Initiation

Initiation into Ifa requires rigorous study. A Babalawo must learn and understand each of the 256 chapters (Odu) of Ifa. The minimum of four verses will of necessity include ebos and ooguns (medicine) that are embedded and relevant to each of the verses, plus other issues that complement divination. An accomplished Babalawo must know about ten verses of each of the 256 chapters of Ifa (256 Odu Ifa). 

Regardless of gender, whoever aspires to practice Ifa must have this qualification. In essence, Ifa practice does not preclude a woman provided such woman acquires the required qualification. Odu—a special Orisa—can only be received by a Babalawo who decides to perform the special initiation that will allow him access to Odu. In essence, initiation into Ifa is the first step towards initiation into Odu. A woman cannot be initiated into Odu. This is because since she already has a womb, she has no need to receive Odu. It can be said to be redundant. Character Traits of a Awo: Orunmila demands humility from his priests and priestesses, therefore, a Babalawo should be an embodiment of patience, good character, honesty, and humility.

On the other hand, in Cuba and parts of Nigeria such as Ode Remo, the position of the Iyanifa as a divining priestess of Ifa is hotly contested on the grounds that in the Ifa Odus Ogunda Ka and Oshe Yekun, no one can become a full Awo Ifa without the presence of Odun, and in the Odu Ifa Irete Ntelu (Irete Ogbe), Odun herself says that she would only marry Orunmila if he promised not to permit women to be in the same room as her. 

These views appear to be confirmed by books published in Nigeria as far back as the 19th century. For instance, the eminent Yoruba author James Johnson wrote in one of the most detailed early descriptions of Ifa that "Whenever this should be the case, a woman would receive from a Babalawo only one Ikin or Consecrated Palm nut called Eko, which she would carry about her body for her protection, and whenever divination should recommend and prescribe to her sacrifice to Ifa, she would, for the time being, hand over her Eko either to her husband or to her brother, or any other male relative according to prescription, who would include it in his own Ikins for the purpose of the worship and sacrifice in which she would participate."  

William Bascom, the foremost academic authority on Ifa up until the time of his death, also stated that "only men can become babalawo" and that he never encountered a single female Ifa priest acting as a diviner during any of his extensive field studies in the cities of Ife, Igana, Meko, Oyo, Ilesa, Abeokuta, Osogbo, Sagamu, Ilara, Ondo, Ijebu Ode or Ekiti in Yorubaland in 1937-38, 1950–51, in 1960 and 1965, nor did any of his informants mention such a thing.Sources from Yorubaland going back to the mid-19th century clearly state that only men can become Ifa diviners. The idea that any woman's womb is the equivalent of Odu, the force that created the universe, is not a tenable one to traditionalists. This is the theological equivalent to a man who might want to claim to be a Babalawo without initiation due to the virtue of having male genitalia as does the Orisha Orunmila.

Apetebi is a title given to the wife of a Babalawo. Apetebi is the name Orunmila gave to his wife, whom he cured from leprosy before giving birth to his child. This is from the Sacred Odu Ifa Obara Ogunda. Iyanifa is the title of an initiated female priestess of IFA, but can mean several other things as well depending on region and tradition.


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