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The Divine Feminine’s Dance as Resistance
Been a while. Here is a monster post.
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Beloved: I have been so busy! Launch of United States of Grace paperback edition with new art hidden in the pages and monster afterward of 30k+ words!
Below is some of the work I have been doing at GTU. Much of my writing is wrapped up in my research lately, and since it was taking a bit of a summer break from the sorcerer’s notebook I figured I would share some of that work.
1: Introduction and Thesis
The Divine Feminine of Ifá and Orisha worship of the Yoruba people, one of the ancient African societies who follow this tradition, and the Shakti tradition and Shakti Mahadevi, both are examples of the Divine Feminine as embodied theological and ontological resistance to colonization, and thus modern systemic white supremacy. My claim is they are both examples of what Dr. Rita Sherma calls, “Radical Immanence”. Studying and comparing the work Dr. Sherma has done around Shakti: Mahdevi with the initiated teachings of my own Osun tradition and this eco-feminist concept, I shall demonstrate this same claim of Divine Immanence is also true in the Osun tradition. Furthermore: wherever the Divine Feminine is worshiped and venerated, despite dominant culture, She resists the plundering of Her body (earth or matter), the oppression of Her children, and the institutionalization of Her practices through the reverence of Her texts, teachings, and embodied traditions. The Divine Feminine is the quintessential cosmological revolutionary; in stark contrast to the post-enlightenment, patriarchal, ontological view of God.
Radical Immanence in and of itself is not the only way in which the Divine Feminine resists colonization or the sole means by which She enables Her practitioners to dismantle white supremacy. But it is in this–in breaking of Divine into matter–the Goddess has wholistically inter-woven reality discovered in creation and evidenced the Divine resistance to the post-enlightenment, patriarchal, ontological view of God in matter itself:
I have developed the term “radical immanence” (the title of my forthcoming volume) in relation to Hindu theologies of deep immanence wherein the Divine transforms into physical reality. The term is oppositional to what I refer to as theologies of “exclusive transcendence” in any religion that holds that the Divine lies outside of, and beyond physical reality. These are the doctrines—across religions—that seek to exclude and transcend the value of the ecosphere, embodiment, and eros (by which I mean an integrative embrace of life, a refined ecologically-attuned aesthetic that is situated in sensorial biophilia). However, immanence can be variously conceived; not all such conceptions are helpful for fostering eco-consciousness and action. What is useful is a conception of deep immanence which posits that the Divine is present in physical reality, in matter itself. In Hindu theology, this is the prime characteristic of theologies that offer primacy to Śakti, the Divine Feminine in Hinduism. -.(Sherma , Rita. Radical Immanence (Forthcoming Volume). Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf , 2023)
Shakti Mahdevi is Divinity that becomes matter, Oshun is matter that becomes Divine, making both a radical means by which humanity may experience or “become Divine”. Epistemologically speaking, within the framework of their own unique traditions and cosmologies, a radical means by which humanity may experience, and or “become Divine”.
In Ifá theology all of the Divine, and all of its manifestations as Orisha, regardless of gender or lack thereof, are posited to be the literal material and cosmological embodiment of a particular aspect of creation, often with names that translate to some variation of the “Spirit of”. Osun being the most well known, and openly worshiped as the “Spirit of the River” or the “Spirit of the Osun River”
It is why in the Ode Remo Lineage we sing this Oriki Osun, or Praise Song to Osun:
Iba Osun Awura olu, Oloria igun, Erwa Obinrin Awede Ko to we’mo. Ase
I respect the Spirit of the River, Chief of the Vultures, Guardian of the Ipa Pwele of Woman, May She guide us from misfortune. May it be so. (As Relayed by: Baba Adesanya Araba Ijebo Remo, and relayed to Baba’s Afolabi A Epaga and Philip John Niemark, who informed me on my initiation, 12-26-20)
I want to focus on the worship and practice, or praxis, of the Divine Feminine adherents not as an Indigenous holdover from pre-enlightenment thought, but as an embodied spiritual and ontological revolutionary response to empire in Ifá theology, since Dr. Sherma’s forthcoming volume lays out that case succinctly in Shakti theology.The Divine Feminine is the quintessential cosmological revolutionary when compared to the post-enlightenment ontological view of God.
The Divine Feminine and Her cross-cultural pursuit is an endeavor that not only starts to dismantle the theological and ontological constructs that are the focus of my studies but is the answer to problems posed by Dr. Sharma in chapter four of her forthcoming volume: Radical Immanence.
