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Sixteen Principal Odu
Name 1 2 3 4
Ogbe I I I I
Iwori II I I II
Irosun I I II II
Iwọnrin II II I I
Ọbara I II II II
Ọkanran II II II I
Ogunda I I I II
Ọsa II I I I
Oturupọn II II I II
Otura I II I I
Irẹtẹ I I II I
Ofun II I II I

Sixteen Principal Afa-du
(Yeveh Vodou)
Name 1 2 3 4
Eji-Ogbe I I I I
Ọyeku-Meji II II II II
Iwori-Meji II I I II
Odi-Meji I II II I
Irosun-Meji I II II II
Ọwanrin-Meji II II II I
Ọbara-Meji I I II II
Ọkanran-Meji II II I I
Ogunda-Meji I I I II
Ọsa-Meji II I I I
Ika-Meji I I II I
Oturupon-Meji I II I I
Otura-Meji II II I II
Irete-Maji II I II II
Ọse-Meji I II I II
Ofu meji II I II I

Ifá refers to the system of divination and the verses of the literary corpus known as the Odù Ifá. Yoruba religion and tradition identifies Orunmila as the Grand Priest, as he who revealed Oracle divinity to the world. Such is his association with the Oracle divinity; in some instances, the term "Ọ̀rúnmìlà" is used interchangeably with Ifá.

Ifá originated in West Africa in the form of a stringent Yoruba religious system, and is celebrated in traditional African medicine, Santería (referred to as Lukumi), Candomblé, West African & Diaspora Vodou, and similarly in Orisa'Ifa lineages all over the globe.

Yorùbá canon[edit]

In the Yoruba religion, divination gives priests unreserved access to the teachings of Orunmila. Esu, is seen as being in charge of justice and order and the transportation of ebo[disambiguation needed]. Esu is the one said to lend authority (Ase) to the oracle during provision of direction and or clarification of counsel. Esu is also the one that holds the keys to ones Ire[disambiguation needed] (blessings), thus acts as Oluwinni (ones Creditor), he can grant Ire or remove it.[1] Ifa divination rites are claimed to provide an avenue of communication to the spiritual realm and the intent of ones destiny. Oshun is known to be the first apetebi/iyanifa, although some teach that Yemoja was the first.

Togo canon[edit]

In Togo, Ifá is known as Afa, where the Vodou deities come through and speak. In many of their Egbes, it is Alaundje who is honored as the first Bokono to have been taught how to divine the destiny of humans using the holy system of Afa. Both male and female are initiated as bokono, and the Amengansi are the living oracles who are higher than a bokono, and the Amengansi are traditionally female. A priest (male or female) who is not a bokono is known as hounan. Also there is a ritual for those who are to be a medium for the spirits.

International recognition[edit]

The Ifa Divination system was added in 2005 by UNESCO to its list of the "Masterpieces of the Oral and Intangible Heritage of Humanity".


Performing Ifa divination is called Ifa dida or idafa (ounte ale), also called consulting Da'fa.[2] Ifa dida / Idafa is performed by a Babalawo or Iyanifa (an initiate of Ifa oracle). Babalawo can be translated as "father of the secrets" while "Iyanifa" means "mother that has Ifa(i.e. its blessing)". The babalawo or iyanifa casts for the odu or "pattern" and provides insights according to the odu about the current circumstances impacting the life of a person requesting this information and provides any necessary information to aid the individual. Awo is a reference for devotees in the Orisa tradition. It includes Babalawos, Iyanifas, Babalorishas, Iyalorishas and even uninitiated devotees. Traditionally in Lucumi, women have not been initiated into Ifa priesthood, according to the teaching which allows them as little a single Ikin and as many as 12 (according to the Sode tradition). In the USA and abroad (in Yorubaland), practitioners of the Ifa tradition do initiate women into Ifa.


