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Igbo mythology and spirituality
Ọdinani, also Ọdinala, Omenala,Omenana, Odinana or Ọmenani is the traditional cultural beliefs and practices of the Igbo people of Nigeria. These terms, as used here in the Igbo language, are synonymous with the traditional Igbo "religious system" which was not considered separate from the social norms of ancient or traditional Igbo societies. Theocentric in nature, spirituality played a huge role in their everyday lives. Although it has largely been supplanted by Christianity, the indigenous belief system remains in strong effect among the rural and village populations of the Igbo, where it has at times influenced the colonial religions. Odinani is a monotheistic and panentheistic faith, having a strong central deity at its head. All things spring from this deity. Although a semi-pantheon exists in the belief system, as it does in many indigenous African and Eastern religions, the lesser deities prevalent in Odinani expressly serve as elements of Chukwu or Chukouuee the central deity.
Like all religions, Odinani is the vehicle used by its practitioners to understand their World (called "Uwa"), or more specifically, the part of the World that affects them — which is to say the dry Land on which the Igbo live and gather sustenance — and it is from this that the belief acquires its names: "Ọ di" (Igbo: it is ) + n'(na - Igbo: on/within) + "Ani" (Igbo: the Land or the Earth goddess) in the Northern Igbo dialects and also "O me" (Igbo: it happens ) + n'(na - Igbo: on/within) + "Ala" (Igbo: the Land or the physical manifestation of the Earth goddess as dry land) as used primarily in the Southern Igbo dialects. Chukwu, as the central deity and driving force in the cosmos is unknowable, and too great of a power to be approached directly save by the manifestations that exist on the World (the Land, the Skies, and the Sea). Thus, Odinani rarely deals directly with the force that is Chukwu. Many other spirits and forces also exist in Odinani belief and folklore.
- 1 Origin or the start
- 2 Alusi
- 3 Panentheism
- 4 ‘Chukwu’ in Ọdịnala
- 5 Functions
- 6 Chi or karma
- 7 Kolanut Communion
- 8 Taking into Benevolence of Deities
- 9 Afterlife or the end
- 10 Ekwensu
- 11 Dibia
- 12 Spiritual Students
- 13 Mystic World
- 14 Morality
- 15 Spirits
- 16 Practices
- 17 Check Out
- 18 References
- 19 External links
Origin or the start
The term ‘ọdịnala’ also pronounced ‘ọdịnani’ (depending on dialect) is derived from three Igbo words ‘ọdị’ –meaning ‘it is’; ‘na’ – meaning ‘on/within’ and ‘ala’ – meaning ‘the Land or the Earth’. In this literary sense, Ọdịnala comes to mean ‘it is on the Land’ or ‘something that is anchored on the Earth or Land’.
In Igbo nation where this word originated, it is also called omenala, omenana, or omenani by some tribes. M.O Ene (2000) presented Igbo culture as: "a dynamic phenomenon that deals with the artifacts and mores by which Ndiigbo of Africa distinguish themselves from other racial/ethnic groups." To him, it is a serious mistake to distinguish between Igbo religion and culture but he later went further to agree that Igbo religion (Ọdịnala) led to Igbo culture (omenala) by stating that: “..if, the Igbo have no religion, then they have no culture….. Religion is our culture, our way of life”. Thus, no matter what it may be called, the truth is that 80% of the Igbo people use the word ọdịnala to describe the Igbo traditional religion and have differentiated it from omenala; which is culture.
There are various definitions of the term ‘Ọdịnala’ from different Igbo scholars, writers, philosophers and teachers of culture and tradition. The conclusion could be drawn from Dr. Uju Afulezi (2000) and Ene M.O (2003) that “Ọdịnala is the ancient Igbo traditional religion”. This definition has some limitations and is subjected to criticism especially, if we can remember that Ọdịnala is anchored on the land (ala). Provided that ala exists, it is the same all over the world. The basic belief and the teachings of this religion (Ọdịnala) hold in any part of the Earth (Ala); hence the Igbo sentence ‘ala wu otu’ which translates ‘the land is the same everywhere’. Thus, Ọdịnala in this view is for every world but originated from Igboland.
