All posts by Frank Baba Eyiogbe

Frank Baba Eyiogbe, author of the upcoming Llewellyn Worldwide book "Babalawo, Santería's High Priests" due out in February, has been practicing Santeria for over twenty-five years: twenty-three years as a santero (Orisha priest) and eighteen years as a babalawo (initiated in Havana, Cuba). Frank has achieved the highest level of babalawo, "Olofista." He created the premier Santeria website www.orishanet.org, and has been a guest on NPR’s All Things Considered and The Global Guru and was interviewed for LIFE magazine. He has guest lectured at the University of Washington as well as UC Berkeley.

Why I Don’t Mention Odduns by Name

Some of you may have noticed that when I write about the stories (patakís, itan) and proverbs from Ifa odduns, I usually don’t mention the oddun by name. There are a couple of reasons for this.
One: The odduns, and the information associated with them, traditionally are fully in the province of the babalawos alone. As I mention in my book Babalawo, Santeria’s High Priests, in the 1940s Pedro Arango published a book called Iwe ni Iyewó ni Ifá Orunmila, which gave detailed information on the odduns of Ifá. In his, “Words from the Author,” section prefacing the second edition of the book, Arango admitted copies of the first edition of the book had fallen into the hands of a woman, presumably a santera, and two obá oriatés. Arango wrote that to save his responsibility (and probably his reputation as well), he was publishing the greatly enlarged second edition using much tighter security: he put a different secret mark in each copy so that if that copy was found in a non-babalawo’s hands, they would immediately know exactly who had been the source of the leak. In addition, Arango threatened to publicly denounce any non-babalawo found to be in possession of the book to their elders. Obviously, it was considered sacrilege to santeros and babalawos alike or such a denunciation would not have been much of a threat. In fact, the accessing of books on Ifá odduns by non-babalawos is very likely to have played a major role in the frictions we see today between olorichas and
Two: I often see posts from people asking about an oddun get irresponsibly answered with a cut and paste of all the information from one of these books. I say irresponsibly, because these books are written in the form of notes and is meant to interpreted by an experienced babalawo according to the type of iré (blessings) or osobo (negativity) that the person came with as well as the Witness odduns, etc. Often there is information that will appear to be downright contradictory if you don’t understand how these odduns and these books work. An oddun can also take very, very different forms depending on what kind of iré or osobo the person has come with.

These books may have parts that speak of very dark events meant for the person who came with Ikú (Death) that wouldn’t apply to a person who came in iré or with one of the lesser types of negativity. The same oddun can speak of beautiful things as well, which apply more for the person who has come in certain types of iré (blessings).

The types of work needed will be very different as well. So, dumping all the information on an oddun at best will be confusing and virtually meaningless at best, and dangerous to the person at worst.
Writing without mentioning the actual name of the oddun gives me the ability to share the wisdom of Ifa, without confusing or unintentionally misleading the reader. And things that have been kept secret for centuries can remain, well, secret… Which is particularly important as a babalawo who takes his vows, including those regarding secrecy, seriously.

El Cambio de la Cabeza: The First Changing of Heads

One day Elegguá went to a land where he saw some olorichas (santeros) divining with shells to find out people’s guardian angel Orichas, disobeying Olofin’s (God’s) mandate that only babalawos were allowed to do so. As Elegguá himself is a babalawo, he promptly went to tell Olofin to complain about what these olorichas were doing against Olofin’s own orders.
Upon hearing this, Olofin called for Oggun and gave very specific orders so the punishment would fit the crime: as the olorichas had been willing to risk marking people’s heads with the wrong Oricha by disobeying Olofin’s mandate that had been made at the Orichas request, the fierce Oggun was to go down to these people and cut off all of their heads and switch them and each body was to have somebody else’s head placed on their necks.
Oggun grabbed his machete and came upon these omo Orishas who were in the midst of the ceremony of consecrating a new iyawo (new initiate).
Meanwhile, while Oggun was wreaking his havoc, Orunmila was seeing himself with Ifá. The oddun or sign that came out (Oyekun Verdura) told him that heads were being changed. Seeing this, Orunmila immediately set out to where the ceremony was being held.
By the time Orunmila arrived, Ogun had almost completed his ravages and it was a truly gruesome sight. Blood was everywhere and each oloricha’s body had another oloricha’s head unceremoniously slapped onto it in a macabre parady of life. Only one person was still alive: the iyawo.
As Oggun went to chop off the iyawo’s head, Orunmila stepped into Oggun’s path and stopped him from cutting off his head, asking the warrior Oricha to permit him to make the head change using the Table of Ifá so Oggun would not have disobeyed Olofin’s mandate. Finally, after much persuading, Oggun agreed to spare the iyawo’s life.
All three went before Olofin.  She demanded to know why the iyawó was still alive and why he still remained with his own head.
Orunmila stepped forward and answered: “You yourself gave me the ache (power) and the mandate to put the affairs of the world in order. This iyawo was himself a victim, not a perpetrator, of these olorishas actions. And you yourself have given me the power even to change a person’s head (destiny).
Olofin, convinced of the truth of Orunmila’s words, responded: “Orunmila, you are indeed the one I commissioned to put the affairs of the world in order and to mend the world when it is broken. If it is your wish to save this iyawo, I will approve it. To iban Echu.”
So ended the first “cambio de la cabeza”…

