The subject of the role and function of Iyaami within the tradition of Ifa/Orisa covers a wide spectrum of opinions and interpretations. Many of these opinions characterize Iyaami as a negative force in the Universe frequently associated with “witchcraft” and the use of female power to harm others. This particular view seems to me to be in contradiction to both Ifa scripture and Ifa ritual practice.
Offerings to Iyaami are a component of nearly all offerings made as a result of consultation with Ifa divination. This in itself has neither a positive or negative connotation. However the use of the symbolic representation of birds (Eleiye) on the crowns of the Oba seems to suggest that the blessing of Iyaami is an essential element in the sanctification of the monarchy.
The references to Iyaami have been eliminated from many of the versions of Odu Ifa available in English making an evaluation based on scripture difficult. The verses that are available in English are often cryptic and obscure making interpretation a challenge. I submit these verses as a basis for further examination of what I believe is an important and fundamental concept in the practice of our faith.
Pierre Verger was a French photographer who moved to Brazil and became active in the Orisa community. He made several trips to Africa where he received Ifa and was given the name Awo Fatunmbi. He wrote a number of books in Portuguese including a well-documented study of herbs associated with Odu Ifa. In addition he made a study of Odu related to Iyaami Osoranga and printed a volume of the verses he collected on this important subject. This book is my interpretation of the Odu he collected. Iba se Baba Fatunmbi.
Ire Awo Falokun Fatunmbi Egbe Ifa Ogunti Ode Remo
I I I I I II I I
IRETE OGBE (How Odu Became Wife of Orunmila )
Ki’ wo t e’gbe. K’emi te’gbe. Gbogbo’wa l’a jo nte’gbe. A d’ifa fun Odu awe sakun ni. Nwon ni Odu awe sakun ni ti nti Orun bo w’aiye. Nigbati yio maa bo s’aiye, nwon ni iwo Odu, lilo l’o nlo yii o. Olodumare, o fun un l’eiye. Osi gbe eiye yii wa s’ode isalaiye. Aragamago l’oruko ti Olodumare fun eiye yii. Aragamago l’oruko ti eiye Odu yii nje. O ni iwo Odu, o ni gbogbo ise t’o ha nran an ni yio maa je. O ni t’o ba ti nlo nibi yiowu t’o ba ran an, ni yio maa je. O ni bi o pe k’o se buruku, o ni bi o pe k’ose rere, o ni gbogbo ohun yiowu ti o ba ni k’ose, ni yio maa se. Ni Odu ba gbe eiye naa wa s’ode aiye. Odu si je eniti ti wipe ki opolopo enia ko maa ri on, o ni oju eni ti Odu maa nfe ki o ri on, bi ota Odu ri Odu, yio f oo l’oju, yio fi agbara yii, yio foo l’oju. Bi ota re miran ba si tun ri igba eiye yii naa, eiye Aragamago yii naa ni yio fi foo l’oju. O wa nl o eiye yii. O wa lo o ti ti ti ti o de’le Orunmila. Orunmila o wa pe awon babalawo re. O nlo ree pe, “Bi a ba ko ni l’ogbon, ogbon l’eni igbon, bi a ba ko ni l’ago, ago l’eni go.” Awo ile Orunmila l’o d’ifa fun Orunmila ni’ jo ti yio gbe Odu ni’yawo. Orunmila ni yii, ni yio gbe Odu ni’yawo. Awon babalawo Orunmila, nwon ni he! Nwon ni Odu ti ofe gbe ni’yawo yii o, nwon ni, agbara kan wa l’owo