The Hand of Ifa or Isefa in the Yoruba language is a set of consecrated ikin dedicated to Orunmila. This is the first sacred Orisha pot or icon that devotees receive during an Isefa ceremony. Typically devotees receive 21 ikins for Orunmila and one icon for Eshu. Eshu, the messenger Orisha, always gets the first portion of every offering as he opens the road for devotees to communicate with other Orishas. Therefore, his presence is necessary for rituals.
Though, some Babalwos or Iyanifas only provide one sacred artifact for either Orunmila or Eshu during an Isefa ceremony. It is more common to receive both when working with a Nigerian priest or priestess. However, some diasporic traditions typically give one at a time. In other situations, cost prohibitions may necessitate that the practitioner obtains their Orunmila and Eshu icons at different times.
Isefa is the first step in a blessed journey into the Ifa tradition. This process is designed to assist the devotee in living a more productive and positive life. This sacred totem provides an individual with power, abundance, blessings, intelligence, wisdom, and the divine asé of Orunmila. In which case, the High Priest of Ifa serves as a guardian angel for the practitioner.
Receiving the Hand of Ifa
The Isefa is consecrated and presented through a sacred ceremony typically performed in the devotee’s presence. However, it is becoming more common for priests and priestesses to conduct such ceremonies in the absence of the receiver. As Ifa practice becomes more widespread in different parts of the world, it is not always possible for the devotee to be in the presence of a Babalawo or Iyanifa during such ceremonies.
Some people choose to receive the Hand of Ifa before full initiation (itefa) for this and other reasons. Itefa cannot be performed remotely – the devotee must be present for this ceremony. In which case if an person chooses to initiate before receiving isefa, they acquire this sacred icon during their itefa ceremony.
Either way, a priest or priestess must perform divination to fully understand the devotees’ path. Divination will reveal the odu (sacred wisdom of Ifa) which the devotee should live by according to their destiny. Odus received during Isefa are temporary, while odus received during itefa are permanent.
The devotee’s or initiate’s taboos are likewise revealed during Isefa and itefa ceremonies. These guidelines direct the individual on what they should or should not do to live a more productive life.
Purpose of Isefa
The overall purpose of receiving the hand of Ifa is for destiny alignment. This sacred icon also serves as a protective mechanism for the devotee. Once you receive it, you are directly connected to and shielded by the hands of Olodumare (the Supreme Being) and Orunmila. It solidifies your role as an official devotee of Ifa. It also provides you with more power to negotiate on your behalf with the Orishas.
Working with Hand of Ifa
Consistent and proper propitiation of Isefa also helps to improve your life circumstances on many levels. Propitiation or conciliation is an act of service whereby you make prayers and offerings to Ifa. It is a way of appeasing the spirits that they may act on your behalf. As mentioned in previous articles, sacrifice is foundational to the isese (tradition) of Yorubaland. As such, it will become a regular part of your propitiation practice.
Offerings are made to Ifa at different times for various purposes. Typically, Ifa accepts dry gin, palm oil, and kola nuts. However, other offerings may be made at the behest of the devotee or spiritual guide. Though any offering given to any Orisha should align with acceptable traditional standards. Every Orisha has specific requirements in terms of sacrifices and offerings.
In Nigeria, it is customary to propitiate Ifa and other orishas according to a four-day calendar. In which case, the devotee gives offerings every 5th day. Conversely, some westernized devotees engage in rituals once a week. The hustle and bustle of the western lifestyle make some aspects of the tradition difficult.
Learn more about sacrifices, offerings, and ritual work in this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined: