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Eṣu-Elegba: Ifa and the Spirit of the Divine Messenger

by Awo Fa'lokun Fatunmbi

Eṣu, for any of you who are familiar with any earth-centered religion, fulfills the role of the Divine Messenger. Every earth centered tradition that I know of, believes that there is some Force in Nature, or Spiritual Presence, or some power that allows humans to communicate with Nature and allows Nature to communicate with humans. It is the function of translation. The Divine Messenger translates the language of Nature into the language of humans and the language of humans into the language of Nature. If you have ever gone to the beach feeling depressed and came away feeling better just by being in the presence of the ocean, then we can say that you had some kind of dialogue or communication with the ocean. The translating factor in this interaction is a Spiritual Force that we call Eṣu. That is the most immediate and tangible manifestation of Esu as a Force in Nature. I want to take it back to the more primal aspect of Esu and then see if we can't bring that forward to a place where it relates to life in Oakland in 1993. The most abstract manifestation of Esu is as it comes into Being in the Odu Ose'Tura which appears as follows: I I


This is the symbolic representation of the energy pattern that incarnates Esu. This Odu is used as a magnet to invoke the power of the Divine Messenger. In Ifá Creation Myth, the Eternal Rock of Creation is called Oyigiyigi. This Rock separated into four Calabashes of Creation. These four calabashes interacted with one another to form sixteen sacred principles called Olu Odu or the primal principles of Creation. In Ifá the sacred number seventeen represents the sixteen primal Odu plus Ose'Tura which is the seventeenth Odu of Ifá. This Odu has the function of causing the Olu Odu to

Every Orisa. . fraternities and sororities that exist within the culture. In Yoruba we say "Iwaju. In essence when an Ifá priest is initiated. if you can gain inspiration anywhere in Nature you have established a relationship with Esu as the Divine Messenger. If you can communicate with the ocean. then they invoke Ose'Tura. It is understood that all of these groups come into the world through the Divine intervention of Ose'Tura." and is used commonly to mean "forehead". Esu communicates through the third eye. Esu also has a role as the Divine Trickster and Esu is the Orisa which opens doors.copulate generating the two hundred and forty Odu that are generated by the first sixteen Odu. It is the parent religion of all the different spiritual societies. the Witness to Creation. Ifá is the religious tradition of Yoruba culture. Esu has several other functions. It is the mystical vision of that event that gives the Prophet Orunmila the praise name "Eleri-ipin" which means "Witness to Creation." The word Iwaju means "The Eye of Character. or a grouping of several Odu. This ritual event gives the initiate a glimpse of the primal event that generated Being as we experience in human life. I hope this will give you a broader understanding of Esu as a Force in Nature. This suggests that Esu. every ancestral lineage. they invoke the first sixteen Odu." The opening invocation for Ifá is always "Orunmila Eleri-ipin" meaning "The Realm of the Immortals is our salvation. every society. In addition to being the Divine Messenger. in addition to being the Divine Messenger. is also primal seed of generation. This is true whether or not you have received some symbolic representation of Esu that you use in a ritual manner." The mystical invocation of this event occurs through the invocation of Ose'Tura. For those of you who are familiar with chakras. So we all understand the idea of Esu as the Divine Messenger. This is a ritual re-enactment of the original moment of the Creation of diversity within the Universe. every vocation are all manifestation of one Odu. I know that this is an abstract concept. but it is out of this primal event that all the other sub groups within Ifá emerge. If we take them one at a time. Esu is the Divine Enforcer in issues of Justice. The reason that Ifá is considered the source of all the other forms of worship within Yoruba culture has to do with the role of Esu and Ose'Tura in relationship to the primal Olu Odu.

If you only look at the world through the power centers in your head. the role of the Divine Trickster is to let you know that this self perception may not be true. We are dependent on other people to survive in the world and we are dependent on communication with Nature to survive in the world. But there is a very sacred function for all Tricksters in all traditional cultures. In Ifá we say "ipako" which literally means "not disjointed. So there is a spiritual influence that pushes us all towards the idea that one tree does not make a forest and no man is an island. I've got it covered. If you are in Yoruba culture and you hear someone say think about what you are doing. You need to have your hands and feet motivated by the same program in order to function with efficiency. In the West they call this link Esu ni ba ko. ori and okan. you get a pain in the neck. most of the anthropological literature identifies the Trickster as a random form of harassment. you have a problem. Ifá tradition describes this lack of connection by saying that the hands and the feet are moving in different directions. The Divine Trickster slaps us up side our head when we empty too much . sooner or later reality is going to greet us in the street. I'll never cry. this tension leads to agitation and the development of illness and is considered reflective of bad character. In the role Eṣu as Divine Trickster. In some literature E ṣu is described as an “evil” phenomenon.In order to communicate with Esu there has to be an unbroken connection between the head and the heart. call me John Wayne or now-a-days Rambo or whatever archetype that you're stuck in. It is pushing us towards the idea that we are interrelated. they do not point to their head. the back of the neck is still the link between the head and the heart. you have shut down the power centers in the rest of your body. It is the Eternal Truth that no one can be totally self reliant. When this occurs your shoulders tense up. The image of hands and feet suggests that hands bring what you need to survive and feet take you out in the world. Once you have the idea that I can handle all of my problems. I am not just speaking here of other people. which is a fundamental issue of psychology. that when take the solitary. Occasionally things occur and we don't have all the answers. The reason for that is they understand the link between the third eye. That link is at the back of the neck. I'm the tough guy." No matter which phrase you use. That function is to bring to each one of us the truth that we are all interconnected and interrelated. the brain and the heart. I can handle everything approach. So if there is no unity between what you feel and what you think. They point to their heart. So in Yoruba there is a link between iwaju.

They are inflexible in their insistence on maintaining their intrinsic identity. If it is disruptive. we can expect a wakeup call from E ṣu. Let us consider what door it is that Esu opens. you rarely find a bird trying to be an elephant. malevolent Force that is out to get you if you don't behave. The universe is not arbitrary. sort of. Humans on the other hand are constantly trying to be birds and elephants and whatever else they can image. based on the idea that if you see an egg that hatches and something comes out with wings. eventually it tastes funny. And when in the course of your life it is important to have that door open. This can be in the . As George Carlin said the whole purpose of life on earth is to feed Mother Earth Styrofoam cups. This leads us to the idea of opening doors. and that humans are the lowest rung on the consciousness scale. Let us say it like this. Initiation occurs every time we expand our own consciousness. He said that because birds always act as birds. They knock on the door and kick it open. trees and animals are much smarter than humans. That is the Christian "boogy man" model. but what does it mean? It’s like everybody is rewriting what someone else wrote. Fa'lokun: Does anyone know what door we are talking about? Answer: Your head. The Divine Trickster is not some arbitrary. That is one of the reasons rocks are sacred. In Ifá they say initiation is the process of elders guiding the novice up the seven steps of initiation. This is the door that they are talking about. When we piss in our drinking water. That may be true. then step back. Fa'lokun: Well. there's a pretty good chance that it’s a bird. You read time and time again that Esu opens doors. That sounds good. but right now I'm going to. I'm not just speaking of the door that is kicked open during ritual. It is the role of the Divine Trickster to suggest that we might have a personal destiny and that we may have a purpose for being on earth and that we may have some eternal essence that the Universe is guiding us towards bringing into Being. So the Divine Trickster has a very important and very sacred function. It is a bigger door than that. You rarely find a tree trying to be a rock and you never find a rock being anything but a rock. A rock is very evolved spiritually because it always functions in perfect alignment with its destiny.garbage in our water. The Divine Trickster is a fundamental principle of the structure of reality. The great African Shaman Malidoma has said that rocks. that could be disruptive. but until we know for sure. I hate to trash the literature on Orisa.

Ifá says that once we are initiated. The key to unlocking that doorway is the willingness to confront the fear of the unknown. or if you can't handle it. Then puberty kicks in and your consciousness is forced to deal with the issues of being an adult. So there is a doorway that we walk through that allows us to make the leap into the next level of consciousness. Lets say the consciousness of man before puberty is the size of a baseball. Lets say the consciousness of the man who has assimilated these new roles is represented by a circle the size of a basketball. "Who I am in this moment isn't going to cut it. finding a productive role in society and so on. there is no exception. you look yourself in the eye and you say. assimilate and integrate the life lessons that occur in the world. The death of the old self and birth of the new self. I want to say that again. Each day you have to incorporate. you grab yourself by the lapels. When this barrier breaks down we go through a period of death and rebirth. Ifá says that we can draw a map of consciousness through the use of a circle that contains an equal armed cross. So historically. If you don't like this experience. Otherwise you become stagnant. really becomes the primal source for the confrontation with fear. one of the reasons why Esu tends to be described as "evil" or "negative" is because he brings us face to face with our fears. raising a family. This shift in consciousness can only occur if we tear down the parameters of conscious that define how we see ourself in the world.context of a communal ritual. When you see yourself clearly. it is our task to re-initiate ourselves every day. The doorway that Esu opens is that doorway that exposes a mirror that allows you to see yourself. Esu as the opener . you regress and the circle that represents the parameters of your consciousness becomes smaller. This occurs daily if you are in tune with it. or it can be in the context of overcoming difficulty in the world. the common human response is to blame the door keeper. The boy no longer exists and in his place stands a man. If you are unwilling to walk through the door that Esu has opened. what do I have to do to take the next step?" Esu as the Orisa that opens doors. some barrier that leads us into the realm of the unknown. This is always true. To get from the baseball to the basketball requires the death of the old self. The tendency is to blame Esu rather than admit to your own lack of courage. This process always involves walking through some doorway. So lets image a circle with a cross that is the size of a baseball. Lets say that this circle represents the consciousness of a young man the day before puberty. It always involves embracing the need for change. some portal.

Let's say I did have some juju powder that gave you the courage to confront your fears. The problem was caused by asking the Universe to open the door. This is the primary reason why initiations are secret. Ifá literally calls it "Fear of the Mothers. Now all the folks who write about experiencing it say that the prelude to that experience is what I call the Mother of all Fears. What you would be creating is reliance on me and not the ability to work through the fear. Anybody that tells you that maybe doing something wonderful. The key point here is that Ifá is not about sprinkling juju dust over your head and washing away all your problems. but it isn't Ifá. Believe me I have experienced many an anus pucker and it is a valuable process. If you read all the great mystical writings in literature. psychologically and spiritually that's just the way it is. sounds good. which it is. cosmologically.of doors is that which we invoke so that we can confront our fears. If you don't know it can make your anus pucker. Fundamentally. don't invoke Esu unless you are ready to deal. I can get with that. we're all connected to Source. followed by a sense of we're all inter connected. In fact. most initiations include a healthy dose of time to allow you to experience your fear. All this to answer the question what doorway does Esu open? The doorway that allows you to confront your fears. we can sit here and talk and say. because if you really figured out what they were doing. they are all about trying to explain how it feels when you really get that idea. So every time you had a problem you'd come to me and I would sprinkle the juju on your head and you would handle the problem. The point is." It is the fear of total loss of self. It is the idea that everything is interconnected. But I am not the one who is causing the problem. it’s not all that scary. Understand? Courage is the only antidote to fear and there is no way to invoke courage other than to do the right thing in spite of the fear. But it remains an idea until you really experience it. We invoke Esu and they blame me for all the problems that greet them in the street. What happens is that people come to me saying they are ready for growth." It’s a wonderfully noble and universally recognized idea. "Oh yeah we're all interconnected. There is only one antidote to fear and that is courage. . The point being. There is an idea in Ifá that appears in every earth centered religion that I have ever encountered. so we're all the eyes of God.