re. Nwon ni, agbara naa ni ki Orunmila o rubo sile dee, nitori gbogbo awon enia re. Nwon ni ki o ma ba a fi agbara naa pa aje, nitori agbara ti obirin ohun ni, o ju ti Orunmila lo o. Nwon ni ki Orunmila o yara rubo’le. Nwon ni, kini o ru sile dee. Nwon ni, k’Orunmila o ni okete. Nwon ni, ki o si ni eku. Nwon ni, ki o si ni eja. Jegbaaj o, Orunmila ru u. Nigbati Orunmila rubo tan, nwon se’ fa fun Orunmila. Orunmila gbe e s’ode. Dide ti Odu o de, o ba etutu n’ita. Ha! tani o wa se etutu yii sile? Ha! Esu ni Orunmila naa l’ose etutu naa sil e, nitoripe ofefe o, iwo Odu. Odu ni ko buru. Gbogbo awon ti Odu ki l’ehin ni awon aburu. O ni ki gbogbo nwon maa jeun. Odu naa, o si igba Aragamago eiye re sile. O ni ki o maa jeun. Odu wole. Nigbati Odu wole tan, ni Odu ba ke si Orunmila. O ni, iwo Orunmila. O ni, on de o. O ni, agbara on po o, o ni, sugbon on ko ni jeki won ba o ja. O ni, on ko ni ba’wo Orunmila ja. O ni, afi eniti o ba be on l’owe si wipe ki on o ba o baja, o ni, ni on o maa baja, nitori Odu ni, nwon ko fi fi ya je Orunmila. Nitori bi nwon ba fi ya je Orunmila, Odu yio fi agbara re at agbara eiye re yio fi ba oluware ja. Nigbati Odu so bee fun Orunmila tan, Orunmila ni, ko buru. Nwon si dijo mba bo. Nigbati o ya, Odu ni, iwo Orunmila, o ni, yara mo ewo on o. O ni on, o fe ki awon obirin yioku, ki nwon o ma wo on l’oju. O ni, k’o ba on so fun gbogbo awon obirin yioku, ki nwon o ma wo on l’l oju. O ni, eyii ti o ba ti wo on l’loju, yio ri’ja on. O ni, on ko fe ki enikankan o wo on l’oju o. Orunmila ni, ko buru. O si pe gbogbo awon obirin re. O kilo fun won. Awon obirin Orunmila, nwon ko wo o l’oju. Odu nso fun Orunmila pe, o ni, on wa ba o di eru re si rere ni. O ni, on wa ba o tun gbogbo nkan rese ni. O ni, gbogbo nkan re ti o ba si fe baje, ki on o maa tun un se. O ni ti o ba mo ewo on, O ni, gbogbo nkan re poo pata ni yio maa dara. Eyii to o ba si fe baje, on ko ni je ki nkankan o baje. Bi oso fe ba aje, o ni, on ko ni je, ti on gan naa ko ba si ti ba a je. O ni, aje kookan ko le ba nikan Orunmila je. O ni, ti Orunmila ko ba ti fi on sere. O ni, ti Orunmila ko si je ki awon obirin re yioku ko fi on sere. O ni, on ko ni ba Orunmila ja. On ko si ni ba awon enia re ja. O ni, ki Orunmila si maa mo gbogbo ise ti o ba fe maa ran on. O ni, ti o ba ran on nise, ti enikan ba fi iya je e nibi kan, ti o ba fe ran on si i, on oje e. Agbara eiye re, ki enikan ba ti fi iya je Orunmila, Bi o yin in, lekanna, Odu nlo ja nibe nu un. l’Orunmila wa ni hen! Iwo Odu yii. On mo o ni pataki. On si mo pe iwo l’o ju gbogbo awon obirin lo l’aiye. On ko si ni fi o sera lailai. Gbogbo omo on ti o ba si ti je babalawo naa, ni on si maa kil o fun pe, nwon ko gbodo fi o sere lailai, nitori Odu ni agbara babalaw o naa, o ni, bi babalawo ba ti n’ifa, ki o si maa l’Odu. O ni, ase ti Odu naa si fun on wipe, gbogbo awon obirin ti on ba l’odo on ko gbodo gba obirin laaye. Lati ijo naa, gbogbo babalawo poo pata, ko si eni ti ko l’Odu, ko si. Eni ti ko ba ti i l’Odu iyen ko ti i te’fa nu un. Nijo ti o ba si ti l’ Odu, nijo naa l’o di eniti Odu ko ni jeki iya o je.
