Ifa Initiation

Ifa InitiationWhen the master-priest is satisfied with the trainee’s ability in the different branches of Ifá, he allows the trainee to present himself for initiation. Of the numerous stages in the initiation ceremony the four principal ones are described below.

as sísí opole já

The first stage is the ceremony marking what is known as as as sísí opolo já (ceremony marking the mastery of the Odù by using the divining chain). This is a very important ceremony involving the offering of sacrifice to Òrúnmìlà and the giving of a feast for all Ifá priests in the community concerned.

This ceremony lasts only one day and it involves the use of the following food for both the sacrifice and the feast:

(1) Ëko (solid maize gruel),
(2) Abo Adìe (hen)
(3) Eku (rat)
(4) Eja (fish)
(5) Iyán (pounded yam)
(6) Okà (solid food made from yam flour), and
(7) Otí (drinks)

Gígún Èsù

The second stage of the initiation rituals involves the propitiation of Èsù. This ceremony is referred to as gígún Èsù (the making of the paraphernalia of Èsù for the would-be priest). During this ceremony the image and the other paraphernalia of Èsù are presented to the would-be priest. Sacrifices are also made to Èsù and to Òrúnmìlà.

Fífojú Kan Odù

The third stage is known as fífojú Kan Odù (initiation into the secrets of Odù). During the ceremony, the would-be priest feasts many Ifá priests from far and near, after which the sacred pot believed to be the abode of Odù, the mythical wife of Ifá, is ceremoniously opened for him to see. In turns the Ifá priests present look inside the sacred pot. The actual contents of this pot are not revealed to the un-initiated, information about them is treated as a major secret of the Ifá cult.

There is a lot of drumming, dancing and chanting at appropriate intervals during the Odù initiation ceremony. Two of the ese Ifá usually chanted during the ceremony are given below.

Æmædé ò f’ojú b’Odù lásán;
Àgbà ò f’ojú b’Odù ní öfê;
¿ni t’ó bá f’ojú b’Odù yóó sì d’awo.
A díá fún Öràngún, Ilé Ilà,
Tí ó gbàlejò láti òde Ìdan.
Wôn ní b’ó bá f’ojú b’àlejò,
Orin ni kí ó máa kæ.
A f’ojú b’Odù
A ríre.
Àwá mà mà kuku f’ojú b’Odù
A ò kú mô.
A f’ojú b’Odù
A rìre.

Little children do not see Odù free of charge;
Old people do not see odù without paying a fee;
He who sees Odù will become an Ifá priest.
Ifá divination was performed for Öràngún of Ilé Ilà,
Who would receive a visitor from the city of ìdan.
He was told that when he saw the visitor,
He should start singing.
We have seen Odù,
We have found good fortune.
We have seen Odù,
We have found good fortune.
We have certainly seen Odù,
We shall not die.
We have seen Odù,
We have found good fortune.

B’ôjà bá tù tán,
A ku olóríì pàt÷pàt÷,
A ku àgbààgbà «àõkò «àõkò lôjà;
B’Ifá bá p÷dí tán
Ìwönwö a dìde.
A díá fún Örúnmílà,
Ifá nlæ lè é f’ojú b’odù
L’óké ìkëfun.
A f’ojú b’Odù,
A ríre ò,
A f’ojú b’odù
A ríre.
Àwá mà mà kuku f’ojú b’odú
A ò kú mö.
A f’ojú b’odù
A ríre.

When the market session ends,
The chief of market women remains;
Some important elders also remain;
When Ifá becomes difficult,
The less qualified priests rise up and leave.
Ifá divination was performed for Örúnmìlà
When He was going to see Odù
On the hill of ìk÷fun.
We have seen Odù,
We have found good fortune.
We have seen Odù,
We have found good fortune.
We have certainly seen Odù,
We shall not die.
We have seen Odù,
We have found good fortune.

wíwæ igbó Ifá

The fourth and last stage of the initiation is known as wíwæ igbó Ifá (entering the sacred grove of Ifá). This is the most elaborate of all the principal stages of Ifá initiation ceremony. More than two hundred different items including food, drinks, clothes, beads and many other materials are required for the ceremony.

