THE SYMBOLISM OF OPON IFA AND IGBA ODU Marcus Ifalola Sanchez

With the basis for the corpus of knowledge laid, we can turn to the question of the technicalities of Ifa and its markings. Ifa is in its essence a binary system. In fact one of the oldest and original binary systems, which happens to also be the basis for how modern day computers work. In a binary system, Two digits, 0 and 1 for computers, or in Ifa I and II, can be used to stand for the two states of ON and OFF, or in Ifa's case existence and nonexistence. While Ifa itself is quite complex, and able to handle all the intricacies involved in shades of grey, its basis lies in the simple fact of two possible states of being. I exist or I do not exist, yes or no, positive or negative, known or unknown, these are the most basic states of existence, and are reflected in the markings of Ifa. So we ask, why 8 markings? To first understand this, we should look at one of the most basic symbols in Orisa worship, the circle and crossed lines

This figure appears in a variety of places, from the Opon Ifa (traditionally circular, though there are modern square and rectangular versions) with the crossed lines marked in Iyerosun, to the “firmas” used within a variety of religious ceremonies. The symbology of this is a critical part of Yoruba cosmogony. We begin with the shape of the circle, which represents a variety of important concepts. First and foremost, by drawing a circle you perform the act of acknowledging and drawing, a representation of the eternal and infinite. Once drawn, a circle has no discernable beginning, middle or end, it simply appears to go on and on without stop. Not only does this represent the concept of never ending flow of time, it is crucial to the Yoruba concept of reincarnation. This is clearly evidenced when talking about the theology of Orun and the way in which we come to earth. It’s also evident in Yoruba names such as Yetunde or Babatunde (mother returns or father returns respectively), which are given to children born shortly after the death of a grandparent, viewed to be their reincarnation as marked by the ceremony of Esentaye done on the third day after a child’s birth.

in Ifa. The center point of two intersecting lines representing the present moment in which the divination occurs where the two worlds are for an instant brought together. the intersecting vertical line. we see one beautiful example of a calabash carved with Yoruba motifs throughout.The circle is also important in that it is a representation of the calabash (igba). and extremely important part of Yoruba culture. which is considered to be a calabash (again. both sacred and profane. but importantly is a symbol used when explaining the universe. In the picture below. To add another level of complexity to the discussion. is a representation of our breaking of the boundary between heaven and earth in order to commune/communicate with heaven and seek counsel of the Divine. the horizontal representing the differentiation between heaven and earth and subsequently life and death. the intersecting lines are also a representation of the crossroads and a manifestation of the Orisa Esu (owner of the crossroads) who traditionally is depicted at the top of an Opon Ifa as seen below. In that role. In Yoruba culture. our personal trajectories are on the outer circle. science concurs that the universe as we understand it is in essence an expanding sphere). This plays directly into our diagram of circle with two intersecting lines. . the calabash is considered a container for items. the universe is cut in half with the upper half representing Orun (heaven) and the lower half representing earth or the “known” universe (aiye). While as a whole.

past. Esu oversees this process and is given his due (ebo) to ensure he does not block and removes any obstacles from our way.Ifa Tomorrow Accessed 16 March 2010. as in Odu Ifa. N o v e m b e r 1 4 . I believe that for now. oo . and is the reason they are consulting Ifa for guidance. and 4 more times representing each potential path that leads to the future. is housed. posted by Marcos Ifalola Sanchez on W e d n e s d a y . present and future. looking out onto each of their options in four directions seeking counsel on the correct path. present and future are contained. originating from the infinite circle. And so. 4 representing each potential path that lead to the present. all the knowledge of the world. This notion is further acknowledged by the role the calabash plays as the container of all knowledge. all possibilities of past. and each line also a potential future path extending out to the infinite circle. prayer and the use of sacred objects to access that knowledge and present the devotee with a clear path to success and the overcoming of obstacles. we manipulate the symbols through ritual. Ase Marcos Ifalola Sanchez From “Discourse on Meaning and Symbology in the Ifa Divination System”. and a deeper understanding of the rites and rituals which we use to communicate and commune with the Divine Ifa. In the circle. this is a first attempt at creating an understanding of the symbology of Ifa which I hope will lead to more conversations. or calabash of Odu. and that based on our dynamic understanding of the Opon Ifa as crossroads.The intersecting lines are a representation of the crossroads at which the devotee stands. 2 0 0 7 o n h i s b l o g Ifa Yesterday . In that way. They stand at the center of the intersection. each line a possible path to the present (their past). he draws the ikin 8 times.Ifa Today. otherwise known as igba Odu. as the Babalawo casts Ikin. We know that within Odu. the intersection represents the devotee’s present. as Babalawo.

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