What is Ifá?
Ifá not only is the deepest form of divination in the religion, it is the highest expression of La Regla Lucumí and Yoruba. Contained within Ifá is the sum total of the knowledge and wisdom of the ancients, the sum total of existence, as well as the divine wisdom of Olodumare and the orishas. And every event in the universe and in our lives that has happened, is happening or will happen is contained within its scope.
Orunmila, as the deity of Ifá is most commonly known, is the secretary of Olodumare. Therefore the words of Ifá carry the full weight of Olodumare in person. Orunmila is the orisha of wisdom and his priests, called babalawos or "Father of Secrets" are the highest priests in the religion.
Orunmila is even privy to the secret of the creation of the universe as Olodumare allowed him to be a witness to creation, hence his title of Eleri Ipin or "Witness to Destiny in its Creation". He also bears witness every time one of us goes to the feet of Olodumare to choose the destiny that we will follow on earth.
The babalawo has two sets of tools to practice this divination: the opele or ocuele and the opón Ifá or Table of Ifá proper. The opele is a chain separated by 8 small disks. Of these two, the opele is most commonly used for seeing people with Ifá, the Table of Ifá usually being reserved for truly big things such as finding out a person's guardian orisha, the itá during the initiations of abo faca and kofá (see below), or when a person is in a situation beyond the facility of the opele.
When a person is seen with Ifá, one of 256 odus (see below for what this means) or signs will be seen to be accompanying the person. Each of these 256 odu has its own patakís or ancient histories, its own suyeres or prayers, and 16 paths which this odu can take. This adds up to a staggering 4,096 odus and paths that a babalawo must learn and memorize. Of course, no babalawo can learn it all as no babalawo can know as much as Orunmila himself, but all babalawos must devote themselves to learning prodigious amounts of knowledge pertaining to these odus. This is one of the reasons there are so few babalawos.
In Ifá there are two initiations: receiving kofá for women and abo faca for men, and making Ifá, the initiation where a person becomes initiated as a babalawo. Though the initiations of abo faca and kofá are similar there are differences between the two that cannot be gone into here, but essentially women are the seniors in Ifá until the man makes Ifá, if that is their calling. Only men can make Ifá, and they can not have ever been ridden or possessed by eggun or by an orisha. Gays also are not able to follow this particular path. Actually very few people are called to Ifá and of those very few actually become initiated as babalawos. One reason is the responsibilities and intensive learning involved as there is no such thing as a dilettante or part-time babalawo. Also, the initiation is very expensive and is a much harder one to pass through than that of making Ocha and even includes several severe beatings with sticks, which is the only part of the initiation that is public.
An Odu is the term we use for the letters or signs that come up when we perform divination. There are 256 odu. Each can be regarded as a living entity with a personality and certain attributes. Each odu is also a complex creature having a number of separate caminos or paths that it can take.
When a person is seen with Ifá, the first operation is to find which odu is accompanying the person at that time. This odu will define what path they are on, what sort of situations they are facing and what can be done for them to achieve balance and to improve their life.
When an odu accompanies a person, the person takes on many of the attributes of the entity that is the odu. For instance, let's say a person comes to be seen with Ifá. It is found that the odu Ogundá-Sá accompanies her. She is told the patakí (legend or fable) for Ogundá-Sá. In this case she will be told that she is encountering or will encounter a situation where she will be tempted to fight with others over some 'prize' or 'out of principle'. She will also be advised not to be lured into a fight such as this and that she must instead find a solution that will be equitable to all involved. Otherwise she may be in danger of not only losing the 'prize' but that the fight could even lead to serious trouble. In fact, she could end up placing her life in danger. In this way, her life is likely to take one of the two paths described in this Odu. Ifá may tell her that she may need to make an ebbó or sacrifice to aid her in this crisis. For instance, she may be told that she needs have her head cleansed and strengthened in order to giver the clarity, tranquility and strength of character to meet the situation without losing her temper and finding herself in trouble.
When a person makes Ocha or Ifá (becomes initiated as a priest, priestess or babalawo), they are born with an odu. In other words, deep divination is done to ascertain what the person's odu is. The odu with which a person is given birth to in the religion accompanies them for life and defines how their life will unfold.
Iború Iboya Iboshishé!!!