The Indian eco-feminist Vandana Shiva, a physicist by training, suggests that the loss of global economic, ecological, and cultural diversity is predicated on reductionist perspectives of Western science. She argues that the traditional scientific model is based on epistemologies of division and hierarchical, disjunctive, categorization of all phenomena. She views the systems of knowledge employed by the scientific enterprise as founded on the reduction of nature into non-integrated, atomistic parts; this epistemology tends to divide society into “experts'' and “non-experts” on those parts, undermining the value of women’s existential ways of knowing: Women’s holistic knowledge of forestry, agriculture, food processing, soil, and water systems is thus delegitimized and displaced by reductionist knowledge.he ecological destruction of nature thus goes hand in hand with the intellectual destruction of women’s knowledge and expertise. (Sherma , Rita. “Radical Immanence” (Forthcoming Volume). Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf , 2023)
Following the Divine Feminines movements across traditions, I hope I can start revealing the leftover strains of the ancient movements, patterns, structures, and architecture of pre-colonial societies: meaning She, the sacred and utterly Divine Feminine, Osun and Shakti: Mahdevi, is the “proper” order or rhythm for human society to be in touch with not only spirit, but importantly matter also. She is an eternal, ancient, and still currently resounding call for us to be engaged in a sacred relationship with land and space while being beyond all concepts of telos or matter. Where you find yourself in the diaspora as a result of colonialism or how separated from culture of ancestry by history becomes not less important to one’s life or circumstances, but metaphysically integrated with current praxis; the combination of the two recenters creation not as a passive setting in which the cosmic drama plays out, but as an active and living participant in the reordering of the universe in which it is personified and often voiced as active, sentient, and living beings.
This comparative study of Divine Feminine in Ifa or Orisha worship, with the Shakti: Mahadevi, is focused on the so-called esoteric, since my research is a radical emic counter-narrative of the history, culture, and theology of American Esoterica. I am specifically researching the theft of African spirituality and esoteric knowledge by mystics, sorcerers, magicians, and esoteric lodges of the period 1850-1910. This comparative study is an early foray into telling parts of this story, for hopeful later reference at minimum in my dissertation.
There are multiple intersections between my overall research goal here at the GTU and this particular study, and they consist of factors beyond the project of merely “problematizing” western scholars' view of Indigenous societies or the very real issues raised by a post-colonial lens of Shakti and Ifá's practitioners as well as their treatment by the world writ large as a result of their treatment by colonial powers specifically.
Rather than compare intergenerational traumas as a result of colonialism, I instead have chosen to focus mostly on several points of mystical, epistemological, cosmological, and theological synchronicity. I also do this while holding in tension from the very real long-term effects of colonialism, white supremacy, and the eco-apocalypse western Christianity is living out like a self-fulfilling prophecy.
2: Body and Theory
One could spend a lifetime comparing these two traditions and discover a treasure trove of so-called "Parallels of the Ancients". Parallels of the ancients is a term I use to refer to practices that seem to cross continents and are also almost simultaneously being practiced the world over by peoples who had little to no contact at the time. A great example of this is ancestor veneration: a practice that happens in really similar ways the world over. In esoterica, the formula is almost exactly the same throughout the African Diaspora, which in turn has spread all over the Americas and has become wrapped up in Indigenous practice here.
But if one were to walk into almost any esoterica shop and grab a book on Voodoo, Hoodoo, Vodoun, the Lucemi (Santeria), Espirito healing work, Columbare, or even the early medium and new age movement, you would see these echoes of ancestral worship beyond the diaspora of peoples of African descent. Ancestral veneration has been adapted in an almost a-typical way in the African diaspora. Typically a small area or table, images or pictures of a deceased family member from either line of parentage. A candle, typically but not always white. Some sort of incense, or smoke and scent-producing tool, giving wafty smoky plumes of the ethereal. A cup of water or some sort of drink. Perhaps food traditional to land, place, or lineage. This practice in Ifá is explained theologically by Babá awó Wande Abimbola in the following way:
The following ese Ifá verse emphasizes the role of one's dead parents (representing ancestors) and ones Ikin (sacred palm nuts of divination representing the God’s) and ones Ori (Destiny God) in leading Man to success in life by protecting and supporting one. The ancestors are regarded in this excerpt as Man’s best confidants in times of difficulty.
Òsan ni ò sán pé,
Òru ni ò ru pé
Òkunkun ò kùn pé,
Ò pa bàtà m’ómo lésè péé pèè péé.
A diá fún Báalêjo
Ti ńt’Ikolé orun bò wáyé.
Bá a bá lejo o,
Se b’orun eni là á báá so.
