Soteriology: A Comparative Study of Yoruba Ifa Mythology and Christianity (Series no. 4)

The Ifa Priests fall into five categories, namely:

  1. Babalawo OloduThese are priests that have been fully initiated into the secrets of Odu, the mythical wife of Ifa, and they are both diviners and
  2. Babalawoswho have not been initiated into the secrets of Odu, who have all the paraphernalia of Ifa divination and are fully authorized to practice the art of divination.
  3. Babalawoshave all paraphernalia of Ifa divination but are forbidden to use them to divine people outside their households.
  4. Babalawos ‘healers; are full Ifa Priests, but they divine solely for healing
  5. Babalawos are trained but are neither diviners nor healers; they have all the paraphernalia of Ifa, but they do not use them. Priests of this group are usually engaged in other things like full-time employment; they attend the regular assemblies of Ifa priests and maintain a disciplined attitude to life as prescribed by Ifa and characteristic of Ifa

Ifa cult is essential of male adherents; though some female diviners are sometimes called Ifa priests, they do not belong to the inner core of cult members; there is a limit to their participation in cult activities. At the head of the Ifa cult is the Araba, who is the supreme high priest of a vast area (an entire district with many towns and villages). Next to Araba is Oluwo, the Ifa high priest for a particular city or community. From Araba downwards are sixteen principal chiefs of Ifa; many other minor chiefs are responsible for the Ifa cult in small communities. Also, every Oluwo has his retinue of sixteen chiefs who assist him in administering the cult in his area. A subsidiary chief under Oluwo has some chiefs responsible for minor duties such as settling disputes among cult members. Secret cults like Ogboni and Reformed Ogboni Fraternities are patterned along with the Ifa Cult.


The entire history of the Christian Church is rooted in one central reality – that Jesus died for human sins and resurrected the third day, giving humankind victory over death and Satan. The early Church started as a purely Jewish movement, a sect within Judaism. Yet by the end of the 1st Century, events had transplanted the Church from its original Jewish soil into the Gentile world, where it became an almost exclusively Gentile movement[4]. Acts 6 gave us an insight into the process of transition. It began when tensions arose in Jerusalem’s early Christian community between Palestinian Jews and Jews from a more Hellenistic background.


Jesus of Nazareth had followers from both the Hellenistic and Palestinian sections of the Jewish people. Hellenistic Deacon Stephen was stoned to death, and many believers were forced to flee from Jerusalem. Luke makes it clear in Acts 8:1 that the apostles were the only ones left in Jerusalem while others were scattered throughout Judea and Samaria. The mainly first Gentile Church from a pagan background was founded outside of Palestine in the Roman Province of Syria, in the great eastern City of Antioch through the preaching of the scattered Hellenistic believers of Jerusalem. The Gentile Church in Antioch’s first organized Christian mission went out, headed by the Apostle Paul (Acts 13).


Christian becomes the distinctive title of the followers of Jesus Christ; it occurs thrice in N.T. (Ac 11:26, 26:23, 1 Pe 4:16). Christianity is used to denote the Faith which Christians profess. The word ‘Christianity’ first appeared in the letters of Ignatius in the early 2nd Century [5]. Christianity presents itself in the aspects of – objective and subjective, past and present, world-historical and personal[6]. It is a remarkable fact of universal history and a truth of personal experience. It is a revelation given above and an appropriation effected within. Therefore, it must be thought of as historically revealed to the world and realized in the individual’s life [7]Christian believes in the Holy Trinity: God the Father, God the Son, and God the Holy Spirit. The early Christian community was merely one of the many religious groups in the Roman Empire. After centuries of persecution, the destiny of Christianity changed when the Roman Emperor Constantine became a Christian. His decision changed the world forever. Near the end of the Roman emperor Diocletian’s reign, imperial decree forbade Christian worship, authorized the demolishing of churches, and denied Christians their legal rights. [8].


In 311, the Eastern emperor Galerius realized the futility of the persecutions and ended it with his edict of Serdica. During this period of unrest, Constantine, who grew up at Diocletian’s court, found the persecutions he witnessed disturbing [9]. In 312, Constantine had a dream before the Milvian Bridge that changed his life. God instructed Constantine to use the labarum as his battle standard against his enemies in the dream. The labarum consisted of the initial letters of Christ: Chi-Rho, on top of a cross. Pagans could also associate this sign with their own beliefs. Constantine knew that in a predominantly pagan empire, it was essential to have universal support. Constantine was henceforth an avowed Christian with his victory at the Battle of Milvian Bridge. He believed that God had enabled him to triumph over Maxentius. But Constantine favored Christianity for other reasons as well. Firstly, he realized that the persecutions had failed against the Christians. Instead, it only resulted in disharmony, which Constantine disliked immensely. Secondly, he had a deep admiration for the organization and values of the Christians. He believed that their love, charity, and mercy would bring unity and harmony to the Roman Empire. Constantine adjusted the laws of the empire to reflect his Christian values. By instilling good Christian values throughout his empire, Constantine helped to establish a lasting harmony. [10]


Christian Mission in Nigeria:

Christianity came into Nigeria through Badagry around 1840. Rev. Thomas Birch Freeman, the proactive superintendent of Methodist Mission at Cape Coast, led this missionary effort. This singular initiative was a catalyst for the local committee of the C.M.S. in Sierra Leone. The C.M.S. sent Rev. Henry Townsend, who got to Abeokuta – a Yoruba city on January 4th, 1843. Freeman and Townsend were warmly received by the formerly enslaved people, who requested missionaries, and the paramount chief of Egba Land (Sodeke and his chiefs). The primary C.M.S. mission led by Rev. C. A. Gollmer, accompanied by Townsend and Crowther, came to Yorubaland in 1845. As these missionaries could not proceed to Abeokuta immediately after Sodeke’s death, they stayed in Badagry and improved the church life [11]. History affirms that the people who advocated and welcomed the missionaries were not members of the Yoruba traditional society but the westernized formerly enslaved people who felt that they were missing the sort of western education and Christian fellowship which they enjoyed in Freetown. These people also wanted their people to benefit from the light they had received by embracing Christianity. 



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