that you never (sacrificed) worked a day at IBM. The Spiritual realm works the same way.

The Yoruba believe in one supreme God called Olodumare. Olodumare is very remote to the Yoruba by virtue of the duality that exists with Olodumare. In other words God created both the “good” and “evil” forces at play in the universe and he gave Ase (power) to both sides. “When you speak about ‘good’, you have already presupposed ‘evil’.” One cannot exist without the other. There are two sides to every story or problem. Within Olodumare lay both sides to one story, so directing energy to Olodumare directly can be vain. Within Ifa the cosmos is divided into two halves. The right side is inhabited by the benevolent supernatural powers and the left side is inhabited by the malevolent supernatural powers. The benevolent powers are the Orisa and their helpful associations with humans. The malevolent powers are evil and destructive energies like Iku (death), Arun (sickness), Ofo (loss), Epe (curse) and so on. There is no peaceful coexistence between these two powers, they are always in conflict.

The Africans believe that verbalization is not enough in one’s relationship with the supernatural. Ifa divination serves as a preamble to prayer. Via Ifa divination we can ascertain how to pray, to whom to pray and for what. For the Yoruba, divining (Ifa) serves as an approach to prayer and shows one why they need to pray and shows one the best procedure for elevating one’s prayer via some form of sacrifice. In this world of many choices, this complex and varied approach is still miraculously accurate and effective. In this world of choices, this complex and varied approach is necessary. The variety of sacrifice includes time, song, dance, money, change and life force offerings.

Communication with the sprit realm is what Ifa is all about. Sacrifice is an attempt to rearrange the forces of the universe so that they can work for us, resulting in peace and harmony for us in our environment. Within Ifa, sacrifice (in Yoruba it is called ebo) is an attempt by human beings to send a message to all these supernatural powers of the universe regarding our own human affairs. When all the supernatural powers accept our sacrifice/ebo, everybody is happy and are committed to work for us and we can achieve peace.

All of God’s creations have some relationship with God and communicate with God at some level beyond our comprehension. Within Ifa, animals are sometimes used to communicate our message to the spiritual realm. Each animal species have distinct properties that are beyond our comprehension. For instance, most humans cannot smell sugar, however if we put sugar or honey on the table, ants will flock there by morning because they have smelt it. Their sense of smell is much higher than our own. The Ifa sacrificial rituals use the unique communication abilities of animals to relay our messages to the supernatural forces at play. The chicken is the first animal inhabitant of the earth and she accompanied the divinities/Deities from heaven to earth. The chicken is a favorite communicator of messages to the spirit realm because of its close association to the Deities from the very start. Life force offerings direct prayer via the animals’ force to a specific force in nature to elevate our prayers for our benefit and to rearrange the universe to work in our favor.

For example, if someone is sick and a sacrifice is prescribed by a diviner, that sacrifice is meant too appease the left and right side divinities. Humans do not give sacrifice directly to the supernatural powers on the left, they give it to their own guardian divinity who is on the right. The closest of these right hand divinities is Ori (head) and can include a host of other Orisa and Eguns (ancestors). Esu, the divine messenger, who is almost always supposed to get part of any blood sacrifice and who shares elements of both the left and right side, will assure that the left hand divinities get their due. Esu plays a very important part in reordering universal events for the good of anyone that sacrifices in this manner.

Sacrifice is essential to human well being. Some people live happy lives sacrificing their pride to beg from strangers. Some people sacrifice half of their adult life in school earning PHD’s. Meat eaters in our society directly benefit from blood sacrifice to accommodate their daily meal. Most meat eaters are disconnected from the total disregard of the poor animal’s life during its slaughter/sacrifice for their benefit. The Jews have their kosher food, which is prayed over animals, sacrificed for consumption. Within Ifa most sacrificed animals are consumed as to further their power (Ase) for our cause and the animals are treated with respect. The European sacrificed the lives of an estimated 100 million African men women and children for their Gods of materialism, greed, lust and conquest. The Christians celebrate the human sacrifice of Jesus Christ and to this day still symbolize this via cannibalism with their communion ritual. Within Ifa the holy Odu Irete-Meji and OturuponTura forbids human sacrifice! Within the traditional African worldview you are for the most part responsible for your own self-improvement. If you want to change your condition you must make sacrifice. Sacrifice often times does not require blood. Sacrifice sometimes requires one to look in a mirror and see beyond what is reflected and to make some psychological change. This can be the most difficult of sacrifices. However, we here at Cultural Expressions are well aware of why the chicken crossed the road, and now you know