In our religion we pray to rocks. things occur that bring the truth back to us. "What about this tragedy." I'm going to tell you a secret. the pieces start to fall in place. Fa'lokun: So what does all of this have to do with life in Oakland in 1993? Answer: One thing that I get is there are no absolutes. that it is possible to relate." So when you are given a rock during initiation by wise and powerful elders. and human beings who are in the process of becoming conscious.So how does this relate to the idea of the Divine Enforcer? You can only move so far away from this idea before Nature itself. So Esu as the Divine Enforcer is what we invoke to get the big picture. So they have it figured out in the ocean. So the issues of justice and randomness are issues of perspective. But as an aspect of faith. Ojubo means "the place we face when we say our prayers." Every fish that lives in the ocean has a home and food to eat. Things which appear random have a degree of symmetry when viewed at a distance. Esu has the function of Divine Enforcer. If you get the big picture. You can all say. create counter . When we get too far away from that. This is based on the belief that it is possible to get along. You can do things on the short term that feel effective. and what about that tragedy?" That is a difficult question to come to terms with objectively. they bring a Spirit to live in that rock so . The symbolic analogy that Ifá uses is "Ifá Olokun o saro dayo. The idea of Esu as the Divine Enforcer is that the ground rules for figuring it out are in place. Answer: It seems like Esu is necessary to find some form of spiritual centering. This is all related to Chaos theory. in Ifá there is the belief that within the bigger picture. It is Esu that we invoke to get a clue where we are in that polarity. Divine Justice is at work. righteous and ethical that can have long term negative effects. Western science has a discipline called Chaos theory which postulates the idea that things which seem to be symmetrical in the universe have a range of variation when viewed at a distance.balancing forces to guide you back to center. we just haven't figured it out yet on land. Every shrine I've seen in Africa contains a rock. You can do things that seem negative in the moment and end up having positive results. That's probably because they've had more time in the ocean to work on it." meaning "The Spirit of the Ocean always provides for those who live in the sea. Fa'lokun: The Yoruba word for shrine is "Ojubo.

I think the reason why no one has ever written about this aspect of Ifá is because we in the West don't know what a functional extended family looks like. When you are centering. let alone an extended family. That same light created your consciousness. because they all emerged out of the light that came from the Big Bang. The role of herbalist is sanctioned through initiation into . The role of healing female problems is sanctioned through initiation into Oshun. Nobody believes that Esu is a rock. then those 256 Odu have to be a part of your consciousness. Despite what the Christian missionary's taught. which we believe it does. The extended family is an eternal structure that exists forever and different faces evolve into the role of elders within the ongoing family unit. Children are being trained for the day when they become grandmother and grandfather.that you have something to dialogue with when you face the rock. that which they brought to the rock will go away. First and foremost. This consciousness includes the Odu Ose'Tura which we said invokes Esu. There is a lot of talk about dysfunctional families and co-dependent behaviour and that's all good. Jobs are also sanctioned through initiation. We barely know what a two parent family looks like. For example the role of grandmother and grandfather are eternal roles within the family that are assumed by different faces. Ojubo. just look at the language. The profession of blacksmith is sanctioned through initiation to Ogun. Hopefully. They believe that the rock is the place you face when you are speaking to Esu. seeing and understanding what a functional family looks like. Ifá is the sanctification of the extended family. Now the thing that I didn't realize when I went to Africa for the first time was the importance of the extended family in relationship to Ifá and Orisa worship. If all the Universe is created by the 256 Odu. no one in Africa believes that the rock is Esu or the spirit. So somewhere inside of you Esu is alive and waiting to go to work. This gives you a place to initiate the centering process. The rock is the place you face when you say your prayers. They also teach that if you don't talk to the rock. your prayer will attract other manifestations of that Odu. if Ose'Tura exists somewhere else in the world. you are facing that rock and you are calling Esu out of your own consciousness and bouncing it off that rock. What you are left with is just a rock. That will create a convergence of forces that will allow for dialogue and inspiration. But we need to start thinking about.