Yóó gbe ó o,
Ikin eni ki i gbe ni í tì.
Yóó gbe ó o,
Ikin eni ki i gbe ni í tì.
Daylight does not longer than usual,
Night does not keep longer than usual,
Darkness does not keep longer than it usually keeps.
He who provides a pair of sandals to a child’s feet.
Ifá divination was preformed for Báalejo
Who was coming from heaven to earth.
If one has a problem,
One should take it one's ancestors.
He hall protect you,
Ones dead father never fails to protect one.
She shall protect you,
One’s dead mother never fails to protect one.
I shall protect you,
One’s sacred Ifá divination palm nuts never fails to protect one.
He shall protect you,
Ones Ori never fail to protect one.
(Abimbọla, 'Wande. Introduction. In Ifá: An Exposition of Ifá Literary Corpus, 43. New York, NY: Athelia Henrietta Press, 1997. )”
It is in this oral text of ese Ifá verse that we find the theological framing and esoteric or hidden teachings of not only Ori, which is the Divinity that helps a soul craft their destiny at the start of ones incarnation, but the metaphysical interaction of the teleological past and its wisdom in the present. It points to the “Road of Mystery” which is the journey a soul takes from child, to adult, to elder, to ancestor, to child as returned and honored elder, better known as the cycle of incarnation, or for some reincarnation. One tends to care for a world they are returning to, and welcoming through their own children as ancient elders with lost wisdom from the past.
We “feed” or leave offerings for the Ancestors for their assistance, to tap into ancient wisdom that moves beyond time and space. It is also seen as a way to ensure the embodied traditions of Radical Immanence, of the Divine’s literal presence in all of nature, and thus matter, continue. It is the very act of honoring one's Egungun (Ancestors), that you as an Orisha worshiper start to learn the rest of the practices, patterns, ese Ifá verse, and ceremonies of honoring one's own personal Divinity. Although the primacy in the order is a matter of debate among the Baba and Iya Awo’s (Mothers and Fathers of Secrets, my current title within Ifá) all ceremonies always start with Ancestors, Ori, and Esu the Divine Messenger.
This metaphysical interaction of ancient cultural wisdom in the form of Ancestors and Ori, or destiny, you carry in the world today in this incarnation, is meant to move you toward your own destiny. The Creators plan the world over, which is for us all to be in communication with our Orisha or Divinity, and Embodiment of Nature itself. This can only be revealed through Divination and then following and experiencing the act of offering the indicated sacrifice to Esu the Divine Messenger to carry this mystical communication between the Supreme Consciousness of Olodumare (the creator) and humanity.
We see similar practices in ancient Hindu theology. Sayer, although admitting the practice is not only theologically in error to many Hindu and Buddhist theologians and practitioners for reasons well outside the scope of this paper , also while wrestling with how persistent in some places, spaces and traditions. He makes the argument to understand ancestral veneration of the ancient Hindu cosmology, that the title of Householder must be privileged and that in turn has inherent democratization of text and practice in placing the ritual back in the hands of the Householder. He further states:
The ritualist-renunciate dichotomy includes soteriological differences that are often glossed over in treatments of Indian religion. The rituals of ancestor worship, the piapityaj–a, the pityaj–a, and the śrāddha, in the literature of the period of this study all describe an eternal stay in heaven. The soteriology of the philosophical tradition, often associated with Hinduism more generally, includes the notion of sasāra, the world of suffering, karma, transmigrationally significant action, and reincarnation. This notion of the transmigration of the ātman precludes the existence of any permanent abode of the soul; the only non-temporary state is moka, liberation. This stance precludes the assumptions of the ritualist soteriology, though the ancestral rituals persist long after the acceptance of the philosophical notions of transmigration and its concomitant assumptions. In fact, these two soteriologies co-exist in the Dharmasūtras with no attempt to reconcile them. The Purāas do attempt to synthesize these two apparently contradictory ideologies, but that genre lies outside the scope of this study. (Sayer, Matthew. “Feeding the Ancestors: Ancestor Worship in Ancient Hinduism and Buddhism.” Dissertation, the University of Texas at Austin, 2009.)
The universality of these practices and the ease in which they can be adapted to resist the Christian hominization of critical religious thinking through praxis is what is of use to my work. It is in the doing and in the experiential that we can find hope during this eco-apocalypse. It is in and of itself resistance to the bifurcation of mind, body, and spirit which is leading to an ontological drought in the public sphere when it comes to the collective envisioned future of humanity.