You walk over the bush, I walk over the bush, and we both walk over the bush together were the Babalawo who cast Ifa for Odu on the day Odu made the journey from Heaven to Earth. (In Odu Ifa the name of the diviner is a key to understanding the solution to a particular problem. In this verse the name of the diviner is you walk over the bush, I walk over the bush, we walk over the bush together. In Yoruba the word bush is a reference to the forest outside of a village. Walking into the bush means leaving the comforts of the home and the village to travel into the natural environment. In Yoruba culture you go into the bush to gather herbs, to hunt, to make a clearing to start a farm and countless other tasks related to survival. The inference here is that we approach the issues of survival individually and we approach the issues of survival collectively. Nigeria has the highest population density of any region on the continent of Africa. The steady growth in population is, I believe, a result of the effective distribution of labor in the rural areas making it possible to maximize limited natural resources. The name of the diviner is telling us that this verse of Odu Ifa is a revelation of the mystery of working together.)
Whenever she will arrive on Earth, the Babalawo said Odu this is your beginning. Olodumare gave her a bird. She took the bird on her journey to Earth. (Dudu in Yoruba is the word black. In liturgical Yoruba black refers to both a range of dark colors and it refers to those mysteries that remain hidden, unseen and unknowable through common mundane experience. All awo (mystery or secret) can also be described as dudu. The word Odu takes the root of dudu, which is du and adds the prefix O. In liturgical Yoruba the letter O is often used as a reference to the spirit of a thing. The word Odu could be translated to mean the spirit of the primal mystery. In more poetic language the word Odu could be translated to mean the Womb of Creation. Ifa teaches that learning, growth and spiritual development comes as a result of an increase in the understanding of awo, or more correctly through the revelation of Odu. That is why the places of initiation are called igbodu from the elision igbo odu meaning the womb of the sacred forest. When the verse speaks of Odu coming to earth it is speaking of the manifestation of primal principles in the Earth itself. For example when the Earth was still in a gas state there was no manifestation of the Odu that creates land. Odu came to earth to form earth, air, fire and water. Each of these manifestations of Odu can be described as the journey of Odu from Heaven to Earth. The verse goes on to say that when Odu made the journey from Heaven to Earth, Olodumare (The Creator) gave her a bird. This does not mean a woman holding a bird initiated the genesis of earth, air, fire and water. Ifa teaches that everything in Creation has Ori or consciousness. Odu coming from Heaven to Earth describes various forces in nature emerging throughout the process of evolution. In Nature there are two forms of ase or spiritual, expansive ase and contractive ase. Ase that is expansive is described as masculine and ase that is contractive is described as feminine. It is the polarity between dynamics and form and not the polarity between men and women in the anthropomorphic sense of the words. In this Odu the bird symbolizes communication between ori and other higher, more evolved or we could primal forms of consciousness. In particular the bird symbolizes the ability of Odu to communicate directly with Olodumare. To say Odu carries a bird is to affirm the notion that natural phenomena has consciousness’ and that these various forms of consciousness are able to communicate to one another. This is the basis for what is known in the Western World as the Gaia theory of Nature. The Gaia theory is based on the idea that the Earth is a conscious living being and that various natural phenomena throughout the world are link to Gaia as the nurturing mother of this particular planet. The bird is the symbol for the ability of inanimate objects to communicate to one another. It is also used as the symbol for the ability of human to communicate with spirit using the medium of astral travel or out of body experience. In Ifa spiritual practice birds represent the ability to communicate with spirit and for this reason birds are found on the crown of the Oba, on the staff of many Orisa and on the Osun used to protect the ori. The ori is protected as a consequence of its ability to communicate with spirit, which includes the expectation of being warned of potential danger in any give situation. To say Olodumare gave Odu a bird prior to her journey to Earth is a comment on the fundamental structure of reality.)
