Ifá, Divination and the Power Behind Santería


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