Babaaláwo or Babalawo (Babalao or Babalaô in Latin America; literally meaning 'father of the secrets' in the Yoruba language) is a spiritual title that denotes a Priest of Ifá. Its female counterpart is called Iyalawo (meaning 'mother of the secrets'), although the Iyalawo is extremely controversial in both Yorubaland and in the Americas. Ifá is a divination system that represents the teachings of the Orisha Orunmila, the Orisha of Wisdom, who in turn serves as the oracular representative of Olodumare. The Babalawo ascertain the future of their clients through communication with Ifá. This is done through the interpretation of either the patterns of the divining chain known as Opele, or the sacred palm nuts called Ikin, on the traditionally wooden divination tray called Opon Ifá.
The Babalawo in an Ifá community
Babalawos undergo training in the memorization and interpretation of the 256 Odu or mysteries, as well as in the numerous verses or Ese of Ifá. Traditionally, the Babalawo usually have additional professional specialties. For instance, several would also be herbalists, while others would specialize in extinguishing the troubles caused by Ajogun. The Babalawos are, however, generally trained in the determination of problems, or to divine how good luck can be maintained, and the application of both spiritual and related secular solutions. Their primary function is to assist people in finding, understanding, and being in alignment with one's individual destiny, Ori of life until they experience spiritual wisdom as a part of their daily experience. The Awo is charged with helping people develop the discipline and character that supports such spiritual growth called "Iwa Pele", or good character. This is done by identifying the client's spiritual destiny, or Ori, and developing a spiritual blueprint which can be used to support, cultivate, and live out that destiny.
Notes and references
- Gonzales-Wippler, Migene. Santería: The Religion: Faith, Rites and Magic. Minneapolis: Llewellyn Publications, 2002 p 120.