Aragamago is the name Olodumare gave to the bird. Aragamago is the name of the bird belonging to Odu. (Aragamago is a spirit bird associated with the mysteries of Iyaami Osoranga. Odu is a force of nature and it is a pot associated with Ifa initiation. In this verse we have the inference that the worship of Ifa is dependant on Odu and Odu is empowered by Aragamago and Aragamago is a symbolic reference to the mysteries of women’s power preserved by the secret society called Iyaami Osoranga. This then takes us back to the name of the diviner, which is the key to the meaning of the Odu, and the name of the diviner tells us this Odu is about learning how to work together.)
Olodumare told Odu that anything she wished to accomplish would be done if you send the bird to do it. Olodumare said, anyplace you want to send this bird, it will go there. (Here the verse is affirming the belief that effective prayer requires ase or spiritual power. The verse is identifying astral travel as an effective source of spiritual power. Astral travel is the ability to disassociate the ori or consciousness from the physical body allowing consciousness to view hidden dimensions of reality.)
Olodumare said if you want it to do bad things it will do bad things, if you want it to do good things it would do good things. Aragamago was the bird brought to Earth by Odu. (Spiritual power in its primal manifestation is morally and ethically neutral. For example fire may be used to cook a meal or burn down an enemies house. The moral effect of these two uses of fire is based on value judgments made by human consciousness. In both examples the nature and function of fire itself remains the same. This verse is not advocating the use of spiritual power to do bad things; the verse is describing the natural phenomena, as it exists in its primal form.)
Odu said no other person will be able to look upon it, she said it must not be looked upon. If any enemy of Odu looks upon it, she will shatter his eyes; the power of the bird will make him blind. (In Ifa spiritual practice initiation is used to unlock the latent potential of ori or consciousness. When a person is initiated they receive a power object, usually a pot that symbolize their personal elevation. After initiation the pot becomes a source of personal renewal. Part of Ifa spiritual discipline to protect the pot from contamination by those who have not been initiated. The verse is saying that the spiritual power used to protect the pot is associated with the power of the Aragamaga bird and the secrets of women’s spiritual power.)
Odu used this power to gain access to the house of Orunmila. (This I believe is a key point in understanding Irete – Ogbe. Here the verse is saying Odu initiated the association with Orunmila. It was Odu that wanted to align herself with Orunmila.)
Orunmila consulted his Babalawo who consulted Ifa. Orunmila was told, “If we teach a person to be intelligent, that person will be intelligent, if we teach a person to be stupid, that person will be stupid. Ifa told Orunmila to take Odu as his wife. The Babalawo said a power is in the hands of Odu. They said because of this power Orunmila must make an offering to the Earth. They said the offering must be made in for the welfare of all people. The said the offering must be made so Odu will not kill people, and so Odu will not eat people because the power of Odu is greater than the power of Orunmila. They said Orunmila must quickly make ebo. The Babalawo gave him the ingredients for the ebo. (In the previous section of the verse the point is made that the power of Odu is morally neutral from the point of view of human judgment. This section of the verse is saying that Odu comes in alignment with Orunmila so that the power of Odu will be used for the good of the people. One of the primary responsibilities of those who are initiated into the mysteries of Orunmila is to provide communal guidance through the study and use of Ifa divination. Morally judgments are based on weighing the needs of the individual against the needs of the collective. If all decisions were made based on personal needs there would be little if any communal harmony. Odu aligns herself with Orunmila to insure harmony in nature and harmony in the world of humans. The verse is also saying that if you teach a person to be wise they will use spiritual power in a positive way. If you teach a person to be stupid they will use spiritual power in a thoughtless and potential destructive way. The implication here is that spiritual power is given in conjunction with ethical guidance and development of good character.)
