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I believe that the sole reason for the existence of any formal religious philosophy is to teach transcendence. Just as our universities teach, us how to access and be comfortable with the logical capacities of our brains, formal religion should be the University of the Spirit. In the same way that we learn how to balance our checkbooks, run a computer, or repair a car by using the logical hemisphere of the brain, religion should teach us how to use the intuitive hemisphere to access the energy and power that exist only in the nonlinear world. To reach transcendence -- that simple but exquisite act of feeling, unencumbered by any linear thought -- is the key. Ifa is one of the oldest universities of the spirit and has for thousands of years taught how to effectively access the energy of transcendence and use it with logical behavior in a productive fashion.
The philosophy of Ifa originated with the Yoruba peoples of West Africa in what is now Nigeria. Ifa mythology relates that the creation of humankind arose in the sacred city of Ile Ife just outside what is now Lagos. The Yoruba created a highly sophisticated city-state empire, which, according to many anthropologists, was on a par with that of ancient Athens. Their philosophy reflected an integration of the basic truths and wisdom of nature with the equally true, but vastly different, demands of a sophisticated commercial culture. Ifa was not a product of superstition, ignorance, or lack of education but of years of practice and refinement by successful, intelligent, and highly educated men and women who used it for thesimplest of reasons: it worked!
Indeed, my original fascination with Ifa was based, in large measure, on trying to understand how this philosophy could have survived for thousands of years if it had to provide practical, everyday results for its followers. You either cure the illness or you don't. You either get the job or you don't. You either win the dispute or you don't. These are not the kind of results that can be hedged or put off "until you are ready" or until your next life.
And then I saw the barren have children, business disaster turn to success, and "incurable" illnesses cured through divination and sacrifice. I have come to believe that Oludumare (God) understands that belief is easier to acquire when there are practical results. So he not only provides his followers with the instructions for improving their lives, he intends for them to substantiate their faith through practical, everyday results.
The basic foundation of Ifa is three-pronged: orisa worship, ancestor worship, and divination.
The orisa are energy that, for the most part, represent aspects of nature. Osun (pronounced O-SHUN) represents sweet waters, love, money, conception; Sango (pronounced Zhan-GO) represents thunder and lightning, strategy, and he is the warrior; Esu (pronounced A-shew), messenger to Oludumare (the single God), owner of roads and opportunities, owner of asé (spiritual energy); Yemonja/Olukun (pronounced Yeh-MO-zha/0lu-KUN), the ocean, mother, provider of wealth; Obatala (pronounced O-BA-ta-la), the head, clarity, arbiter of justice; Oya (pronounced Oi-YA!), marketplace, tornadoes, change of fortune, she is the female warrior; Ogun, owner of all metals, fierce warrior, honor, and integrity.
As parts of one intricate universal body, we all contain minute portions of the energies from all its other parts. In the worldview of Ifa, in addition to being primarily human, we are also the rock, the lion, the tree, the ocean. Through the worship of orisa, we can each take our own small quantity of the other types of energy and loop it to its concomitant energies in nature. For example, a woman unable to conceive of a child would most likely find it necessary to tap into the energy Osun, orisa of sweet water, love, money, and conception. Someone suffering from a troubled head, or too much pressure from work, would find it productive to tap into the energy of Obatala, orisa of the head, justice, coolness, and clear thinking. By calling upon the orisa, we are able to geometrically increase our power to change or improve specific situations in our lives.
Ifa also teaches that each of us has a single orisa energy from the universe that is predominant within us. We call this our guardian orisa. Learning to be comfortable with its characteristics and to tap into them in a meaningful way is an important step toward success fully traveling our paths. In Part Two, I will guide you to identification of your own guardian orisa.
Ancestor worship is a formalized structure for connecting with the accumulated knowledge, wisdom, and power of our dead blood relatives. Ifa understands that energy -- the essence of us all -- cannot be created or destroyed. The energy and wisdom of our deceased blood relatives is uniquely connected with and available to us. It is not simply RNA or DNA that links us to our past; it is a road of energy and power that is available to those of us who know and practice the rituals.
In Ifa, we believe that our destinies or life patterns are established prior to our births into this world, and that through information obtained through divination, it is possible to know something about our futures and the outcomes of all of our undertakings. We believe that we can improve upon these life patterns with proper offerings and devotions.
Ifa teaches that, with the exception of the day you are born and the day you are supposed to die, there is no single event that cannot be forecast and, when necessary, changed. Anything less would imply predestination, which is antithetical to the Ifa concept that we "crown our own heads."The Way of the Orisa. Copyright © by Philip J. Neimark. Reprinted by permission of HarperCollins Publishers, Inc. All rights reserved. Available now wherever books are sold.