These sort of extra-cultural, parallel, earth-based practices became the great obsession of mediums, mystics, and other new-age thinkers at the turn of the 20th century. While the search for these so-called golden threads has led to problematic modern incursions into cultures for the sole purpose of pillaging and looting esoteric indigenous knowledge, such as the Theosophy society and others, one cannot ignore these same striking parallels. As a scholar committed to the abolition of white supremacy in academia, I must also resist the post-enlightenment urge to create a harmonious system out of two completely unique traditions.
But: I believe there is still much to be gained from this efforts from a liberation theological perspective like Sayer states:
the study of the ancestral rites in the Brahmanical and Buddhist traditions is enriched by consulting the insights found in studies of ancestor worship in different cultures and cross cultural studies of ancestor worship. Classic works that focus on ancestor worship offer examples and methods for identifying the social mechanisms of the ancestral rites. Jack Goody’s (1962) Death, Property and the Ancestors, for example, describes the history of the study of ancestor and mortuary rites and presents an interpretive model for interpreting these rituals. Peter Metcalf’s (1982) insight into the cosmological significance and place of the ancestors, though in the context of Borneo, 21 has parallels in the study of the ‘celestial’ and the ‘terrestrial’ Pits of the Brahmanical tradition. Anthologies like Ancestors (Newell 1976a) bring together diverse examples and generate discussions that further the usefulness of disparate modes of ancestor worship. In the introductory remarks of that volume, Meyer Fortes and William Newell reflect on the field of ancestor worship and suggest parameters that suggest avenues of comparison (Fortes 1976; Newell 1976b). In her volume on ancestor worship in ancient Maya society, Patricia McAnany (1995) further nuances arguments about overlap and heuristic usefulness of such categories as veneration, worship, and commemoration. Her discussion in particular reminds one of the artificiality of these categories and the need to continually reevaluate them. (“Feeding the Ancestors: Ancestor Worship in Ancient Hinduism and Buddhism.” Dissertation, the University of Texas at Austin, 2009)
The only way to decolonize “esoterica'' is through counter-narrative building, and inherent in counter-narrative building is believing people's own self-understanding of themselves and treating their ontological view as real as my own self-understanding.
That inherently means I have to have enough self-understanding to place myself as a Black, trans, scholar born in the United States of America which in turn forces me to wholeheartedly abandon myself to the idea that the “diasporic sense of indigeneity” I carry as a Black person here in America maybe be based in wishful thinking. It requires authentic and honest personal spiritual praxis and self-inquiry, problematized by my being someone whose culture, language, homeland, and cosmological system were stolen from them. But a decolonized lens of history and theology can offer us this particularity, without losing one's sense of ancestral and cultural connection, even if nebulous and based on generations-old whispers within one's family.
Will this lead to authentic interrogation of this earth-based and Divine Feminine practice the world over? Chattel slavery of Black peoples of the African Diaspora people is also a theft of world heritage all society still staggers from the loss of politically, economically, and ontologically. America as a country still staggers from the fact it was built on the backs of Black bodies economically and this ontologically plays out with the American collective conscience, in particular the Protestant Christian theological imagination. I believe these sorts of interfaith, intergenerational, and cross-cultural conversations are incredibly relevant since colonialism has removed even the means by which Black and brown peoples the world over would evaluate spiritual value inherent in anything that is now presented to us as esoteric knowledge when even that category itself is indicative of the problem as Dr. Sherma quoting eco-feminist Shiva spectacularly problematizes above. The creation of experts and non-experts of our experience.
It is even the category of “esoteric knowledge” in and of itself that is indicative of the existential problem with the western patriarchal ontological view of the Divine as the sole lens through which society looks out into the world. Theology leads to policy. It is inherently political to define, articulate, or create praxis around any Divinity. Beyond the value of any epistemological or consciousness-altering experiences of individual practitioners, or practitioners writ large as a society or people group, the very process of theologizing any God starts to limit the concepts of Omniscience, Omnipresence. This, in turn, starts to fray the immutable sense creation itself is seeking diversity and individuation, yet still be open to the possibility that there is a larger pattern or order beyond our perception. The ability to embrace mystery has been lost to us in this paradigm.
To define the undefinable starts to create the very problems of duality, theodicy, purity, doctrine, and the other plagues of humanity that keep us from facing the great crisis of our time, ecological obliteration as a long term deleterious effect of global systemic white supremacy, the inheritor system of the old colonial system.