Ọdịnala is therefore, the ancient religion of the people that connect mmadu (human being) to Chukwu (God) through Chi (personal spiritual guardian or providence). It is an ancient sacred science that enables people to exist in peace, love and harmony with Chukwu (God)(also called as Chukouuee, and Guio in differing dialects), Chi (personal providence) and Arushi (the supernatural forces) on their way back to eternal.
Like all religions, Ọdịnala is the vehicle used by its practitioners (Dibias or priests) and spiritual students (followers of the religion) to understand their World (called "Uwa"), or more specifically, the part of the World that affects them — which is to say the dry land on which the people live and gather sustenance. I call it ‘a gifted spiritual route’.
Chukwu's incarnations in the world (Igbo: uwa) are the Alusi. The Alusi, who are also known as Arushi, Anusi or Arusi in differing dialects all spring from Ala the earth goddess who embodies the workings of the world. There are lesser deities in Odinani, each of whom are responsible for a specific aspect of nature or abstract concept. According to Igbo lore, these lesser Alusi, as elements of Chukwu, have their own specific purpose. They exist only as long as their purpose does thus many Alusi die off except for the universally served Alusi. The top four Alusi of the Igbo pantheon are Ala, Igwe, Anyanwu, and Amadioha (or Kamalu); other less important Alusi exist after these, some depending on the community. They are, Ogwugwu, Urasi or Ulasi, Ichi, Uchu, Iyi, Agwu etc.
Ala is the earth goddess who is also responsible for morality and fertility and the dead ancestors who are stored in the underworld in her womb. Ala translates to 'earth' in Igbo as she is the ground itself, for this reason taboos and crimes are known as nsọ ala, "desecration of Ala". As the highest Alusi in the Igbo pantheon, she was among the first to be created by Chukwu almighty. Ala is depicted in Mbari temples of the Owerre-Igbo, but smaller shrines are placed in the public squares of communities and in the homes of her devotees.
Amadioha in Igbo means "free will of the people", he is the Alusi of thunder and lightning and is referred to as Amadiora, Kamalu, Kamanu, or Ofufe in certain parts of Igboland. His governing planet is the Sun. His color is red, and his symbol is a white ram. Metaphysically, Amadioha represents the collective will of the people and he is often associated with Anyanwu. While Anyanwu is more prominent in northern Igboland, Amadioha is more prominent in the south. His day is Afor, which is the second day of the Igbo four day week.
Igwe is the Alusi of the sky and the husband of Ala. He produces rain to replenish the earth and the earth goddess to aid her productiveness.
Ndebunze, or Ndichie, are the deceased ancestors deified into Alusi. In Odinani, it is believed that the dead ancestors are invisible members of the community; their role in the community, in conjunction with Ala, is to protect the community from epidemics and strife such as famine and small pox.
Ekwensu is an Igbo deity with a convoluted modern identity. Among the Christian Igbo, this deity is misrepresented as the Christian "Devil" or Satan and is seen as a force which places itself opposite to that of Chukwu. Anthropological studies suggest however that this traditional deity may have been a revered Trickster God, similar to Eshu in Orisha. This Alusi was adept at bargains and trade, and praying to Ekwensu was said to guarantee victory in negotiations. As a force of change and chaos, Ekwensu also represented the God of War among the Igbo. He was invoked during times of conflict and banished during peacetime to avoid his influences inciting bloodshed in the community. This is based upon the finding of old shrines dedicated to the worship of the deity as well as the recounting of old oral lores which depict the character of Ekwensu. Ekwensu is also the Igbo word for the tester.
Ọdịnala is a panentheistic faith, having a strong central deity at its head. All things spring from this deity. Although semi – pantheon exists in the belief system, as it does in many indigenous African and Eastern religions.
Chukwu is the central deity. Chukwu as the creator of everything (visible and invisible) and the source of other deities is referred to as Chineke. Chukwu is genderless possessing the supreme power in the cosmos control.
