Editor’s Note: The following article addresses protocol in Ifa-Orisa community. It’s worth noting that many people in our community are kind, generous and ethical. This article is not meant to characterize or stereotype everyone in our spiritual communities, but to address a current of immorality, Eurocentricism and lack of respect for humanity that seems to run strong in some individuals.
The world is full of pain and disarray, and certainly none of us are perfect. So it is only natural that we see those pains and imperfections played out in our communities. But, we are obligated to become, as best we can, shining examples of Iwa-Pele (good character) no matter who we are, what rank or title we hold or what we are here to accomplish. So we must continually discuss the problems with protocol that affect us and vow to fix them. In the end, no one escapes the judgment of Olodumare.
* * *
I greet everyone in the divine name of the Egungun, the Orisa, and Olodumare. This article will discuss protocol as it pertains to traditional Iles (houses), for those who practice or seek out the help of Ifa-Orisa (Isese Agbaye). Proper protocol will bring positivity, trust and progress to all of us.
Newcomers, Devotees, clients, Elders and Priests should remember that many of the issues discussed in this article can be addressed by adopting and maintaining a healthy respect for African tradition, discipline, humility and good character. The Eegun (Ancestors), the Orisa (Divine Forces of Nature) and Olodumare (God) have done their part. Any weaknesses or problems that exist in our spiritual communities are man-made.
Keep in mind that it is always proper to defer to ones’ godparents or trusted Elder when attending an event, entering another Priests’ home/Ile, or just interacting with other Devotees in a spiritual setting. This list comes from years as an Ab’Orisa and a Priestess. In visiting various Iles both here in America and abroad, I believe these are some standards (dos and dont’s) that should be used as a blueprint. Nevertheless, not everyone will agree with all these rules (thoughts) on protocol. Therefore, it is up to the reader to use good sound judgment and integrity, as well as the guidelines of ones’ godparents when deciding how to conduct ones’ self in a spiritual manner.
If you have chosen to follow this wonderful path of ancestor veneration and Orisa worship, so as we say in Yoruba “Ekaabo”, which means welcome. Keep in mind that many are called to worship, but few are called for servitude (being a Priest). Being a Priest is a long winding road with thankless ups and downs, but the end result is a beautiful spiritual journey to a satisfying and glorious destination (Arun Rere). Whether you call it Isese Agbaye or Ifa-Orisa, La Regla de Ocha (Lucumi), Candomble, or Santeria, it takes a strong dedicated and determined person to take the first step.
- If you meet a person and they say they are a Priest or Priestess, do as much research as you can (should you think of becoming a godchild of this person). There are many charlatans/frauds that because they speak with an accent or no accent, wear ilekes, have a Yoruba sounding name are NOT who they say they are. Some are closeted Christians, Muslims, or not even Priests at all and only see dollar signs and an opportunity to take advantage of you.
- Try to find other like-minded individuals that you can begin to forge a relationship with. The internet has many sites (such as this) that can point you in the right direction.
- Listen to your “gut feeling.” If something or someone doesn’t feel right then it probably isn’t. Go with your gut feeling.
- Don’t feel pressured into becoming someone’s “godchild” or client. This belief system is about choices.
- Do your research about this belief system. There is a wealth of information one can learn from the internet, books, word of mouth – but the BEST information is from properly trained godparents or Priests.
- Just because you have attended a Bembe/drumming or two, have a new “Yoruba” name does not mean you are an authority. Be quiet and observant. Humbleness is the key.
- If you are looking for a godparent, I believe prayer works wonders. Olodumare will send you a godparent when you are ready.
Remember, it is not about you (the human), but the Egungun (ancestors), the Orisa, and Olodumare!
Again, if you have godparents please defer to them on protocol. Many of these rules may differ from Ile to Ile, and sect to sect (Lucumi, Santeria, etc.). If one does not have godparents, I believe this is a good reference to use, until you are blessed to have found one.
- Take care of your shrines (if you have any) with sincerity, humbleness, and cleanliness. Never approach your shrines if you have been drinking, smoking, or just finished having sex. And never ever “unclean.”
- It doesn’t make sense to me if you wear ilekes and dress like a “stripper” or “thug.” So please dress appropriately if you are going to wear ilekes.
