Orunmila in the Ifa Religion

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Orunmila, also known as Orunla or Orula in Yorubaland, is a deity or Orisha. He carries the knowledge of wisdom and divination. Regarded as the Grand Priest of the Ifa tradition, this Orisha serves as the source of understanding and purity in the human experience.

According to Yoruba cosmology, Orisha Orunmila is the first deity to be reckoned with as he brought Ifa, the wisdom of Olodumare, to the Earth. The Yoruba people often refer to Orunmila as the prophet of Ifa, the spirit of destiny, and the Orisha of wisdom and knowledge. 

Orunmila once lived on Earth and helped humanity with his infinite and limitless wisdom. Orunmila bridged the gap between Olodumare and humanity with the mathematics of Ifa divination. This is why he is regarded as the custodian of oracle knowledge in the Ifa tradition.

History of Orunmila in Ifa Tradition

Orunmila is also regarded as the earliest or the first Irúnmọlẹ̀ (deity primarily involved in the creation of the whole world). His worshippers praise him as “Igbákejì Olódùmarè” or the second in command to Olodumare and “Ẹlẹ́rìí ìpín” or witness of fate. 

He is the first Babalawo, or father of mysteries, in the Ifa tradition. Orunmila knows the destiny of all human beings in the universe. He travels to and from heaven, giving advice and helping humans and other deities. 

The Legend of Orunmila’s Earthly Habitation

According to some narratives in the Ifa cosmology, Orunmila spent about 400 years on earth without eating any food. During this time, he fed on the air. He was aware of his fate of one day returning to the heavens, which he eventually did. At that time, Olodumare (God) was considering creating the earth, so He assigned Obatala (Orisinaala) and Oduduwa with the work of creating the earth. 

After the work of creation was completely done, Orunmila was given the work of guiding humanity, so he had to return to the world. But this time, he brought with him sacred objects, including the Opele (divining chain) and 16 Ikin (palm nuts), which he planted and nurtured into palm trees. 

Palm trees depict generational growth, life, fertility, and prosperity. Humans use the seeds of this tree to make palm oil, a common culinary ingredient in West African cuisine. These trees produce fruit year-round, which adds to their symbology of prosperity. And their tall height represents the energy of fertility. This is why palm trees are sacred in the Ifa tradition. 

Return to Earth

Orunmila returned using the Ewon (chain) to descend from the heavens to the earth. He then set foot on Oke Igeti, where the chain fell on earth. He lived in Oke Igeti for many years, which was recorded as his first settlement on earth. 

The people of Oke Igbeti didn’t recognize Orunmila’s worth which made him unhappy. Thus, he prayed for the stunted growth of the Oke Igbeti people and left the town to settle elsewhere. He stayed in many towns, but he did not feel appreciated, so he left those places. Finally, he arrived in Oke Itase in Ile Ife Osun State, Nigeria, where the people were already awaiting his presence and were happy to receive him. 

They drummed, danced, and sang his praises. He was elated and made Oke Itase his dwelling place. Orunmila became the leader of Oke Itase due to his high level of wisdom. He rewarded them with Ope (palm tree). Orunmila prayed that all the parts palm tree would become valuable and relevant. His prayer has now come to pass as every part of the palm tree is valuable to the society which he encountered. 

The Relationship Between Orunmila And Ifa

Orisha Orunmila is believed to be the physical manifestation or appearance of Ifa. Humans often connect better with a physical voice that represents the desires of Olodumare. Ifa is believed to be the voice of Olodumare (God) according to the Ifa religion. Orunmila used Ifa to guide and direct humans to live in accordance with the will of Olodumare.

Olodumare handed this system down to Orunmila. Ifa has a major part or connection with destiny. Orunmila, the Orisha of destiny, serves as the means to unravel the mystery of humanity’s soul journey. Orunmila now serves as a counselor or advisor amongst the Orishas and humans, so he moves from heaven to earth doing the works of Olodumare.

Learn more about other African deities in this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined podcast: