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What methods of divination are suitable for African spirituality? | Vodun F.A.Q.

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Crystal Ball Scrying Though Orunmila or a similar deity is in charge of all divination methods, the traditional African methods are the only ones that can offer traditional African information.

What that means is that Ifa, Afa, and other forms of authentic, indigenous African methods of divination are the only way that today one can find their head or their destiny accurately within African traditions. No ifs, ands, buts, or maybes.

Even a seed or a stalk of grass in the hands of one observant to Orunmila can tell volumes, but it is still not Ifa. Tarot is useful for helping one to navigate life, especially in social situations. The bones and curios are excellent for telling you what’s going on around you in a very blunt way. The Obi of course, are a direct line to your ancestors, and best for yes or no or even very nuanced but straight answers. However, none of these does what Ifa does.

In the past, some other methods such as dice, dominos, and other numerically based systems that are not native to Africa could be used if someone was completely cut off. However today, in the age of the internet, when a qualified babalawo or other traditional diviner is available in a click, this is no longer the case.

Because of the diaspora allowances from the past, some are confused and may fall for shady people telling them that some other method would be able to stand in the place of Ifa or Afa. The problem is that unless it is numerically based and resorted to because maybe the trained Babalawo is in prison and has no access even to any dried seeds, it is not going to direct one to any Odu or any verse or any indigenous African culture’s lexicon of legends or wisdom.

This is why, even in the diaspora, even someone like me who has invented a new divination method, will still refer people to a Babalawo. I can tell you many things, but I can’t tell you who your head Orisha is for certain in an indigenous pantheon. I can’t tell you what traditional ebbo you need to do. I can’t tell you your traditional African anything because I am not an initiated, qualified Babalawo or Iyanifa or indigenous African diviner. I know to stay in my lane.

This does not mean that we do not study the Odu that we have access to. Most diviners with some experience will study Odu Ifa, the lineage tales some are willing to share, proverbs, patakis, and anything else we can to learn African and diaspora wisdom. It is important both in terms of perspective and since Africa is a huge continent, cultural exchange and learning what we can from our ancestral neighbors. However, Ifa and Afa are not just older than most available methods of divination, but older and living, and dynamic. Though other methods of divination are useful in some ways, there is no comparison. There just simply isn’t.

It isn’t the oldest known method, but other older methods such as scrying and osteomancy are not connected to the Odus or any known current culture’s verses. So great for some things but not for ebbo. Just skip the running to and fro looking for traditional answers in non traditional places.

Does everyone need a traditional reading?

If one was born in a culture where there are available Ifa or Afa diviners, then definitely. If not then probably. It depends whether you are okay with bumbling through or you want to have some idea what may be coming and direction.

Be prepared to pay the diviner a decent donation, and to do the recommended ebbo for your personal Odu. If you can’t afford it at the moment, it is one of those things worth putting aside for.

Supplemental Video

Please watch Obafemi’s video Tarot Is Not Ifa and thank him for his wisdom. I was not even aware before this that such confusion existed.

Blessings and Ashé!

Fire Flight

Vodun F.A.Q. – How are sex, orientation, and gender perceived in Vodun?

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Fire Flight Sex and gender in Vodun are perceived in line with the science. However, you will rarely see discussion of it outside of writings and academia because the Yoruba, and many other west African cultures consider sexual contact between people to be so sacred and intimate that it is rarely explicitly discussed. Because of this view of sexual contact, discussions of gender, biological sex, and sexual orientation don’t happen sometimes even while someone’s future is being planned around their individual needs. They are just kind of nudged to where they need to be and towards whatever rites of passage are appropriate for them.

What further complicates these kinds of explanations is that gender is perceived differently in indigenous African cultures than in western cultures. Though colonialism forced many surface norms, and some Africans fully converted to their oppressor’s religions, many things didn’t sink in fully, and where they did, these people are considered problematic and anti survival.

Generally, most indigenous west African cultures recognize more than two genders and gender role variability. So there are men, women, intersex people who may function as men or women or both, men who sometimes perform woman like functions, women who sometimes perform man like functions, transgender people who were born male or female in physical appearance but grow up to function differently than the typical path, and sometimes more.

People were identified more by what they did than what their body looked like when they were born. So if someone was functioning in a role typically ascribed to women, they were a woman. If they functioned as a man, they were a man. In some places, the nonbinary or transgender had to pick a lane, but in other places, they had mixed or even double duties. Africa is a huge continent, and the area considered west Africa is very big and contains a wide variety of cultures. There is a saying that “what is a blessing in one village is an abomination in another”. As far as the spirituality goes though, regardless of what a particular group demanded of the humans within it, the legends will still be full of the whole spectrum.

Then when we get into the issue of what particular groups consider a masculine or feminine role, it’s more complicated.

The question of orientation adds even more complication because again, it’s a very intimate matter, but also something that people didn’t generally get into each other’s business about so long as nobody was being harmed. Some situations were even taken for granted. So there is very little mention of the specifics of anybody’s sex life historically unless it was bragging or exceptional.