Ifa divination (also called consultation) is performed for many proposes and a host of occasions, the purposes and occasions is what determines the instrument used in the divination sessions. Divination is often performed for lesser reasons such as "regular check up" to life-changing occasions such as marriage or child birthing etc., divination can also be performed for a group (small / large) or community (the first examples are more likely for a person, couple, parents or family). On occasion when it is performed for the community or society it takes on another significance. Below we will list and discuss major occasions divination is performed and give some feedback and examples of each, in application and practice.

  • Annual Divination for the New Year - one occasion where a major divination is performed and the ranking Ifa initiate are present to witness and partake. This is called the divination of the new year, which is also sometimes referred to as the First Yam Festival (for ancient annual agricultural cycles). The results of such a divination will be discussed and analyzed by the Ifa initiates, shared with the Ooni (the ruling King of Yoruba People), and shared with the extended community.[3] Some teach that the youngest awo ( or newest initiate ) serves as the spokesman of the divining counsel.
  • Establishing a new town or settlement, is another reason Ifa is cast to know more about that towns living principals and parameters etc. An example can be found in IrosunMeji.
  • Mate selection - (or courting) a potential partner, several examples will be posted shortly.
  • Esentaye (new born baby rites) - Also called Ikosedaye, is another major occasion to consult Ifa for direction and advice on the child's destiny and taboos
  • Burial rites
  • Planning a new business or enterprise etc. and/or starting a new job
  • Moving to a new location and/or purchasing a home


Initiation into Ifa requires rigorous study. The Babalawo or Iyanifa must learn and understand each of the 256 chapters (Odu) of Ifa. The minimum of four verses will of necessity include ebo (sacrifice) and oogun (medicine) that are embedded and relevant to each of the verses, plus other issues that complement divination. An accomplished initiate must know about ten verses of each of the 256 chapters of Ifa (256 Odu Ifa). Other sources say that before an initiate can serve others through Ifa divination he or she must first be able to recite at least four verses from each Odu. Everyone who is initiated to Ifa can serve others through the Ifa oracle. Ifa service is an office bestowed once you have received training from an elder. Those who aspire to serve through Ifa must have this qualification.

Odu — a special Orisa — can only be received by a Babalawo (male) 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.

Character Traits of an Awo: Orunmila demands humility from his initiates, therefore, a Babalawo/Iyanifa should be an embodiment of patience, righteous character, honesty, and humility. The respect that one would give to a Babalawo is to also be extended to his Apetebi (the wife and assistant of a Babalawo).

Conversely, in Cuba and parts of Nigeria such as Ode Remo, Ijebuland and Ibadan (and Ile Ife up until at least 1992), the position of the Iyanifa as a divining initiate of Ifa is hotly contested on the grounds that in the Odu; Ogunda 'Ka, Irete 'Gbe and Oshe 'Yekun, no one can become a full Awo Ifa without the presence of the Orisa Odu, and in the Odu Ifa Irete Ogbe, Odu herself says that she would only marry Orunmila if he promised not to permit women to be in the same room as her. Also, Dr. Ikulomi Djisovi Eason reports that in Ile Ife, widely considered Ifá's capital among traditional Yoruba, did not initiate women as late as 1992.[4] 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." [5] William Bascom, the foremost academic authority on Ifá among the Yoruba up until the time of his death, conducted extensive field work Yorubaland in 1937-38, 1950–51, and as late as 1960 and 1965. This field work was conducted in a large number of areas of Yorubaland including the cities of Ife, Igana, Meko, Oyo, Ilesa, Abeokuta, Osogbo, Sagamu, Ilara, Ondo, Ijebu Ode or Ekiti in Yorubaland. Contrarily, in Osogbo female have been using Opele as Initiates of Ifa for many decades. At no time during this prolonged series of studies did Dr. Bascom encounter a female Ifá initiate or an informant who had heard of such a thing leading him to state unequivocally that “only men can be babalawo."[6] Sources from Yorubaland going back to the mid-19th century clearly state that only men can become Ifa diviners.[7] 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. In many shrines houses any female who has the hand of Ifa is viewed as apetebi. 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 female initiate to IFA, but can mean several other things as well depending on region and tradition.