Ifá, the Osun tradition, the Shakti tradition, and other Indigenous notions of reality offer us praxis-first models, focused on our interaction with creation, matter, and our daily worlds and lives as direct encounters with the Divine, which in Ifá theology is explained as the following African notions of reality:
Put differently, in African conception of the universe, nothing is absolute, everything is interconnected; apparently the fundamental principle of the philosophy of life in the African reality is complementary. Consequently, Africans do not talk of isolated activities, but of symbiosis. In the universe of holism, things are not compartmentalized, departmentalized and fragmented. Based on this, Okoro extensively quoting Anyanwu (1983:53-54) draws the following conclusion:
(i) since there are no isolated life forces in the universe, there can be no isolated individual person;
(ii) society is the manifestation of the order of the universe;
(iii) all relationships between all the life forces ought to be strengthened and not weakened;
(iv) there is no dissociation of sensibility from rationality in African culture. The duality of experience should not harden into dualism. Politics therefore, should not be discussed as if it were separated from religion
(Shotunde, Ayodele, Chiedozie Okoro, and Godwin Azenabor . “An Analysis of the Nature of Spirit in Ifa Literary Corpus. (Ihafa: A Journal of African Studie 8, no. 2. December 2016)
All of which fall within the eco-feminist principles of spirituality, as explained by Dr. Sherma in Chapter 5 of her forthcoming volume:
Yet, for a wide variety of ecofeminist activists across national and religious boundaries, spiritual perspectives provide the underpinnings for much of ecofeminist political activism. Examples include the Buddhist Peace Fellowship (BPF), Women of All Red Nations (WARN), and the Chipko movement in India. Karen Warren has laid out the value of ecofeminist spirituality in terms of the factors it brings into play. These include (1) the values of care, kinship, and community; (2) the importance of “women’s indigenous technological knowledge” which signifies experiential-contextual epistemic authority; (3) women’s cross-cultural witness to the empowering knowledge of linkage to nature provided by native spiritualities; and (4) the challenge it poses to the entrenched methods of knowledge (in which theoretical ecofeminist philosophy is embedded) that continue to depend on the dichotomization of the personal and the political, emotional and rational, the material and the spiritual. For Warren, then, ecofeminist theology and spirituality can contribute to the deepening of philosophical ecofeminism’s search for an alternate paradigm beyond the domination-dualism model. Carol Christ contends that spirituality in foundational to ecofeminist action: With many spiritual feminists, ecofeminists, ecologists, antinuclear activists, and others, I share the conviction that the crisis that threatens the destruction of the earth is not only social, political, economic, and technological, but is, at root, spiritual. (Sherma, Rita. “Radical Immanence” (Forthcoming Volume). Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf, 2023)
The ecological crisis we face with its most dangerous effects playing out in our poorest nations–I believe–can only be answered on an epistemological level for the individual practitioner, and an ontological level for us as a society, by embracing, teaching, and living out in an intentionally public and theological way, by the practices of the Divine Feminine the world over.
3. The Osun Tradition Joins the Chorus and Conclusion
It is exactly this Divine Feminine as embodied resistance that makes the Osun tradition, Osun as Orisha herself, and her subversive and corrosive nature to Christian homogenization of African Diaspora spiritual praxis during chattel slavery, and her continued flourishing in the theological imagination of Black girls playing double-dutch in Chicago, while her continuous 700-year-old annual ceremony is still practiced in the Oshogbo Grove, in Nigeria. The site where Her worshippers say She became Orisha and the Osun river itself runs through the grove.
Osun stands apart in that her Divinity and personhood is almost common knowledge among the poor, oppressed, and often disparate experiences of women of the African Diaspora. Across the diaspora are her very real current invocations in art, like Beyonce's “Lemonade” video which has been commonly pointed to in academia as an art piece that pulled from several strains of the Osun tradition. These pop culture references are, in part, a result of the Osun traditions' resilience, but more a result of her epistemology of accessibility. Meaning: the Osun tradition, wherever it has taken root in the Diaspora, as a result of one of the most heinous crimes against humanity in world history, it has flourished in subversiveness, its sexiness, its allure, its mystery, and its majesty. Whether the Lucemi of Cuba, the Vodun of Haiti and Benin, or the Candomblé of the Southern Americas, the Osun tradition proves that leaving the Sacred Divine Feminine out of the work of creation will lead to ruin.
Furthermore: one of the main theologians in the ’70s, in their seminal dissertation “Ifa an Exposition of the Literary Corpus” set the world on fire, and was used by UNESCO to finally recognize our 2300-year-old tradition, The Àwíṣẹ Awo, (World Representative of Ifá) Àgbáyé, President Ifá Heritage Institute Ọ̀ yọ̣́, Ọ̣̀ yọ̣́ State Nigeria, Dr. Wande Abimbola, has stepped back some of his early findings which in a post-colonial context were used in an oppressive and patriarchal way, particularly in the Diaspora pre-internet age. He makes the stunning claim that not only is Osun indispensable, but the mother of all Divination! In the following quote from his contribution to Osun Across the Waters, we see this thesis; (emphasis my own).
