Vodun F.A.Q. – How does Vodun approach abortion?

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In short, Vodun and diaspora belief systems are pro choice. Individuals may have their own opinions about it and various houses and groups may approach it differently, but generally, abortion is not considered something inappropriate or “sinful”. It could be classed as unfortunate or misfortune when it has to be done, but there is nothing like “sin” attached to it so long as it is done respectfully.

For us, every atom in the Universe is sacred, but this does not translate to allowing one’s self to be harmed because one’s own atoms and one’s own life is also sacred. A person with a womb is not obligated to carry a pregnancy that they do not want to. There does not need to be any special reason or excuse. She is allowed to prevent or stop pregnancy as a matter of natural prerogative.

Interfering with a woman’s prerogative is an offense akin to rape which is definitely inappropriate and punishable. It is disrespectful to her and to her ancestors who built her. Only her comfort or discomfort with carrying someone’s genes into the world is relevant.

This does not mean that the decision to carry or not carry a child to term is based on whimsy or just feelings. Aside of the normal considerations like the financial and psychological, and overall situation into which a child would be born, there may be spiritual considerations as well. Someone’s situation at the moment may be pretty bad, but things may improve or it may be that the woman thinks her situation is worse than it is. It could be that though her situation is bad, her ancestors advise her to carry through anyway because the child needs to be born to help change it.

The question of destiny will come up in a practitioner of almost any ATR or ADR, as soon as the question of abortion does. So if after all the thinking, praying, and divination, there is still just no way that the pregnancy should continue, the abortion is done with the gravity it deserves. The child is grieved because they are a child, and it is unfortunate that they could not be born at this time.

This gravity, by the way, is why contraception is considered highly important to most of us. If we’re aware, we’ve been staying close to our Ancestors since before a relationship or even fling that could result in pregnancy started. We tend to take precautions so that this situation doesn’t arise, and if it does, the question of whether or not the ancestors would have been okay with the union being fruitful has already been answered.

It is also not considered a great idea to be sparking a bunch of new souls with people one’s Ancestors would not approve of. Scientifically, once you conceive, that child’s DNA is all up in your system. So decades after you have conceived with Mr. Toxic, his baby’s cells are still in you. Nope. Not something any of us want.

Vodun and most other ATRs and ADRs are very pro science because we are about aligning with Nature. Fetomaternal microchimerism has become a feature in our spiritual and moral decision making because something that becomes a part of your body becomes a part of what influences you.

So the decision to go ahead with an abortion is basically a last ditch effort to minimize damage. It is not approached casually. The situation that would bring it about is prevented to the best of our abilities.

So we try not to even have sex with someone the Ancestors would not want us to make a baby with. If we’re forced to or do so for medicinal reasons, we use contraception. If that fails, abortion is an option.

When weighing the options, one reason we consider abortion a damage control measure is the concept of “abiku”. An abiku is basically a child who is born, traumatized, and dies repeatedly. Abortion itself can cause the kind of damage that may create one, but this is unlikely except in cases where oppression, war, or disasters cause too many miscarriages and child deaths. Abortions done out of necessity during such situations will get mixed in with that atrocity. On the other hand, in a stable situation, the injury is a one time thing and the child may return (since some of their cells are still in the mother) at a better time and merged with the cells of their siblings who would have better experiences.

It’s complicated, and things don’t always go so smoothly, but as I said, the idea is to minimize the damage.

Night Offerings

Vodun F.A.Q. – What are the 7 Principles of Vodun?

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Night OfferingsThe 7 Principles of Vodun are something someone made up to keep things simple. There are many more than seven, and there is no “one true way” that is good for everyone. Much about what you should do in a given situation depends on your head, your devotional and professional egbe(s), your family including ancestors, and what is customary for your people. There are some universal rules and principles, but outside of these, it varies.

Common Rules and Principles

1. The Ori/one’s Personal Divine Essence is the most relevant Orisha in one’s pantheon.

2. The Egungun/Ancestors is the most relevant Orisha with your Ori.

3. Always run everything to do with spirits or spirituality through your Gatekeeper deity or ancestor. This protects you from intruders and impostors.