Tray and palm nuts

Special instruments are used to assist in the divination to transcribe Orunmila's wisdom through the diviner. The items used for divination include:

  • a group of sixteen Ikin, commonly known as sacred palm nuts
  • Dust from the Irosun tree (red camwood) (Iyerosun)
  • Vessel for the seeds (Ajere Ifa)
  • Divination tray (Opon Ifa).
  • Tapper instrument (Iroke Ifa)
  • Fly whisk (Irukere Ifa)
  • Beaded belts for the babalawo/iyanifa to wear (this is not required)
    • another form of divination is with the Opele (divining chain), though Ikin is considered superior
  • Ifa dida, meaning Ifa consultation/divination also sometimes mistakenly referred to as Dafa
  • Knowledge of Odù (see Odù Ifá below) revelation (one of possible 256 combinations) and the oral recitation - consultation (ese Ifa)
  • The "prescription" or advice of what is needed at this particular junction of life. It is believed that ebo (sacrificial ritual) & bibo (appeasement rites) fit into a category referred to as Ọwọ̀n[8] (necessity) of Odù Ifá; Ọwọ̀nrín Méjí,[8] this "necessity or void" once filled is what the deities will use to bring ones prayers into fruition and/or restore the balance to a situation.
  • Ifa divination process of "prescription" is organized in three segments in a specific order 1) Ifa Dida (divination) 2) Ebo (ritual rites) 3) Oogun (medicine or healing)

The (opon Ifa) or tray and (iroke Ifa) or tapper are used in Ifa divination, a central ritual within Ifa tradition. This tray, adorned with carved images and dusted with powder, serves as the template on which sacred signs (odu) related to the personal concerns of a diviner's client are traced as the point of departure for analysis. In contrast to those transitory signs, the more permanent backdrop of the carved motifs on the tapper and tray constitutes an artistic exegesis of the forces that shape human experience and the universal needs fulfilled by such quests for enlightenment.

To initiate the ritual, the babalawo/iyanifa places the tray in front of him and taps rhythmically on it with the pointed end of the tapper, invoking the presence of Orunmila, past diviners, and other Orisa.

There are a variety of Ikin (sacred palm nuts) that are available, but only ikin with four "eyes" can be used for ifa divination. The Ikin (sacred palm nuts) are grouped in one hand, then the diviner attempts to shift them all to his/her other hand at once, and counts the remaining Ikin left, hopefully to discover that either one or two remain. Odu, which are the foundation of the binary data, can only be marked when either one or two palm nuts remain in the diviner's original hand. As this process goes on, the diviner marks single or double marks in the Irosun powder spread on his divination tray until he or she has created both legs of one of the 256 Odu (binary patterns) that are available.[9]

Each of these Odu is associated with a traditional set of Ese (poetic tutorials), often relating to Yoruba religion, which explain their divinatory meaning. These tutorials represent thousands of years of observation and are filled with predictions, and both mundane and spiritual prescriptions that resolve issues found in that Odu. Within Ifa, Believers find all the knowledge of the world past, present and future.

After obtaining the Odu that governs a situation or event, the diviner then determines whether the Odu comes with Ire (signifies good outcome; good times; good news; good luck; etc.) or Ibi (which could be viewed as obstacles or impediments to success). After this process the diviner now determines the appropriate offerings, spiritual disciplines and/or behavioral changes that are Ọwọ̀n - necessary to bring, keep or compel success for the person receiving divinatory counsel.[8]

Odù Ifá[edit]

There are sixteen major books in Odu Ifa[10] literary corpus. When combined there are total of 256 Odu[11] (a collection of sixteen, each of which has sixteen alternatives ⇔ 16^2, or 4^4) believed to reference all situations, circumstances, actions and consequences in life based on the uncountable ese (poetic tutorials) relative to the 256 Odu coding. These form the basis of traditional Yoruba spiritual knowledge and are the foundation of all Yoruba divination systems.