To the ancient Igbo, the force that is Chukwu is infinitely powerful that no mmadu (human being) approach this force directly. Also, the force does not impact into our worlds directly but rather through lower force (s). The general truth is that no person can work with or deal with Chukwu directly without passing through the lower force (s). This is why the Igbo people were easily captured by the teachings of the imported western religion which holds that either Christ of Christianity or Mohammed of Islam is a lower force.
The lower force(s) are the outflows from the main stream; sparks from the supreme force that takes forms. They are the incarnations of the almighty Chukwu. Ọdịnala identify these lower forces by their names and use a collective term Arushi to describe them. If an Arushi is assigned to an individual, it becomes a Chi.
The term ‘panentheism’ refer to as a belief system which posits that God personally exists, interpenetrates every part of nature and timelessly extends beyond it. Such interpenetrations in a spiritual view occur as lower deities or Arushi. Ọdịnala therefore, anchored its belief on the existence of only but one Supreme Being: Chukwu (God) and many lower supernatural beings or deities (Arushi).
‘Chukwu’ in Ọdịnala
In Ọdịnala, every individual is assigned a personal providence; Chi. The mathematics here is very simple. Depending on the number of people living presently on Earth (Uwa), as many as possible number of Chis may exist. A person’s Chi is his right in the main source that is Chukwu. Chi as a spiritual being, takes care of any mmadu (human being) assigned to him in the lower World.
The overall Chi that indirectly takes care of everything (visible and invisible) is therefore, called ‘Chi Ukwu’ or Chukwu, the Supreme Being. This is why the Igbos used the phrases/sentences: ‘chi awughi otu’--- ‘personal guardians are not the same for everybody’; ‘otu Chukwu’ or ‘ofu Chukwu’----‘only one God’; ‘Chukwu ebuka’---- ‘God is great’ and ‘mu na chimu’-----‘me and my godly guardian’.
There is a general spiritual law that one must pass through the lesser supernatural forces before he can make his ways to eternal. There are various routes that enable one to embark on a spiritual journey (i.e. different religion e.g. Christianity, Islam, Buddhism, Hinduism, Eckankar, Judaism, Godianism, Ọdịnalaism and so on). No matter the route chosen, one must meet these forces severally on the way. These supernatural forces are the agents of purification of human beings (mmadu). They effects compressed the road and make it look very narrow. They may even block the road to eternity and cause people to continue running on cycles and meeting bad spirits.
The purpose of Ọdịnala is to restore peace, love and harmony between mmadu and the supernatural forces or (Arushi or deities). By ensuring that peace reigned, we can then manipulate they negative outcomes (that supposed to intrude into our lives) to yield positive effects. Through this way, we can get to our promise land with less suffering or struggles.
To restore peace, love and harmony between mmadu and Arushi is all about the dictation of our personal providence, Chi and doing the right thing. The spiritual peace, love and harmony will cleansing a person with both inner and outer experiences and prepare his ways back Chukwu. This will also go a longer way to determine a person’s level of morality, peaceful existence, harmony and love to people in the society. Also, the person will be on his way to his destiny in the physical world (Uwa). Once your destiny is actualized, you can then relate religion to humanity.
Chi or karma
Chi is the personal spiritual guardian of a person. Chi as a personal providence is a divine agent assigned to each human from cradle to the coffin. Chukwu will assign one’s Chi before and at the time of birth, which remains with the person for the rest of his/her lives on Earth (Uwa). Chi simply means an Arushi (supernatural being) that is assigned to a human being for care, guardianship, and providence, which remains with that person until the end of their life on Earth. Unlike Chukwu which is genderless, Chi can be either feminine or masculine. It is the ocean Chukwu’s divine love that takes form on the lower world. It is the spark of Chukwu and the right of any mmadu in the main stream.