Santeria_goat_sacrificeIfa is an earth based African spiritual tradition that was conceptualized by the Yoruba people of Nigeria, West Africa. According to oral literature, the practice of Ifa originated as far back as eight thousand years ago, making it possibly the oldest monotheistic religion in the world.

Ifa is balanced on three legs: Orunmila (Creator), Orisa (Nature Spirits), and the Ancestors. The Supreme Being, Orunmila, is without gender and is not an active participant in the affairs of living humans. Orunmila is benevolent and has provided a Universe with all that is needed for humans to be fulfilled and happy. Through Ifa divination, diviners invoke Orunmila, the deity of wisdom, spirit of destiny, prophecy, morality and ethics. Through a rich language of visual metaphors, Ifa priests convey their concept of the cosmos, and the forces that animate it in the design and creation of the times. Ifa divination rites provide an avenue of communication between the spirit world and that of the living.

Ifa divination is performed only by an initiated priest called Babalawo (Awo) (male Ifa priest), or an Iyanifa (female Ifa priestess). The diviner provides insights into the future of the person requesting this information. Ifa is characterized by a deep sense of the interdependence of all life. Every life form and element of Nature has an inner soul force — including waters, rocks, fire, clouds, metals, plants, thunder, Earth and wind. These natural energies that comprise the Universe are called Orisa. Each Orisa has its own specific function. Humans are in constant communication with Orisa energy, whether we’re aware of it or not.

A good Babalawo (Awo) & Iyanifa will always show respect and humility and will have good character values. He or She will help and assist in attaining anyone with their Highest Destiny. The priest or Priestess will be a respected leader who is in touch with the spiritual and is never in conflict with any other tradition or religions – indeed; will help is sought in many ways as his or her influence extends into all phases of life. Awo/Iyanifa will live for one purpose only, to discover the will of Orunmila. Moreover, He or She will lives in accordance with the beliefs of IFA and his manifest reverence and meticulous observance of its ritual constitute one of the strongest arguments against the charge of general dishonesty.

Through Ifa, we are awakened to our Ancestor spirits that are always with us, while realizing they must be honored, acknowledged and consulted. All people are born good and with a destiny meant to develop their character (Iwa-pele). Ifa divination was given to us so that we could periodically check in to make sure we are staying in balance and following the path of our destiny. The mysteries and teachings of Ifa revealed in divination are contained in a body of scriptures and stories called Odu.

Ifa practitioners do not regard their spirituality as a “religion” in the Western sense. It is rather a way of relating to spiritual energy that helps individuals discover and stay on their path.
Ifa tradition is based on staying in balance with our community and with the world itself, with our ancestors and our personal spiritual energies. Diviners are encouraged to employ common sense and personal responsibility to appreciate the sacred everyday life, and to integrate all aspects of being, namely the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual.

IFA is the Divine Message of Olodumare (Almighty) to mankind.
IFA is the word of Olodumare.
IFA transcends all the cultures and traditions of all things – man, animals, plants, rocks, water, wind and fire.
IFA explains the basis for the existence of all things past, present and future.
IFA prescribes the spiritual/physical solutions to all problems.
IFA is the first, oldest and truest religion of mankind.

Orunmila, harbinger of the divine message of Olodumare (IFA) is thus the first and truest guardian of universal secrets of existence.

Orunmila, in all things spiritual and esoteric is the deputy of Olodumare.

All Orisa worship and veneration are acceptable, provided they are subservient to the worship of Olodumare as outlined by IFA religion.

