Encounter with Destiny
Ifá and Merindilogún (Los Caracoles) Consultations
Divination is at the core of the religion. Virtually everything we do in the religion revolves around some form of divination. It is through divination that we find out what initiations, cleansings or offerings a person needs. We regularly use divination in our day to day lives to receive guidance and advice from Ifa and the Orishas. In this way we live in alignment with the power of the Orishas, of Olodumare (god) and with our own orí (destiny).
The Purpose of Ifa and Merindilogún Consultations
The purpose of Ifa and Merindilogún divination is to help the client align themselves with their destiny (orí ) and with the will of the Orishas. It should be noted that divination in this religion is not ‘fortune-telling’. Although the consultations will often delve into a person’s past, present and future, and many questions regarding the client’s life will be answered, there is a very different purpose involved. Therefore, when a person comes to be seen with Ifa or with Elegguá’s shells, they are learning how they can bring their lives into harmony with themselves as well as with the forces of the world that surrounds them. It is Ifa and the Orishas who speak and advise as to what is the best path for the visitor to follow in order to better their lives. This can only be accomplished by properly trained Babalawos or Olorishas (Santeros) and gives the whole event a very different meaning and depth.
What Happens During a ‘Consulta’?
First, the Priestess or Priest will be saying a number of prayers to Olodumare, to the Eggun and to the Orishas asking their permission to do the work and asking them to speak about the situations affecting the life of the person coming to be seen.
Then the Opele or the caracoles will be cast in order to get the essential Odu or ‘sign’ that accompanies that person. This Odu speaks of the person’s life, the road they are on, how they came to be on that road, and where the path leads. But first we will need to find out the particular path of this sign to further pinpoint the client’s situation.
Several questions are asked starting with whether the Odu comes with Iré (blessings) or with ossogbo (some form of negativity). During this time various items called Ibo will be given to the client. The person is asked to shake and separate the items, one in each hand. The signs that come up tell us which hand to ask for. This is done so that the person’s personal ashé or spiritual energy is brought into the equation. In this way we ascertain what kind of blessing or negativity is accompanying the person and where it comes from, etc. At this point we begin to tell the client what advice Ifa or Elegguá has for them. Finally, we find out the ceremonies or work that is needed in order to ensure the Iré (blessings) or to defend the client from any negativity or Osogbo that might be putting the client out of harmony.
The highest form of divination in the religion is Ifa, which is the exclusive domain of Orunmila and his specially trained priests known as Babalawos or ‘Fathers of the Secrets.’ who are the high priests in our religion. Orunmila or Orula for short is the Orisha of wisdom and knowledge and is considered the secretary of Olodumare (God) and Eleri Ipin or ‘Witness to Destiny in Creation. The title Eleri Ipin refers to the fact that Orula was the only Orisha allowed to witness the act of creation as well as his place as the only witness allowed to be present when we choose our destinies at the feet of Olodumare before coming to this world. This is why it is necessary to go to Ifa for truly major issues such as determining the identity of a person’s tutelary Orisha.
The Babalawo has at his command two tools of divination: The ocuele or opele and the opon Ifa or ‘Table of Ifa’. The ocuele, an instrument consisting of 8 disks connected by a chain, is used for day to day consultations and is considered the wife of Orunmila. After the appropriate prayers are said, the ocuele is thrown to the mat and the position of the eight disks are read by the Babalawo. The Table of Ifa is usually reserved for truly deep divination such as ascertaining the Letter or Sign that governs the year, a person’s sign for life during the process of initiation, or determining who a client’s personal Orisha ‘parent’ is.
Divining with the Table of Ifa is much more involved and time consuming, and includes the use of the ikins or consecrated palm kernel nuts sacred to Orunmila. These are held in one hand, which the Babalawo tries to grasp with his other hand all at once, and counts the remaining ikins left until either one or two remain, then making the appropriate single or double mark in the iyefá covering the Table of Ifa. This continues until 8 marks are completed, arriving at one of the 256 Odus or signs of Ifa possible.
Los Caracoles: The Merindilogún
The second highest form of divination is the caracoles or merindilogún. The Merindilogún are cowrie shells with the backs removed, specially consecrated to the Orishas and used by Santeras and Santeros. They are considered the mouthpieces of the Orishas. Although each Orisha is ‘born’ with a set of shells, only Elegguá’s shells are used for regular divination for the clients who come to them. This is due to Elegguá’s role as Messenger of the Orishas. The shells are thrown twice and the number of shells coming ‘face up’ are counted for each throw to arrive at a Letra or sign. For each throw there are 16 possible Letras of which the Santera can fully read 12. If one of the remaining 4 signs occur during the first two throws, which occurs rarely, it alerts the Santera or Santero that the session must be closed and the client must be sent to a Babalawo for further consultation. We are aware that a few Santeros are now reading past these first 12 signs in an attempt to imitate the Babalawos, but this is hardly traditional and is an ‘invento’ (made up invention) that only dates back to the late 1970s when these Santeros first began acquiring books intended for the Babalawos.
Which Is Better Ifa or the Caracoles?
Again that depends. While both are accurate and both will advise the client well on how to bring their life into harmony, Ifa is more in depth, having 256 Odus or signs that can arrive and therefore a greater range of advice that can be given. Ifa is also the voice of Olodumare (God), Orunmila and all the Orishas, which is why the Santeros often come to Ifa to seek advice. The Merindilogún has 16 Odus of which twelve can be read (if the other four signs come up they must send the client to be seen by a Babalawo). The Orishas speak in both. Which best fits your needs is really up to you.
How Long Does This Take?
Well, that depends. As Priestesses and Priests, we are the servants of Olodumare and the Orishas and the course of the consultation is in their hands. This means we cannot close the consultation until Orunmila or Elegguá is satisfied that all that needs to be said and all that needs to be done has been brought out to this person. This can take twenty minutes or two hours, as it is up to the Orishas and not up to us.
Up until now, we have not performed consultations over the phone, but a series of events (and Ifá) made it plain to us that we need to be able to help people who have no access to a good babalawo or santero in their area and not just in our locality. This is the only way I can truly fulfill my vows to help humanity. All of it.
Of course there are limitations, certain types of work, such as sarayeyeos and rogacions, cannot be done from a distance. And initiations cannot possibly be done without the person present.
To Make an Appointment for a Consultation
The price for an Ifa consultation with Frank Baba Eyiogbe is $66.