Apprenticeship in Santeria


When I first got involved in Santeria, I first had to learn how to learn in the religion. Teaching, like most things, is done in the traditional way, because… well… it works. But it took some getting used to…
When I had just been initiated as a santero, I called my Oyugbona in Abofaca, Julito Collazo, to give him the news.
“I know you’re hungry, so I’m going to give you something to learn.” He then gave me a series of prayers. Continue reading Apprenticeship in Santeria

Ifá, Divination and the Power Behind Santería

consciousness2

Adapted from my book, “Babalawo: Santería’s High Priests” published by LLewellyn Worldwide:

Santería, its priests the santeros and its high priests the babalawos are justly famous for their power. Divination is at the core of Santeria and almost everything we do literally begins and ends with it. Besides telling us our past, present, and future with astonishing detail and accuracy, it is through divination that the Orichas communicate their wants and needs, and are able to deliver warnings, encouragement, and advice.

When a person is seen with Ifá, the client is advised on the best course of action to take, which rituals or offerings are required, and which Orichas to go to for aid. In this manner a person can achieve and maintain proper alignment and balance, both within themselves as well as with the forces that surround us.

Babalawos initiated into the service of Orula, the Oricha or deity of wisdom and knowledge, and are the only priests who practice Ifá, the highest and most profound form of divination in Santería. Ifá is probably best known for being a sophisticated and remarkably accurate and effective form of divination, containing within it a system of remedies, a vast body of knowledge and wisdom covering everything from the human condition to the universe at large, as accumulated and distilled over hundreds, perhaps thousands of years.

You could say Ifá is the totality of knowledge. Everything that exists
in the universe and in our lives was born and is described in Ifá’s odduns (signs), and babalawos have been accessing and manipulating the vast program called our universe since time immemorial. And they have been effectively hacking the universe ever since.
Ifá is the handwriting of Olodumare (God), and it is simplicity itself.
At its core it consists of just two numbers. One and zero.

 +
I  I
I  I
I  I
I  I     (Baba Eyiogbe, my oddun in Ifá)

I still find this short definition of Ifá, to be very handy when I’m asked to explain just what Ifá is and what I do as a babalawo…

Iboru, Iboya, Ibocheché

Frank Baba Eyiogbe

Ifa 1, Meteorologists 0

The other day, as I was performing my morning Ifá consultation for myself, the oddun where the tempest was born appeared. The oddun predicts a major storm will occur soon and to take precautions to avoid getting rain on one’s head. When I asked my wife and Apetebí Lisa Changó about it, she said the forecast was for sun and clear skies for the next month.

I looked at a few forecasts and they all agreed with the one Lisa had seen. Knowing Oricha Standard Time can be very different from our own, I decided to file that information so I could see how long it took for the predicted storm to appear. For a long time I had joked that I was often so busy that I was having to get my weather reports from Ifá rather than by the usual means. But this was the first time Ifá was directly contradicting the weather reports by such a large measure. So this one should be interesting…

Early that afternoon, when we went out for the day, sure enough the sky was clear and sunny just as the weather reports had predicted. We brought along our umbrellas and hats just in case even though it looked like they would not be needed.

We were enjoying the sun and the perfect weather when suddenly we heard distant thunder. Before long dark clouds had come rushing in, dumping tons of rain on us. Fortunately, we were prepared and the sudden downpour had little effect on us.

When we got home, the news was all about the freak storm that had hit the area so suddenly…

So… Ifá 1, Meteorologists 0…

As they say, “Ifá’s word never falls to the floor…”

Iború, Iboya, Ibochiché