No guidelines or signposts to salvation can lead to the path of divine truth except that outlined by Orunmila

books to order
black gods by john mason
the handbook of yoruba religious concepts baba ifa karade



There is One Supreme God

There is no Devil

Except for the day you were born and the day you are supposed to die there is not a single event in ones life that cannot be forecast and if necessary, changed.

Your spirit lives on after death and can reincarnate through blood relatives

You are born with a specific path. Divination serves as a road map to your path.

Our ancestors exist and must be honored, respected and consulted.

This page exists for the benefit of those who know nothing or very little about Ifaism/Yoruba, and at this moment find themselves in the Ifa Link. The Ifa Link is meant to inform not entertain, although many find it entertaining. The focus here is religion, something taken totally out of context in this day and time. Within this page I will attempt to explain the content of these expressive pages. However I will never fully understand it’s content.

Ifaism is usually referred to as Yoruba. The name Yourba in Africa encompasses a group of people that speak the same language and live within certain boundaries. Now-a-days, many Yourbas know nothing about Ifa. The educational systems in America, by design, teach our children nothing about African history, culture, virtues and of course religion. The only history most Black Americans know about is American history where we started out as slaves and built America. Many Black Americans do not realize that if our slave masters were not Christians then our most recent Ancestors wouldn’t have been.

By no means am I trying to impose my worldview on you. This tactic was devised to control the many for the benefit of the few. Religion is a personal relationship that you, and only you, have with God. Only you are held accountable for what you have and have not done on earth. At the end of the day, it’s only you (Ori). When you laugh the whole world laughs with you, when you cry you cry alone.

It is obvious that every one of us is different. We exist here on earth expressing our different attitudes and energies. We each strive on a daily basis to better our sojourn here on earth. Ifa is the medium with which our individual strengths are expounded upon enabling us to express our different attitudes in harmony with one another. Ifa is also a means of exposing the weaknesses we have that block our path to success, happiness and longevity.

Before there was any sort of writing there was Ifa. Ifa at this time, of course, was oral. In Africa, specific individuals spent their entire life, from childhood, learning Ifa verses. These verses number in the thousands and express every single facet and possibility in life. Ifa verses cover the creation of this earth, the creation of every animal species, man and even this computer. Ifa is the totality of our earthly and heavenly realms and gives us a direct and individual phone number to God.

The Orisa are manifestations of God created to help us understand each piece of life’s puzzle. Ifa helps us put the pieces together and identify which piece we represent. In other words, knowing exactly who you are and what your destiny is makes achieving your goals fundamental. This information enables us to avoid trial-by-error, which causes so much vanity and frustration in our lives. The Orisa are all within Ifa and serve as an individual focal point for our prayers and aspirations. The differences between the 401+ Orisa serve as a spiritual medium that is suitable for our individual attitudes. Ifa assists us in identifying which Orisa force to align ourselves with, thereby increasing our chances for true success.

So there it is! Understanding these points is the first level you must come to in order to understand and appreciate this Ifa Link in the same spirit with which it was created. The colors, sights, and sounds all represent some aspect of the Orisa from a top level view. There is so much more to be said and felt about them. Ifa is a religion that you have to feel and experience. These pages attempt to captivate your feelings by expressing the splendor of the universe, one page at a time

The Orisa (forces of nature) live within us and deal with the affairs of men.

You must never initiate harm to another human being or to the universe, which you are apart of.

Spiritual, physical, mental, and emotional realms of our existence must all work together and be balanced.

Sacrifice guarantees success.

What the Yoruba Reject

We are born in sin

The European civilized the African

Jesus Christ is the only way to God

Cultural Expressions

Culture is expressed via years of learned behavior. It is expressed through our children via external stimuli and internal Eguns (ancestors) or guardians (Orisa). The internal and external realms of our existence must constantly be balanced. The synchronization of the two results in the acquisition of material wealth and good character. Regardless of who you are, or what you believe in, the key to success in this life and beyond is exemplifying good character and harmony amongst each other.