Chi determines a person’s successes, misfortunes, and failures throughout her/his lifetime. It serves as an intermediary between mmadu and Chukwu. The Igbo believe that their success in life is determined by their Chi, and that no human can rise past the greatness of his or her own Chi. In this respect, a person’s Chi is analogous to the concept of a guardian angel in Western Christianity, the daimon in ancient Greek religion, and the genius in ancient Roman religion.
To survive spiritually, one must establish a special relationship between oneself and one's godly guardian. This places the human person at the forefront of interlinked activities that involve other cosmic forces. But not so fast: He who walks before his godly guardian runs the race of his life: “Onye buru chi ya uzo, ogbagbue onwe ya n'oso.”
Dictation of Chi
The Igbo know that the Almighty Chukwu (God) cannot be manipulated in any way. Our lot is etched on the palm of our hands as destiny. One can’t decode it, but one can derail it. Chi, the personal godly guardian, can be coerced to help here: “Onye kwe chi ya ekwe” (whoever believeth, achieveth).
Chi as the lower force of Chukwu is the only means through which one can get connected. One spiritual law here is that “No one reaches Chukwu directly or gets favor directly from the same supreme force except through Chi.” In this sense, dictation of one’s Chi marks the beginning of one’s spiritual journey on Earth. This is one of the major practices of Ndiigbo.
Often, people receive prophecy that the major cause of their failure is a spirit of their home town. This is not a general spirit for everybody but rather one’s personal Chi. If you receive such a prophecy, it means that Ọdịnala is calling you, which is a problem to some people. The only solution to such a problem is to dictate your personal providence, Chi; identify it by name and know what the spirit wants and how to placate/negotiate with it.
This may be difficult if the Dibias (priest in Ọdịnala) are not there. The Dibia can identify a person’s Chi through divination and give more of an idea how to placate it. For such spiritual purposes, one can visit any of the real temples of Ọdịnala e.g. Ukoma/Duruojikeeme Temple, Umunumo Amandugba, Isu, LGA, Imo State. There are many other temples around Igboland and the Igbo diaspora.
Kolanut communion is the only holy communion in Ọdịnala. It is used to honor Chukwu, Chi, Arushi and Ndiichie. In this case, it is expected that the lower forces will participate and send the glory to almighty Chukwu. Also, by pouring libations, participating in kolanut communions entails being innocent before applying justice ("jide ofo, jide ogu").
Kolanut communion can be performed personally between one and his spirit or in group. It is actually the only time Ndiigbo traditionally pray together. Here, one is expected to go into communion with his personal providence, Chi as well as other concerned Arushi and Ndiichie (ancestors’ saints). This will clear the narrow road to Chukwu and create an increase in spiritual consciousness as you bargain in your spiritual journey.
Taking into Benevolence of Deities
The spiritual journey back to Chukwu is considered to be too tough; and the road very narrow. The Igbo considered it more appropriate to negotiate and navigate natural forces around them; the will of God cannot be manipulated or changed. They just need to get there without too much hassle.
The Earth Deities control the activities of good and evil spirits, which occasionally attempt to misdirect the destiny of human beings. The Igbo enter into pacts with these forces to take into their benevolence. The process is called "igommuo"(to placate/negotiate—not worship—spirits). Even Agwu ("the divination force" or the trickster Arushi, which causes confusion in the life of human beings) can be manipulated in afa (divination) to yield good effects.
It should be noted that the term ‘igommuo’ is an Igbo word meaning ‘to placate or to negotiate’. This term is sometime used in a derogatory manner by some people who described themselves as children of God and criticized others as children of devil. Meanwhile, as either a practitioner or a spiritual student of Ọdịnala you shouldn’t be afraid when they use the term in such way. You are on the right channel to Chukwu.
Afterlife or the end
Ọdịnala belief in the concept of ‘life after life’. There are two cycles of life here. One cycle of this life is on earth while the other is in the spiritual world i.e. the other side of the realm. There are also two major calls in these cycles: (a). The inner call (which is to co-work with Chukwu in the spiritual world) and (b). The outer call (which is your destiny).