Where "I" is an odd count or a "heads" result, and "II" is an even count or a "tails" result, the sixteen basic patterns and their Yoruba names are set forth in the sidebar (this is only one way of ordering them, this changes depending on area within Nigeria, or the diaspora. An alternative order used in Ibadan, and Cuba is: Ejiogbe, Oyeku Meji, Iwori Meji, Odi Meji, Irosun Meji, Owonrin Meji, Obara Meji, Okanran Meji, Ogunda Meji, Osa Meji, Ika Meji, Oturupon Meji, Otura Meji, Irete Meji, Oshe Meji, Ofun Meji. Heepa Odu! This is important to note as it changes the outcomes of certain parts of the reading).

The babalawo recites a series of poems with proverbs and stories from the Ifa poetry that go with that choice. The final interpretation is made by the person seeking guidance, who decides how the verses that the babalawo has recited should be applied to the problem at hand. (This may be one style, however other schools of thought with Ifa have the Diviner interpreting what Ifa says and not simply chanting and leaving it to the client) Ifa combines a large body of wisdom literature with a system for selecting the appropriate passages from it. However, Ifa poetry is not written down but passed down orally from one babalawo to another. Today, there are many texts that are designed to help Babalawo to learn and retain the body of knowledge.


Believers deem Ifa to be the "truth" and the way of their Yoruba speaking African ancestors; functioning to the devoted as not only a system of guidance, but one that fuses a way of living with the psychological, providing them with a legitimate course of action that is genuine and unequivocal.


  • Araba chief initiate of Ifa
  • Amengansi. Female oracle initiate of Afa/Vodoun (matrilineally inherited).
  • Akapo. Some diasporan belief is that this is another word for Babalawo, although others disagree. Some teach that it refers to a Babalawo's apprentice who carries the bag (apo in yoruba) which contains the Babalawo's divining instruments and related materials. However, contradicting that view, Apako does actually refer to babalawos, not just an apprentice, as all babalawos after the example set by Orunmila himself, should carry their own Ifa/tools in a specially designed bag).
  • Awo Alatese.[12] This group of Awo have their own specialization within Ifa, mastering the aspects of Ifa preparations[12]
  • Babalawo / Baba awo Ifa. Male Ifa initiate, literally means Father of secrets
  • Bokono Bokonon. (Initiate singular - not gender specific / Initiate plural) Initiate of Afa/Vodoun.

In the Lucumi system they also make use of Oriates ( male and female ): also Italero. These are Orisa priest who have been taught the secrets and teachings. They are allowed to serve as masters of ceremonies and to mark the crown of a person as well as read the Ita for an initiate should a babalawo not be available.

  • Dida. Divination; using any various Yoruba divination items
  • Dida Obi. Divination with kola nuts of four or more pieces.
  • Dida Owo. Divination with cowrie shells (combination of 4,6,8 but commonly 16).
  • Ifa Dida.[13] (meaning Ifa Divination), casting of Ifa on Opon Ifa using any Ifa divination items (Opele or Ikin etc.)
  • Ifa dida / Dafa. Dida is to perform divination and dafa means act of casting Ikin Ifa (sacred holy palm kernel) for divination purpose and divine direction in life. Ifa dida or Dafa is the name of the divination ritual itself where one accesses specific verses in the Odu Ifá (the Yoruba sacred texts) given to the diviner through arrangements of the sacred palm nuts cast in divination.
  • Igbadun Ifá. Igbadun Ifa & Igbadun Olodumare, are principals within Ifa thought, the importance of showing Gratitude (also sometimes called Itenilorun - Gratefulness). Within each structured ese (stanza) of Ifa, the matter of Igbadun is mentioned. First from client to Diviner, Diviner to Orunmila, Orunmila to Olodumare etc.[14]
  • Iwa Pele. Gentle and Moral Character of Ifa ethics is one of or perhaps the most important human endeavor taught within Ifa literary corpus and every Ifa stanza (or verse) has one portion dedicated to the issue of teaching the Iwa (character or behaviour) that Ifa supports. This Iwa, which Ifa teaches transcends religious doctrine, is central to every human being, and imparts communal, social and civic responsibility that the Creator (Olodumare) supports. Central to this, is the theme of righteousness[11] and practicing good moral behaviour, not seeking for it in the community but becoming an ambassador of Iwa.

