The first step in preparation for initiation is to set up an ancestor shrine and to start asking the ancestors for support in the initiation process.
Building an Ancestor Shrine
In traditional Ifá culture everyone is believed to have the ability, and the obligation to communicate with the ancestors on a daily basis. According to Ifá oral tradition, communication with your ancestors is a
birthright and requires no special sanction. At times this communication can simply involve remembering a revered ancestor and making use of the memory as a basis for making an important decision. In many ways ancestor communication is an extension of the training and wisdom we receive from our parents and grand parents. In Yoruba culture it is common for the uninitiated to make direct contact with ancestors spirits. The most prevalent method of communication is through dreams. Information also comes participation in annual ancestor festivals. Because such festivals are not common in this country, Ifá worshippers in the Diaspora have created several viable alternatives. Throughout the Caribbean islands the various expression of carnival celebrations are retentions of the African forms of communal ancestor reverence. It is also common to build a small ancestral shrine within the home to be used as a focal point for prayer and meditation.
There a number of traditional Yoruba methods for building ancestor shrines, some of which are very complex and require direct personal training. For those who do not have access to lineage elders, I recommend the ancestor shrine be constructed with minimal elements. Once the basic elements are in place, the ancestors can be consulted directly for guidance on further additions and modifications to the shrine. Once the shrine is built and once you establish a link with the ancestors they will communicate to you directly either through divination, visions or altered states of consciousness.
When the altar is finished it should stay as clean as possible. Ifá teaches that dirt, clutter and disorder can attract unwanted and undesirable spiritual forces. This may seem simplistic, but in my experience it is a very important consideration. Our external environment reflects our internal state of being and either supports or blocks the process of growth.
Find a place in your home or apartment that can be used for prayer and meditation. Clean the area so that it is free from dust. In Native America traditions sacred space is cleans ed through the use of smoke. I find this practice to be effective and consistent with many cultural earth centered traditions. It is common practice in Native American and Pagan traditions to place leaves in either a large seashell or clay pot. Any aromatic leaf can be effective, with cedar sage being popular choices. Light the leaves and fan the flames until you generate a steady plum of smoke. Walk through the entire house making sure smoke gets in every corner of every room. As you fan the smoke say a prayer asking that all negative influences be removed from your home.
The container selected for this purpose should be kept near the ancestor shrine and only used for spiritual purposes. A Yoruba may be used to bless the leaves used to create the smoke. This prayer is a dispelling invocation and you may add the kinds of negativity you want removed from the sacred space.
Iba se Egun.
I pay homage to the Spirit of the Ancestors.
Emi (Your Name) Omo (list your lineage starting with your parents and working backwards)
I am (your name) child of (lineage)
Iba se Ori Ewe.
I pay homage to the Spirit of the Leaves.
Ko si ‘ku.
Send away the Spirit of Death.
Ko si arun.
Send away illness
Ko si wahala
Send away all gossip.
May it be so.
The prayer is spoken directly over the leaves. When the prayer is completed breathe on the leaves and say the word to pronounced “toe”. The word means enough and is used to indicate the invocation or prayer is completed. This is known as placing your ase or spiritual power on the prayer. The word to
functions as a seal locking the prayer on to the object that is being consecrated or blessed. The word is also used to indicate the invocation is over so that words spoken after the end of the prayer are not hear
d by Spirit as part of the prayer.
As you walk through the space fanning the smoke keep your conscious thoughts focused on the intention of the cleansing. The smoke will magnify whatever thoughts you are projecting into the room so make sure your thought support your intention.
Traditionally smoke has the effect of clearing away all spiritual influences from a room both positive and negative. When starting the practice of regular communication with the ancestors it is helpful to begin with a neutral environment so that you consciously invite specific ancestors to the shrine and know who is making their presence known. Ifá teaches that emotions have substance and that emotionally energy lingers in a room long after it has been discharged. This is especially true of intense emotions like anger, hate disappointment, and jealousy. If these emotions build up around an ancestor shrine for a prolonged period of time they can have the effect of invoking ancestors who indulged in negative emotions. For this reason periodic cleaning with smoke after the initial cleansing should be part of the ancestral reverence discipline.
After the space is cleansed with the smoke, use the same process to cleanse your physical body. Start with the front of your body moving the smoke from you feet to the top of your head and down your back. Each pas should be in the same direction. Do not move the smoke from front to back then from back to front because this would be returning the influences to the place where they were removed.