4. Don’t pollute your altar. Unless you have an exception (determined by your pantheon/culture) you don’t approach any altar or shrine while you are dirty, ill, or excreting any body fluids uncontrollably.

4a. You do not touch anyone else’s spiritual or ritual items, altar, or shrine without their express permission. If the permission cannot be gained by conventional means, divination must be done, and offerings given for it.

4b. Ritual and ceremonial items should be maintained according to the instructions appropriate to the deity. A neglected altar attracts misfortune.

5. Division is an illusion. Every atom in this Universe is sacred. Every thing or being is sacred. Personhood extends beyond humans and animate creatures.

6. There is no essential difference between good and evil in a general cosmic sense, but there is such a thing as appropriate or inappropriate or sustaining and harmful behavior for humans. It is important to be a person of Iwa Pele or good character.

7. Only those fully initiated into Ifa or an African system based in Africa may have a large Eshu shrine as a feature of their home. Others may have or build a small one. Exceptions are natural shrines left in their place or cases in the diaspora when they have been completely cut off from the African priesthoods and had to make due. Since the internet, no new cases like this exist, but there are still shrines built by those in the diaspora that are still legitimate. However, even a small stone in a bowl is sacred.

8. All bodies of water deserve protection. Do not pollute them. Do not allow others to pollute them when you can prevent it.

9. You must not litter or leave items behind that would harm the environment. Be mindful when leaving offerings to make vessels biodegradable, salvageable, or retrieve them to be cleaned and reused.

10. Be generous and compassionate to all to whom is is safe, especially those less fortunate, children, and the elderly.

11. You are not obligated to be kind to your enemies or allow them to harm you. Being a pushover or passively accepting oppression is literally against our religion. Just be intelligent about it.

There are a few more, but these are the ones I could think of that cover everybody. Even with these, the clarifications or specifics will vary though. If you have any others that you believe should be here, feel free to comment. Also comment on others’ comments to confirm whether or not this is true of your branch of ATR or diaspora practice as well.

Blessings and Ashe!

Who is Orunmila Ibarami Agboniregun?

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Orunmila Ibarami Agboniregun is a west African legendary figure or Ancestor and embodiment or avatar of Orumnila, who may be the original source of many Bible stories about Abraham, Elijah, and others. He may also be among the first who are regaining fame specifically because of Facebook.

Now that many of the lesser known local stories are being documented, people are speaking up and sharing about their histories, and it turns out the exchange between western Asia and west Africa was consistent much earlier than previously thought. The story of Oduduwa in 700 C.E. may have been merged with earlier exoduses from Kemet due to climate change and political shifts as early as 2000-3000 B.C.E.

There was a problem with some in the Israeli government who did not want to address the fact that the semitic peoples have relation to the Igbo people in Africa. It was treated by the scientists (who may be biased) as if they were looking for a “lost tribe of Israel”, but this was backwards. The truth is very much likely something closer to many of the early Hebrew people being Igbo or having common ancestry with the Igbo, which is why many Jewish traditions are actually Igbo traditions. Travel and trade between what is now Israel and what is now Nigeria may have also contributed. So they should have been testing people in Israel for relation to the Igbo as well, since DNA testing only one way wouldn’t really yield clear results. The test seemed flawed on purpose.

Now though, more are speaking out about the oral and written stories of their people, and archaeology is being done that proves many traditions and stories many think are Hebrew are derived and sometimes just copied from west African stories. Some of this is due to heritage, some due to cultural exchange as a result of trade, and some is because both have some roots in Kemet.

Personal note: I’m excited to see how all this shakes out.

You can learn more about the overlap of biblical stories with west African stories on the Yoruba the Ancient Race Facebook page.

Vodun F.A.Q. – What is the difference between Ifa and Orisha (or Orishaism)?

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 As I have mentioned in earlier articles, there are many streams of Vodun, Orisha, honored Ancestor worship, and Nature worship in Africa and the diaspora.  In Africa, because they all have a very long history, they have all gained legitimacy over time and through effective practice and aiding in the success of their people.  Every village has different specific customs, but there are fairly large centralized streams in which the village and family based groups adhere to certain norms for their stream.  There are even new streams of Agnostic and seeming Atheist Nature-ism.