- Never pretend to be something you are not. If you have received a shrine (pot) and HAVE NOT gone through Igbodu (initiation process), then you just have the shrine/pot of that Orisa. You are NOT a Priest or Priestess of that particular deity.
- If your godparent tells you need to have sex with them to remove any jinx/juju or to advance in life, RUN away from them. They are charlatans, frauds, etc.
- If you are attending an edupe Orisa/Bembe (Tambor/drumming), please dress accordingly. Miniskirts, halter tops, daisy duke shorts, pants sagging below the behind, shoes on & in front of the shrine/drums is disrespectful to the Ile having the Bembe, to other attendees, and to the Orisa.
- When greeting a Priest or Priestess in public, it is appropriate to Kunle (slight curtsy) or even Dobale to them. I know this will raise eyebrows, but to make someone Foribale to them in public in a non-spiritual setting is a sign of arrogance.
- How to greet a shrine or Priest depends on your godparent. I have seen it done differently here in the states and abroad (Nigeria and Dahomey). When in doubt, show your respect and just ask.
- One should never be smoking, drinking, doing drugs, and having sex, using profanity while wearing your ilekes. These are sacred tools given to you and you should treasure them as such.
- If you are unhappy or have fallen out of spiritual obligation with your godparent and wish to move on, give proper notice. Ask that godparent (if possible), what departure Adimu (offering) could you give to go in peace.
- Never use what has been taught to you by your godparent to do harm to others. Remember the energy you put out will come back to you. If you send out negativity, negativity will come back to you. If you send out love and peace, love and peace will come back to you.
- Never ever, give yourself SHRINES. (LISTEN UP PRIESTS!) A shrine/pot must be birthed from the shrine/pot of a Priest…Shrines do not come from osmosis! This is a taboo, but sadly and shamelessly many are doing it.
- “Pot (shrine) shopping” trying to accumulate as many pots as possible is not good, if you have not been given permission through proper divination to acquire those (shrines) pots. Having a shrine is HARD work. These are representations of the Orisa and require lots of care.
Remember, it is not about you (the human), but the Egungun, the Orisa, and Olodumare!
Everyone has Elders to answer to, be it godparents, your Eegun (ancestors), the Orisa, and Olodumare. This list of dos and dont’s are my observations and interactions with other Priests here in the states and abroad. I have 13 years as an Egungun Priestess and 12 years as an Orisa Priestess. In those years I have witnessed things that would unravel my gele (headwrap) and make me shake my head in disbelief.
- Having a zillion ilekes on, wearing a gele, agbada, or acquiring a ton of titles does not merit respect. So stop getting pissed or annoyed if someone doesn’t know you or Dobale to you. It’s about the Orisa, NOT stroking your ego.
- PLEASE STOP cutting corners and doing shoddy Priest work. You do your clients and godchildren a disservice and you are just making that individual think that ALL Priests are like that.
- If you have a bill that needs to paid find reputable and fair means to do so. Please do not jack up your prices for spiritual work or start telling that client or godchild they need a head feeding, bath, or sacrifice needs to be performed.
- If you do not know HOW to initiate or give a shrine/pot properly, then please put your ego to the side and defer to an Elder.
- It is taboo and disrespectful to open another Priests’ shrine (pot), to see what is inside without their EXPRESSED consent or knowledge. It is VERY taboo to look inside a shrine, if you do not have that shrine.
- STOP threatening a client or godchild with your “power” and telling them that if they do not do such and such, you will send (name Orisa or the Iyami) after them.
- Stop doing juju against someone who hasn’t warranted it. There is a fine line between the sacred and the profane. Remember KARMA and what will come back to you if you spiritually attack someone unjustly. (I was taught, there is nothing wrong with protecting yourself. But if you are being attacked, let the Orisa guide you in your actions.)
- It is UNETHICAL to solicit or do spiritual work without proper consent, for someone if you know they are the godchildren of another Priest.
- If a godchild or client approaches you (the Priest) for spiritual work or advice, it is proper to let that Priest know of the godchild/clients intentions.
- Treat other Priests the way you wish to be treated. Do not pass on or perpetuate negative behavior.
- Never fake Orisa possession. If you are called to verify your possession and are found out, good luck on trying to redeem your name.
- If you have not been given the authority to perform divinations, head rogations, baths, initiations, stop “making it up as you go.” This is an abomination to say the least.