In Ifá once an area has been cleansed it is traditional to seal with space with water and herbs. Ifá makes use of a wide range of herbs for the purpose of locking in the positive effect of prayer and invocation. The simplest seal for the uninitiated is clear water mixed with either efun or cascaria. Efun is white chalk made from fossilized sea shells and cascaria is an efun substitute made from egg shells. If these materials are not available it is traditional to add either perfume or cologne to the water. Make sure your choice of fragrance is something you periodically wear. In addition add a small amount of body fluid to the water, either saliva or urine. By doing this you are placing your own essences in the seal. This becomes a statement to the Spirit realm that they are entering your shrine area and indicates they need your invitation to enter.
A traditional Ifá prayer may be used to enhance the power of the water to function as a seal. This is an enhancement prayer so you may add any of the things you want to manifest as a result of ancestral
Iba se omi tutu.
I pay homage to the Spirit of Water.
Emi (your name) Omo (list your lineage starting with your parents and working backwards).
I am (your name) child of (lineage)
the good fortune of peace,
the good fortune of a stable home,
good fortune to my children
the good fortune of abundance
ire agbo ato,
the good fortune of long life
the good fortune of good character
ire igbodu Egun
the good fortune of an ancestor shrine
ire l’ona ipo nri atiwo Orun
the good fortune of the blessing brought by my higher self from the Realm of the Ancestors
May it be so.
The prayer should be spoken directly into the water followed by the word to. Sprinkle the water over the places that were cleansed by the smoke. Conscious attention should be placed on the matter of claiming the area as sacred space. Most of us have some ancestors who would not be welcome at the altar because of a lack of character development. It is necessary to exclude these ancestors and to make it clear no communication with them is desired. In particular it is important to exclude ancestors who suffered from addictive behavior and those who exhibited violent or sexually abusive behavior. The presence of these kinds of ancestor spirits can unconsciously trigger similar influences. They are identified in Ifá as Spirits who carry a family curse. The seal may include the names of those ances tors who are welcome to communicate at the shrine.
In some instances there are those who do not know their ancestors. Do not let this kinder the process. Simply identify the types of problems you will not allow within your alter space and identify the types of Spirits who are welcome. In time as your communication with Spirit develops you will be able to use this skill to begin the process of identifying unknown ancestors. Construction of the Ancestor Shrine can start after the cleansing process is finished. The shrine is a place to remember, a memorial for those who have gone before us. It is a place to consider the wisdom of our lineage to and to ponder the ways in which that wisdom can inform and guide us through current problems. In the beginning keep the construction simple. Place a box or a table in the spot selected for the shrine. Cover the box or tab white cloth, place a glass of water and a candle on the cloth. At this point you have the basis elements that create human, you have earth, air, fire and water. Use the walls behind the shrine to mount pictures our your relatives. This is a place to remember, simply seeing a picture of a revered ancestor kind remind us of the way they may have handled a particular crisis. Remembering can lead to inspiration and inspiration can lead to determination and determination can lead to resolution. Pictures of our ancestors can serve as a subliminal reminder of the contributions they have made.
Many of us come from mixed ancestry. Within the spectrum our lineage their might be a wide range of religious and spiritual influences. You might want to represent some of these influences on the table through the use of a Bible, the Koran, Buddhist Sutras or a copy of the I Ching. All that is required to integrate this into an Ifá world view is an understanding of the universal nature of spiritual principles that have been expressed time and again in variety of cultural expressions.
To use the shrine stand in front of it and lit the candle. The first statement that should be made to the ancestors is a commitment to regular use of the shrine for meditation and prayer. I call this type of
agreement self-regulated discipline. It does not matter how often you agree to make use of the shrine, what is important is that you live up to your agreement to make use of it on a regular basis. In my experience it is better to commit to one day a week and keep the commitment than to commit to every day and break the agreement. You are establishing a connection with the ancestors, telling them when you will be available for communication enhances the connections. The white cloth, candle, water and pictures can be thought of as an electron magnet that draws Spirit to the shrine. The current that drives the magnet are the prayers directed towards the white table. If you only turn to the your shrine in moments of crisis, the current will be weak. If you charge the batteries on a regular basis, the spiritual connection will remain dynamic and accessible.
At this point you may spend time remembering those relatives who have served as role models considering how they might have dealt with any of the circumstances causing problems in your own life.
Learn Oriki Egun
Egúngún kiki egúngún.
Praise to the mediums of the Ancestors.
Egún ikú ranran fe awo ku opipi.
Ancestors who have preserved the mystery of featherless flight.
O da so bo fun le wo.
You create the words of reverance and power.
Egún ikú bata bango egún de.
The drums of the Ancestors announce the arrival of the Ancestors.
Bi aba f’atori na le egún a se de. Ase.
On the strong mat you spread your power, the Ancestors are here. May it be so.