If she does not give her blessing you are not initiated. In Africa there is no word for uncle and there is no word for cousin. All these roles fit into an ideal version of how a family and a community functions.Osanyin. It has nothing to do with them being initiated. when I say sanctification. My baba is the Araba of Ode Remo. Superficially. and if you don't call them father or mother you are in deep trouble. I think that Esu can begin to give you a vision of the big picture. So there is a weave of influences that sustains the eternal structure of the family. Divination is sanctioned through initiation into Ifá. Now in the United States. The women have veto power over what is apparent in public. Within the extended family there are different roles that sustain the well being of the family. but when his older sister comes into the room he bows to her as Iya or mother. We are talking about the eternal idea of respect for elders as part of the process. Part of the function of Esu is to maintain the cohesive fabric of the family structure. But the last thing that you do involves a blessing from a mother. Can you imagine what shopping at the mall would be like if every shop keeper was initiated into the Mysteries of Oya. another way to say that would be initiation. Ifá is one particular vision of how to make the family work and every other vision that works is Ifá whether they call it that or not. Orisa families are not usually using the African model of the extended family. So here comes my answer to the question how does Esu relate to life in Oakland in 1993. it looks like you are being initiated by a fraternity of men. Sanctification is a communal process that identifies certain people as carries of a particular kind of wisdom. Just so that you will know. It is not. That isn't it. Anybody older than you is father or mother. There is a balance of power within the structure of community. You have to walk past her to come into the world after initiation. That vision here and now gives us insight on how we can relate as extended family. if you go through an Ifá initiation. So within . And if you call yourself doing Ifá and you don't know what a family looks like. So for example. the Yoruba extended family looks like a patriarchy. he bows to no man in the village. Instead they are using the General Motors model of the extended family which has one patriarchal leader at the top of a pyramid. It would be a different place. I mean some form of communal blessing. then you are lying to yourself and whoever you're talking too. On a communal level there is a sanctification of farming and a sanctification of the role of those who run the market.

jealously and the question of why can't the community come together. end of story. competition. That is a very real issue. There are the eternal images of Ifá scripture that motivate us to transcend our limitations. The problem is taking those emotions and transforming them into something worthy of praise. gossip is inappropriate. then I have to examine the notion that jealousy is inappropriate. without any apparent viciousness. status. diminishing anyone verbally is inappropriate. poverty or abundance. we come up with the ethical notion that if your life gets better my life gets better. I suffer. you know I've got the right way. The way you deal with that is not to try and convince everybody that you are right. not in the saying. If you get it.the Orisa community there is a lot of concern about disruption. It doesn't matter if they are Ifá. he knows what it smells like. he is moving towards bringing it into being. It becomes a real struggle. he is right on it. he knows what it feels like. but feel it. without any apparent hidden agenda. If you suffer. and he knows what his place is in the process. the idea of Esu's power as Divine Enforcer. Based on a simple idea. One example is what I call the Mandela standard. He has a vision. If I really get that idea and not just think about it. Nelson Mandela is negotiating with the government of South Africa without any apparent anger. There are people who get it and there are people who don't. You deal with that by joining hands with those who have the same vision of family and it doesn't matter what they call themselves. and he is walking with unyielding determination in a straight line towards creating that and everything else is . in the doing. Luisah Teish has gone to New Zealand and Australia and joined hands with people who know what an extended family looks like and they have treated her as a sister and mother. I've got the most information blah blah blah. The feelings I have listed are inappropriate to alignment with Esu as Divine Enforcer. without any apparent need for revenge. If you are just trying to make a big theological argument. you join hands with those who do and together you become the model for what a family looks like. That's where the transformation occurs. he knows what it is going to take. intelligence. competition is inappropriate. When you find yourself experiencing these emotions there is transformation work that needs to be done. He knows all of this I believe because he knows what a family looks like. Then there are the contemporary manifestations of those principles. Its not hard to identify and its not hard to recognize. back biting is inappropriate. That is the point. That's regardless of background. all this nonsense that goes on in the community is not relevant.