- Ethical people don’t use “sex as a weapon”. Babalawos and Awos – STOP using sex on unsuspecting women as a form of control! And ladies, having “spiritual sex” with a babalawo or Awo will not make you an instant Apetibi or Priestess. The same holds true for men.
- Unless you know all 256 Odu and each Ese (verse/Pataki), please stop asking another Priests “what is your Odu” as if you are trying to verify that person. Authentic possession or accurate divination will speak to that matter and clear up any misconceived notions.
- It is rude not to greet a Priest or Priestess (who is your ELDER) or a shrine in a spiritual setting. You are showing reverence for that deity that sits upon the head NOT the person. (In my travels, I have seen Priests as young as 3 and as old as 98 greet in a spiritual setting – be it other Priests or shrines – without hesitation.)
- If you have undergone Priestly initiation, but still don’t know the basics, there may be a problem. Your Elders should being training you, or have explained why and how they intend to train you over time. If significant time has passed and you are still untaught or unsure about the basics of this spiritual system refrain from doing Priestly spiritual work, and especially from officiating an Ile. I dare say, you should not publicly call yourself a Priest, choosing instead to refer to yourself as an Initiate.
- If you are an untrained Priest, and you are ABSOLUTELY certain that your character, work ethic, commitment or loyalty is not at issue, you will want to initiate a polite conversation with your Elder to determine, when and how you will be trained. If this does not work, you may need to ask that another Elder be “assigned” to help you or formally seek out a new godparent.
- You cannot teach yourself: how to divine, make baths, give shrines, and perform initiations (that is taboo and impossible to learn on your own anyway). Everyone needs to be properly trained (or at least should be).
- I was taught that when a Priest comes to greet a Priest in their home (where their shrine is), it is customary to bring that Orisa a gift (offering). Ask that Priest what would be appropriate to give their Orisa. If another Priest comes to your home without a gift for your Orisa find a way to casually describe this tradition later on in the visit. Continue to be polite, gracious and accommodating.
- I was also taught that women should dress traditional if possible (or skirt, blouse, dress) before coming before a shrine. We also remove our shoes in the presence of a shrine. Also, women remove their gele (head wrap) when in front of the shrine (especially in Yorubaland).
- One never uses profanity, smoke, or drink in front of the shrines. In Yorubaland, I have never seen a Priest smoking cigarettes while doing spiritual work. It’s a taboo.
- When a Priestess is on her menstruation we never ever: Do any spiritual work, go near the shrines, or have physical contact with other Priests! If a Priestess is at a spiritual function and you are menstruating please let the host know, so you are not expected to dance, touch other Priests, etc.
- Please respect other Priests and Ab’Orisa taboos, as you would want them to respect yours.
- Crown recognizes crown and crowns should respect crowns. Simply put, we as Priests should put aside our petty differences and work together for the betterment of the community, society, and the world.
Remember, it is not about you (the human), but the Egungun, the Orisa, and Olodumare.
* * *
Author’s Note: These are just some dos and dont’s that weighed heavily on my mind. When asked to do another article, I was honored. It was OYA (Eepa Oya o) who gave me the guidance and the topic to write on. I have observed many dos, dont’s, and “oh no they didn’t” in my years of Oosa (Ocha). There are more taboos and protocol standards but I did not want to come across as “preachy,” although some will beg to differ. I have made mistakes too, and from this I hope many who may not know or have not been taught will gain a keen insight and better understanding.
We cannot control how others respond to us, only how we respond to them. Those who are my friends will respect me for writing this, my “frenemies” will question me for this, and my enemies will hate me for this. Nevertheless, as we strive to walk in the light of Olodumare, it is how we conduct ourselves as Priests or Ab’Orisa that speaks the highest volume. Do you exemplify Iwa-Pele and Suruu (good character and patience)? Or are you a Priest of questionable moral character? If you believe that what you are doing is correct, you will have to answer to your Ori (Inner Self, personal Orisa), your Egun, the Orisa, and ultimately Olodumare for your actions.
In the spirit of sharing,
HRH Olori Oyadele Ogunsina
HRH Oyadele is an Egungun and an Oya priestess. She was initiated to Egungun in Oyotunji African Village and initiated, trained (to Oya amongst others), as well as receiving the coronation of Queen, through confirmed Ancestral birthright in Benin Republic.