The final goal in Ọdịnala is anchored on answering the two calls once and for all in this lifetime with not too much hassle. Upon dictation of our personal providence (Chi), we are on our ways to our destiny (akalaaka). Actualizing ones destiny entails relating religion to humanity on Earth, thus answering the first call. The pattern of life chosen after meeting your destiny point will determine your level of acceptability after death as an ichie (a hallowed ancestor spirit or saint) in the spiritual world. In this case those who did good things on earth after meeting their destiny point; respect the laws of the land (iwu ala); died at ripened age and buried according to the traditions of the religion are usually accepted in the spiritual world to answer the final call.
Ekwensu is a deity in Ọdịnala. Ekwensu is also the Igbo word for “the tester”. In Igbo mythology, Ekwensu was explained as a force of change and chaos and also represents the Arushi (deity) of war.
As a male Arushi in Igbo pantheon, he was believed by the ancient Igbo people as a deity who was invoked during times of conflict and banished during peacetime to avoid his influences inciting bloodshed in the community. The ancient Igbo descriptions of Ekwensu could be seen as a deity with a convoluted modern identity.
Among the Christian Igbo, this deity is misrepresented as the Christian ‘Devil’ or ‘Satan’ or ‘Demon’ and is seen as a force which places itself opposite to that of Chukwu (God). They conclusion is that Ekwensu is an evil spirit; thus, creating a false dichotomy. Acceptance of such teaching by some Igbo was possible simply because Ndiigbo have forgotten the Igbo mythology which places God in everything.
Dibias are the spiritual masters and guardian of all spiritual students in the lower world (Uwa). The love of Chukwu has led to many dibias all over the Igbo land. Although, there are a lot of fake dibias and priests but the truth is still prevailing that dibias are the intermediates between a spiritual student and the spiritual world in Ọdịnala.
The physical destiny of a dibia is spiritual work. The dibias can see the spiritual world at any time and interpret what saw to his spiritual students. They are given the power to identify any Arushi by its name and as well prescribe possible ways of placating/negotiating with such spirit. They also use their power to identify herbs and their functions.
Spiritual students could be every other person other than the dibia. They are the followers of the religion. Unlike dibias, spiritual students do not see the spiritual world and are not even in need to do so. They have other business or work doing. They depend on the priest or dibias (i.e. the practitioner) for possible spiritual interpretations, placation / negotiation and divination. They may also depend on the dibias for herbs, charms and talisman –which may be used to overcome evil forces.
Writing or publishing works enable you understand what you’re doing; the life of Ndiigbo and how it relates to our spiritual journey. Its aim is to reach both practitioner and spiritual students of the religion with the new message especially the outer teachings while a person’s Chi will feed him up with inner teachings. Spiritual practitioner e.g. a dibia can through this means convey the good news to people while a spiritual student can learn from the same channel.
The Igbo believe in the concept of Ofo and Ogu, which is like the law of retributive justice. It is believed that Ofo and Ogu will vindicate anyone that is wrongly accused of a crime as long as their "hands are clean". It is only the one who is on the side of Ogu-na-Ofo that can call its name in prayer. Otherwise such a person will face the wrath of Amadioha (the god of thunder and lightning).
An Ogbanje (or Obanje) was believed to be an evil spirit that would deliberately plague a family with misfortune. It was believed[by whom?] that upon being born by the mother, under a certain amount of time (usually before puberty), the Ogbanje would deliberately die and then come back and repeat the cycle, causing the family grief. Female circumcision was sometimes thought to get rid of the evil spirit, whereas finding the evil spirits Iyi-uwa, which they have dug somewhere secret, would ensure the Ogbanje would never plague the family with misfortune again. The Iyi-uwa was the Ogbanje's way of coming back to the world and also a way of finding its targeted family.
The Igbo often make clay altars and shrines of their deities, usually with figures being featured in them. Typically, only men are allowed to make representational figures, however there are exceptions.
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- Religion and the Igbo People
- An insight guide to Igboland's Culture, Religion and Language
- Photographs of Igbo masquerades
- Ohafia Igbo culture