By “Ifa divination” we mean Ifa and related systems of divination based on the stories and symbols of the Odu such as dida owo (divination with the sacred divining chain called opele) and etıte-ale (divination with the sacred palm nuts), eerındınlogun (divination with the sixteen cowries), agbigba (divination with a divining chain slightly different from opele), and obi (divination with kola nuts). The purpose of this essay is to examine the intimate connection of Osun with Ifa divination both in her own right as a person, and through the instrumentality of Osetuura, her son. We will start with the popular view of the involvement of Osun in Ifa divination which states that she got to know about Ifa through Òrunmìlà, her husband. In the later pages of this essay, I will make the claim that Osun has much more to do with the origins of Ifa divination than the babalawo (Ifa priests) are ready to admit. (Murphy, Joseph M., Mei-Mei Sanford, and Abimbola. (Osun across the Waters a Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001).
This is a stunning claim to make in Ifá and hard to explain why without explaining exactly what I mean by the term Ifá.
Ifá is a concept that is hard to capture in English since in Yoruba culture not only does a word have multiple layered meanings in ese Ifá verse, but since all the Orisha, or Divinities, are also the embodiment of many aspects of our natural world: a tree may not be just a tree, palm nuts are not just palm nuts, the river is not just the river. This multilayered meaning and Radical Immanence can be noted by changes in "oriki", or praise song, or ese Ifá verse, usually conveyed through accent, changes to the repetitive structures in the verse, slight often phonetic/harmonic variations, or contextual placement, in the recited odu or verse.
In other terms: what the word "Ifá "means" perhaps captures this phenomenon best and is a "hermeneutic of Ifá 101". Ifá or the word Ifá means all these concepts held in simultaneity by the Awó ( holder of secrets), literally, figuratively, metaphorically, epistemologically, theologically, and mystically. Ifa is revealed to us, the omo or children of the Orisha, in Ifá by a praxis of the following concepts at once, held in practice, ritual, spirit, and knowledge of the Awo.
Ifá is the 256 oral books that contain the 1024 great ese Ifá verses, proverbs, poems, or sayings that contain all of Yoruba culture, history, and esoteric knowledge. Ifá in this way preserves, teaches, and propagates and literally is our preserved pre-colonial original language, or “native” tongue.
Ifá are the tools I use for divination. Ifá is the palm nuts. Ifá is the opele. Ifá is the opon on which I cast odu's with Ireyson powder.
What is important to note is that all three of these items are used in almost all Ifá divination of the Babá and Iyá Awó in their care for the community, and for all of humanity. As olosun OsunDayìísi Babá Awó Amósun Balógun Efun omo Diendé, my name or “title” within Ifá priesthood, it is my duty in the community I find myself embedded in to use these items to divine and prescribe "eboo", or sacrifice.
Eboo is another term with multiple meanings. For our purposes of explaining the term Ifá, it is best to think of it as these three concepts: sacrifice, prescription, and the medicine the prescribed receive all held in the Ori or head of the Awo, and practitioner at once.
Ifá is also, or can also mean, the set of practices and traditions that encompass all Orisha worship. As I also noted above, the word Ifá can also refer to Orunmila the Diviner of the Creator, all Divinity, which again includes Creation itself, thus Creation is Divine, and Chief Diviner of Humanity. Ifá also is literally this Divinity, the second witness to creation. Orunmila is Ifá and Ifá is Orunmila. Orunmila has seen the Destiny or “Or” I of all heaven and earth, so it is always Ifá one must turn to overcome all adversity and misfortune, called a variety of terms, but in my lineage Ibi, which interestingly enough is the root word for birth.
We hold our Divinity of Wisdom, the Sacred and Pure Holy Spirit of Elá in our hands every time we serve the community. Every time we “divine”. Every time we sing a praise song or oriki. Every syllable we learn from our original Yoruba language from our oral corpus, ese Ifá which is only recited in ceremony or in divination, all of which require these items, these Orisha, these divinities to present metaphysically and physically.
