Orisa rituals are rich in color, taste and sound. Once you have experienced a properly performed divination, sacrifice or festival, you are very likely to emerge with the overwhelming sense that you have taken a fantastic journey into another space and time. Beyond aesthetics, however, orisa rituals reveal a timeless relationship with divine principles that govern the universe.
The reason orisa ritual is so compelling is very aptly expressed in a Yoruba adage that says, Let us do things the way we used to do them so that things might turn out the way they used to turn out. An elder will typically recite this saying when he or she wants to remind you to retain the integrity of tradition. It is based upon our understanding that perfection is found in the past.
This concept is difficult for the Westerner to accept. We scoff at our elders. Because they are not "hip" we believe they are obsolete. Such is not the case in Yoruba land. There, the elders are held in high esteem. They possess an almost mythic presence that evokes a sense of awe in the youth and children alike. Oftentimes, when explaining the source of his success a man will allude to the powers he received from his father, his uncle or his grandfather.
Of course, this respect is rooted in direct experience. Ifa teaches us about the dire consequences of mistreating elders. Consider, for example, the wisdom of the Holy Odu IkaMeji:
Ifa says a child is practicing the art of disrespect
If he meets a veteran Babalawo
Let him slap the Babalawo's Face
If he meets an elderly Herbalist
Let him beat the herbalist mercilessly
If he meets an Abore (Chief executioner)
Where he bows his head in supplication to Olodumare
Let him push the Abore down
These were the declaration of Ifa to the obstinate children
When they declared that nobody can contain them
They were advised to offer sacrifice
They called the Awo a group of cheats
They labeled Esu Odara a thief
They simply ignored the advice to offer sacrifice
Don't you know that
Long life does not exist for a child
Who slap a veteran Babalawo
Longevity does not exist for a child
Who beats an elderly Herbalist
A child who beats an elderly Abore
Where he was supplicating to Olodumare
Such a child is courting his own perdition
How does a maggot die?
Quickly and in droves
Do maggots meet their death
Quickly and in droves
- Holy Odu IkaMeji
Common thinkers of contemporary society have not yet made the connection between devastation and disrespect. But, as the Yoruba say, every day is for the thief; only one day is for the owner. When it comes to tradition, the immature, ungoverned and unrestrained are the thieves. Meanwhile, the elders are the true owners. For this reason, the Yoruba will say, Agba kosi, ilu baje. It means, Without elders, the kingdom is doomed.
It is precisely this reverence for eldership that enables one to fully appreciate what it means to be a true ritual specialist. In fact, it is safe to say that if you lack the ability to recognize the elders as gatekeepers of all spiritual empowerment, you will never become a true ritual leader.
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NOTES: RITUALS, SYMBOLISM AND SYMBOLS IN YORUBA TRADITIONAL RELIGIOUS THOUGHT