and someone says they have it and you don't see it. which means that it can be directed towards creation or destruction. That is Ifá whether he's heard of it or not. Once you have been in the presence of ase. Certainly as a religious community we need to be more outspoken in our support of fundamental issues and in our recognition of those living elders who embrace the ethical standards of our faith. is a fundamental point that is difficult to grasp in Western culture. It’s an example that we want to grasp and elevate. But it has physical substance. So again. even when they are not of our faith. don't believe it. smell it. Believe me I am not saying this out of some personal admiration of Mandela. no one will ever be able fake the funk. Those are all real things that feel a certain way and the essence of ceremonial work within Ifá is to unlock that power. In Ifá they call it ase. So part of what Mandela represents. The point is to express these ideas effectively. you get blessed by the elders by sitting in their presence. in China they call it Chi. He becomes one of the living manifestations of what it is that we are struggling for. If you have experienced spiritual power.irrelevant. in Hinduism they call it prana. In India they call that darma. There is a thing that exists in the Universe that I call spiritual power. taste it and feel moved by it. That is as inspiring as it gets. We use the example of his life and we say where do I fall short of that? That's where the idea of Eṣu comes in as the motivating factor to give us a glimpse of the bigger picture. What do I mean by spiritual power? It is the ability to place yourself so perfectly in alignment with the Forces of Nature that surround you that you can move in such a way that your life becomes continually transformed. that Ifá calls ase. in the framework of Ifá. It’s all about having a real experience of spiritual power. It is generally neutral. It is assuming a position in relationship to Nature that becomes transformative simply because you are a conduit for the essential balance of Nature itself. When you are in the presence of spiritual power it is unmistakable. If you are unable to unlock that . power is not sprinkling juju on your head. I encourage anyone who is concerned about these issues to become a prophetic voice in expressing these ideas. I don't say get up on a soap box and say that you are right about everything. And the life of those around you becomes continually transformed. My African elders recognize that he represents something worthy of admiration and respect. They don't have to say anything. We can at least engage in some dialogue on how to elevate these ideas. in Japan they call it ki.

Its not a mysterious agenda that's being put out here. am I doing it Umbanda. . I felt that I was in the presence of real spiritual power. a Santeria point of view or doing a horse and pony show as long as the issue gets resolved and there are ways to objectively evaluate that.power on your own. so that we can have a life. they want their problems transformed. Malidoma says that community is three or more people who have come together for a purpose. They don't care if I'm coming from a pure African point of view. I was very blessed to be with some elders from Ile Ife in Rhode Island recently. It is a three day ceremony and there is a place in the third day where the Orisa is suppose to come and mount the initiate. doesn't matter. The purpose of the Orisa community is to come together and to support each other's spiritual development. When you know this feeling and you invoke Esu and ask for the power to do something. have a family. You can convince yourself until you are blue in the face that you've caused a transformation that has not actually occurred. But there are ways to evaluate this process that will give you some basis for determining if you are standing in the presence of real juice or kool aid. Because at that point you will know what it feels like. We did an initiation. At that point what you call it is profoundly irrelevant. being in the presence of those who can is of value. In Rhode Island we did three initiations and each time the Orisa came during the opening prayer on the first day of the ceremony. The question is am I raising the spiritual power that will solve the problem. am I doing it Ifa. experience abundance and know a little joy. That is the only question. am I doing it in an African way. Ase will become unlocked in you merely by being around it. the issue of am I doing it right. This should be the basis for building a community. As a diviner when someone comes to me. am I doing it pagan.