Ifá invest with me,
As Éjìwòrì invested interest in his protégée,
Ifá smile upon me,.

  • Irunmole. Primordial deities (Ìṣẹ̀ṣe), first sent to earth to make the world habitable for humankind, also the full spectrum of deities (Orisha) created by Olodumare the Creator for worship and veneration numbering 400+1 as an infinite number of nature's manifestation and recreation, also differs from Orisha yet some Irunmole are Orisha.[15]
  • Ìṣẹ̀ṣe. The name Ìṣẹ̀ṣe can be used to describe several things within the Yoruba tradition, i) Ìṣẹ̀ṣe is considered ones Progenitors, ii) all the Primordial Beings of Creation are also Ìṣẹ̀ṣe, iii) the collective of all the Orisa/Irunmole are Ìṣẹ̀ṣe, iv) also Ìṣẹ̀ṣe is another term used to encapsulate this tradition of Ifa/Orisa as a whole.... Ìṣẹ̀ṣe also in this regard means Traditionalism.[16]
  • Isese lagba. A Divine love devoid of hatred and jealous
  • Iya Nla. Ìyá àgbà, the Womb of Creation, Womb of existence, the fearful power, the Mother of the closed calabash, the Mother of the Gourd, who teaches humankind through Awon Iya Wa how to acquire the cosmic knowledge to understand life, balance and the harmony in their life.
  • Iyanifa. Female Ifa Initiate, can also be a title within an Ifa community or temple, thus Iya ni Ifa, mother who has the knowledge of Ifa, she may also know how to recite Ifa even as a child.[17] Traditionally speaking in the Yoruba understanding, Iyanifa can cast shells and some cast Opele but only a babalawo is allowed to pound the Ikin. In some Ile (shrine houses), they use the term Sode. There is some controversy even in Nigeria, not all areas accept Iyanifa. In most Lucumi houses that do honor Iyanifa, it is used to refer to the mother or godmother of a babalawo. There are several YouTube videos of interviews of chief initiates in Ode Remo.[18]
  • Oba king
  • Obomila (male) initiate of Iha/Ifa in Benin
  • Ohen (male or female) Diviner and Initiate
  • Ohunte Ale. Inscribing or marking Odu on the Opon Ifa
  • Oloye chieftain
  • Opon Ifa. Divining tray of Ifa, used by a Babalawo
  • Orisha. Primordial energies (Ìṣẹ̀ṣe) from which all living things emanate; The deities that represent various manifestations of God, Olodumare.
  • Oròrò Ifá - Narration or declaration; making a verbal authoritative declaration during the divination analysis or during the advisement following divination or prayer while performing appeasement.[19]
  • Orunmila. Prophet that developed and spread the Ifa divination system. Orunmila is second only to Olodumare/Olofi (God, or Supreme Being), and is without earthly lineage. He embodies the principles of Ifa.
  • Apetebii. is the wife of a Babalawo, she is one of the few titled positions within the Yoruba tradition and holds an important position within the tradition and culture, she will assist her husband in the worship and appeasement of his Ifa, and help to teach children the fundaments of worshipping Ifa as a philosophy. This is not simply a title, but has accompanying initiations that must be performed to hold this title. Can also be referred to as Iyanifa interchangeably. Apetebi is allowed to perform the functions of the Ifa initiate.
  • Ayafa. This wife is often "married" to the Ifa of a Babalawo and can also be married to another man, or even a female child before marriage age or the girl child of a Babalawo who by "marrying" to Ifa, this is a symbolic ceremony and will convey certain blessing and protection to the female.
  • Itefa, Itelodu, Elegan are different degrees of the initiation process for a practising initiate and / or diviner of Orumila. It is the ritual of performing one's initiation or rite of passage, to determine one's purpose or destiny. It is important to note that performing Itefa alone does not make one a Babalawo or Iyanifa; Itefa is one of many steps of apprenticeship to become a Babalawo (a diviner/healer/counsellor). Itefa is the initiation into Ifa generally, this is receiving the first hand of Ifa. Itelodu, which is the complete and most comprehensive of Ifa initiation which has the presence of the mysteries of Odu and also involves the process of stepping of "Oke Ipori" at a specially-prepared space with Opa Osun called "Ojuore", which represents and re-enacts the boundary between heaven and earth – the location where each person chooses "Ipin" to fine-tune, as a way of being aligned while elegan (not done everywhere in Nigeria) is a type of Itefa without the mysteries of Odu and Oju Ore.