Orunmila made the offering. On the day Odu arrived at Orunmila’s home she found the offering outside the door. Odu asked who has made this offering to the Earth? Esu said it was Orunmila who made the offering because he wants to marry you. Odu took the offering and fed the bird Aragamaga. (Here we have the relationship between Odu, representing raw spiritual power, and Orunmila, representing social order and the development of good character, being facilitated by Esu. This primal relationship is symbolized in Ifa initiations when offerings are made to Iyaami and it is symbolized when portions of ebo (personal offerings) are giving to Iyaami. This represents a primal covenant between divergent forces in nature and this covenant is reaffirmed during initiation and when making offerings prescribed by Ifa divination.) Odu entered the house of Orunmila and called to him. Odu said Orunmila I have arrived. Odu said I have many powers. Odu said she did not want to fight with Orunmila. Odu said if someone asked for her to help them fight Orunmila she would not help. Odu said she did not want Orunmila to suffer in anyway. Odu said she would fight anyone who wanted to make Orunmila suffer. (On a social level this verses is affirming a commitment by the women’s secret societies to support the public work done by Orunmila. It is an affirmation of acceptance of the principles of good character advocated by Orunmila and an a commitment to preserve and protect Ifa as the fundamental principle for social organization.)
Orunmila said, not bad. (Orunmila is acknowledging appreciation for this support.)
Together Orunmila and Odu went into the world. Odu said I will teach you my taboo. Odu said you must not let your other wives see my face. Odu said she would fight whoever looked at her face. Orunmila said he would honor her taboo. (There are different variations on this verse and there is widespread debate on the nature and meaning of this taboo. Here we see the taboo against letting women see Odu is not directed against all women, it is directed against women other than Odu. Some of the debate on this topic advocates the notion that only men can look inside the Odu pot and because only men can look the pot this taboo somehow makes men more powerful than women, or more spiritually developed; any number of similar variations. The purpose of looking into a pot is to receive the ase or spiritual power of that pot and to allow the ase of the pot to transform the ori or consciousness of the person who is blessed to view the ase. If Odu represents primal feminine spiritual power than men who look into the pot during initiation do so as a way of expanding their own consciousness to include an experience of the feminine perspective. If a woman looked into the pot it would only serve to show her something that she already has, there would be no transformation. Nothing suggests, implies or infers anything at all about the relative worth of men or women. It is simply a reaffirmation of the message implied by the name of the diviners suggestion a model for cooperative effort.)
Odu told Orunmila she would transform his burdens into good fortune. Odu said she would heal all things. Odu said she would change anything that went wrong and make it right. (This verse is simply saying Orunmila who has access to the tools for divination and therefore the knowledge of how to fix a problem must still rely on Odu for the spiritual power to implement that knowledge.)
Odu told Orunmila if he honored her taboo she would makes things good in the world. (Honoring the taboo means both not letting the initiated look into the Odu pot and insuring that men integrate the feminine perspective into their own ori. The feminine perspective is not so much a gender issue as it is a symbolic reference to the need for Ifa priests to embrace the qualities of empathy, compassion and the unconditional love of a mother to a child. These qualities are needed to insure that the power of Odu, the power of the primal female ase, is used in a positive way that elevates the entire community and not just the needs of a single person.)
Odu told Orunmila that no one could disturb them. If oso wanted to destroy them he would be destroyed.
Odu told Orunmila if Aje wanted to destroy them, she would be destroyed. (Oso is a reference to the power of male ancestral societies and Aje is a reference to the power of female ancestral societies. These powers are used to protect family lineages within any given community and family lineages can and do develop conflicts that do not necessarily contribute to the harmony of the entire community. Giving Ifa a position of authority in a community requires protection from both personal and collective efforts to influence that authority in negative ways. The verse is saying Odu has that power.)
Odu told Orunmila that he should never make fun of her. Odu said if he did not make fun of her all of her work would be good and she would never fight with Orunmila. (Not making fun of Odu means respecting women and women’s power. The verse is saying that if Orunmila and by inference Ifa initiates abuse, denigrate or disrespect women in any way they will loose access to the ase and protection that comes from Odu.) Odu told Orunmila if he knew what he wanted to send her to get it and it would be his.
Odu said if Orunmila sent a message for someone to suffer, that person would suffer.
Odu said if someone wanted to harm Orunmila even if only slight, she would go to war against that person.
Orunmila said I know you are important. Orunmila said you are stronger than all other women in the world.
Orunmila said he would never be displeased with Odu. Orunmila said none of his children would ever make fun of her because Odu is the power of the Babalawo. Orunmila said if a Babalawo possesses Ifa he would also possess Odu.