What is a Babalawo in the Ifa Tradition?

A Babalawo is a male priest in the Ifa tradition. His female counterpart is referred to as an Iyanifa. This individual provides expert advice and service in the Yoruba tradition as he must be highly knowledgeable in its rituals, lore, and history. Someone operating in this role provides spiritual advice and wise counsel to those seeking insight.

The term “Babalawo” can be translated to mean “father of the knowledge of things material and spiritual.” It likewise translates to “father of mysteries” or “father of secrets.” This is because Ifa priests are well-schooled in the knowledge of the Ifa Oracle. As such, they can provide resolute guidance to assist people in their daily affairs.

People consult these individuals when they need assistance with personal health issues, business growth, and fertility and marriage-related concerns. They can help with many life issues, such as illness, financial struggles, and loneliness, and even assist in helping others understand their destinies.

The Role of a Babalawo

It is believed that everyone has a destiny written for them before they are born, predetermined in Orun (Heaven). The Babalawo’s role is to provide spiritual guidance and help individuals come to terms with their fate. And he assists them with alleviating challenges along the way.

This individual is considered a bridge between the Divine and humans. These priests provide divination and other services that require high-level communication with the spiritual realm. As such, they must master the Cabalistic or esoteric aspects of the tradition. Doing so grants them access to advanced knowledge and skills in making medicines.

These medicines can cure and prevent physical, mental, emotional, and spiritual disease states. Some of these remedies can be explained through Western medicine. But many of them contain spiritual aspects that are beyond the comprehension of modern-day science. By invoking and evoking spiritual forces, a Babalawo can manifest specific phenomena. He thus liberates individuals from the evils of both material and spiritual realms, known as Ajogun.

What Do Babalawos Do?

Ultimately, Babalawos are responsible for initiating divination, interpreting the results, and providing guidance based on their findings. As such, their role does not stop with divination. Instead, they are also educators, mentors, and consultants as they guide people in the customs, beliefs, and wisdom of their ancestors and the Orisas. They are likewise medicine men who serve one of the most important roles in traditional Yoruba society.


Babalawos are primarily responsible for consulting the Ifá oracle. They have vast knowledge about the 256 odus that form part of the Ifá corpus. This sacred script provides valuable insight into various matters concerning all aspects of life. It speaks to the many situations and challenges that we are all subject to encounter in this lifetime.

In traditional practice, the Holy Odu is the guiding force in a divination session. Ifa adherents are expected to follow whatever guidance is given to them through the Ifa oracle. This may include practical advice on what to do or not to do in certain instances. And it will always include an ebo or a sacrifice to one or more Orisa and ancestral or other spirits.

Herbalism and Medicine

Though many in the western world focus on the divination aspects of Ifa, herbalism is an integral part of an Ifa priest’s role. This individual prepares medicines prescribed during divination sessions or to be used in religious ceremonies. This is known as Akose or spiritual medicine in the Ifa tradition.

Akose involves the use of herbs, leaves, roots, and sometimes animal parts to produce medicines. Despite the importance of ebo, many people won’t experience relief from their issues without taking these spiritual medicines. These medicines can be in the form of soap, powder, cream, etc. And contrary to modern medicine, Akose can cure practically any illness as well as non-health-related issues such as:

  • Spiritual attacks
  • Witchcraft
  • Barrenness
  • Marital problems
  • Safety issues
  • Legal problems
  • Financial stress

Destiny Alignment

Babalawos are trusted messengers of Orunmila as they work towards helping their clients achieve their highest potential and ultimate destiny. An Ifa priest is a highly-esteemed leader who has a deep understanding of both material and spiritual matters. He embraces and respects all other traditions and religions. As such, he can guide others on how to fulfill their soul mission.

Living a Balanced Life

Aside from helping others, a Babalawo must also adhere to the principles of Ifa to be an effective practitioner. Such an individual must show reverence for Ifa guidelines and walk in the way of the tradition. And this individual must meticulously observe the guidelines of Ifa to effectively lead and help others. Above all, a Babalawo must live a life of integrity, honesty, and balance. He must live in harmony with man, nature, and the spiritual world.

Requirements for Becoming a Babalawo

Becoming a Babalawo is not an easy or quick process. Before formally entering the priesthood, a candidate must spend many years learning under the tutelage of an experienced Oluwo or Babalawo. In traditional practice, this process typically begins at birth for those ordained in this profession. 

However, becoming a Babalawo typically requires four or more years of rigorous research, practice, and study for individuals who were not born in the tradition. One must spend countless hours under the tutelage of a knowledgeable mentor to become an adept Babalawo. 

Becoming a Babalawo also requires initiation into Ifa and further study with experienced elders. The first step of the process includes receiving the Hand of Ifa. Thereafter, the person will visit Igboodu – the sacred Grove of Ifa. This is a place where the formal initiation into Ifa takes place. During this period, the priest-in-training receives the gifts and power that allow them to perform divination and effectively guide others.

If you seek guidance from a skilled Babalawo, learn more about our Ifa divination services.

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