It is impossible to view African indigenous cultures in LGBTQA+ contexts without defaulting to the colonial lens because prior to colonialism, very few were making these distinctions between people. I am only saying very few because there was enough contact and exchange with Greek and Roman cultures that I am sure that some did form opinions at least in north Africa through those cultural influences. However, for the most part, something being unusual did not necessarily make it abnormal.

Since just homosexual people account for around maybe 10% of humanity, born intersex people around 1/1000, and there is plenty same sex pleasure exchange even among people who would normally prefer people further away on the gender spectrum, it was not, in fact, abnormal. It was normal, just a bit more rare for someone to make it a big deal.

If someone assigned maleness at birth because they have a penis and testicles, grew to be cisgender, and wanted status as a man, and achieved that, and was expected to marry someone assigned female who had achieved status as a woman to continue his line, he did that. Whether or not he preferred to have sex with men was not relevant. One generally did what was expected or demanded of them. Whatever else they did didn’t matter unless it interfered with their perceived duties. Many cultures had a backup plan if for whatever reason, a couple was unable to make children the conventional way. If a guy just could not do the thing with people with vaginas, he might bring in a trusted friend or relative who was willing, and their wife willing to allow it, to step in. Usually a relative was called on so the children would at least be related to him.

Basically, the African way is to not let irrelevant things interfere with survival and the functioning and cohesion of families and nations. This is not to say that every culture or group was tolerant of every thing. Some cultures had and still have traditions that are extremely harmful. It’s just that gender and same sex relationships were not perceived as they are in the west or in eurocentric christianity. So as far as Vodun, it can be assumed that most people are not going to care what your deal is. The problem would start with your family.

Like in other belief systems, there are people who are more or less observant. As opposed to the big monotheistic religions though, the less devout one is in Vodun and most ATR’s, the more oppressive and uncaring of destiny (Akosejaye) one will be. Most family groups in rural areas are farmers. Though the women actually do most of the farm work, the men are in more control of what actually happens in many places. Often family members are treated like commodities who must produce certain things based on gender.

So even before colonialism, and even where it is not still a major influence in spirituality and concepts of morality, most west Africans live under pressure of fulfilling family expectations. In smaller families with fewer children, there will end up being more pressure on each child to excel in school, marry well, and make babies despite destiny. This is why in the U.S. and Europe, there are children of African immigrants who are in their thirties and still have to ask their parents for permission to go on a date with someone.

On the one hand, it is a good thing that parents will stay involved with their children’s lives beyond childhood. On the other, parental influence can be traumatizing, damaging, and in the case of LGBTQIA+ youth, suffocating. For the most part though, especially if their Akosejaye reading said that they would be special in certain ways, parents will try to give guidance without stifling.

Because of the influence of colonial mentality and trauma from interest based patriarchy, especially in the U.S. where these things are highly politicized, one may want to be careful when choosing a group.  Where you don’t want to assume that every group led by a cisgender man is bigoted, it’s fair not to assume that they are not. It is something you might want to ask about if you are considering participation in their community activities or endorsing them.

Good answers are either that they don’t care but are welcoming, or that someone in a prominent position in the group is out and proud.

Ile Baalat Teva, by the way, is openly welcoming and has nonbinary and Gay leadership. I suppose we could be called a Two-head (Gay/nonbinary) and a Hat-trick (Bi/variable/cygender since the knee replacements).

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!

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. Can Someone Sell Me An Orisha, Djinn, Ndoki, Faery, etc?

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Smoke No.

Just no.

Nobody can sell you a spirit.  On the “food chain” of beings, humans are granted certain abilities by Nature, but the ability to buy or sell an alterdimensional being is not one of them.

Some conjurers may use the term “selling” as a sort of a short-hand for “smoothing the way for you to have access to,” but they are not actually selling you a spirit.  If they are not totally scamming you, and they actually do the work, they are just weaving a channel between you and that spirit for communication or flow of a certain energy.

An Orisha is a force of Nature.  Nobody can sell you a force of Nature.  They can initiate you into the cult of that force of Nature, or make a way to allow you limited access to a degree of energy from that force of Nature as is appropriate for a non initiate or layperson, but they can’t sell you the Orisha.

Djinn, gnomes, ndoki, faeries, elementals, and other alter-dimensional creatures can be enlisted or employed, but still not actually sold.  They will allow themselves to be utilized to a degree, so long as a human goes through the proper steps, but one must be very careful.

There is a sort of image that some conjurers choose to present to the public as one who is able to command demons and control djinn and such, and this is legitimate since it works.  However, one should realize that this image is allowed by the spirits only because it is useful to convince some people who wouldn’t otherwise, to accept help.  Many entities are fed by happiness and success, and for them it doesn’t matter so much if the humans think it is because of the powers of the conjurer or the powers of their own or of Nature.  They are just happy to help, and if it means playing the “genie”, then so be it.  It takes nothing from them.

