Monday, January 1, 2018

~ The Student-Teacher Relationship in Traditional Ifa Practice Part 1 ~

The following © information is courtesy of Awo Falokun and is shared with  his permission.

Agbo ato,

I want to talk about the teacher student relationship in Ifa. In traditional Yoruba culture there is typically one or two egbe ifa in a community and you are typically initiated in the community where you family lives. Before you can change egbe for any reason there is usually lengthy discussions within Ogboni over your reasons for changing egbe and it is not a common occurrence. In the Diaspora we are faced with a number of problems when it comes to training; frequently the student does not live near the person who initiated them, most awo in the Diaspora do not teach generally based on a fear of competition, and there are very few functioning Ifa egbe where work is done in a community setting and training is a regular part of the ritual schedule.

As a alternative many initiates who want to learn the sacred technology of Ifa will generally read a few a books and then simply make stuff up, or they will watch something done and try and repeat it without any real instruction, in my opinion neither of these options is effective. The less common but perhaps more effective method is for a student to formally ask an elder to be their teacher. This is the relationship I want to talk about because as a self described teacher of Ifa I frequently get asked this question. Based on my experience here are some of the issues involved in asking someone other than the person who initiated you to be their teacher.

In traditional Ifa it is clearly understood that Ifa is not magic and it is not fortune telling it is a process of developing good character based on the idea that embracing your full potential as a human being will bring blessings in the world. When we embrace our full potential as human beings we access personal potential that looks like magic and fortune telling to those who do not engage in a spiritual discipline. Frequently potential students will come to me and ask to learn Ifa sacred technology so they can become power magicians and so they can predict the future. That completely misses the point. Ifa sacred technology is designed to support the development of iwa pele or good character. The development of good character is a consequence of constant critical self evaluation and critical self evaluation is a result of the ability to say I made a mistake.

So when a person gets initiated and claims they are all powerful and all knowing they have completely missed the point. Whatever problems you have the day before initiation you are going to have the day after initiation. The difference is this; the day after initiation you have access to Ifa sacred technology as a tool for solving your problems. There are two tools that are at the foundation of this process, guidance from an elder and daily critical self evaluation based on contemplation of your odu for the day that comes during morning divination. In order to get value from a teacher who is not the person who initiated you it is necessary to give that person permission to function as an elder. As a teacher of Ifa anything I can teach you about how we do things is useless unless we engage in some dialogue related to the students development of iwa pele. Many students of Ifa are desperately looking for a magic bullet that will solve all their problems without having to engage in the real work, the hard work and ultimately the courageous work of developing iwa pele through the use of critical self evaluation.

What frequently happens is that a student will come to me and say I want to learn Ifa. I will give them some study material and then give them guidelines on what iwa pele looks like. If I insist on developing iwa pele and the student insists they have no problems we reach an impasse. Frequently this impasse results in the student engaging in gossip to support the idea that the teacher does not know what they are talking about and then use the excuse as a reason for looking for a new teacher. This process is simply creating dysfunction in our communities and turning people away from our faith. Anyone can learn how to do divination and identify odu when they appear on the mat. The purpose of Ifa training is to translate the ancestral wisdom contained in odu to improve the inner life of yourself and your community. When Ifa is used as a money hustle based on the false premise it is a system of magic the only thing that happens is that we denigrate the wisdom of those who came before us and we fail to stand on their shoulders.
In my next blog I will discuss how we can avoid this trap.

Ire Baba
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