I often get asked the question, “how does one start practicing the Ifa tradition” by new and prospective devotees and onlookers. And this is a very commendable inquiry. I think that any time one embarks on a spiritual journey, one should seek to understand the process before jumping in.
While the answer to this question may be straightforward, the process can be complicated at times. You see, the Ifa tradition is a vital part of Yoruba culture. It is a system that involves divination, sacrifices, offerings, and balanced living. It has been around for centuries and is part of a distinct tribal group. The authentic tradition is rooted and grounded in the culture, language, and customs of the Yoruba people.
As such, it can be difficult to access by the average layperson. Though Ifa temples are scattered worldwide, connecting with one is sometimes intimidating. This is one of the primary reasons I guide individuals who desire to start practicing the Ifa tradition.
Below I outline the steps that I usually provide during my consultation sessions. I have written about this in a separate article, but I decided to add a few more details and specific resources here.
LEARN ABOUT THE TRADITION
The very first thing that any newcomer to the tradition should do is learn about it. There are a number of books and other resources available for doing so. One of my favorite selections is The Handbook of Yoruba Religious Concepts. Baba Ifa Karade outlines the tenets of Ifa devotion in plain English in this book. He thoroughly describes the rites and rituals involved in the Ifa tradition. Likewise, he provides a solid foundation for the average newcomer in this text.
Aside from this valuable resource, there are many other books, videos, courses, etc., where you can learn about Ifa online and in person. My suggestion is to study every resource you can find on the subject. It is such a vast system, and the well of knowledge about it runs deep and throughout every corner of the earth.
But do keep in mind that customs vary from house to house. Once you begin your practice, you will find some things you learned differ based on the temple you belong to. Though, gaining knowledge about the tradition from different sources is beneficial in the long run. Therein, you will find what works best for you without having to rely on one source.
FIND A MENTOR OR GUIDE
A mentor or guide can be instrumental in your journey into the Ifa tradition. Having someone to answer your questions and lead you down the right path is invaluable. Oftentimes your mentor will be your Babalawo (priest) or Iyanifa (priestess) once you start practicing the Ifa tradition.
However, finding a priest or priestess can be challenging at first. Even more, it can be difficult to connect with these individuals due to the busyness of their schedules. Fortunately, skilled practitioners are now serving in this capacity. I currently offer Ifa mentor services to individuals who are trying to find their way. I likewise offer comprehensive coaching and support to clients who purchase Ifa products and services through ACS at no additional charge.
Other individuals provide similar services – some are free, and some are fee-based. The key is to find someone you resonate with who can guide you and answer your questions. This individual should likewise be accessible and available to support you on a continuous basis. And, of course, they should be knowledgeable about the tradition.
GET A SPIRITUAL READING
Once you have enough information about Ifa, it’s time to get your first reading. This process is pretty straightforward once you find a reputable priest or priestess. Usually, your mentor can help you find someone suitable to your needs. Otherwise, you can search for temples in your local area, across the country, or in another country if you are inclined to do so.
My only other bit of advice about this area is for you to understand the purpose of Ifa divination. This process works by bringing down information that you need at the moment. In many instances, you will get an opportunity to ask questions. But typically, this is not done every time someone gets a reading according to the traditional way.
Instead, the priest or priestess will present you with at least one odu. This sacred verse from the Ifa corpus pertains to you at that time. It will tell you what steps to take to achieve balance and harmony in your situation. An ebo or sacrifice likewise follows an Ifa reading to one or more Orishas or other spirits. The required ebo will vary from person to person and cannot be determined until the reading is completed.
It is important to understand that an Ifa reading differs from a psychic or tarot reading. Instead, these types of readings are primarily intuitively based and can give deep insight into your situation. Contrarily, Ifa divination presents very structured, straightforward information based on the holy script.
The ultimate goal is to give you a solution or remedy to your problem. It is not designed to provide the “who, what, when, where, why, and how” about your circumstances. Ifa is concerned with you living a balanced life rather than understanding every detail about your circumstance.
RECEIVE ORISHA ICONS
Nothing can substitute the actual practitioning of Ifa for someone serious about this path. And for the average person, the beginning of the practice often involves receiving the Hand of Ifa or Isefa, as it is referred to in the Ifa tradition. This is usually the first consecrated icon that a devotee starts with.
I have covered this topic in more depth in a separate post, so I won’t go too in-depth about it here. But the basic premise of Isefa is for one to give offerings and sacrifices to Ifa through this icon. In doing so, one begins to align with their destiny and achieve balance and harmony in life. Receiving the Hand of Ifa is a major step in practicing the tradition. As such, it should not be taken lightly.
The Baba I work with often encourages people to start with getting ileke beads for Ifa, Esu, or their Head Orisha. He determines which Orisha one should connect with first through divination. Though Ifa or Orunmila is the primary Orisha in the tradition, sometimes people deal with circumstances that necessitate an immediate connection with their Head Orisha. In this case, receiving Isefa or ileke beads for Ifa or Esu may be temporarily delayed.
This way, you can start making those vital connections to these important deities without fully obligating yourself before you are truly ready. Likewise, this is a more economical option for the average person as Orisha pots can be quite expensive to acquire. And they require consistent attendance, which may be challenging for individuals who are not used to regular ritual work.
After you start with this step, you will most likely receive additional spirit pots and spiritual paraphernalia to complement your practice in the future. This is where the work comes in – feeding and maintaining spirit pots and living in harmony with man, nature, and the spirit world. You will get many readings and perform numerous rituals as you continue your practice.
If you decide to do so, you may even get initiated into the tradition. However, all practitioners do not take this route. Though there are conflicting opinions, many do not consider initiation mandatory for devotees of the Ifa tradition. Instead, some take this step to deepen their connection, advance their practice, and secure more blessings.
Finally, you will spend a lifetime learning about and studying the tradition, as there is no end to the depth of Ifa’s wisdom.
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