However, it is extremely important to remember that these are extremely powerful whole beings.  They are not actually our slaves or servants.  Like a polite, very helpful, or heroic human may choose to work as a nurse, a soldier, or go into some other field of service, this does not mean they are weak or obligated.  They choose to be there for us or not be there for us.  They choose whether or not to help us or to leave us, or to destroy us.

Eshu MacutoIf you disrespect the spirits who help you, they will abandon or destroy you.  Most of the time, you are given an nkisi or another item such as a stone or ring that is a sort of anchor and bridge between that being and yourself.  These must be treated as sacred items.  Some have more endurance than others, and can be worn or carried in a pocket, but they should still be treated with respect.

If your helper requires offerings, those should be kept up to date to the best of your abilities.  You need to follow the instructions you were given very carefully, and make provisions for the case that something may happen to you, and they need to be released.

And this is just if you got an actual properly enlisted djinn, ndoki, faery, or other being.  Quite often, especially if the conjuring and maintenance was “easy”, what you may get is a mischievous or predatory, often called a dark entity that feeds on misery and unhappiness.

This is not to say that all of the positive ones are difficult to conjure.  It’s just that a big part of the “summoning” ritual is to filter out harmful entities or imposters.  Most ceremonial magicians take weeks or months to call certain entities, and still don’t always succeed.  As Brother Rahman explains in the link above, we can do a long stint of protective prayers, fasting, filtering, calling, negotiating, “commanding”, offerings, and more, and in the end…nothing.  Sometimes no spirit wants to come to assist for a particular goal.  We just have to accept that.

But this should tell you, they choose, not us.

Fetishes, Enchanted Rings, and Observance Kits

Related to the article on symbols, and the other on elekes, it is important to discuss three dimensional objects as well. Though someone can’t sell you a whole actual spirit, some translation issues may lead to some posers thinking this because some legitimate priests and mages do sell or receive donations for building fetishes and other enchanted items. Because in African spirituality, the item would not merely represent the spirit but embody it once it is activated or through nature (such as stones from holy rivers) the dynamism of the Ori or Ba of the person who built it, or ceremony.

So one cannot sell you Eshu, but they can sell you an Eshu (fetish). The question is then should they?

That depends on a few things.

  • Are you from the same or a very similar tradition as the person selling or receiving donations to build you the fetish?
  • Related to the above, are you already observant to the deity embodied in the fetish? If it’s not of a deity but of a helper, are you already observant to other related spirits, or well trained enough to deal with them?
  • Are you ready for the responsibility involved with keeping or wearing the objects?

Because of the relative universality of many spiritual concepts, any sincere spiritually observant person is usually able to handle a fetish if they are well instructed and ritually pure according to its culture and pantheon. Problems start when someone will sell things to any and everybody who asks with no regard for where the item is going, or when people receive items from distributors or builders who are corrupted or have an agenda other than providing you means of observance or help.

It is not wrong to sell someone a fetish or to buy a fetish if you are not skilled enough artistically to build one yourself. There are whole egbe of craftpersons in Africa who make fetishes of metal, wood, and holy art. No one in their right mind however, is going to sell a fetish to someone who is unlikely to care for them properly. When buying them, one should be aware of how such things are made.

Makes you think, does it not? There are hundreds or thousands of fetishes and sacred items in European museums whose infused be-ings have not been respected, fed, or tended to properly in decades to hundreds of years. So brutal wars are breaking out in which spiritually, nothing is solved. They keep falling for the same cultural weakness inherent in “white” supremacy, even in places where people would not have been considered “white” really. Neo nazi groups keep popping up again and again, and it is the lowest hanging fruit for any psy ops sabotage of any of their armies or police.

Whether psychologically or spiritually, it is pretty safe to say that the idea of property rights over other people’s cultural artifacts and sacred items, along with the idea that somehow being European would excuse their neglect, at least feeds that weakness. The spirits don’t care. They know everyone is descended from Africa, so there is no excuse.

Now, you don’t want to have this problem on an individual level either. If someone has sold you a ring who needs feeding monthly, you’d better feed that monthly. If someone sold you an acorn with a forest spirit to keep you safe while pleasure hiking, and they require a roasted chicken every two weeks, you’d better give that. Take these things seriously.

If you’re going to buy a fetish or enchanted items or an observance kit from someone, know who they are before you do. Nobody is perfect, and we don’t tend to judge people by friendliness or something, but whoever you buy things from at least needs to know what they are doing. Also, if you see too much in an observance kit that is mass produced and not handmade, that is a bad sign. Even if it is handmade, but it doesn’t look like it could endure actual ceremonial use, that is another bad sign.

Be aware that like a symbol, a fetish can carry energy that is harmful to you. Sometimes people will buy something for protection from someone corrupt, and it will turn out that it was harboring hostile beings. Scary as it may be, it’s the lucky ones whose natural protections and power gained through observance makes it an actual fight so these hostile energies are detected. The unlucky ones will keep some enemy in their home and on their altar, and feed it for years before figuring out that it was the cause of a lot of their misfortunes.

So be careful, and empower yourself with knowledge so that you know what you’re looking at.

Blessings and Ashé!