The major groups that spring to mind are Benin Vodun, Yoruba Ifa and Orisha, Igbo Odinani, and the Ashanti and Akan traditional groups.

Ifa, as a specific name for a group as well as the name of the deity/Orisha of law and obligation, is one of the main Yoruba streams.

Orisa/Orisha is the term used for people who worship the Orishas but may or may not belong to an established large stream.  Most people in the diaspora are in the category of non affiliated or locally affiliated, regardless of what titles some may claim.  The only way to get a title within Ifa is to earn it from an Ifa temple or representative of an Ifa temple in Yorubaland.  Likewise, the only way to get a title in Benin Vodun is through a temple or representative of a temple in Benin.  There is no official status in an African belief system without actual Africans.

This is not to say that other streams of Orisha or African and diaspora spirituality are not legitimate.  Anyone may worship the Orishas, so long as one respects the cultures their legends and practices were crystalized in, and respects the Orishas themselves.  No problems there.  The problems start when people start claiming titles they didn’t earn, and even worse, do not even attempt to keep certain consistent norms of the culture and system they are claiming a title in.

If one is initiated into a diaspora tradition, that is fine.  They are free and even encouraged to serve their community as best as they can.  It’s just that they should qualify their title with the diaspora stream they belong to, and not lie explicitly or through omission, that they belong to or hold that rank in an African stream that they do not.

There are many people running around calling themselves babalawo or iyanifa, who did not earn these titles by Yoruba standards.  Some were initiated and bestowed rank by underqualified people who lied to them and took their money.  So they believe they have rank that they do not.  Others just lie.  Some did even worse than just lying, went to Africa, sat in people’s temple, ate their food, and were received as guests in trust, and then returned to the diaspora claiming higher titles and lording their initiation over Africans in the diaspora who could not afford to make the journey.

Recently, since more actual Ifa priests are visiting and serving in the diaspora, the ability of pretenders to run initiation mills is lessening.  It hasn’t completely died out, but it will because people will have access to authentic Ifa.

Mind that actual Ifa and other ancestral priests of other streams of Vodun and Orisha in Africa have never condemned or even put down people in the diaspora for making due, doing the best we could with what we had available.  The only problem is in the misrepresentation and the disrespect of the original cultures and practices.

For more perspective on this read:

Ifa and Orisha in the Diaspora.

The Difference Between Ifa Worship and Orisa Worship.

Blessings and Ashé!

Vodun F.A.Q.: Do I Have to Be Initiated to Practice An ATR?

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 Initiation is very important in most African traditional religions.  You may worship whichever deities you like, so long as you do so respectfully, but it is important to understand that Vodun and other African and diaspora belief systems are alive and have actual communities practicing in unbroken lines for over 10,000 years.  They have actual communities of followers keeping aeons old traditions.  It may not look as organized as Christianity, Judaism, or Islam, and our sects may get along better because our core beliefs include that division is an illusion.  However, it is so organized that it surpasses what humans often view as order.  It is so organized that it is in our (recently African) blood in an overt way, and pops up in not-recently-Africans from time to time.  So we have ties by ancestry as well as earthly accountability structures that should not be ignored when walking this path.

So initiation is important for a few spiritual and historical reasons.  You should be initiated into whichever African belief system you intend to follow faithfully.  The only reasons you should not be initiated are if it is impossible for practical reasons, or you haven’t found a community you trust, or the deities you worship have told you through divination, that you should not seek official initiation.

Now, the real heavy question is what sort of initiation you should seek; whether you should stick to your diaspora style, community, and temple, or you should go to Africa to be initiated there.  Those in the diaspora whose Ancestors were sold as slaves should consider this carefully because there is the matter of reclamation of one’s Ancestors.  Many do not know where their Ancestors are from, and are afraid to get DNA tests because of fear of this being misused by governments and corporations.  They also don’t give a complete picture of one’s actual ancestry. The good news is that there is such a thing as Ifa divination, so you can seek spiritually relevant answers in this.  Some temples, like Temple Behumbeza in Benin, specifically reclaim Africans from the diaspora.  Contact Hounnon Houedossi Ahouegnon for details and guidance.