The most important of these things are:

(i) Yanrìn òkun (sand taken from sea shore),
(ii) Yanrìn ösà (sand taken from shore of lagoon),
(iii) Èèbà epo (small gourd of palm oil),
(iv) Öpölæpö iyæ (plenty of salt),
(v) Àgò adie (coop full of fowls),
(vi) Igi ænà (a wooden sculpture),
(vii) A«æ funfun öpá márºn (five yards of white cloth), and
(viii) òpòlòpò owó-aye (plenty of cowries).

The ceremony involves feasting, dancing and chanting of ese Ifá for several days. Sacrifices are made to several gods including Òrúnmìlà and Èsù. Four or five chief priests of the cult lead the would-be priest into the sacred grove where they thoroughly examine him on different aspects of the Ifá literary corpus.

Throughout his sojourn in the forest, the would-be priest ties a piece of white cloth round his neck and waist. He emerges from the sacred grove at the head of a long procession of  members of the extended family dancing and singing. Here is one of the chants of the occasion.

Àwá të ô nífá o,
K’ó o túnra të;
Títë la t’Èjì Ogbè
T’ó fi m’órí wæ’gbó.
Àwá të ö nífá o,
K’ó o túnra të
B’ó o d’órí öpë,
Má «e jowô sí.

We have initiated you into the secrets of Ifá.
You should re-initiate yourself.
This was how Èjì Ogbè was initiated
But he plunged himself into the forest.
We have initiated you into the secrets of Ifá.
You should re-initiate yourself.
If you get to the top of the palm tree
Do not let your hands loose.

It must be noted that the training of Ifá priests does not end with the initiation ceremonies. A good Ifá priest regards his training as a continuing, life-long process and realizes that the post-initiation part of his training is very crucial.

No Ifá priest can excel in his work without undertaking post-initiation training.

During his training, it has been strongly impressed on him that it is his duty to help all clients with all problems, and where he fails to know the immediate answers to any problem, he should be able to know where and how to get useful and appropriate information to help his clients.

Therefore, when a client comes up with a problem the solution to which a particular Ifá priest does not know, he asks his client to come back later. Before the client returns, the Ifá priest goes round to his colleagues for information. It is quite common for Ifá priests to go “lamp in hand”, to see their fellow priests especially when they are faced with an apparently intractable problem. In this way, the successful Ifá priest learns more and more day by day and improves himself steadily as he continues in practice.

The training of Ifá priest up to the time of initiation is essentially broad and general, but after initiation the training becomes specialized. Among the most important areas in which a priest of Ifá may specialize, the most important are healing, chanting of Ifá texts, and knowledge of rare texts in the literary corpus.

Specialization in a particular field sometimes takes the priest of Ifá to distant places. It may happen, for example, that the only Ifá priest who is a renowned specialist in healing is, at a certain time, in a particular part of Yoruba land.

In such a case, all Ifá priests who want to specialize in healing will have to go to that particular specialist for training. In this way, all successful Ifá priests usually travel a great deal throughout Yoruba land acquiring more knowledge and broadening their outlook on life as they mix with different kinds of people.

Specialist training is usually very short and intensive. In the humorous words of one Ifá priest who is a specialist in healing ‘no Ifá priest desirous of becoming a renowned specialist in healing will ever feel contented with his ability until he can cure the lame, the dwarf and the hunchback’.

Tags: initiation, ifa, igbodu, odu, Orunmila, Eshu

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  1. Thank you for this article.

    I’ve had three dreams about the sacred pot, two of the three I saw three Orishas gathered around it, with me present…

    I knew the pot had some significance to initiation. Just wasn’t sure what it was…

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