Sacrifice in the Ifa religion is a means of giving or offering something to gain something greater in return. Religious sacrifices of this nature usually involve offering food, objects, or the lives of animals to a divine being as an act of worship. In most African traditional religions, ritual sacrifices are encouraged to appease the spirits.
Sacrifice is called ebo in the Ifa tradition. It represents offering something to a particular deity as a means of communion, which is a vital part of this religion. In offering sacrifices, devotees reverently request the elements of nature to work on their behalf. Resultantly, they experience peace and harmony in their environment.
The types of sacrifices performed in Ifa are limitless. They are often given for any of the following reasons and more:
- Long life
- Peace of mind
- Honor and fame
Beliefs About Sacrifice in Ifa
Divination serves as the impetus for determining which sacrifices are necessary for each individual or the community at large. In the Ifa tradition, ebo must be completed promptly after divination. It is advisable to offer it within seven days of receiving a reading.
For Ifa devotees, the duty of sacrifice cannot be overemphasized. Sacrifices serve to elevate our prayers. It involves our time, energy, effort, and desires. Beyond food, animals, and the like, ebo can also include song, dance, money, or charity. Aside from the use of animals, it is not much different than sacrifice in other religions, whereby an individual gives money, fasts, or sings praises in exchange for blessings.
Sacrifice is a prescription much akin to what you receive from a physician after a diagnosis. As a form of medicine, it solves life problems. When taking prescription medication, individuals should also eat well, exercise, and maintain a positive mindset when trying to overcome a physical or mental illness. This same dynamic applies to ebo or sacrifice within the Ifa tradition. The medication or ebo accelerates the healing process. However, it is useless if the person continues in the same behaviors that made them ill in the first place.
Sacrifice to Orishas
Ifa belief holds that the world is divided into two folds. The benevolent supernatural powers occupy the right side, while malevolent supernatural powers occupy the left side. The benevolent powers are the Orishas and other divinities that bring the essence of peace, wealth, health, and other fortunes to humanity.
On the other hand, the malevolent powers are evil and destructive energies like Iku (death), Arun (sickness), Agan (barrenness), Ofo (loss), Epe (curse), and so on. There is no peaceful co-existence between these two powers – they are always in conflict. Therefore, sacrifices appease both sides.
For instance, if someone is sick and a sacrifice is prescribed, it is meant to appease the right-handed divinities. These deities then fight against the left-handed forces. Human beings do not give sacrifices directly to the evil powers but rather to their guardian divinity, who is on the right. The closest of these benevolent divinities is your Ori (inner head), though Orishas, the ancestors, and other spirits are also active in this process. Therefore, they act on our behalf, like superheroes fighting evil and malevolent forces.
According to the Ifa belief, animals relay our messages to the spiritual realm. Each animal species has unique properties that are beyond our comprehension. The Ifa sacrificial rituals use the distinct communication abilities of animals to convey our messages to supernatural forces.
These lifeforce offerings direct our prayers to a particular element of nature. They elevate our prayers for our advantage and rearrange the universe to work in our favor. Likewise, they play a vital role in helping us fulfill our destiny.
Many animals are used in ebo sacrifices in the Ifa tradition. Each deity prefers specific animals. However, chickens are most frequently used in ebo offerings. The chicken was the first animal to inhabit the earth, along with some of the first Orishas. As such, this animal is of utmost importance to certain Orishas.
Materials Used in Ifa Sacrifice
Other materials are commonly given along with a sacrifice in the Ifa tradition. These natural elements that serve as offerings include:
- Palm oil for smoothness
- Cool water for peace
- Honey for sweetness
- Gin for spiritual force
- Fruits for abundance
Each of the above-listed elements is an agent of change. Orunmila, the prophet or High Priest of Ifa, compares sacrifice to salvation and deliverance. No matter what difficulties you face, if you quickly perform ebo, you will indeed find a solution.
Learn more about feeding the spirits in this episode of the African Spirit Reintegrated + Reimagined: