Tag Archives: Orisha

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”…

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