This is the radical immanence of Ifá and none of it would be possible without Osun, whether one gives primacy to the ese Ifá of Ose -Tura in the complex cosmology of the Yoruba people, or the radical claims Dr. Abimbola makes:
I will, indeed, put forward the hypothesis that the entire divination system of Ifa started from Osun from whom it got to Òrunmìlà and not the other way round. I will base my claims on verses of Ifa which give us hints to that effect. We will then examine the possibility that eerındınlogun is older than dida owo and etıte-ale which are probably later developments of Ifa divinations……Let me now take some time to tell the story of Osun and Òrunmìlà as contained in Ogbe’Sa, especially because it relates to the importance of eerındınlogun in the Ifa divination system. The story goes as follows. It happened at a time that Olódùmarè summoned all the four hundred-and-one Òrìsà to Orun. But to their greatest surprise, the Òrìsà encountered a group of wicked “cannibals” in heaven (probably witches known to the Yoruba as aje) who started to kill and eat up the Orısa one by one. But since Òrunmìlà had performed sacrifice before he left earth, he was miraculously saved by Osun who successfully hid Òrunmìlà from the cannibals, and substituted goat meat for the flesh of Òrunmìlà which the cannibals had planned to eat on that particular day.When both Osun and Òrunmìlà returned to the earth, they became much closer than ever before. It was probably at this time that Òrunmìlà and Osun became husband and wife. Òrunmìlà then decided to reward Osun for saving his life, and that was how he put together the sixteen-cowry system of divination and taught Osun how to use it. Let me now quote a short portion of this verse of Ogbe’Sa. It goes as follows:
This was how Òrunmìlà and Osun became close. Òrunmìlà said that the good turn which she did for him Was an exceptional one.
He wondered what he should do in return.
This was the most important reason why Òrunmìlà Created the sixteen cowries.
He then handed them to Osun.
Of all the Orısa who use sixteen cowries,
There is none who had it before Osun.
It was Ifa who gave it to Osun.
And asked her to cast it
And use it as another form of divination.
This was what Ifa used to reward Osun.
That is why the relationship between Ifa and Osun Is such that nobody else can know
What is between the two of them. Òrunmìlà then got married to Osun. Of the several forms of divination,
Eerındınlogun is next in rank to Ifa. (Osun across the Waters a Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001)
This is the common, accepted, or one could almost say “conservative” ese Ifá verse to put forth as an explanation of the Radical and Divine Immanence that is through Ifá divination and Orisha worship. Dr. Abimbola goes further in his claims, based on Odu Okanransode whose recitation isn't necessary:
Our next story from the Ifa literary corpus about Osun is taken from Okanransode. It was recorded from Babalawo Ifatoogun, a famous Ifa priest from Ilobuu, near Osogbo. The story is about a bag of wisdom which Olodumare threw down from the sky and asked all the Orısa to look for. Olodumare assured the Orısa that anyone who found it would be the wisest of them all. Olodumare showed the bag to the Orısa so that they would be able to recognize it as soon as they saw it. Since Osun and Òrunmìlà were a very intimate couple, both of them decided to search for the bag together……….Osun was the first person to find the bag of wisdom, but when the bag slipped through the broken pocket of her big garment, Òrunmìlà accidentally stumbled on it and kept it. One can speculate as to the morality of Òrunmìlà keeping for himself what should belong to his wife. But we must remember that before she discovered that she had lost the bag, Osun herself had boasted that she would take so many hundred of things as well as plenty of money from anybody who would see the bag of wisdom. One can further speculate that this myth is telling us that Osun was perhaps the first person to make use of Ifa — the bag of wisdom— before it was passed on to her husband, and not the other way round. Let us now turn our attention to two other matters which confirm our suspicion. (Osun across the Waters a Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001)
He goes on to explain a highly technical philosophical and mathematical analysis of the two divination systems, the one of cowries, common to women and the average Aborisa or Priest, or Priestess, and the one of the Baba and Iya Awo, both referring to the same 1024 ese Ifá verses commonly recited during divination, but two different mathematical systems to come to the same results. One is a result of casting 16 cowrie shells on a mat, common and accessible to the average worshiper in various forms, and one from manipulating a tool called the opele, the tool of the Awo, wise, learned, and the privileged, like me:
The first one relates to iyerosun, the sacred yellow powder of divination on which Ifa priests print the marks of Ifa inside a divining board. Why is this powder yellowish like the color which is sacred to Osun? Did Òrunmìlà use this powder as a mark of honor to his wife? We may never know for certain the answer to these questions; but given the intimate connection between Osun and Ifa, especially in respect to the origin of Ifa as a bag of wisdom first found by Osun, it may not be far-fetched to say that the yellow powder has something to do with Osun.