She warns that many people who seek this are duped by unscrupulous individuals, into thinking that they are priests because they went through a short initiation.  The truth of the matter is that it is not that simple.  In some cases, I think it is a matter of misunderstanding, but either way, Africans in the diaspora who make pilgrimages to Africa for initiation should understand that this is just the beginning of their journey, and does not make them a priest as in a ranking official in the temple.  It also doesn’t entitle them to lord over others in the diaspora.  It’s something like the difference between a Muslim who has and one who hasn’t passed through the Hajj.

Being initiated in Africa is definitely a good thing.  However, so is being initiated into your local or your teacher’s tradition.  Most of the time, you can do both since we network. Though most traditional systems are community based, you can initiate yourself to your own ancestral practice. Be mindful that this is a matter of careful innovation, and you cannot claim any titles that would be relevant to other communities.

So if there is a question, do divination to see what you should do.  Different people have different paths.  Just don’t claim community titles and ranks that you didn’t earn from the community.  It’s okay to be unaffiliated or initiated only into a particular diaspora tradition, ile, or temple.

If you decide to remain unaffiliated though, consider that the road of a solitary is a lonely one.  It is good to have a community when you find a group of people you trust and consider family.  I can understand very well the fears of community that come from being traumatized by cults and viral religions.  I also understand well though, that African traditional religions have built in checks and balances that have stood the test of time, and that you can see the legitimacy of any group by what it produces.

Another thing to consider is that some of us have been initiated into traditions that are not group dependent, such as Obeah, though they are still blood and spiritual family dependent.  There is also still the community factor. Few if any of our systems are called “Obeah”. It is a description, but not the name of the system, which may be a name we do not reveal. We just know when we meet a relative who has been through the same passages.  Though there are groups, most sorcerers were instructed by a teacher, and pass it down to students if they pass it at all.  Does an Obeah sorcerer, conjurer, or one who came up a similar way need to be initiated into a larger community, or to go to Africa for initiation?  One can only answer this question for themselves.  As I said, do the divination, and then search yourself for why you got the answer you did.

On a personal note, when I asked the question, I got a, “No, you don’t need to, but you can.”  So I will get to Osogbo when I am provided the means and ability.  Meanwhile, I serve the community as I was taught by my elders.  Over time, I came to understand why I got such a seeming “lukewarm” answer in this.  It is because I am neither a layperson nor am I destined to be a priestess within any established temple structure.  I am not in that ancestral line.  In addition to that, “follower” is simply not a part of my personality, and never has been.  I am a sorceress.  My way is the fringes: the way of the outcast; the way of the functioning and resourceful outcast, but still outcast.  I appreciate those who reach out to me, but I understand that there is no group in which I could ever find true acceptance.  It’s just not possible.  I’m somewhere in the sweet-spot between mad scientist and crazy shamaness.

Most likely, the next goal after Osogbo will be Ghana to join with a temple there that does things closer to what I practice.

If you find yourself in the same predicament then, as I have learned thankfully the easy way from watching others’ mistakes, you must accept your limitations.  I can help people to a point, and teach them to a point, but I can’t really give them a community unless they are also a witch.  Thing is though, I don’t pretend to be otherwise.  You shouldn’t either.  It may seem a good idea at the time to mock a high title, but ultimately the authentic will out you, and you will experience a much more damaging rejection than you would if you had simply owned your lack of organized status or lower rank within that status.

I have not lost a client from being honest with them about my lack of belonging to an organized religion or system.  I do not envy the path of the priest/ess.  In fact, I need them.  They keep me humane, in touch and spiritually aligned with one of my ethnicities, and provide help for some people in some situations that I am simply not equipped to give.  Instead of being bad imitations of them, people should drop the pretense and make peace with them.  As I said before, the African priesthood never had issues with folks making due.  Just respect the source.

So, I am the female King of Ile Baalat Teva, a diaspora house of witches.  I am a practitioner of Obeah, and have some knowledge of Kindoki and Brujeria as well.  Though well grounded in my African diaspora practices, I am learning more about authentic African Vodun, and being a writer, relaying some of the information I get along the way to the English speaking world.  It may not seem very lofty to some, but it’s good enough for me.

Blessings and Ashé!