Elegan is complete initiation to Ifa, performed without the presence of Odu. This is done for male or female.

  • Ifá. Is the word of Olodumare encompassing all knowledge of things past, present and future. It is sometimes used interchangeably as the name for the orisha deity Orunmila. Orunmila (Ela) is the orisha of wisdom and knowledge, who created the system and method for accessing the knowledge of Ifa ; and so during the ritual of divination a "client" is said to "consult Ifà". 000000000000000000


Ifa priests, devotees, celebrants and believers sometimes inherit names related to the divinity; typically, but not necessarily, beginning with the term ‘Ifa’, like Ifadairo, Ifakoya,Ifabiyi, Ifadare, Ifabunmi, etc. The first "I" in these names may be omitted to form Fadairo,Fakoya, Fabiyi, Fadare, Fabunmi, Falola, etc. The prefix "Awo" is also used in names ascribing Ifa or the fellowship - Awolalu, Awodele, Awolowo, Awosika, etc. Same applies to Odu, with Odufora, Odutola, Odugbemi etc.

See also[edit]


  1. ^ [1][dead link]
  2. ^ Chief S. Solagbade Popoola, Ifa Dida Volume One (EjiOgbe - Orangun Meji), Library, INC ISBN 978-0-9810013-1-9
  3. ^ governing Odu for 2012 & 2013[dead link]
  4. ^ 4. Eason, Ikulomi Djisovi. Historicizing Ifá Culture in Oyotunji African Village. Orisa Devotion. 2008. 284.
  5. ^ Johnson, James. Yoruba Heathenism. Exeter: J. Townsend Press, 1899
  6. ^ Bascom, Dr. William. 'Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa. Bloomington Indiana: Indiana University Press
  7. ^ Religious Encounter and the Making of the Yoruba, by John Peel. Bloomington and Indianapolis: Indiana University Press, 2000
  8. ^ a b c Awo Ifálojú (2011-01-06). "Ọwọ̀nrín: Necessity is the mother of Invention". Ifaspeaks.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  9. ^ William R. Bascom: Ifa Divination: Communication Between Gods and Men in West Africa ISBN 0-253-20638-3
  10. ^ Sixteen major 'books in Odù Ifá[dead link]
  11. ^ a b Ifa speaks, Iwòrì Méjì: Righteousness, february, 2011
  12. ^ a b Awo Ifálojú (2008-03-11). "Professional Aspects of Ifa". Ifaspeaks.blogspot.com. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  13. ^ Ifa Dida[dead link]
  14. ^ (more on Igbadun/Itenilorun here)[dead link]
  15. ^ Eko’Fa Podcast 3: Irunmole
  16. ^ Ìṣẹ̀ṣe[dead link]
  17. ^ "OmoEkofa (Young girl who studies Ifa Philosophy)". YouTube. 2006-09-29. Retrieved 2013-12-03. 
  18. ^ Ifalola Sanchez, Ifa thoughts and philisopy, 2009
  19. ^ Oròrò Ifá

Further reading[edit]

External links[edit]

Audio & Video[edit]