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Babaaláwo or Babalawo (Babalao or Babalaô in Latin America; literally meaning 'father of the mysteries' in the Yoruba language) is a spiritual title that denotes a priest of the Ifá oracle. Ifá is a divination system that represents the teachings of the Òrìṣà Orunmila, the Òrìṣà of Wisdom, who in turn serves as the oracular representative of Olodumare. A Babalawo's female counterpart is known as an Iyanifa.
Functions in society
The Babalawos 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.
In addition to this, some of them also perform divination services on behalf of the kings and paramount chiefs of the Yoruba people. These figures, holders of chieftaincy titles like Araba and Oluwo Ifa in their own right, are members of the recognised aristocracies of the various Yoruba traditional states.
Babalawos and Iyanifas 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 and the Iyanifa 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 and Iyanifas are, however, primarily trained in the determination of problems, or to divine how "Ìwà" (i.e., character) can be maintained so that "ire" (i.e., that which is the good desired) may manifest, 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 their individual "Orí" (one's spiritual head self-chosen before birth) until they experience spiritual wisdom as a part of their daily experience.
The Ifá priest(was) 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.