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Soteriology: A Comparative Study of Yoruba Ifa Mythology and Christianity (Series no. 8)


The Practical and Ritual Dimension of Ifa and Christianity

Yoruba Ifa Mythology:

Ifa divination does not depend on the oracular powers of the diviner but rather on a system of signs that the Ifa priest must interpret. The Yoruba conceptualize the universe in terms of two halves of a closed calabash. These represent the realm of living beings (aye), comprising all humans, animals, and plants, and the realm of spiritual powers (Orun), which includes the 401 deities (orisas). The phrase “401 orisas” is a Yoruba convention meaning “many,” abundance,” “a plethora” of deities (orisas). Several orisas are well known throughout Yoruba-land, but this number is not fixed. Quite often, orisas have different names in different towns and among people within the same town[15]; and the ancestors (ara orun, “the living dead”). There is always a prescribed sacrifice from the divination process; the client must always offer sacrifice whether the prediction is good or evil. Most of the sacrifices that Ifa priests ask their clients to offer are sacrificed to particular deities.

Sixteen Principal Odu
Name 1 2 3 4
Eji Ogbe I I I I
Oyẹku Meji II II II II
Iwori Meji II I I II
Odi Meji I II II I
Irosun Meji I I II II
Owonrin Meji II II I I
Obara Meji I II II II
Okanran Meji II II II I
Ogunda Meji I I I II
Ọsa Meji II II I II
Ika Meji II I II II
Otuurupon Meji II I I I
Otua Meji I II I I
Irete Meji I I II I
Ọsẹ Meji I II I II
Ofun Meji II I II I


Sacrificial Rites:

Divination is a process that allows the Yoruba Traditionalists to communicate with the deity. Ifa was given “the power to speak for the gods and communicate with human beings” [16]. The intermediaries between Ifa and the adherents are known as the Babalawos’. Through the rituals or divination, the parents take information divined and use it to create a pathway of spiritual guidance on which their children will travel as they grow. Sacrifice in Yoruba land is consecrated and offered to God or divinity like animals, birds, food, drink, or any prescribed items. It is the Yoruba belief that when a man regularly sacrifices properly, the divinities and spirits will favor him and give him his heart’s desires, such as peace, cohesion, and joy, in addition to the material blessings. Sacrifice is also offered to counter the powers of destruction from witches and sorcerers. In brief, sacrifice is made to express gratitude to spiritual beings. It is to fulfill a vow or appease Esu to allow peace to reign. To establish communion between man and the spiritual beings; avert the anger of the divinities and spirits. To ward off enemies’ attacks and evil machinations; purify a person or a community when a taboo is broken, or sin is committed; prevent or expel epidemics; strengthen the worshippers against malign influences, and celebrate. 

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