African people have been ostracized from inherent greatness in many arenas, most of which are now expressed externally (physically). We must now make strides to balance the scales. Our spiritual (internal) composition is as complex as our physical one. This “new age” culture that the African has been exposed to for the last 400 years or so has effectively alienated us from the science we once used to achieve the equilibrium I’m expressing.

Within Cultural Expressions the holy Odu Osa-Tura solidifies the two realms. The physical realm, which is comprised of the physical computer, and the spiritual realm which is comprised of the spiritual computer (Ifa). We as a people are learning most of our lessons the hard way, for the lack of the proper guidance of our spiritual and physical energy. Because of this, we very often get to the crossroad and make the wrong turn. The inner science that we have inherited lies dormant in most of our lives. We too often rely on our human instincts (emotion), hence we make improperly judged decisions. Everything we go through in life has been done already. Is it not logical to learn from the mistakes of others instead of you yourself having to live it and then learn?

You must give to get back in this life. Ifa is the apparatus, the road map. Divination is the means. Destiny is the end

In the Beginning, Olodumare (God) gave the Orisa Orunmila a flawless method of communication between himself and the Orisa called Ifa. Ifa is linked to destiny through the symbolism of the number sixteen. Sixteen is the number of cosmos; it represents the primal order that issued from the unity of Olodumare. (Sixteen is also a significant number in the world of computers.) When the world was first created, it spread out from an original palm tree that stood at the center of the world at Ile-Ife. The palm tree had sixteen branches, which formed the four cardinal points and the sixteen original quarters of Ile-Ife. In political terms, Odudua, the first oni of Ife, fathered sixteen sons who founded the sixteen original kingdoms of the Yoruba. On a deeper level still, Orunmila taught the art of divination to his sixteen sons; they, in turn, passed it down to the Babalawos who practice it today.

Through the linked concepts of order, creation, and destiny, the number sixteen represents the variables of the human condition, the sixteen possible situations of human life. For the Yoruba, the sixteen principle signs are called Odu or Olodu, from each of which are drawn sixteen subordinate signs (omo-Odu, “children of the odu” or Odus). These represent the sixteen essential life situations with sixteen possible variations each. This means 256 possible combinations (Odu’s) or two to the eighth power. Each Odu is a recital of a set of poems called ese, that provide clues for the resolution of the problem during a divination session. There are at least, and by far not the most, 16 different ese’s for each of the 256 Odu. This adds up to at least 4096 different scenarios. The goal of the Babalawo is to arrive at the appropiate Odu for the situation of his “querent”.

Each of the 256 Odu reveals an archetypal situation that was resolved in the mythic past through sacrifice to an Orisa. In the thousands of Ifa poems, the Orisa are organized into a community of spirits whose ase (power) can can be brought to bear on the problems of individual men and women in need. In this way, Ifa and the Babalawo priesthood are responsible for directing the adherents of all the Orisa’s by leading querents to them. Nearly all the sacrifice/ebo of Ifa/Yoruba religion are offered to the Orisa’s as a result of divination. Ifa structures Orisa worship; the randomness of the system ensures that all the Orisa’s are duly venerated. Through Ifa, the balance of the sacrificial relationship between heaven and earth is maintained, for Ifa, through Odu (word of God), provides human beings with information about their place in the world, their destiny, and what the God’s require of them. Ifa and the ceremonial life that it generates constitute the organizing principle of the traditional Yoruba religious vision. It is a view that finds human destiny “rooted in the breath of God Almighty”. Nothing happens by chance. There is a reason for everything, and it is the duty of human beings to recognize this mystery. Within the Odu lay the hidden messages of the unseen influences. These messages are best interpreted by a well trained Babalawo during a divination session.

This high system of virtue held by hundreds of thousands of Yoruba men and women survived the middle passage to the America’s where they (we) were taken as slaves. The deep-rooted virtues, expressed in each Odu, sustained the African through one of history’s darkest hours. Continue this cyber journey if you must, as we shed light on the virtues and power (Ase) of the Odu.

Inserts taken from Santeria an African Religion in America, by Joseph M. Murphy

Odu…The Orisa

This is an insert from the holy Odu Irete-Ogbe. Let this page shed some light on the Orisa called Odu.

