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
Adapted from my book, “Babalawo: SanterÃa’s High Priests” published by LLewellyn Worldwide:
SanterÃa, 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 IfÃ¡, 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 IfÃ¡, the highest and most profound form of divination in SanterÃa. IfÃ¡ 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 IfÃ¡ is the totality of knowledge. Everything that exists
in the universe and in our lives was born and is described in IfÃ¡â€™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.
IfÃ¡ is the handwriting of Olodumare (God), and it is simplicity itself.
At its core it consists of just two numbers. One and zero.
IÂ IÂ Â Â Â (Baba Eyiogbe, my oddun in IfÃ¡)
I still find this short definition of IfÃ¡, to be very handy when I’m asked to explain just what IfÃ¡ is and what I do as a babalawo…
Iboru, Iboya, IbochechÃ©
Frank Baba Eyiogbe
The other day, as I was performing my morning IfÃ¡ 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 ApetebÃ Lisa ChangÃ³ 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 IfÃ¡ rather than by the usual means. But this was the first time IfÃ¡ 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… IfÃ¡ 1, Meteorologists 0…
As they say, “IfÃ¡’s word never falls to the floor…”
IborÃº, Iboya, IbochichÃ©
In ItÃ¡s*, sometimes we are told to change our rooms, to change our furniture, to change our lives. Why are we told this? I’m not so sure. Some say to thwart Egguns and spirits that want to do harm. Other times perhaps it is because we need to breathe new life, new air. We all can get complacent in our lives. It is comforting to know where your next meal will come from and where you will lay your head at night. Or perhaps the Orichas are saying you have not reached your destiny you need to keep going.
I had just received ItÃ¡ and my padrino Ogbeate asked â€œyou have any questionsâ€. As I sat dumbfounded all I could ask â€œWhat do you mean I have to change my entire lifeâ€. â€œAsi es, poco a poco pero todo tiene que cambiarâ€ (As it is so, little by little but everything must change).
Growing up brown and poor in the ghettos of Los Angeles, I thought I had cracked the ‘glass ceiling’ (concrete more like) by being the only one in my extended family to go to college, get a master’s and work in my profession. And here the ItÃ¡ was saying something was amiss in my life, that I needed an entire transformation.
Okay, I gulped… much to think about…
As our twins were very young, they needed lots of attention, care and nurture. During this trip to Cuba I received Odudua, Olokun and my yeye Obba. This trip was to fortify me with the strength I needed and continued to need with what lay ahead. What lay ahead was a series of challenges related to the life or death threat to my husband Frank’s health. Changing one’s life is not at the forefront of your existence when you’re just trying to survive an onslaught of hardships and just trying to breathe, hoping that our family will somehow come out together at the end of the tunnel. It is interesting that life has a way of testing you through adversity, just to see what you are made of. Will you blow away at the first strong wind or will you grow your roots a little deeper?
Years later, with our family intact we headed to Huautla de Jimenez, Oaxaca. We decided to go to Huautla after a series of disappointments of not selling our house, though we knew that we needed to leave our old life and start anew. I had suspected that something was amiss, that we were missing a piece of the puzzle but what could it be?
What transpired in Huautla, forever changed our perspective. We both now looked at the world from a very different perspective. We could no longer keep doing what we were doing in the same trajectory. A shift- change had occurred unsuspectingly to us. Going to the city was our first realization that something profound had occurred. No longer were we looking at the world through a capitalist imposed lens of the rat race. But from the perspective of the Earth itself, from the earthen floor, from the greenery of living plants, from the dew of the morning, from the rising of the Sun. Our whole perspective changed and life was no longer taken for granted.
I didn’t realize how much my life had changedÂ until my Horizons changed. As our family traveled through the U.S. The horizons of the sun rising on the East and setting on the West is a constant. I have seared images of the sun setting on the Pacific Ocean where you can see the settling sun inch by inch in the vast sea. But arriving at the Atlantic Ocean I could barely make out the sun setting on the west.
And it wasn’t until arriving on the East coastÂ that I realizedÂ a total transformation had taken root. Down to the core where I struggle to find which horizon to look for that I realize my life has changed completely…
…poco a poco.
*The ItÃ¡ is the deep divination performed as part of major initiations. During this divination, the Oricha received gives predictions and advice which apply to your whole life.
