Ifá: A “Garden of Infinite Paths?”

garden“We are as Obatalá made us, what we become is up to us”

Though this refrán or proverb is specifically aimed at our destinies revealed during our Itás or deep divination performed at initiation, it also applies to regular consultas, the advice given during regular consultations when we are seen with Ifá.
The road or path Ifá that shows up is a broad one, or more precisely each oddun contains a number of possible paths and choices included within it, although all of these paths come from the same root. Nowhere is this made clearer than in the different versions of what is essentially the same patakí or mythic parable.
For instance in Ogundá Meyi there are two different versions of the same patakí with two very different conclusions. The first version, often referred to as “Olófin Splits the Difference,” illustrates how one day Ogún was walking down the road. He had run out of food and had become very, very hungry. As he walked along, he spied a river below which sparked an idea in the powerful Oricha’s mind.
Soon he set to fashioning a makeshift fishing pole out of a branch, a line out of some nearby vines and a hook he created from a nearby thorn bush. But he still lacked one very important element: bait.
Remembering having seen a meat salesman a short while back, Ogún walked back to the salesman’s stand asked him if he might give him a tidbit of spoiled meat to use.
Now fully prepared, Ogún went down to the river to try his luck. Before long he hooked a tremendous fish and within minutes the mighty Oricha had landed his prize onto the shore.
Hearing the great commotion, the man who owned the land and the meat salesman ran to the scene to see what had happened. When they saw the magnificent fish, they each wanted it for themselves. Thus began the arguments…
“I own the land, and I own the river. So the fish is rightfully mine.”
“Hold on, it was MY meat that lured the fish, so I should get that fish.”
“I… caught… the… fish… and… it… is… MINE.” Roared Ogún.
The fight went on for some time, and the argument kept escalating. Then, with unrestrained rage gleaming from their eyes, all three men drew their weapons to prove once and for all who would get the fish. They began to circle each other warily, searching for any small but fatal flaw which would allow one of them to slay his opponents and win him the prized fish.
Suddenly there was a blinding flash and the very earth trembled as Olófin appeared. All three men instantly prostrated themselves before her.
“Why did you summon me?”
“But we didn’t summon you,” the landowner stammered.
“But your actions forced me to come. What is this argument about?”
“I caught this fish fair and square and these two thieves wish to steal it from me” spat Ogún.
“It is my land, it is my river and therefore it is MY fish.”
“There would be no fish if it weren’t for my meat, so this fish is mine!”
With this they all began to bicker and squabble anew.
“SILENCE” Olófin roared and the very ground trembled anew at the sound of her voice.
Then, with her voice lowered to the point the men had to strain to hear her, she continued. “I own all the land. I own all the meat. I own all life on earth and.. I.. own… YOU. Give me that fish… NOW.
Ogún rushed over to Olófin with the fish.
“Your machete if you please.”
With this Olófin took the machete, sliced the fish into three even sections, and handed each man their share.
Then with a baleful, penetrating glance which needed no words to bring instantaneous shame to all three men, Olófin was gone.
But there is another version of this patakín…
It begins pretty much identically to the first one. Except this time Olófin does not appear.
This time, as the men were occupied themselves with arguing and threatening one another, the fish managed to flop its way back to the water and made good its escape. And, instead of ending the argument, the fish’s escape only served to fan the flames of the bitter exchange as they argued over whose fault it was that enabled their mutual loss. Again the three drew their weapons, and again the antagonists circled each other like something from a Tarantino movie. But this time since Olófin did not appear, the men furiously battled until all three are killed, with only the groans of the dying and the stench of swiftly approaching death marking the events of that day.
The two versions of the story show two very different possible outcomes based on how Ogún acts in each one, even though one version Ogún only acts differently through Olófin’s interference. These two almost identical versions of the patakí illustrate how each camino or road of Ifá contains within it several alternate and potential futures. Alternate paths branching out, some of which lead to very different destinations.
How we interact with an oddun can greatly affect the final outcome. In this case either we can take the more diplomatic and compassionate route and, by “splitting the difference”, all is saved, and everyone is left content in the end. Or, we can let greed and stubbornness get the better of us, leading us down a path that can only end in argument, recrimination, and failure. And, in this instance, perhaps even violence and death.
During a consultation, the babalawo may tell the different versions of a patakí to illustrate the possible paths the client may take and the likely outcome that lies at the end of each path.
But the implications hint towards something much deeper. These implications begin to seep in when we ask ourselves one simple question:
“Which version of this patakí is the ‘real’ one?”
To explain the deeper implications of the different ‘versions’ or paths which arise in the odduns I would like to borrow a little from particle physics. In particular, what is commonly known as “The Many Worlds Theory” or the ‘Multiverse.’
In this theory, is also known as the Wheeler-Everett Many Worlds Theory. Although it was actually Everett’s theory, Dr. Wheeler put his name in front on the paper only to ensure Everett’s theory would get the attention he felt it deserved. This Many Worlds Theory is an attempt to explain the weird fact that the tiniest particles making up our universe(s) seem to be doing a lot of different things in a lot of different places at a lot of different times until they are observed. At that moment all these possibilities collapse into one version which is the one we observe. According to the Many Worlds Theory, the universe actually splits off into two or more different universes at that moment and all these various possibilities actually occur, but in different universes. Thus we don’t really just live in a universe, but in a multiverse where all the possibilities occur in their own universes. Therefore there is one world where Olófin split the difference and there is another where Ogún and the others died in blood, pain and agony.
In other words, our decisions really can make a ‘world’ of difference…
I hope this little thought will keep all your noodles baking until I can find my way to write my next post. And those who would like to delve into these ideas further might enjoy the delightful and thought provoking story by Jorge Luis Borges “The Garden of Forking Paths” (“El Jardin de Senderos que se Bifurcan” in the original Spanish). I must warn you this story may be far too thought provoking to make for good bedtime reading.

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