You trample upon the brush. I trample upon the brush.
We trample the brush down together.
Ifa was consulted for Odu by these Awos.
They said, Odu is going from heaven to earth.
Whenever she arrive on earth.
They said, thee Odu, this is your beginning.
Olodumare gave her a bird.
She took this bird with her to earth.
Aragamago is the named that Olodumare gave this bird.
Aragamago is the name that Odu’s bird carried.
He said, “You Odu, any undertaking upon which you send this bird, it will do.
He said, “Any place that it pleases you to send this bird, it will go.
He said, “If it is to do bad or good.”
He said, Anything that it pleases you to tell it to do, it will do.
Odu brought this bird to earth.
Odu has said that no other person will be able to look upon it.
She said that it must not be looked upon.
If any enemy of Odu looks upon it,
She will shatter his eyes,
With the power of this bird, she will blind the eyes.
If another of her enemies peers into the calabash of this bird.
This bird Aragamago, will shatter their eyes.
She used this bird thusly.
She used it even to get to the house of Orunmila.
Orunmila went to consult his Awos.
The Oracle said, “If we teach intelligence to someone, his intelligence will be intelligent.
If we teach stupidity to someone, his stupidity will be stupid.”
The Babalawos of the house of Orunmila consulted Ifa in order to know the day that he would take Odu as his wife.
In this manner Orunmila would take Odu for his wife.
The Awos of Orunmila said “Hee.”
They said, Odu that you wish to take for your wife.
A power is in her hands.
They said, because of this power Orunmila must make an offering to the earth.
In the interest of all of his people.
They said, so that with this power, she will not kill and eat him.
Orunmila made the offering.
When Orunmila had made the offering, they consulted Ifa for him.
Orunmila carried the offering outside.
At the arrival of Odu, she found the offering in the street.
Hee! Who has made this offering to the earth?
Ha! Esu said, “Orunmila has made this offering to the earth.”
Because he wishes to marry you Odu.
Odu said, not bad.
All the things that Odu carried behind her, these are the bad things.
She told them to eat.
Odu opened the calabash of Aragamago, her bird, to the ground.
She told it to eat.
Odu entered the house.
When she had entered the house, Odu called Orunmila.
She said, “Orunmila, she had arrived.”
She said, her powers are numerous.
She said, but she did not wish that they should fight with him.
She said, she did not want to fight with Orunmila.
She said, even if someone asked her help, asked her help to fight him, she would not fight him.
Because if Odu did not wish that Orunmila suffers.
Otherwise, if they wished to make Orunmila suffer. Odu, with the power and with the power of the bird, would fight the people.
When Odu finished speaking thusly.
Orunmila said, not bad.
The time came, Odu said, Thou Orunmila, You are going to learn my taboo.
She said, she wish to tell him her taboo.
She said, she did not want his other wives to see her face.
She said, that he should tell all of his other wives that they should not look at her face.
Whoever looked into her face, she would fight.
She said, she did not want anyone to look at her appearance.
Orunmila said, “Fine!”
He then called all of his wives.
He prevailed upon them.
The wives of Orunmila would not look at Odu’s face.
Odu told Orunmila that.
She said, with him she would make his burdens good.
She said, she would heal all things.
She said, anything that he causes to go wrong, she would repair it.
She said, if he observed his taboo.
She said, all things that she completed would be good.
Anyone who would disturb them, she would in turn disturb them.
If Oso (sorcerer) wished to destroy.
She said, she would leave him nothing.
Then he himself would be destroyed.
All his children, who are Awo.
He will implore them that they should never dare to trifle with Odu.
Because Odu is the power of Awo.
He said, if the Awo possesses Ifa, he will also have Odu.
The power that Odu gives him says that.
No woman must look upon her form.
From this day no Babalawo is complete without possessing this Odu.
One who does not have Odu will not be able to consult Ifa.
The day that one comes into possession of Odu,
On that day will he become a person that Odu will not allow to suffer