Ifa – An African Spiritual Tradition
Ifa is an indigenous, earth centered African spiritual tradition which was conceptualized by the Yoruba people of Nigeria, West Africa. According to oral literature, the practice of Ifa originated as far back as eight thousand years ago. Therefore, Ifa may indeed be the oldest monotheistic religion in the world.
Ifa is balanced on three legs; Orunmila (Creator), Orisa (Nature Spirits), and the Ancestors.
The Supreme Being, Olodumare, is without gender and is not an active participant in the affairs of living humans. Ol0dumare is benevolent and has provided a Universe with all that is needed for humans to be fulfilled and happy.Ifa is characterized by a deep sense of the interdependence of all life. “Every life form and element of Nature has an inner soul force – including rivers, rocks, clouds, metals, flowers, thunder, and the wind. These natural energies that comprise the Universe are called Orisa. Each Orisa has its own specific function. Humans are in constant communication with Orisa energy, whether we’re aware of it or not.
Through Ifa, we recognize that our Ancestor spirits are always with us and must be honored, acknowledged and consulted. All people are born good and with a destiny meant to develop their character (Iwa-pele). Divination was given to us so that we could periodically check in to make sure we are staying in balance and following the path of our destiny. The mysteries and teachings of Ifa revealed in divination are contained in a body of scriptures called Odu.
Ifa practitioners do not regard their spirituality as a “religion” in the Western sense. It is instead a way of relating to spiritual energy that helps individuals discover and stay on their path (as opposed to “The Path”). The tradition is based on staying in balance with our community and with the world itself, with our ancestors and our personal spiritual energies. Practitioners are encouraged to employ common sense and personal responsibility, to appreciate the sacred everyday life, and to integrate all aspects of being, namely the physical, the emotional, the mental and the spiritual.
We believe that everyone alive on the planet is the descendant of a single East African woman. This idea is supported by genetics. Therefore, in a very real sense, we are all African.
Though its roots are African, Ifa is a world religion. Its adherents are male and female, and of every race and mixture under the Sun. One can partake of the benefits and blessings of Ifa’s teachings without being a disciple of the tradition.
Like other non-western religions, Ifa has been misinterpreted, distorted and suppressed here in the West. While other non-Abrahamic traditions such as Hinduism, Buddhism, or the Tao are (with varying degrees of comprehension) acknowledged and respected, African spiritual traditions are often dismissed and ridiculed by the society at large. Although other spiritual traditions, such as those practiced in Hawai’i and Native America, have been similarly marginalized, those originating in Africa have been particularly misunderstood. Whenever the subject of an African religion does arise, it is usually as a metaphor for the opposite of everything considered good about Western religion.
Many assume that African spirituality is nothing more than a collection of simple-minded superstitions. These assumptions are often based on the actions of some Western practitioners of African derived traditions, who persist in following a fear based system. These practices took root from the time when the knowledge of African spirituality first arrived the New World in the hearts and minds of African people brought here to be made into slaves. During those tragic days, if the religion were to survive at all, it had to be practiced in secret, hidden behind Christian icons. These secret practices became a necessary part of keeping African traditions from being completely destroyed in this part of the world.
In responding to the realities of life in the West, African spiritual traditions subsequently have been abused by some priests and priestesses who, in their willingness to use sacred energy to control and frighten others, are no different from their counterparts in other religions. There are also those who insist on keeping our tradition undercover. Keeping our practices invisible adds to the inability of non-practitioners to see who really are, teachers, farmers, doctors, lawyers, moms and dads, small business owners, engineers, and other normal people.
African spirituality, in its essence, celebrates the oneness that exists between the Creator and the Creation.
The breath of God is in all.
Tags: Ifa, Earth Centered, Yoruba people of Nigeria, Oral Literature, Orunmila, Orisa, Ancestors
Filed under: Ifa Theology
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