One thing that I really love about Ifa is that it is based on science. The reading relies on the diviner’s ability to read binary code like a computer programmer. For the Babalawo and Santero alike, the divination system relies on the mysteries of Odu read in a series of 0’s and 1’s.
Wikipedia says, “The modern binary number system, the basis for binary code, was discovered by Gottfried Leibniz in 1679.” The article does, however, go on to mention Ifa and its use of binary code but still falls short of putting it into perspective. Just as it was deemed necessary to say that some man “discovered” it in 1679, it is more important to me to say that Africans have been using binary code for divination and storytelling pre-dating the birth of Christ.
I have heard of people go to a reading with the assumption it is a form of fortune-telling or a seance of some sort. This is not Odu. Similar to other African traditional systems, during a reading the person receiving a reading says nothing. The system will tell the diviner what is going on. The diviner will perform the reading and then begin speaking to tell the person what the divination results are.
With Odu, there is the exposure of the issue, associated factors that may be bringing blessings or may need work, there is an associated story that will be broken down to explain the context and background of the issue, and it is followed by a prescription to help bring the person back into alignment or strengthen them if they are already in alignment. Summation of the anatomy of a reading: Problem, root, context, prescription. There is an assumption that the medicine (what is prescribed in the reading, also called ebo) is taken, and that healing and/or blessings are brought down. The final step in this process often missed is to go back to the diviner and provide an update of how you completed the ebo and how well things have turned out for you.
The reading finds the imbalance in a person and seeks to realign them so that they are able to receive blessings, thus, the result does not always look like what the person expects. My own experience with a recent reading is a great example of getting what I thought at the time was an unusual response and could have placed me at a crossroads of failing to comply.
My son was having legal troubles. I was unable to sleep at night, distressed, and worrying. I couldn’t eat, couldn’t think and my job and home life were being affected so I went in for a reading. I was advised to go into the woods, get some herbs and cleanse myself with them. I walked out of there like “Mkay……” I did not know what the purpose was, but I did as instructed because I have seen this happen before. I went into the woods and cleansed, and cleansed, and cleansed on many occasions. I went to some drummings weeks later and Orisha came down to tell me the same thing – go into the woods, get some herbs and cleanse myself. This went on for a few months.
What I eventually discovered was in the repeated trips to go cleanse myself, my brain was cleared of the fog blocking my ability to think and act. I finally remembered there were things my family used to do for my son’s situation, and I was also able to become active within the court system aggressively advocating for him.
I already had the answers of what I needed to do to help him, I just couldn’t see it. I looked to Orisha to solve the problem. Orisha showed me I needed to believe in myself and I already had the answers (and to look to my Ancestors). The root cause of my problem was I allowed the anxiety I had of the situation to cloud my judgement and paralyze me with fear. With that new understanding, the panic attacks went away, the insomnia subsided, and calmness began to re-enter my life. I dug in and worked hard with the things I already knew how to do. The icing on the cake was that my son was able to prevail ultimately.
The more strongly you are tempted to disagree with the advice from a reading, the more deeply you need to analyze if that may, in fact, truly be the underlying problem that you were not ready to look at. Especially in specialized readings like an ita that have a way of really digging deep into personal issues and character flaws that may be difficult to face.
Readings with a babalawo or santero follow a distinct pattern because science is the underlying basis of Odu. While it is not fortune telling, it is based on the wisdom passed down through thousands of years. It does not just expose a problem for the sake of exposure, but prescribes remedies to solve the problem and that may be the most valuable portion of the reading for the client or godchild. The key things the person seeking a reading needs to bring to the table is patience, introspection, right intent, sincerity and faith.