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African Traditional Religions: Ifa Divination

Hermeneutics (Interpretation): Oshun

Photography: Will Coleman Ph.D. - Oshun, the honey of life, who makes all of this worthwhile.


Orunmila: The Spirit of Destiny



Orunmila could be interpreted as "Orun" (the spiritual realm ) + "mila" knows who will be save or healed". As such, Orunmila is the multidimensional spirit of destiny.  Furthermore, Orunmila is the name of the "Prophet" or messenger of the spiritual tradition of Ifa.  There are several perspectives from which Orunmila can be understood: 1) as a pre-incarnated spirit who is "second to Olodumare;" 2) as a human who has incarnated several times in order to teach humanity the mysteries of creation and how cause and effect operate; and 3) as the presence of the Ifa tradition itself in its theology and practices.

First, Orunmila is analogous to "Wisdom (Chokmah)" in chapter 8 of the Book of Proverbs in the Hebrew Tanak and Christian Bible.  In other words, as ElaOrunmila was present when Olodumare or Olorun brought creation into existence.  Thus, the mystery of exactly how this came to be is retained with Olodumare, but Ela/Orunmilia was present as a "witness" to this process and therefore perceives and retains those mysteries within consciousness.  Consequently, Ela /Orunmila knows how to remedy challenges that might arise within the lives of creatures, including humans, during their own journey in life.  Also, this means that  Ela/Orunmila knows which types of ebos/offerings are essential for retaining and/or restoring balance within situations where such is needed.

Second, Orunmila is the "Prophet" or messenger of Olodumare and the spiritual tradition of Ifa/Isese.  LIke Moses of Judaism, Jeshua of Christianity and Mohammed of Islam, he has been a human to bring enlightenment or illumination to the rest of humanity.  Orunmila is more unique, according to tradition, in that he has incarnated several times for this purpose.  As a prophet, he is the revealer of the mysteries of the sacred 256 Odus of parables, proverbs and prescriptions accounted in them. (See chapter 9 of this text for more information on the 256 Odus.)  He is often portrayed as a protagonist in these narratives who is the exemplar of what "iwa pele" (good character) looks like by properly consulting the oracle of the Odus and following their wisdom guidelines and recommendations.  Therefore, he is the premiere model of how to follow the theology and practices of Ifa/Isese

And third, Orunmila is often associated as synonymous with Ifa itself.  Babalawos and Iyalawos/Iyanifas are especially trained and  initiated in the above mentioned mysteries, teachings and rituals.  In fact, the "awo" suffix in Babalawo and Iyalawo signifies that they are a "father" or "mother" of the "mysteries" of this sacred gnosis.  They are considered to be like descendants of the Prophet  Orunmila himself.   Accordingly, they are "priests" and "priestesses" of the teachings and rituals contained within the 256 Odus and auxiliary corpus of knowledge.

In sum, just as Ifa is multidimensional and complex, so too is the nature, character and function of its Prophet: Ela/Orunmila/Ifa.