The second issue which I would like to mention here is the simple fact that when one takes a look at the Odu of eerındınlogun and those of Ifa, it would seem that the Odu of Ifa are based on those of eerındınlogun, and not the other way round. Eerındınlogun is based on sixteen single signs of Ifa such as Odı, Irosun, Owonrın, etc.; except Ejı Ogbe which is coupled as in the case of Ifa. Ifa, however, does not make use of single signs (even though Ifa literature refers to it). All the signs are coupled either as oju odu (major odu) or as omo odu (minor odu)......We can go further to speculate that the apparent simplicity of the signs of eerındınlogun and even the short nature of some of its literature are indications of its antiquity upon which the more elaborate signs and wider frame of reference of Ifa were based. Whatever the case may be, there is no doubt at all that eerındınlogun has not been given its rightful place as a part and parcel of the Ifa literary and divinatory system. In one of the verses quoted above, Olodumare, while giving ase to eerındınlogun stated thus,
From today on and forever
Even if what eerındınlogun says may not be detailed, Anybody who disbelieves it
Would see the consequences instantly.
It must not wait till the following day. (Osun across the Waters a Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001)
It is in this way that Radical Immanence of Osun is throughout the entire Ifá and Orisha tradition. She is resistant even to the Male Orisha having the full rule of the Cosmos, for she is in and of the Cosmos, and will not be ruled.
In the act of birth, rebirth, and drama of incarnation she is paramount. In the very act of divining for a newborn’s Divinity they are devoted to she is omnipresent; not only is she the force that moves throughout the entire process of sex and pleasure, she is the force that is the causation of birth and omo, or children, considered the ultimate sign of wealth and abundance itself. Again, a cosmology where children are returned elders and you are preparing the earth liker throne for your return, children and their care, and this planet's care on their behalf is of the utmost importance:
It is customary for researchers to refer to Osun simply as an Orısa of fertility. This is true. In fact, a recent chanter of Osun’s literature refers to her as:
Iya abobınrin gbato
Mother who helps women to collect semen
Ladekoju, abokunrin gbase
Wearer of a veiled crown, who helps men to collect menstrual flow.
There are many verses of Ifa which relate to Osun as a mother of many children both in the biological and religious sense. The city of Ooro (now simply called Oro) was where Osun had so many children that she did not have any more space to sit down in her own house. Since her children had taken up all available space, Osun was always found standing up. Ifa also speaks of Osun as a benevolent mother. She has the habit of bestowing wealth, fame, and honor on her adherents
It is in this way that Osun, as the Mother and Guardian of the cowrie shell divination system, is also the Mother of all divination, all omo Orisha, and of Ifá. She is the radical immanence the defies while being deified and even within her own cosmological system: Osun is the quintessential cosmological revolutionary; in stark contrast to the post-enlightenment, patriarchal, ontological view of God.
It is why Dr Abimbols says:
To understand this ancient Orısa is to know the intelligence, vitality, caring, and nourishing abilities of womankind— long-suffering, cheated, overlooked, and overworked, but always committed to the survival of humanity. In this sense, Osun is the icon not only of women, but of all creation. ..
E kore yeye Osun
O! sacred water
O! sacred stones
O! sacred edan (symbol of Ogboni) All hail the Benevolent Mother
Ase (Osun across the Waters a Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001)
I hope this paper helps to place me, my work, and some of its claims in a useful framework rather than in the usual academic western counterproductive polemic of conveying hierarchical value across traditions, but instead starts to communicate with Hindu theologians working on similar tracks of research in a way that that articulates my positionality, without trying to define my conversation partners particular tradition, nor do away with the importance of particularity, and continue to search for these parallels of the ancients.
Abimbọla, 'Wande. Introduction. In Ifá: An Exposition of Ifá Literary Corpus, 43. New York, NY: Athelia Henrietta Press, 1997.
Murphy, Joseph M., Mei-Mei Sanford, and Abimbola. Osun across the Waters a Yoruba Goddess in Africa and the Americas. Bloomington, IN: Indiana University Press, 2001.
Sayer, Matthew. “Feeding the Ancestors: Ancestor Worship in Ancient Hinduism and Buddhism.” Dissertation, he University of Texas at Austin, 2009.
Shotunde, Ayodele, Chiedozie Okoro, and Godwin Azenabor . “An Analysis of the Nature of Spirit in Ifa Literary Corpus.” Ihafa: A Journal of African Studie 8, no. 2 (December 2016).
Informants: Baba Adesanya Araba Ijebo Remo, Baba’s Afolabi A Epaga Baba Philip John Niemark, Baba Amosun, 12-26-20
Sherma , Rita. Radical Immanence (Forthcoming Volume). Minneapolis, MN: Broadleaf , 2023.
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