â€œThe more you go inside the world of the Ndi Xti Santo (Little Saint Children), the more things are seen. And you also see our past and our future, which are there together as a single thing already achieved, already happened… I saw stolen horses and buried cities, the existence of which was unknown, and they are going to be brought to light. Millions of things I saw and knew. I knew and saw God: an immense clock that ticks, the spheres that go slowly around and inside the stars, the earth, the entire universe, the day and the night, the cry and the smile, the happiness and the pain. He who knows to the end the secret of the Ndi Xi Santo can even see that infinite clockwork.â€
– Maria Sabina, Mazatec Chota Chjine (Woman of Knowledge)
Shortly before making our trip to Huautla, consulting IfÃ¡ about the trip had yielded the oddun Ojuani Boka. In this path of IfÃ¡, Orunmila had divined for humanity using grains of corn. What I found particularly amazing was that shamans among the Mazatec Indians often divine with corn kernels. In fact, I was first drawn to La SanterÃa because while planning a trip to Huautla years before I went to be seen in hopes of gaining insight into the Mazatec corn kernel divination through experiencing what I hoped to be a similar form of divination in SanterÃa! The Mazatec Indians had led me to IfÃ¡ and now IfÃ¡ was pointing me back to the Mazatecs.
How the events unfolded was equally amazing. As I mentioned in the last blog entry, soon after we arrived we had made contact with a woman who had agreed to perform a velada ceremony with the Little Saint Children with us… Until she learned we had come from Los Angeles. She had been told by the Little Saint Children during a prior ceremony that people would be arriving from Los Angeles and that she could not do the ceremony for us, but instead must take us to an elder Woman or Man of Knowledge.
The Chota Chjine carefully made three piles of the Ndi Xti Santo (Little Saint Children). When I first saw the huge mound of the Saint Children she intended for me, I was taken aback for an instant. I had read from a number of sources that the Mazatecs never gave outsiders more than a one or two pairs and here there were probably a good twenty pairs â€“ a massive amount even for a Mazateco. But it quickly occurred to me that she too had obviously had been told of our coming by the Saints and had been told what to do, so without question I ate the entire amount given to me in exactly the manner she described.
She began her prayers and songs and in less than an hour I felt I was sinking into the depths and knew I was to have little control over what would follow.
When the Ndi Xti Santo first took me to â€œthe place where everything is known,â€ they explained that they were offering me a rare gift: but I couldn’t withstand the journey as I was: if I wanted to go I must allow them to kill me and have every particle of my being torn apart, but promised me they would ‘rebuild me’ into something greater than I was before. I agreed and after my constituent elements were torn apart, they led me to â€œthe place where everything is knownâ€ where I saw the entirety of the past, the future and the present, from the birth to the end of the universe itself, happening all at once. The immenseness of time and space could be found in a single conscious moment. The universe itself was not only alive but conscious, from the littlest particle to the universe as a whole. And all the wisdom and knowledge of the whole universe was laid bare in front of me. This was the place where the odduns of IfÃ¡ lived! I was experiencing the immensity that is IfÃ¡!
Everything occurring in front of me was also being explained by the Little Saint Children. I knew at that moment why it had been necessary for me to have become initiated as a babalawo and to have received Olofin and OrÃ before going to this place.
The Chota Chjine knew what had occurred of course and the Little Saint Children began teaching me some of the Mazatec healing practices what I needed to do to help the Chota Chjine as even the healer needs to be healed.
She began to cry as we saw how the traditions taught to the Mazatecos by the Ndi Xti Santo – that had been kept alive for hundreds if not thousands of years – were being lost due to the lack of people willing to devote their lives to learning them. I assured her, and the Little Saint Children, that the traditions are not dead if there is even one person on earth who keeps them.
At this point the Chota Chjine told Lisa Chango and myself that we had a lot of work in front of us and that since we had been given a priceless gift: knowledge, we must follow the prohibitions including refraining from sexual activity, not for the usual four or five days, but for fifty two days, the same number as the number of years in a century according to the sacred mesoamerican calendar.
I found SanterÃa and IfÃ¡ while searching for insight into the Mazatecs, and in turn the Mazatecs gave me a much deeper understanding and appreciation of the knowledge and wisdom that is IfÃ¡. And I am just beginning to fathom just how much the two ways of knowledge complement each other to make a complete whole.
IborÃº, Iboya, IbochechÃ©